Click to view the track list for CD #1
James Joyce at the Piano in Paris, 1939 James Joyce: Music in the Novels and Poems
CD #1 Songs
Artwork for CD #1 cover

James Joyce Quote
Transformed into beautiful swans with the gift of music, Fionnuala and her brothers spent 300 years on the stormy Straits of Moyle.
James Joyce Unquote

Click to play music clip of track 2

From CD #1:
Silent, O Moyle

Words by Thomas Moore, to the air "My Dear Eveleen";
musical arrangement by N. Clifford Page

Song Lyrics

From Irish Melodies, No. ii, 9

The Song of Fionnuala*

Silent, oh Moyle, be the roar of thy water,
Break not, ye breezes, your chain of repose,
While, murmuring mournfully, Lir's lonely daughter
Tells to the night-star her tale of woes.
When shall the swan, her death-note singing,
Sleep, with wings in darkness furl'd?
When will heav'n, its sweet bell ringing,
Call my spirit from this stormy world?

Sadly, oh Moyle, to thy winter-wave weeping,
Fate bids me languish long ages away;
Yet still in her darkness doth Erin lie sleeping,
Still doth the pure light its dawning delay.
When will that day-star, mildly springing,
Warm our isle with peace and love?
When will heav'n, its sweet bell ringing,
Call my spirit to the fields above?

*To make this story intelligible in a song would require a much greater number of verses than any one is authorised to inflict upon an audience at once; the reader must therefore be content to learn, in a note, that Fionnuala, the daughter of Lir, was, by some supernatural power, transformed into a swan and condemned to wander, for many hundred years, over certain lakes and rivers in Ireland, till the coming of Christianity, when the first sound of the mass-bell was to be the signal of her release. — I found this fanciful fiction among some manuscript translations from the Irish, which were begun under the direction of that enlightened friend of Ireland, the Countess of Moira. [Thomas Moore's note to the song.]

Notes on the Song

The lyrics above are taken from a 19th-century American edition of Thomas Moore's poetical works. The sheet music has a few very minor differences (e.g., "O Moyle" instead of "oh Moyle" and "heav'n" instead of "heaven").

In Irish mythology, Lir was the lord of the sea. According to the Oidead Clainne Lir ("The Tragedy of the Children of Lir"), after the king's four children were turned into swans by their wicked stepmother, Aoife, they retained the power of human speech, but also were possessed of the gift of music. They first went to Lake Derryvaragh, where they spent 300 years living peacefully. But they spent the next 300 years without shelter on the stormy Straits of Moyle (between Ireland and Scotland). Their final 300 years were passed near Inishglory, off the Straits of Erris, in the open Atlantic. Life here was especially harsh — the western seas of Mayo are frigid and turbulent, and one bitter night the ocean actually froze solid.

The signal that the curse was soon to end came when the hermit Mo Caemóc arrived in Inishglory and the Christian matin bells were rung there for the first time. The hermit heard the swans' beautiful singing, took them in, and looked after them for a time. When the curse was lifted from Fionnuala and her brothers, the hermit was astonished at the sight of four ancient, withered human beings close to death. He quickly baptized them so they could ascend to heaven, and he later buried them together in a single grave.

This sorrowful tale is the reason that over the centuries the Irish have been protective of swans, to the extent that it is practically taboo to kill them.

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