Articles Tagged with: voyage

The Children of Lir

When the Tuatha de Dannan ruled over Ireland, there once arose a conflict over who the next High King would be. Two chieftains emerged as the strongest candidates: Lir of Derravaragh and Bobh Dearg of Munster. They were evenly matched in almost all ways, but when it came to choose between them, one thing swayed the people to Bobh Dearg’s side. Bobh Dearg was married to a woman who was his equal, and Lir was alone. So Bobh Dearg was made King, and Lir returned home empty handed and angry.

Bobh Dearg was worried that Lir might be angry enough at his defeat to start trouble, or even rise up against him, so to make peace between them, he invited Lir to visit. After feasting for three days and three nights, he asked Lir which of his three beautiful daughters he liked best. Lir replied that though they were all fine women, he loved Bobh Dearg’s daughter Aobh the best. Now, this had of course been Bobh Dearg’s plan all along: to make Lir a part of his family through marriage so that the other man would be bound to him by ties of love and friendship.

Aobh and Lir were married, and returned to his home, where they were very happy together. Their joy only increased when Aobh had a child, a daughter named Fionnoula, and again they were delighted when Aobh bore a son named Aodh. When Aobh became pregnant a third time, they eagerly awaited the new addition to their family; twin boys named Conn and Fiachra. But the strain of giving birth to twins was too much, and shortly after they were born, Aobh died.

Lir was distraught. He missed his wife terribly, but he consoled himself with his children, delighting in them, keeping them close by him all day, and all of them sleeping together in one big bed by night. His favourite thing was to hear the children singing, their sweet voices twining in beautiful harmonies. Bobh Dearg was sorely grieved when he heard of his daughter’s death, and he asked his other two daughters if one of them would be wiling to go to Lir, and be his new wife, and help to take care of the children.

Aoife agreed to the match. She married Lir, and was well pleased with the day, and she set herself to be a mother to her sister’s children. But Aoife found that there was no room for her in that house. Lir barely paid attention to her; all his focus was on his children, who did not need or want a mother, when their father already doted on them so. Shut out of his happy family, Aoife began to grow bitter. She thought long and hard about her situation, and saw no way out for her, but one.

One day, she went to Lir and asked him if she could take the children to visit her father Bobh Dearg. Lir was very reluctant to let the children leave his side – they had never been apart from him since the day they each were born – but Aoife had the children so excited to go and see their grandfather that they began to beg him to let them go, and at last he relented.

Aoife set out with the four children, and on the way she stopped by Lake Derravaragh, not far from their father’s castle. There she got down from her chariot and told the children to go swimming. It was a hot day, so the boys ran straight into the water, throwing off their clothes. But Fionnoula paused, full of misgivings. She asked her stepmother was she going to come with them? But Aoife did not reply. When the four children were in the water, Aoife pulled out a wand and transformed the children into swans. At the last minute, seeing the look in Fionnoula’s eyes, she amended her curse, leaving the children their human voices and their human reason.

Transformed, the children wept. They begged their stepmother to undo the curse, but Aoife was unable to change them back, so powerful was the spell she had created. Instead, she put an ending to it. She told the children that they would have to spend three hundred years on that very lake, three hundred years on the stormy sea of Moyle between Ireland and Scotland, and three hundred years on another lake, and would regain their human forms when a king’s son from the north married a king’s daughter from the south.

Then Aoife got back into her chariot, and went to visit her father. She spent a moth in Bobh Dearg’s house, and told him the children were still with their father. When the time came for her to return, she told Lir that the children had decided to stay with their grandfather. But her deception could not go unnoticed forever. At length, Lir set out to fetch his children back, and both he and Bobh Dearg were shocked when each realized the other did not have the children. Both men raced back to Lir’s castle to confront Aoife, but on the way they heard the sound of children’s voices coming from the lake.

Lir searched high and low for his children along the lakeshore, but he could not find him; the only living things on the lake were four beautiful swans. But then the swans swam over to him, and he heard his children’s voices speaking out of the birds’ beaks.

They told him what their stepmother had done to them. In retaliation for her crime, Bobh Dearg transformed Aoife into a demon of the air, and she went shrieking off into the sky to be buffeted and blown about. And when the wind blows hard, sometimes you can hear her shrieking still.

