The Laughter of Peterkin

The Tale of the Four White Swans

"The cold and cruel fate that overtook
  The children of the great De Danaan, Lir,
  Is of the Sorrow-stories of our isle.
  This sorrow-tale indeed is old and young;
  Old, for so many hundred years have gone
  Since last beneath the midnight shimmering star
  Was heard,the music of the birds of snow:
  Young, for amid the bright-eyed tuneful Gael
  The sorrow of the snowy-breasted four
  Are told again to-day, and shall be told
  Long as the children of Milesius last
  To People Banba's hills and pleasant vales."

    The Three Sorrows of Story-Telling :
                  "The Children of Lir,"
                                       trs. by Dr. Douglas Hyde.


The story that I will tell you now is one of of the most famous among all the peoples of the Gael. It is called sometimes "The Tale of the Four White Swans," sometimes "The Fate of the Children of Lir," sometimes simply "Fionula,"¹ because of the beauty and tenderness of Lir's daughter.

The tale is of the old far-off days. It was old when Ossian was a youth and Fionn heard it as a child from the lips of grey-beards. Often I have spoken to you, Peterkin, of the Danann folk, the Tuatha-De-Danann who lived in the lands of our race before the foreign peoples came and drove the ancient dwellers in Ireland and Scotland to the hills and remote places. When men allude to them now in this late day, they speak of the Dedannans (as they were often called) as the Hidden Folk, the Quiet People, the Hill Folk, and even as the Fairies. It is natural, therefore, that years are as dust in the chronicles of this lost race. They live for hundreds of years where we live for ten; and so it is that the foam of time is white against the brief wave of our life, when against the mighty and long reach of theirs it is but flying spray.

¹ In Gaelic, the name of Lir's daughter is Fionnghuala, and is variously given in English as Fionula, Fionnuola, Finoola, and Finola.

You have heard Eilidh singing the song of the Four White Swans. It is a music that hundreds of tired ears have heard. It is so sweet, Peterkin, that old men grow young, and old women are girls again, and weary hearts ache no more, and dreams and hopes become real, and peace puts out her white healing hand.

"Have you heard that singing, Ian?"

"Yes, my boykin, often. And you, too, shall often hear it. It is in lonely places, in lonely hours, that You shall hear it. It is a beautiful strange sound, and so old and so wonderful that in it you will hear the beating of the heart of the world thousands of years ago. But first I will tell you the story of the Four Swans, and then we can speak again of the strange singing I have heard at times, and that you often shall hear."

The Dedannans were the most wonderful and happy people in the world till they became discontented with what the unknown and beautiful gods had given them. Then they split into sections, and some sought one vain thing and some another, and in the end all found weariness. Their wise men knew that as long as they were at one no enemy could prevail against them; but it has never been the way of the unquiet to believe in the old wisdom, and so feuds arose, and the Fairy Host itself---as the great array of the warriors of the Tuatha-De-Danann was called---ceased to be invincible because the banners blew to the four winds.

Not all their ancestral sojournings in the dim lands of the East, nor in the ages of their migration to the country of fjords which has its whole length in the sea, nor in Alba, that is now Scotland, nor Eiré, that is now Ireland, not all they had learned in their remote past helped them against the undoing of their own folly.

It has been said that the Dedannans never fought against men till the Milesians, the warriors of Miled out of some land in the south--the land, mayhap, we know as Spain came against them upon the banks of a river then as now called the Blackwater, in the heart of Meath.

But before the Dedannans themselves ever saw it, the Green Isle was held by the Firbolgs, a terrible, heroic race, but allied to the dark powers. Some say they became demons, after they were defeated in many battles by the Tuatha-De-Danann, and at last wholly conquered. But so old is this ancient tired world that long before the Dedannans and the Firbolg people fought for sovereignty, the Firbolg had striven with and overcome an earlier race--tbe Nemedians---which had come to Ireland under a mysterious king, Nemed. None knows who Nemed was, though he may have been a god, seeing that he overcame that most ancient people who were the first to set foot in the Isle of Destiny, under Partholan, a son of him who was called the Most High God.

