The Land of the Ever Young Part One

The Land of the Ever Young http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

In Irish mythology, there is much mention of a place referred to as the Otherworld.  But where and what actually is it? Ah well, that would be telling. The thing is, mankind has been searching for this mysterious and elusive land for centuries, and we are still no nearer discovering the truth.

The Otherworld has many names; Tir na nOg (the land of the Young/ Ever Young),  Tír na mBeo (the Land of the Living),  Mag Mell (Plain of Joy), Tír fa Tonn (Land under the Waves), Tír na mBan, (Land of Women), Tir na nIongnadh (Land of Wonders), Tir Tairnigiri (Land of Promise), Manannán’s Land, and perhaps most famously, Hy-Brasil.

So are they all one and the same place? Possibly. No, don’t roll your eyes, this is mythology, not science; there are no facts, just lots of contradiction. That’s why it’s so intriguing.

In Irish mythology, the Otherworld was divided into two realms, that of the Sidhe in their hollow hills, and the other being the island lands ruled by Manannán, God of the Sea.

Also known as the Blessed Isles, they lay ‘beyond the ninth wave‘, gentle places of peace, beauty, healing and eternal life, happiness and everlasting summer. The realm of the Sidhe, by contrast, was as full of strife as the mortal world, as any of the myths about them show us; their lives were subject to the same passions, love, hate, desire, joy, power, jealousy, battles and death as are our own.

land of the Dead

Definitely not. If the ancient Irish believed in reincarnation, they had no need for a place to collect the souls of the dead. Interestingly, though Donn of the Milesians, said to be the first Gaels, died on his ship as it neared Ireland’s shores. He was buried at Bull Rock, a formidable stony crag which juts out of the ocean, and so the legend of Donn, Lord of the Dead was born. (You can read about this in my post Donn, Lord of the Dead.)

The Milesians went on to defeat the Danann, half through might in battle, half though trickery, and the Danann were banished underground. Perhaps the thought of Donn waiting to lead them to the afterlife was a comforting thought to the Milesian warriors anxiously waiting to confront the notorious Danann, and fearing death in battle in a strange land far from home.

In any case, this story was not part of the Celtic Irish tradition, and does not form part of the Otherworld stories.

hy-Brasil

Hy-Brasil was an island which once lay off the west coast of Ireland. Its name is derived from Old Irish hy, a variation of í, meaning ‘island’, and brasil, from the root word bres, meaning ‘beautiful/ great/ mighty’. It has also been explained as coming from Uí Breasal, meaning ‘of the clan of Bresal’, a people who once inhabited the North East of Ireland.

Legend has it that the island lies shrouded in mist most of the time, thus shielded from the eyes of mortals, but that one day in every seven years, the fog rolls back to reveal its distant splendour to anyone who might be looking.

Many explorers over the last few hundred years have gone on voyages seeking this fabled island, some even claiming to have sighted or visited it. It could well have been one of the island kingdoms belonging to Manannán. (You can read more about it in my post Hy-Brasil, Mysterious Lost Island of Irish Mythology.)

manannán’s land

Manannán was not of the Tuatha de Danann, yet when they were defeated by the invading Milesians and forced to retreat to their lands beneath the surface, he came to their aid, helping them to establish amongst themselves a High King. He then shrouded their Sidhe-mounds with fog, to keep them safe from prying eyes and unwanted attention.

Manannán’s lands were not seen as the land of the dead, as portrayed by Christian belief, but as the land of the ever living, of the ever young. As with Hy-Brasil, his lands were said to lie west of Ireland.

Niamh of the Golden Hair was said to have come from Manannán’s lands when she came for Oisin on her white horse. This animal could well have been the Sea God’s famous white horse, Aonbharr of the Flowing Mane, who could gallop over water as if it were solid ground.

Ciabhán was rescued from his little capsizing corracle by Manannán, after setting sail to seek Cliodhna, a woman from the Sea God’s land that he had fallen in love with. She too arrived from across the sea riding a white horse.

