Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Celtic god Lir - Danaan divinity, the Father of the Sea-god Mananan

The Celtic god Lir - Danaan divinity, the father of the sea-god Mananan 
The Children of Celtic Danaan god Lir

Lir, Danaan, Celtic Divinity

Lir was a Danaan divinity, the father of the sea-god Mananan who continually occurs in magical tales of the Milesian cycle. He had married in succession two sisters, the second of whom was named Aoife.She was childless, but the former wife of Lir had left him four children, a girl named Fionuala and three boys. The intense love of Lir for the children made the stepmother jealous, and she ultimately resolved on their destruction. It will be observed, by the way, that the People of Dana, though conceived as unaffected by time, and naturally immortal, are nevertheless subject to violent death either at the hands of each other or even of mortals.
With her guilty object in view, Aoife goes on a journey to a neighbouring Danaan king, Bōv the Red, taking the four children with her. Arriving at a lonely place by Lake Derryvaragh, in Westmeath, she [pg 140] orders her attendants to slay the children. They refuse, and rebuke her. Then she resolves to do it herself; but, says the legend, “her womanhood overcame her,” and instead of killing the Children she transforms them by spells of sorcery into four white swans, and lays on them the following doom: three hundred years they are to spend on the waters of Lake Derryvaragh, three hundred on the Straits of Moyle (between Ireland and Scotland), and three hundred on the Atlantic by Erris and Inishglory. After that, “when the woman of the South is mated with the man of the North,” the enchantment is to have an end.
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.
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 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.
Now it happens that a princess of Munster, Deoca, (the “woman of the South”) became betrothed to a Connacht chief named Lairgnen, and begged him as a wedding gift to procure for her the four wonderful singing swans whose fame had come to her. He asks them of the hermit, who refuses to give them up, whereupon the “man of the North” seizes them violently by the silver chains with which the hermit had coupled them, and drags them off to Deoca. This is their last trial. Arrived in her presence, an awful transformation befalls them. The swan plumage falls off, and reveals, not, indeed, the radiant forms of the Danaan divinities, but four withered, snowy-haired, and miserable human beings, shrunken in the decrepitude of their vast old age. Lairgnen flies from the place in horror, but the hermit prepares to administer baptism at once, as death is rapidly approaching them. “Lay us in one grave,” says Fionuala, “and place Conn at my right hand and Fiachra at my left, and Hugh before my face, for there they were wont to be when I sheltered them many a winter night upon the seas of Moyle.” And so it was done, and they went to heaven; but the hermit, it is said, sorrowed for them to the end of his earthly days.
In all Celtic legend there is no more tender and beautiful tale than this of the Children of Lir.
Lir, Danaan, Celtic, father of the seas,
Lir was a Danaan divinity, the father of the sea-god Mananan who continually occurs in magical tales of the Milesian cycle