Whether it be true or not that the overlordship of the world was meant for man, certain it is that man has thought so. Therefore are all stories of his cosmic strife coloured by this destiny. Terrible and mighty were the Firbolgs, fierce and terrible and beautiful were the Dedannans; but now there is no rumour of either, save in the wail of the wind, or in the stirring of swift, stealthy feet in the moonshine.

But now Peterkin, I will tell you about the children of Lir, who was one of the great princes of the Dedannans.

The first great battle between the Milesians and the Dedannans had been fought, and the ancient people, for all their secret powers of wonders and enchantment, had been defeated. Throughout all Erin--for Ireland at that time was called either Eiré (Erin), or Fola, or Banba, after three great queens---there was a rumour of lamentation. It was the beginning of the end, though few save the wisest Druids foresaw it.

But the people knew that their dissensions were the cause of their sorrow. They clamoured for one king to be overlord, so that the whole Dedannan race might be united.

There were five great princes who claimed to be king by right. Of these two were greater than the others---Bove Derg, son of Dagda, one of the divine race (and some say a mighty god), and Lir of Shee Finnaha. In the end Bove Derg was elected Ardree, or High King. Even Midir the Haughty acquiesced in this judgment of the people, but Lir was wroth and held aloof. All the princes and warriors were fierce with Lir because he had left the assembly in anger, paying heed to no one, and scornfully ignoring the majesty of the king. A hundred swords of proven heroes leapt before Bove Derg, for all were eager to follow Lir and destroy him and his, because of the insult to the king and to the voice and freewill of the people. But Bove Derg was a wise and generous prince, and forbore. This was well. For in time a great sorrow came upon Lir. When the rumour of this sorrow reached Bove Derg, he saw how he might win over Lir.

"In my house," he said, "are my three foster-children, the daughters of Aileel of Ara. Each is beautiful, all are wise and sweet and noble. Let messengers go to Lir, and tell him that my friendship is his if he will have it. Surely now he will submit to the will of the people. And he can have to wife whomsoever of the three daughters of Aileel he may choose, if so be that she will gladly and freely go with him."

Lir was glad at this message. He called his warriors together, and in fifty chariots he and they set forth. They rested not till they came to the palace of Bove Derg, by the Great Lake, nigh to the place now called Killaloe. Great were the rejoicings, and again at the alliance which after many days was made between the king and Lir.

When Lir saw the three daughters of Aileel, he could not say who was the most beautiful.

"Each is alike beautiful, O king," he said; "and I cannot tell which is best. But surely the eldest must be the noblest of the three, and so I will choose her, if so be that she gladly and freely come with me as my wife."

And so it was. When Lir returned to his own place, he took with him as his wife the beautiful Aev, who was the eldest of the daughters of Aileel of Aral and was foster-child of Bove Derg the king. From that day, too, a deep and true friendship lived between Bove Derg and Lir.

In the course of time Aev bore him twin children, a son and a daughter. The daughter was named Fionula, because of her lovely whiteness, and the son was named Aed, for that his eyes, and the mind behind his eyes, were bright and wonderful as a flame of fire.

And at the end of the second year Aev again bore twin children. Both were sons, and they were named Fiachra and Conn. But in giving them life she lost her own.

Lir was in bitter distress because of her death, and for the reason that his four little children were now motherless. He was comforted by Bove Derg, who not only gave him friendship and kingly aid and counsel, but said that he should not be left alone to mourn, and that his little ones should not go motherless.

Thus it was that Aeifa, the second of the daughters of Aileel of Ara and foster-child of Bove Derg the king, came to Shee Finnaha and espoused Lir.

For some years all went well. Aeifa nursed the children, and tended them. They were so fair and beautiful that the poets sang of them far and wide. Even Bove Derg loved them as though they were his own. As for Lir, so great was his love, that he could not bear to be long apart from them. His sleeping-room was separated from them only by a deerskin, and this often he pulled aside at dawn, so that he might see his dear ones, and perchance go to them to talk lightly and happily, or to caress them with loving laughter and joy.