It’s quite likely that the Sea God’s kingdom comprised an archipelago of islands off the west coast of Ireland, which could be one reason why it has so many names, and could possibly have included Hy-Brasil.

sea voyages

There are a group of ancient texts called Imramma, in which the hero of the tale sets out in a boat searching for paradise. They are very Christian in the telling, usually but not always involving a monk or priest as the hero character, and although dated from C7th onwards, it’s thought they could be based on much older stories.

The Imram is all about the trials and tribulations of the journey; the destination is less important than the ordeal of getting there. But on the way, they encounter many strange islands, where odd things befall them and conspire to keep them from their mission, or tempt them in un-Christian ways.

In the Imram Brain, or the Sea Voyage of Bran, for example, Bran and his companions are persuaded to stop off at the Isle of Women, where they each pair off with a woman and live very happily for a year. When they eventually return home, they find that so much time has passed, Ireland has changed beyond recognition, and their names are only remembered in ancient legend.


I hope you’ll join me on Wednesday for Part Two, to find out more about the Otherworld beyond the Sidhe-mounds. You can read Land of the Ever Young Part Two here.


Get more mythology straight to your inbox. Sign up to my mailing list.

Or try one of these…

43 thoughts on “The Land of the Ever Young Part One

  1. “The Milesians went on to defeat the Danann, half through might in battle, half through trickery…” What an interesting fact, Ali, Do you know how they were tricked?
    The people living underground remind me of the creatures H.G Wells wrote about, The Morlocks, from “The Time Machine.” Love the facts about all the mysterious Islands and what was on them.
    A great read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The trick was, that in negotiations, both sides agreed to rule half of Ireland. But instead of choosing, say the North, or the South, the crafty Milesians chose the half that was above ground, leaving the Danann to the half below ground. Clever, huh? I’d never have thought of that. So in effect, they actually got all of Ireland. Cheeky beggars. 😂😁😄 Thanks Hugh! Xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What an interesting post, Ali. So much more than I ever remember learning in school, but then there is so much to learn about Irish mythology, schooldays would never cover it all anyway. I think we learned more about Greek myths than Irish myths. Thanks for all your hard work and for sharing it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I dont think it has changed much since then, either, Jean, sadly. Even our national museum of archaeology is covered in mosaics depicting the Greek classical myths, rather than our own. Amazing to think that we place so little value on our own heritage and mythology.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I just love these stories Ali – oh and as an aside, I first heard of Hy brasil in a Monty python film called Erik the Viking- where they visit that place as well as Asgard to try to end the age of Ragnarok. They travel with a Christian who never sees any of the mythological marvels because he doesn’t believe in them – a hoot! I’m actually quite fond of Norse mythology as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Manannan has his cognate in Welsh mythology, See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manawydan_fab_Ll%C5%B7r “Manawydan fab Llŷr; “Manawydan, the son of Llŷr” is a legendary tale from medieval Welsh literature and the third of the four branches of the Mabinogi. It is a direct sequel to the second branch, Branwen ferch Llŷr, and deals with the aftermath of Bran’s invasion of Ireland and the horrific enchantment that transforms Dyfed into a wasteland. The chief characters of the tale are Manawydan, rightful king of Britain, his friend Pryderi, the king of Dyfed and their respective wives Rhiannon and Cigfa. Along with the other branches, the tale can be found the medieval Red Book of Hergest and White Book of Rhydderch.” Evangeline Walton tells the tale of Manawydan and Rhiannon in her reworking of the Third Branch of the Mabinogion entitled “The Song of Rhiannon.” She adds some really enjoyable material about a hobgoblin!
    Reading your great posts about Irish mythology makes me think that it is really more complex than Greek mythology. Maybe that’s the difference between the Classical and the Celtic mindset! A instinct for clarity vs. the instinct to see ambiguity in everything! And now both my Greek and Irish friends will probably be insulted! 😉