Lir did everything he could to ease the children’s transformation. He brought his whole household to the lakeshore, and he held feasts and games and entertainments all day long for his children, so that they could almost forget that they were swans. At night, they would swim out over the lake and sing together for their father’s people on the shore.

Three hundred years passed quickly. Then the day came when the four children were compelled to fly away. They took their leave of their father and his people, promising to come and find them after the three hundred years on the Sea of Moyle were past, and then they took to the air.

The Sea of Moyle was a vicious, stormy place, and the four swans were buffeted by the high waves, and shivered in the cold winds. Fionnoula found a jagged rock for them to perch on, and they agreed that if they were ever separated by the rough waves and weather, they would look for each other there. The first time a storm blew in, they were scattered from each other. Fionnoula came first to the rock, and waited long for her brothers. One by one, bedraggled and exhausted, they made their weary way to the meeting-place. Fionnoula placed her brother Aodh beneath the feathers of her breast to warm him, and took Conn and Fiachra each under one wing, and she sang to them to keep their spirits up.

Every time a storm came, the swans were scattered, and Fionnoula held her brothers in its aftermath. In summer, the sea was stormy and rough, but in winter conditions were even worse. The icy water was so cold it froze their feathers, and broke them away, leaving their raw skin exposed to the sting of salt water.

Three hundred years passed slowly. At last the day came when the swans could fly back to Ireland, to go to the last of the lakes. They detoured on their way, flying over Lough Derravaragh, hoping to call out to their father. But they flew over tumbled stone, with grass growing through the cracks, and saw no sign of their father or his people. The time of the Tuatha de Dannan had passed while they were gone, and their father was gone. Sadly they settled on the lake, and though they grieved that they would never see their father or their people again, they were relieved to be on so gentle a lake after enduring such hardship on the Sea of Moyle.

The years passed. A long time later, a monk named Malachi came to live on an island in the middle of the lake, and began to build a monastery there. He saw the four beautiful swans swimming stately by, but he was shocked when he heard them sing and speak in human voices! Malachi spoke to the swans, and they told him their sad story. He told them in turn of his god, stories of the Bible and Jesus Christ. Fionnoula and her brothers were very interested in the new faith, and asked if they could convert, but Malachi explained that as they were swans, they could not. He did, however, continue to teach them the new faith, and the five of them had many spirited conversations. The swans would sing for Malachi in the evenings, glorious melodies and sad songs of loss for their old life.

One day, messengers came to the lake from the king’s son of Munster. They told Malachi that their master was going to get married that very day to the king’s daughter of Ulster, and for a wedding gift, the bride had asked for four swans from her betrothed. They had heard that the swans of this lake were magical, and sang, and they had come to bring the swans away with them, to give to the bride as a gift.

No sooner had they caught the four swans and pulled them from the lake, however, than the feathers melted off their bodies, and they turned back into their human forms! The wedding had fulfilled the final condition of Aoife’s curse, and they were restored. But when they looked at each other, they could see that these were not the bright children of Lir any longer. Nine hundred years old, each of them was wizened, white-haired and ancient.

Knowing they would not live long now that the magic was not sustaining them, Fionnoula begged Malachi to baptize them all so that they might go together to Heaven. He did this, and with her last breath, Fionnoula told him her last wish: that her brother Aodh be buried at her breast, Conn under her right arm and Fiachra under her left, the way that she had held them when they were swans.

The Voyage of Bran

Long ago in Ireland, there was a High King named Bran. He was not much interested in being High King, and one day, during a feast, Bran slipped away to get some peace and quiet.

As he was walking, all alone, he began to hear this beautiful music. It was haunting and like nothing he had ever heard before. Bran hunted high and low to see where it was coming from, but no matter what way he turned, the music always seemed to be coming from just behind him. At last, the sweet music lulled him, and he fell asleep. While he slept, he saw a vision: a beautiful woman of the Otherworld, who sang to him about the Land of Women, where everything was pleasant and joyful, and there was never any grief or treachery.

When he woke, Bran found in his had a silver branch with golden apples on it. Not really knowing what this meant, Bran brought it back to the fort with him. That evening, at the feast, the same woman from his dream appeared, but this time, all those present in the hall could see her. She spoke to Bran, and told him to come and find her in the Island of Women. Then the silver branch leaped out of Bran’s hand and into hers, and she was gone.

