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Byline: Compiled by Charles Legge


During the Queen's visit to Dublin in 2011 she laid a wreath at a statue called Children Of Lir. Who were they?

THE Children Of Lir is one of the most famous stories from the Irish mythological cycle. The story begins when Bodb Derg becomes king of the legendary Irish race the Tuatha De Danann.

To appease Lir, the Lord of the Sea, Bodb offers one of his daughters, Aoibh, to be Lir's wife, and the couple have four children: Fionnuala, Fiachra and Conn (twin brothers) and Aodh.

When Aoibh dies, Bodb sends another of his daughters, Aoife, to marry Lir. But Aoife is jealous of the love Lir has for his first family and, in a rage, turns the children into four white swans at Lake Derravaragh in County Westmeath: 'Out with you upon the wild waves, Children of the King! Henceforth your cries shall be with the flocks of birds.'

She sentences them to 900 years as birds: 'For 300 years you will stay on the Lake of the Oaks [Lough Derravarragh]; for 300 years you will be on the Isle of Maoile, between Ireland and Scotland; and for 300 years you will be at Inis Gluaire, on the wild North Coast of Ireland. Only when you hear a bell ring in honour of God, you will get your human forms again.'

During their final 300 years, they meet Christian missionary Saint Mochaomhog, who treats them with great kindness and teaches them of Christianity and Saint Patrick. The swans, who have retained their beautiful voices, are invited to take residence and sing in the monastery.

In the usual end to the story, the King of Leinster takes the swans but, as he leaves the monastery, the bell tolls and the children crumble to dust. In an alternate romantic version, the children hear the bell toll, find St Mochaomhog and he completes the transformation. They die and find peace in heaven with Lir and Aoibh.

The Children Of Lir is one of the great 'sorrows' of storytelling in Ireland, a tale of one people being conquered by another, often used as an allegory for English rule.

Oisin Kelly (1915-81) was the Dublin artist commissioned to sculpt The Children Of Lir (1964) for Dublin's Garden of Remembrance, opened in 1966 on the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising.

The 2011 sight of the Queen in the Garden of Remembrance, honouring those long considered terrorists by the British Symbolic gesture: The Queen and Irish President Mary McAleese are dwarfed by the statue of the Children of Lir at Dublin's war memorial in 2011 Establishment, was remarkable. She was the first British monarch to set foot in Southern Ireland since 1911.

Iris Callahan, London E16.


Do the small petrol engines in strimmers, blowers and mopeds have to be noisy?

MOPEDS, like most road vehicles in their standard form, are heavily regulated for noise and are reasonably quiet, though excessive noise can be caused by modifications.

However petrol-powered, handheld garden machinery items can be noisy. Consider how an engine silencer works: if you connected the exhaust pipe of an engine via a tube to your house and then sealed all the doors and windows, so the only outlet was your chimney, you would create a very quiet exhaust system.

The expansion of the exhaust gasses would take place in the house, causing little air disturbance, and the noise this created would be silenced by the walls while the gasses escaped slowly up the chimney.

This is what engineers try to do when they design an engine silencer. The exhaust gasses are directed into an insulated container where they expand much more slowly and at much lower pressure than in the engine cylinder. Then, with the use of tubes and baffles, the exhaust exits into the atmosphere at a lower velocity. …