Who is on the plum tree?
On darkened cloud, so great it blotted out the sun, The Tuatha De Danann alighted on the ancient mountains of Connemara to lay claim upon the west coast or Erin. Of Heaven and of Earth, they were the people of the goddess Dana. Fierce in battle, they defeated the proud Fir Bolg, driving them to the furthermost reaches of Irish soil to settle on the Aran Islands.
One of the elected kings of The Tuatha de Danaan, Bodb Derg, gave his daughter, Aoibh, in marriage to Lir, who was the god of the sea. Aoibh bore Lir four children: Aodh, Fiachra, Conn and Fionnuala. The children were fair of face and loved each other.
One sad day, The children’s mother, Aoibh, died, leaving Lir and the children bereft. Bodb, not wanting his grandchildren to be motherless, gave his second daughter, Aoife, in marriage to Lir. But Lir loved his dead wife still. Aoife was possessed of a jealous nature and demonstrated none of the sweetness of her deceased sister. On seeing the children’s devotion to each other and to their father, she commanded her servant to have them killed. The servant could not carry out Aoife’s instruction, as he, like everyone else, loved the children. Aoife would free the world of the children herself. Summoning the ancient magic of The Tuatha De Danaan, she screamed:
“Out with you upon the wild waves, Children of the King!
Henceforth your cries shall be heard as a flock of birds.”
She turned The Children of Lir into swans destined to swim the Loughs of Erin for 900 years. Bodb, in a fit of rage and despair, summoned his own magic and turned Aoife into a demon of the sky. She haunts the skies of Erin to this day. But no magic could reverse the curse laid upon Lir’s children.
Night and day and day and night, they swam together upon the lakes of Ireland. They mourned the loss of their mother and father and all they had known. They suffered loneliness too terrible to imagine. They were tied together with silver chains. Staying close to each other for comfort and companionship, they sang such sweet laments of who they were and from whence they had come. Even as feathers and webbed feet consumed their form, they drifted irresolute on the lakes of Erin, longing for what was lost.
Some say that when Patrick came to Ireland, they heard the tolling of the Christian bell and were liberated from their enchantment by a monk who broke their silver chains. Having aged 900 years, they shrivelled and died. Others say The Children Of Lir swim still upon the lakes of Erin, calling with sweet song and beat of wings to the god of the sea. But the god of the sea hears only the cacophony of a flock of birds; for the people of the land pray to a new god, and Lir’s watery heart is grown cold and silent.