Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 57

When the children fail to arrive with Aoife at the palace of Bōv her guilt is discovered, and Bōv changes her into “a demon of the air.” She flies forth shrieking, and is heard of no more in the tale. But Lir and Bōv seek out the swan-children, and find that they have not only human speech, but have preserved the characteristic Danaan gift of making wonderful music. From all parts of the island companies of the Danaan folk resort to Lake Derryvaragh to hear this wondrous music and to converse with the swans, and during that time a great peace and gentleness seemed to pervade the land.

But at last the day came for them to leave the fellowship of their kind and take up their life by the wild cliffs and ever angry sea of the northern coast. Here they knew the worst of loneliness, cold, and storm. Forbidden to land, their feathers froze to the rocks in the winter nights, and they were often buffeted and driven apart by storms. As Fionuala sings:

“Cruel to us was Aoife
Who played her magic upon us,
And drove us out on the water—
Four wonderful snow-white swans.
[pg 141]
“Our bath is the frothing brine,
In bays by red rocks guarded;
For mead at our father's table
We drink of the salt, blue sea.
“Three sons and a single daughter,
In clefts of the cold rocks dwelling,
The hard rocks, cruel to mortals—
We are full of keening to-night.”

Fionuala, the eldest of the four, takes the lead in all their doings, and mothers the younger children most tenderly, wrapping her plumage round them on nights of frost. At last the time comes to enter on the third and last period of their doom, and they take flight for the western shores of Mayo. Here too they suffer much hardship; but the Milesians have now come into the land, and a young farmer named Evric, dwelling on the shores of Erris Bay, finds out who and what the swans are, and befriends them. To him they tell their story, and through him it is supposed to have been preserved and handed down. When the final period of their suffering is close at hand they resolve to fly towards the palace of their father Lir, who dwells, we are told, at the Hill of the White Field, in Armagh, to see how things have fared with him. They do so; but not knowing what has happened on the coming of the Milesians, they are shocked and bewildered to find nothing but green mounds and whin-bushes and nettles where once stood—and still stands, only that they cannot see it—the palace of their father. Their eyes are holden, we are to understand, because a higher destiny was in store for them than to return to the Land of Youth.

On Erris Bay they hear for the first time the sound of a Christian bell. It comes from the chapel of a hermit who has established himself there. The swans are at first startled and terrified by the “thin, dreadful [pg 142] sound,” but afterwards approach and make themselves known to the hermit, who instructs them in the faith, and they join him in singing the offices of the Church.