Oidheadh chloinne Lir ‘The violent death of the children of Lir’

  • Early Modern Irish
  • prose
  • Mythological Cycle
Early Modern Irish prose romance.
After the battle of Tailtiu, the Tuatha Dé Danann choose Bodb Derg of Connacht as their new king. This offends Lir of the sídhe of Finnachad, and to placate him, Bodb Derg offers him one of his foster-daughters to wed. Lir chooses Aobh, who bears him two sets of twins: Aodh and Fionnghuala, then Fiachra and Conn. Sadly, Aobh dies in childbirth.

With Lir distraught, Bodb Derg offers him another daughter, Aoífe, to wed. Aoífe quickly grows jealous of the children and resolves to get rid of them. While journeying with them to the house of Bodb Derg, Aoífe demands that her servants kill them. When the servants refuse, she shoves the children into the water and transforms them into swans.

Though the children retain their human minds and speech, they will remain swans until Deoch, daughter the king of Munster, marries Lairgnén mac Cholmáin of Connacht. 900 years they will wander, 300 in Lough Derravaragh, 300 in the Sea of Moyle, and 300 on the west coast. When Aoífe finally arrives at the house of Bodb Derg, she is transformed into a demon as punishment.

The children bear Aoífe’s spell as best they can, filling the air with glorious music. Centuries pass and eventually they settle on Inis Gluaire in the west. One of Patrick’s followers, Mocháomhóg, brings Christianity to the island, and upon hearing the ringing of the holy man’s bell, the children begin to sing. Mocháomhóg is amazed and takes them into his home.

Meanwhile, Deoch and Lairgnén marry. The greedy bride hears of these magical swans and demands they be brought to her. Lairgnén attempts to fetch them, but at that moment the children regain their human form. They are old and frail. Mocháomhóg baptizes them just before they die.

Another version tells of the children regaining human form on hearing the toll of a church bell.

Since about the 18th century, manuscripts tend to group this text together with Oidheadh chloinne Uisnigh and Oidheadh chloinne Tuireann under the collective title Trí truagha na sgéalaigheachta (‘The three sorrows of storytelling’). Manuscript witnesses include:

London, British Library, MS Egerton 164
Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 24 A 13
Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS E vi 4
  • Early Modern Irish
prose (primary)


Mythological CycleMythological Cycle


Túatha Dé Danann
Túatha Dé (Danann)
A common Irish designation for a group of supernatural or magical figures in Irish history, broadly equivalent to the áes síde. In the pseudo-historical tradition represented by Lebor gabála Érenn and other texts, they are presented and arguably, to some extent euhemerised as the pre-Christian people that conquered Ireland from the Fir Bolg and were later overcome by the sons of Míl (the Gaels).

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Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

[ed.] [tr.] OʼCurry, Eugene [ed. and tr.], “The ‘Trí thruaighe na scéalaigheachta’ (i.e. the ‘Three most sorrowful tales’,) of Erinn. — II. ‘The fate of the children of Lir’”, The Atlantis 4 (1863): 113–157.
HathiTrust – originally from Google Books: <link>
[ed.] [tr.] OʼDuffy, Richard J. [rev.], and Eugene OʼCurry [orig.], Oidhe chloinne Lir: The fate of the children of Lir, Dublin, 1883.  
Edition, English translation and notes by Eugene O'Curry (1863); revised by Richard J. Duffy.
CELT – edition: <link> CELT: <link>
[tr.] Joyce, P. W. [tr.], Old Celtic romances, 3rd ed., London: Longmans, 1907.
Internet Archive – 1920 reprint: <link> Internet Archive – 1879 edition: <link> Internet Archive – 1879 edition: <link>

Secondary sources (select)

Breatnach, Caoimhín, “The religious significance of Oidheadh Chloinne Lir”, Ériu 50 (1999): 1–40.
Carney, James P., Studies in Irish literature and history, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1955.
Murphy, Gerard, Fianaíocht agus rómánsaíocht: The Ossianic lore and romantic tales of medieval Ireland, Irish Life and Culture, 11, Dublin: O Lochlainn, 1955.
Flower, Robin, Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the [British Library, formerly the] British Museum, vol. 2, London: British Museum, 1926.
– IIIF Presentation API v2: View in Mirador – IIIF Presentation API v3: View in Mirador
347–348 Egerton 164
Thurneysen, Rudolf, Die irische Helden- und Königsage bis zum siebzehnten Jahrhundert, Halle: Niemeyer, 1921.  

Contents: Part 1 (chapters 1-23): Allgemeines; Part 2 (chapters 1-85): Die Ulter Sage.

Internet Archive: <link>
327 [‘Loingse mac n-Uislenn (n-Uisnig)’]
Dennis Groenewegen, Julie Le Blanc
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April 2011, last updated: January 2024