The Land of the Ever Young Part Two

In my last post, The Land of the Ever Young Part One, we talked about Manannán’s Land, a mythical island kingdom of eternal summer and youth, a place of peace and joy and laughter, thought to be found in the oceans somewhere west of Ireland.

Today, we’re taking a look at Tir na n’Óg, the ‘Land of the Young/ Ever Young’.

When the Tuatha de Danann were defeated by the Milesians, a bargain was struck; the Milesians agreed to share the rule of Ireland equally. But they tricked the Danann; as the victors, they chose the half of Ireland which lay above ground, so the Danann were forced to retreat to their half below ground.

That’s mortals for you, they’re tricksy.

At least, that’s what people believed, because that’s what it looked like, but when the Danann entered through their Sidhe-mounds they were not going underground. Oh no! These Sidhe-mounds simply acted as gateways into the Otherworld, also known as Tir na n’Óg. Was it the land of the dead, heaven or hell, another dimension, or another planet?

Good question. It was forested, and like the Sea-God’s islands, perpetual summer. The Danann lived their lives there in much the same way as they had ‘above ground’ in Ireland.

There was one big difference, though; time was almost viscous, slowed down to such an extent that, as the tale of Oisin and Niamh shows, a year in the magical realm could amount to as many as three hundred in the mortal world. Thus the Danann appeared ever youthful and ageless to mortal man.

The Danann continued to interact with mankind, offering help or hindrance, taking lovers, making marriages, sport and battle with them, forming alliances and enemies, fostering mortal children. Eventually, as mankind moved on, the Danann became known as the Sidhe, named after the mounds they appeared to live in. They were thought of as fairies, or demons and their longevity and magic were mistrusted and feared.

Ireland is well known for its ragged mists and enveloping fog. According to legend, these vapours were said to be Manannán’s Cloak of invisibility and forgetting, the Faeth Fiadha. It was a gift given the Danann by the Sea-God at the time of their retreat. It shrouded their demise, and protected the borders of their land from unwanted attention. Humans knew better than to stray into the fog; they could end up wandering into the fairy domain, and never find their way home. At least, not within living memory.

Curiously, Manannán used his Cloak of Mists to save his marriage. When the Ulster warrior, Cuchulainn, came to visit, he had an affair with the Sea-God’s wife, Fand, even though he was already married to Emer. Manannán shook his cloak between Fand and her lover, that each might forget the other, and sent the amorous young man back to his extremely irate wife.

Water plays a part in the legends of Tir na nOg too, for the Otherword could be accessed not only over water, ie sailing west over the sea, but through water. It’s tempting to think that when ancient man looked into the surface of a still lake (and Ireland has very many of them), he saw the mountains and trees and skies reflected there, and thought it was another world.

But just remember, this is a people who could raise massive stone monuments with some unknown technology we still can’t figure out today; they could read the night sky as well as we can without telescopes and computers. They were not simple savages. They were complex and intelligent. I think they were capable of working out reflections.

So what does this ‘through water’ mean? Did it mean you had to drown to pass through that watery gate? The body was left behind and the soul went on into the Otherworld? Interesting, bearing in mind the bodies found in bogs, and the many votive offerings found in pools of water.

Boundaries were thought of as liminal places, neither belonging to one realm or the other; fog, as we’ve already seen, blurs the barrier between the physical and spiritual worlds. Water, particularly shore lines, whether sea or lake, does the same, giving way from the solid to the ethereal.

Even the humble doorstep bears the same function; Saint Brigid, for example was born on the doorstep of her family home, neither within nor yet without it. She was born at dawn, when it was not properly day or night.

These spaces are powerpoints where magic can happen; the margins between the physical and non-physical are thin, through which entities both solid and spirit can pass.

That is what I think ‘through water’ means. Perhaps it’s why Christians threw ‘witches’ into water. But that’s a post for another time.

Tir na nÓg, not surprisingly, has a few other names, among them, Ildathach ( the many coloured place), Mag Mór (the Great Plain), Mag Mon (the Plain of Sports), Mag Rein (the Plain of the Sea), and Emain Ablach, meaning ‘place of apples’. This is quite intriguing, given the talk of Avalon, the Isle of Apples, in the medieval tales of King Arthur. Wales also has its mysterious Isle of Apples, Ynys Afallach. Could these tales have derived from an earlier Irish tradition? (I think you already know my thoughts on this!)

