A Book of Myths

Page: 145

Then great grief came upon Finola, for she feared she would see her brothers nevermore. But first of all came Conn, his feathers all battered and broken and his head drooping, and in a little Ficra appeared, so drenched and cold and beaten by the winds that no word could he speak. And Finola took her younger brothers under her great white wings, and they were comforted and rested in that warm shelter.

“If Aed would only come,” she said, “then should we be happy indeed.”

[Pg 300] And even as she spoke, they beheld Aed sailing towards them like a proud ship with its white sails shining in the sun, and Finola held him close to the snowy plumage of her breast, and happiness returned to the children of Lîr.

Many another tempest had they to strive with, and very cruel to them were the snow and biting frosts of the dreary winters. One January night there came a frost that turned even the restless sea into solid ice, and in the morning, when the swans strove to rise from the rock of Carricknarone, the iron frost clung to them and they left behind them the skin of their feet, the quills of their wings, and the soft feathers of their breasts, and when the frost had gone, the salt water was torture for their wounds. Yet ever they sang their songs, piercing sweet and speaking of the peace and joy to come, and many a storm-tossed mariner by them was lulled to sleep and dreamt the happy dreams of his childhood, nor knew who had sung him so magical a lullaby. It was in those years that Finola sang the song which a poet who possessed the wonderful heritage of a perfect comprehension of the soul of the Gael has put into English words for us.

“Happy our father Lîr afar,
With mead, and songs of love and war:
The salt brine, and the white foam,
With these his children have their home.
In the sweet days of long ago,
Soft-clad we wandered to and fro:
But now cold winds of dawn and night
Pierce deep our feathers thin and light.

[Pg 301] Beneath my wings my brothers lie
When the fierce ice-winds hurtle by;
On either side and ’neath my breast
Lîr’s sons have known no other rest.”

Fiona Macleod (William Sharp).

Only once during those dreary three hundred years did the children of Lîr see any of their friends. When they saw, riding down to the shore at the mouth of the Bann on the north coast of Erin, a company in gallant attire, with glittering arms, and mounted on white horses, the swans hastened to meet them. And glad were their hearts that day, for the company was led by two sons of Bodb the Red, who had searched for the swans along the rocky coast of Erin for many a day, and who brought them loving greetings from the good king of the Dedannans and from their father Lîr.