Lir was never sad save when the four children went south to the Great Lake to stay awhile with Bove Derg, who in his turn, was filled with melancholy when the time came for them to go home again. Nor was Lir ever so proud as when, at the Feast of Age, whenever that festival came to be held at Shee Finnaha, the king and the nobles and the warriors delighted in the beauty and marvellous sweet cbarm of Fionula and Aed and Fiachra and Conn. Thus it was that the saying grew: "Fair as the four children of Lir."

But there was a deep shadow behind all this joy. This shadow came out of the heart of Aeifa. In love there is sometimes a poisonous mist. It is what we call jealousy. At first Aeifa truly loved her stepchildren. But as the years lapsed, and when Fionula was passing from girlhood into maidenhood, the wife of Lir was filled with anger against the four children. She was bitter at heart because their father loved them with so great a tenderness, and that even the king himself cared for them above all else, and because all the Dedannans had joy of them.

The time came when this dull smouldering fire, which she might have overcome had she loved nobly and not ignobly, burst into flame. This flame withered her heart, and rose thence till it obscured her mind.

She had something of the old druidical wisdom, but she feared the counter-spells of others wiser than herself. Nevertheless she set herself to learn one or other of the ancient incantations against which even the gods are powerless to avert evil from men and women.

While she was brooding thus--and for weeks and even months she lay in the house of Lir as one stricken with some terrible ill---her rage grew till she could no longer endure the sight of her husband or of her step-children.

One day she arose and ordered the horses to be yoked to her chariot, and bade a small chosen company to be ready to go with her and the four children to the Great Lake: for, she said, she wished to see Bove Derg, her foster-father, and to take the children to gladden his heart. Lir was sad, and sadder still when he saw the tears in Fionula's eyes. In vain he asked her why this drifting dew was there instead of the sun-bright laughing glancings he joyed so much to see. She would not answer: for all she could have said was that in a dream she had fore-knowledge of the evil desire of Aeifa to kill her and her brothers. Perhaps, she thought, it was but a dream. She loved honour, too, and would not put her father against his wife because of a visionary thing that came to her in the night.

It was when they were in a deep gorge of the hills that Aeifa was overcome by her hatred.  Turning to her attendants, she offered them wealth and whatsoever they desired if only they would slay the four children of Lir then and there, inasmuch as these had come between her and her husband, and had therein and in all else made her life a burden to her.

The attendants listened with horror. Not one there would lift a hand against Lir's children. What was wealth, or any fruit of desire, compared with so foul a treachery, so terrible a crime! The oldest among them even warned Lir's wife that the very thought of such evil would surely work a dreadful punishment against her.

At this, Aeifa laughed wildly. Then, seizing a sword, she strove to wield it herself against the defenceless children. The three boys stood, wondering. In the blue eyes of Fionula there was something the wife of Lir dreaded more than the wrath of husband or king. Dashing the sword to the ground, she cried to the chariot-driver to make haste onward.

No word was spoken among them till they reached the hither end of the Lake of Darvra.¹  There Aeifa called a halt, and the horses were unyoked for rest. It was a fair and warm day, so when she bade the children undress and go into the water, they did so gladly.

¹ Now Loch Derravaragh, in West Meath.

While their white sunlit bodies were splashing in the lake, she took from beneath the rim of the chariot, where she had secreted it, a druidical fairy wand. This had been given her by a Dedannan druid, and was a dreadful thing to possess, for its power was of the black magic, against which nothing might prevail. Going to the side of the clear water, she struck lightly with the wand the shoulder of each of the four children; and, as she touched Fionula.

Lir's fair young daughter became a beautiful snow-white swan, and as she touched Aed and Fiachra and Conn, Lir's three young sons were changed like unto Fionula.

A cry of lamentation arose from the witnesses of this deed, though none guessed that the ill was so dreadful and beyond the reach of druidic skill, nor did the children know at first what evil had befallen them. But swam to and fro laughing in their hearts, and rejoicing in their white feathers and in their swift joy in the water. But when Fionula heard the lamentation, and looked upon the evil face of Aeifa her stepmother, she knew that the hour of doom had come.