    Like

  5. Fascinating to me how every culture has a vision of afterlife or eternal life. The magical islands have been intriguing for thousands of years. Your section on sea voyages reminded me a bit of The Odessey. I had a weird experience once on land. I was driving to work (the way I’d driven for 15 years) and the clouds looked like a mountain range. It was so real that for several moments I became disoriented and had no idea where I was. Fun post, Ali. I’m looking forward to Part 2 🙂

    Like

    1. Well, he does feature in the stories but not quite as one of the Danann. There’s a school of thought that he comes from an older tradition. There are some characters, thought of as Gods, who don’t seem to fit with the picture, Nechtan, Danu and a couple of others, whose stories are lost, or just don’t seem to fit, I think anyway. Manannán was the only one who even the Danann turned to for help and advice. His role was superior even to them. And his origins are uncertain. He didn’t come to Ireland with the Danann, so maybe he was already there. Some think he was a bit unpredictable and a trickster, but there is no mention in the stories that I’ve come across of him having a battle, or acting with anything but generosity and benevolence to all. I’m very intrigued by him.

      Like

    1. Hi Mary Jane, pleased to meet you! It’s so great to meet a fellow blogger from my area. Moynalty is not far from here at all. Thanks for the feedback on the blog, glad you like it! 😊 I’m interested to find out about your tours.

      Like

  6. Two points which you may find interesting.

    The idea of a land to the west that is only visible on rare occasions, and which never can be reached by normal means, is based on a real phenomenon. Once, years ago, I was staying on the Welsh coast and one evening I sat on the cliffs and looked out on what I could have sworn was a large island on the horizon. Hills and valleys were perfectly clear, the glint of light on at least on large lake and even the odd wisp of smoke. Then as the sun finally set the whole ‘landscape’ became cloud again and vanished, just a strange trick of the light. So there was the land, you just needed the tales to explain it, and our ancestors came up with some beauties.

    The idea of a wonderful island in the Atlantic, and voyages between magical islands, inspired a great poet and writer of the nineteenth century, who is remembered for something completely different – William Morris. As well as a brilliant designer he was a great poet, his collection of poems ‘The Earthly Paradise’, describes a voyage to such an island. Whilst his fantasy novel ‘The Waters of the Wondrous Isles’ has the heroine making a voyage in a magical boat between numerous strange islands, some of which are taken straight from the legends.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I’ve heard of that phenomenon, but never met anyone who had experienced it. Meteorologists say it’s caused by certain atmospheric conditions, like light reflecting off banks of fog or low lying cloud at particular angles. I didn’t know that William Morris was a writer too. Always learning from you, Gordon! 😊

      Like

      1. I my case it was low cloud, but it was the way it was lit from behind by the setting sun that made it look like an island. Then as the sun set the effect vanished and it was clear I was just looking at cloud. Perhaps that is the origin of the idea that the island is hidden by being shrouded in mist and cloud.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. As always Ali, interesting, thought provoking and pleasurable. Did these stories pre-date Christianity and form the basis of a religion for the Celts brought over and combined with stories from each invader? And yet there are none that would seem to include stories from the Viking lands with appropriate names. Or, are most of them post-Christian tales of morality told in a way to attract native interest? I can’t believe the latter. Most of these stories are specifically Irish too so not shared by the Christian Saints with other Celtic Countries. Surely Patrick would have shared them in Wales had it been so?
    I’m always left intrigued and wanting more.
    xxx Massive Monday Hugs xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But there is some crossover with Irish and Welsh mythology, isn’t there? But I think the difference might be that the Irish didn’t believe that the Otherworld was where the dead went, whereas in most other cultures, there is that place, usually the underworld. I Ireland, you could get there by going underground, or through water, but then you emerged. And it wasn’t peopled by the dead. The Vikings had Valhalla, didn’t they? So maybe there are some similarities, but to be honest, by the time they arrived Ireland was already a mostly Christian country, and the old stories and traditions had been adopted and Christianised, or abandoned. Its all very mixed up and impossible to distill down to its original strands. I wonder if we even should pick them apart. We should just enjoy them for what they are. You should educate us on the Welsh myths, I’d love to know more about them.

      Liked by 1 person

Please feel free to join in the conversation...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s