Bran wasted no time in building a ship. His three foster brothers came with him, and each of them brought nine men. They set sail out west into uncharted waters that no one had ever been to before. As they were sailing, Mananan Mac Lir, the god of the ocean, came riding towards them in his chariot. Bran and his men watched, dumbstruck, as the god reined up beside them and stopped to talk. He told Bran that their skiff was sailing, not through waves, but through an orchard, and that where they saw sea-horses and sea foam, he could see a grassy plain, covered in flowers, with warriors going to and fro across it. He sang to them about all the wonders of the Land Under Wave that he ruled over, and then he took his leave, telling them that he was on his way to meet the wife of a king, to father a child that would be called Mongan.

Bran and his men rowed on, and before long they came to an island, called Moy Meall, or the Island of Joy. There were a great number of people on the shore, but when Bran and his men called out to them, to ask if they were near to the Island of Women, the people only laughed and gaped at them. So one of Bran’s men jumped out of the boat, and waded to shore to see if he could get any answers out of them. But as soon as he landed, he started to laugh like a fool and gape at them, as if he didn’t know them. Bran and his men circled the island, over and over, calling out to their companion to come back to them, but he ignored their calls, and only laughed witlessly.

Downhearted, Bran and his men continued on their way. They came to the Island of Women, and saw the woman from Bran’s vision. But Bran and his men were wary, because of what had happened to their friend, and they kept their distance. Then the woman threw a ball of yarn at Bran’s head, and he put up his hand to stop it. The ball of yarn stuck fast to his hand, and the woman on the shore started to reel the boat, with all of the men in it, in to shore.

When they landed, the men were taken to a beautiful house, and a plate was put before each one. No matter how much they ate and drank, their plates always remained full, and their cups never emptied. When they had eaten and drunk their fill, a woman led each man to his own room, richly appointed, and let them sleep there.

The men stayed on the Island of Women for what seemed to them to be a year. Every day was restful, and easy. All they had to do was to play sports and games, to eat and drink and enjoy themselves, and the women took care of all their wants. But one of Bran’s men, Nechtan, began to feel homesick. He started to pester Bran about going home. The other men shushed him, but he spoke to each of them in turn, reminding them of home, and the people they had left there, until at last Bran relented, and they prepared to go back to Ireland.

The Queen of the Island took Bran aside and warned him that if he returned, he would get only grief. But Bran could see no other option. So the Queen told him that if he must go, he should pick up his companion from the Island of Joy on his way, and when he got to Ireland, he must make sure not to set foot on the land. Bran agreed to this, and off they went.

When they came to the Island of Joy, they called their companion’s name, and he ran straight out to the boat, and recovered his wits as soon as they had him on board. Then they sailed over the sea to Ireland. But when they came near, they could see that the whole coastline had changed. The countryside looked completely different, all the forests were gone, and the people seemed small and grey and weak. They called out to the people on the shore, and no one had ever heard of them. Then one old man came forward, and said that when he was a young boy, he had heard the story of King Bran, an ancient tale that was almost lost.

Nechtan, the man who had been homesick, could not accept this. He flung himself from the deck of the boat, and landed on the shore. But as soon as his feet touched the ground, he turned to dust. Bran realized then that he and his men had been gone for hundreds and hundreds of years, and they could never return home.

Bran carved an account of his voyage on stone tablets, in Ogham writing, and threw the stones to the people on the shore. Then he and his men turned their ship around, and sailed off to the three times fifty Islands of the Otherworld. And as to what adventures befell them after that… nobody knows!

Midir and Etain

Midir was a king of the Tuatha de Dannan; proud, handsome and regal. His wife was called Fuamnach, and was his equal in every way. She too was tall and proud, and she was herself the daughter of a king. She was a good wife to Midir, she looked after him well, and looked after their children and foster-children well.

One of their foster children was Aengus Óg, the god of love. He was a dotie child, and their favourite foster child, and through the years that they raised him, they fell ever more in love with him – as you would, with a love god. When he grew up, and moved away to his own home, they were bereft, and Midir especially missed him terribly.