Then Aeifa stretched out her arms, and chanted these words:

"Lost far and wide on Darvra's gloomy water,
      With other lonely birds tost far and wide.
  For nevermore shall Lir behold his daughter,
      And never shall his sons lie by his side."

Then while all on the shore stood in deep grief, Fionula swam close, and looked up into the white face of Aeifa, which was whiter then than the whitest breast-feathers of these poor bewildered swans.

"This is an evil deed thou hast done, O Aeifa," she said. "Out of a bitter heart thou hast wrought this cruel wrong upon us who love thee, and have never done or wished thee ill. Nevertheless it is not our ill that shall endure for ever, but thine own evil. There shall be an avenging terrible for thee, whensoever it come."

It was then that Fionula for the first time sang as a swan, and even then the marvellous sweet singing brought both gladness and tears into the hearts of those who heard.

"In the years long ago, long ago now, long ago,
  We were loved by her who dooms us to this evil cruel woe:
       Who with magic wand and words
       Hath changed us into birds---
  Snow-white swans to drift and drift for evermore
  Homeless, weary, tempest-baffled hence from shore to             shore."

A silence followed this melancholy singing.

Then at last Fionula spoke again.

"Tell us, O Aeifa, how long this doom is to be upon us, so that we may know when death shall come to take away our suffering?"

Then because in that day it was not honourable to refuse the truth when asked, Aeifa did as Fionula prayed of her.

"Better would it be for thee and thy brothers to know nothing and to hope much. But since thou hast asked this thing I will tell it:

"Three hundred years shall ye, Fionula, and Aed and Fiachra and Conn, who are now four white swans, abide here on this great lonely, desolate lake of Darvra. For three hundred years thereafter shall ye inhabit the wild sea of Moyle, which lies between the Stairway of the Giants, and the bleak shores of the great headland of Alba.¹ And for yet another three hundred years ye shall drift to and fro among the storm-swept seas off the rocky isles to the west of Erin.

"Furthermore, ye shall be idle sport for the storms until Lairgnen, a great prince of the north, has union with Decca, in the south: until the Taillkenn,² the new prophet, shall come to Erin and preach a new faith that shall chase away the old gods: and until ye shall be filled with fear and wonder at a strange sound, that shall be the ringing of the first Christian bell. All this I tell ye because of the prophetic sight I have, and that has come to me through the druidic wand wherewith I have changed ye into four wild white swans. And this too, I say unto ye, Fionula and Aed and Fiacbra and Conn, that neither by your own power nor by your prayers, nor by mine, nor by the power of Lir and Bove Derg, nor by that of all kings and princes and druids whatso-ever; no, nor by any god, nor by any power in heaven or earth, can ye be freed from this spell I have put upon ye, until the times and events I have spoken of shall be fulfilled."

¹ That is, between the north-east of Ireland (the Giant's Causeway) and the     south-west of the Scottish Highlands (the Mull of Cantire).

² The Tailcen: a name given by the early Irish to St. Patrick.

When Aeifa had ceased speaking, there was no sound to be heard, save the lap-lapping of the lake-water upon the shore. Of the company of those with her none spake a word, each dreading the evil that was sure to come. At last a faint sobbing came from amid the sedges, where the young brothers nestled by the side of Fionula, who had already begun to mother these dear ones whom she loved.

When she heard these sobs, Aeifa's heart smote her. Even if she would, she could not now undo the age-long spell she had set upon the children of Lir. But one thing was left to her that she might do with the fairy wand, which could be moved once again if stirred by the breath of her will.

Hearken, O children of Lir," she cried, "for I have yet one thing to say: and that out of the sorrow in my heart because of the doom I have put upon ye. Although ye are turned into wild swans, ye shall not become as the desert birds, and have no speech but the savage screams and cries of the wilderness. Ye shall keep for ever your own sweet Gaelic speech, and so be able to talk each with the other, and with any of the human kind whom ye may meet. And more than this, ye shall be able to sing the most sweet, plaintive songs, and the most wild, haunting music that ever man has heard; so that all whose ears list shall be lulled into deep sleep, or into a peace sweeter than slumber itself. Nor shall the law of the soulless brutes be upon you, but ye shall be Fionula and Aed and Fiachra and Conn, the children of Lir."

