YA fiction: Children of Lir’s Aífe tells her side of the story
Deirdre Sullivan and Anna Carey write Irish women in to the picture in compelling ways
Karen Vaughan image from Deirdre Sullivan’s Savage Her Reply
When Oisin Kelly’s sculpture of the Children of Lir – a work to commemorate those lost in the fight for Irish freedom – was unveiled in Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance, some found it “not fitting that a subject from pagan legend … should be the basis of a public monument in a Christian country” (publicart.ie). It was a nonsensical objection, considering the legend ends in salvation through Christian baptism and the monument looks over a crucifix of water, but then again there was only one television channel in those days.
In the context of Irish mythology, the story of four children magically transformed into swans by a wicked stepmother, is not just one of the more heavily Christianised legends (some Christianising of oral stories is inevitable when the only literate people around are monks) but a proselyting Christian tale whose origins may be as late as the 14th century. From this perspective, its yoking to Irish nationalist martyrs seems almost inevitable. The story edges towards becoming sacred in its own right.