One day Midir announced to Fuamnach that he was going to pay Aengus Óg a visit. On his way, he met a very beautiful young lady, so he stopped and asked her name. She told him her name was Etain, and the moment she looked into his eyes, he fell in love with her, and she with him. He asked her to come with him, and she readily agreed. The two of them then spent a year and a day at Aengus Óg’s house at Brúgh na Boinne, living as husband and wife. Then Midir decided that it was time for him to go home, but he could not bear to be parted from Etain, and so he brought her with him.

The moment Fuamnach saw Etain, she realized what had happened, and she was furious. In secret, she performed a magic spell on Etain, transforming her into a pool of water. Then she conjured up a magic wind that dried up the water. The steam from the water condensed into a butterfly, and then Fuamnach was satisfied. But then the butterfly flew to Midir, and wafted him with its wings. Beautiful music came up from its wings, and a beautiful scent, and Midir recognized his love, Etain. From then on, everywhere he went, the butterfly Etain perched on his shoulder, and the two of them were never seen apart.

Fuamnach was furious that her trick hadn’t worked. She turned to magic again, and conjured up a magical storm. The storm caught Etain up, and dragged her away from Midir. She was blown and buffeted by the winds for many years, until at last the storm blew itself out, and she found herself at Brúgh na Boínne, near the house of Aengus Óg. Aengus was able to recognize her, and he built a room of glass especially for her, where she would be safe from any ill winds. He filled it with flowers, and made it the most comfortable home for a butterfly that he could. Etain lived there for some time, until one day she mistakenly fluttered outside. Fuamnach’s storm, which was always waiting, swept down and caught her up again.

The storm battered Etain for seven long years, and then it blew her in through the high window of a mortal king’s banqueting hall. The king and his wife were having a feast for all their subjects. Exhausted, Etain the butterfly fell in a faint off a rafter, and landed in the wine cup of the king’s wife. She drank back the butterfly, and turned to her husband, saying “I am with child.” Nine months later, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.
The king and his wife named the girl Etain, and she grew up to be the loveliest young woman that anyone had ever seen, with no memory of her immortal life before.

Now, the High King in Ireland, a man named Eochaid Airem, was told by his advisors that it was time for him to find a wife. He heard rumours of this beautiful king’s daughter, Etain, and decided that she should be the one for him. He called for Etain, to meet her, and she was well pleased with the match, and so they married and lived happily together.

After some time, King Eochaid Airem’s brother fell sick. In his sickbed, he called for Etain, and when she came to him, he told her that he was lovesick, because of the great love he had for her. He insisted that he would die if she would not agree to meet him in a love tryst the very next day. She agreed, and at once he felt better.

The next day, Etain came to meet the king’s brother at the arranged place, but as soon as she saw him, he changed form. He grew taller, and a glorious light shone out of him, and she realized that this was not her husband’s brother. Indeed it was Midir, who told her the story of their love, and how he had been searching for her for three hundred years, and now that he had found her, after all the obstacles that they had overcome, he was never going to let her go again.

But Etain drew herself up. She told him she knew none of this, and had no memory of the things he was telling her, and besides all that, she was a married woman. Midir called after her and said, “If I get your husband’s permission, will you come away with me?”

Etain said yes, thinking it unlikely.

The next day, Midir turned up at the house of Eochaid Airem, and challenged him to a game of chess. Eochaid Airem won the first game, and the second game, and was so confident in his skills that he agreed to wager that the winner of the next game could claim any gift he asked from the loser. Midir won, and demanded that he be allowed to embrace and kiss the king’s wife, Etain.

Eochaid Airem was annoyed at this request: he certainly did not want another man to embrace and kiss his own wife! So he asked Midir for a month’s grace, and Midir left, promising to come back and claim his prize.

Eochaid Airem readied all his army, and spent the month training them and making sure they were fit and well-equipped, and battle-ready. On the day Midir was to return, he put all the men in his banqueting hall, surrounding Etain and prepared to repel any invader. But Midir entered by magic, and appeared inside the fort. He embraced Etain, and the moment he put his arms around her, she remembered everything. She remembered the storm, she remembered her immortal life, and she remembered Midir and their great love. She kissed him passionately, and as the king and all his men watched, Etain began to shine with the light of the immortals. She and Midir rose up off the ground, and floated out of the window, never to be seen again. Eochaid Airem, broken-hearted, spent the rest of his life digging up every fairy fort he came across, in search of his lost love.

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