Having said these words, Aeifa raised her arms and chanted this song:

"Speed hence, speed hence, O lone white swans,
     Across the wind-sprent foam;
  The wave shall be your father now,
  And the wind alone shall kiss your brow,
     And the waste be your home.

  Speed hence, speed hence, O lone white swans,
     Your age-long quest to make;
  Three hundred years on Moyle's wild breast,
  Three hundred years on the wilder west,
     Three hundred on this lake.

  Speed hence, speed hence, O lone white swans,|
     And Lir shall call in vain;
  For all his aching heart and tears,
  For all the weariness of his years,
     Ye shall not come again.

  Speed hence, speed hence, O lone white swans,
     Till the ringing of Christ's bell;
  Then at the last ye shall have rest,
  And Death shall take ye to his breast
     At the ringing of Christ's bell."

Having sung this farewell song, Aeifa ordered the horses to be yoked again to her chariot.

This done, she drove away westward, nor was there a single heart in those who accompanied her but was filled with sorrow and foreboding.

When the lake was no longer visible, and the gloom of the mountains came down upon the pass which led towards the westlands where Bove Derg dwelled, a faint wild aerial singing was heard, delicate as tinkling cowbells on far hill-pastures.

Before Aeifa drew near to the great dun of Bove Derg, she put each of her company under a solemn bond of silence as to what she had meant to do and not done, and as to what later she had done; and because of the lealty of the bond to a woman, and also because of the fear of each towards the druidical fairy wand that she still carried, the oath was taken by one and all.

Therefore it was easy for Aeifa to mislead Bove Derg as to the reason why she had not brought the children of Lir with her. Nevertheless he doubted greatly that his fosterdaughter deceived him, for he could not think that Lir his friend would so mistrust him as to refuse to let Fionula and her brothers accompany their stepmother.

So, secretly, he sent a swift messenger across the hills and straths to the dun of Lir.

Lir was at once wroth and filled with fear when he heard that Aeifa had reached the dun of Bove Derg without the children. Some treachery surely had been done, he cried.

Then, calling together a company, he set forth with all speed. Towards sundown, the cavalcade came upon the wide desolate shore of the great lake of Darvra.

"What is that sound?" cried Lir.

"It is the wind in the reeds, O Lir," answered a spearman by his side.

The wind in the reeds is a sweet sound to hear, Coran, but never have I heard any wind that could make so sweet a music."

"It is the little gentle lapping of the wavelets by the west wind, O Lir."

"It is no gentle lapping of the wavelets by the west wind, Coran, nor yet is it the wind in the reeds; but that is the voice of Fionula singing."

And as the sound grew clearer, all heard it, and soon the words were audible:

"Behold the Danaan host is on the shore,
  Seeking for those now lost for evermore;
  But let us haste towards that proud array
  And tell the tidings of this fatal day."

And while the song was still in the ears of all there, Lir gave a great cry and pointed to where above the midmost of the lake four wild swans were winging swiftly towards the eastern shore.

When he heard from Fionula--and he knew her voice, which was sweeter than any other he had ever heard---of all that had happened, and of the strange and dreadful doom that was put upon her and her brothers, he fell sobbing to the ground. From all his company the keening of a bitter lamentation arose.

Alas, as he knew well, not even the great length of years which the Dedannan folk lived ---and a score of years is to them what one year is to us---would enable him to see his dear ones again. Three hundred years on Darvra, these he might mayhap live to see; but not the three hundred years on the bleak and wild region of the Moyle, nor the three hundred on the wild tempestuous western seas, nor the far-off day when a prophet called Taillken would come to Erin with a new faith, and in the glens and across the plains won be heard the strange chiming of Christ's bell.

Yet was he comforted when he heard that his children were to keep their Gaelic speech, and to be human in all things save only in their outward shape. And glad he was that they were to be able to chant music so wild and sweet that all who should hear it would be filled with joy and peace. For music is the most beautiful and wonderful thing in the world, and is the oldest, as it will be the latest speech.

"Remain with us this night, here by the lake," said Fionula, "and we shall sing to you our fairy music."

So all abode there, and so sweet was the song of the children of Lir, that he himself and all his company fell into a deep, restful slumber. All night long they sang their sweet sad song, and were glad because of the quiet dark figures by the lake-side lying drowned in shadow. Slowly the moon sank behind the hills. Then the stars glistened whitener and smaller, and a soft rosy flush came over the mountain crest in the east. Then Lir awoke, and Fionula and Aed and Fiachra and Conn ceased their singing, and spread out their white pinions to the light of a new day, and ruffled their snowy breasts against the frothing that the dawn-wind made upon the lake.

Lir took a harp from one of his followers, and sang a song of farewell to his children. At that singing all awoke, and the heart of each man was heavy because of the doom that had fallen upon the children of Lir.

He sang of the fateful hour when he had taken Aeifa to wife, and of the cruel hardness of her heart, that thus out of jealous rage she could work so great and unmerited evil. And what rest could there be for him, he chanted, since whenever he lay down in the dark he would see his loved ones pictured plain before him: Fionula, his pride and joy; Aed, so agile and adventurous; the laughing Fiachra; and little Conn, with his curls of gold.

Then with a heavy heart indeed Lir went on his way. Before he and his company entered the great pass at the western end of Lough Darvra, he looked back longingly. In the blue space of heaven he saw four white cloudlets drifting idly in a slow circling flight.

"O Fionula," he cried, "O Aed, O Fiachra, O Conn, farewell, my little ones! Well do I know that you have risen thus in high flight so that my eyes may have this last glimpse of you. Nevertheless I will come again soon."

It was a weary journey thence to the dun of Bove Derg, but all weariness was forgotten in wrath against Aeifa.

No sooner had Lir spoken to the king, no sooner had the king looked at the face of Aeifa as she heard the accusation, than Bove Derg knew that the truth had been told, and that Aeifa was guilty of this cruel wrong. Turning to his foster-daughter, he exclaimed, in the hearing of all:

"This ill deed that thou hast wrought, Aeifa, will be worse for thee than all thou hast put upon the children of Lir. For in the end they shall know joy and peace, while as long as the world lasts thou shalt know what it is to be lonely and accursed and abhorred." Then for a brief time Bove Derg brooded. There was naught in all the world so dreaded in the dim ancient days as the demons of the air, and no doom could be more dreadful than to be transformed into one of those dark and lonely and desperate spirits that make night and desolate places so full of terror. At last the king rose. Taking his druidical magic wand, he struck Aeifa with it, and therewith turned her into a demon of the air. A great cry went up from the whole assemblage as they saw Aeifa spread out gaunt shadowy wings, and struggle as in a sudden anguish of new birth. The next moment she gave a terrible scream, and flew upward like a swirling eagle, and disappeared among the dark lowering clouds which hung over the land that day.

Thus was it that Aeifa became a demon of the air. Even now her screaming voice may be heard among the wild hills of her own land, on dark windy nights, when tempests break, or in disastrous hours.

But out of a wrong done the gods may work good. So was it with the Dedannans.

For not only Lir, and all his people, but Bove Derg and a great part of the nation assembled by the shores of Lake Darvra, and there pitched their tents, which afterwards grew into a vast rath, wherein the king builded a mighty dun.

For Lir and Bove Derg had vowed that henceforth they would live their years by the shores of Darvra, where they might converse with their dear ones, and where they might listen to the sweet oblivious songs which Fionula and her brothers sang to the easing of the heart, and the silence of all pain and weariness.

But so great was the rumour of this marvel that all Erin heard of it. The Milesians in the south agreed to a long truce of three hundred years; and came and dwelt in amity with the Dedannans, for they too loved the sweet and wonderful music of the white swans that were, the children of Lir.

"Three hundred years yet may we live," said Bove Derg to Lir, "and as I am a king, I swear never to leave the lough of Darvra while the four swans that are thy sons and daughter inhabit it. The heavy years shall pass for us, listening to their beautiful sweet singing; and therein we shall know peace and joy."

"So be it," said Lir, and he spoke the truth; for in that day the Dedannans lived to a great age; some say to three hundred, some to five, some to seven hundred years.

The years went by, one after the other, and by tens and by scores, and still Lir and Bove Derg and the Dedannans and Milesians dwelled by the shores of Lake Darvra. For never in the world's history has there been singing as that of the chronicle of so sweet a four children of Lir. All day the swans discoursed lovingly with their father and Bove Derg, and their kith and kin, and all who sought them; and each night they sang their slow, sweet, fairy music--a music so wonderful and passing sweet, that all who listed to it forgot weariness and pain and bitter memories and the burden of years, and fell into a deep restful slumber, whence they awoke each morrow as though they had drunken overnight of the Fountain of Youth.

The hair of Lir and Bove Derg was long and white, and almost had the Dedannans and the Milesians forgotten their ancient enmity, when a day of the days came whereon Fionula called aside her three brothers.

"Dear brothers," she said, as she looked sadly at the three beautiful white swans, and at the four drifting shadow-swans in the depths of the lake, "dear brothers, do you know that the time has come when we must put away our happiness as a dream that has been dreamed? For now the three hundred years of our sojourn here are at an end, and at dawn to-morrow we must arise and wing our sad flight across the dear lands of Erin, till we come to the wild and stormy waters of the sea-stream of the Moyle."

Aed and Fiachra. and Conn made so loud and bitter lamentation at this that all heard, and soon the whole host that was encamped there filled the region with long keening cries of grief, and a sorrowful mourning strain as of the melancholy wind among the hills.

But once more all were soothed that night into deep slumber and happy peace, because of the slow, sweet, fairy music of the chanting swans.

At dawn, the four swans arose, and with their white pinions circled high above the lake glittering as they soared into the sunflood as it swept across the summits of the eastern hills.

"Farwell! farewell! farewell !"  they chanted, and at that sad sound all the Dedannan host and all the Milesians, headed by Lir and Bove Derg, kneeled along the lake pastures and amid,the reeds and sedges.

Then Fionula, as she and her brothers slowly descended in wide-sweeping curves, sang this song:

"Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!
  Far hence we lost ones go:
     Hearken our knell,
     Hearken our woe !

  Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!
  With breaking hearts we flee:
     For none can tell
     Our wild home on the sea.

  For ages on the Moyle,
  In loneliness and pain,
     Our feet shall tread no soil,
     Wild wave, wild wind, wild rain.

For ages in the west,
Fierce storms and fiercer cold
     Shall be alone our rest,
     While ye grow old.

  Let not our memories pass,
  O ye who stay behind--
     Who are as the grass
     And we the wind.

  Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!
  Far hence we lost ones go:
     Hearken our knell,
     Hearken our woe!"

As Fionula ceased this song, she and her brothers swept so close to the water's edge that their white wings made a little dazzle of spray. Then with swift pinions they rose again, and soared in great spirals of flight, till they gleamed against the morning blue like four white banners adrift before a skiey wind.

Then for a brief while they suspended on outspread wings, and looked longingly down upon the dear ones and all their kith and kin, who on their part could scarce see the four white swans for the mist of tears that was before all faces.

Suddenly they swung hither and thither, like foam tossed by a tidal wind, and then flew straight to the northward. Soon they were but white specks; then the blue closed in upon them, as the wastes of the sea close at last behind the hulls of drifting ships.

Before the torch of a stormy sun sank that night amid the tossed green billows of the Moyle, there where the sea flows to and fro betwixt Erin and Alba, the children of Lir drooped their weary wings. Their home now was the running wave. In darkness and loneliness and sorrow, they floated close to each other, waiting for the dawn to steal into that first night of bitter exile.

From that day they were severed from those who loved them. Of a truth, there was keening and lamentation and sorrow by the shores of the lough of Darvra. At the last, as the snow melts, the great host of the Dedannans and Milesians passed away: to the westward some; others, to the south.

As for Bove Derg and Lir, their white hairs and the grey ashes of their lives were the mournful refrain of many a song on the lips of wandering bards.