So what’s the big deal with this little round fruit? Well, in my post A Fire In the Head | The Shamanic Use of Amanita, we learned how the apple could have been used as an innocuous representation of the secret use of this magical red fungus to access the Otherworld. Which ties in nicely with the Otherworld aspect of the mysterious isle of apples.

But if it was an island, then it must surely have been part of Manannán’s Land, and he was indeed said to have kept an orchard of magic apples; his white horse Aonbharr fed on them, as did Cliodhna’s three little multi-coloured pet birds.

In the Echtra Cormaic mac Airt, the King is visited by Manannán in disguise, who gives him a gift of a silver bough on which three golden apples are found. He claims he has brought the branch from a land ‘where there is nothing but truth, and where there is neither age nor withering away, nor heaviness, nor sadness, nor jealousy, nor envy, nor pride’. When the branch is shaken, such beautiful music is heard that battle-wounded men, or women in childbed, or those who are sick, fall into restful sleep and are healed.

Interestingly, the apple branch was carried by poets, and denoted their status; the Ollamh, or chief poet, would carry an apple branch of gold, lower ranks would carry a branch of silver, and all the rest would carry a bronze branch. In this way, it came to be seen as a druidic symbol.

Patricia Monaghon in her Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology claims that one of the names for Tir na nOg was Mag Rein. I understood that it was one of the first places where the Danann made camp when they invaded Ireland; Magh Rein in the Red Hills of Breffni. 

Are you still with me? Cos this is where its about to get really interesting.

Last year, when I was researching Magh Slecht for a post on St Patrick, I discovered that bordering this area, there is a a townland called Magh Rein, in Leitrim. In Cavan, we also have a place called Redhills, and in ancient times, much of Cavan and Leitrim formed a Kingdom called Breffni.

So perhaps the Otherworld didn’t exist underground, or through water, or west across the sea at all; perhaps it’s been right here under our noses all along, our very own heaven on earth.


You can read The Land of the Ever Young Part One here.


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40 Comments on “The Land of the Ever Young Part Two

  1. wait what? Don’t you live in cavan? Does that mean you live in the otherworld? I KNEW IT. I bloody KNEW it. :p you are a fairy! :p lol. Awesome post as always Ma’am

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  2. I do love the thought of these portholes being around us, Ali. When you think about it, we are all in water when in the womb. Maybe those that believe these portholes are in the water are on to something?

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  3. The whole idea of portals is fascinating, Ali, to otherworlds, underworlds, and parallel worlds. The “through” water is intriguing because there is the insinuation of death…or is it birth, another transition through water? 🙂

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  4. I love these posts of yours, Ali. I’ve been learning so much from reading them, and enjoying your way of shaping the stories of what I already knew. Perhaps there both is and is not an otherness to the land of the young after all. We like to draw distinctions, this world and the next, above and below ground. Maybe beyond the ninth wave and the wave itself and where the wave journeyed from is all part of the same continuous journey and it is only to help us humans that separations are made so we have a map as to which piece of the journey we are taking in this linear moment we like to call now. The moments pass, like the waves … each wave perhaps a dimention, above, below, within; land, sea, and sky; becoming, returning, being. And sometimes they’re just the waves pointing to a possibility in the midst of changing and unknown which is like an island, and sometimes reaching beyond the number of generations a single one can fathom in reflecting on memory. And sometimes, the worlds seem far apart, and sometimes intertwined. When you realize each meets within yourself because why would they not, you are of all the worlds, then you can walk between them without having to take an inner journey to do so. People often say of this physical world, be in the world but not of it. That’s very true for me, in a real day to day sense. Because I know I am not of a single world, and can be in either, or any, because I am more than what a single world prescribes that I be. That’s true of everyone, but not everyone recognizes who they really are, and that they are so, so much more than they ever dreamed. And who we really are isn’t always easy to access or feel or live, but when it happens, you know and feel and resonate with home. And then life knocks you around. But part of you has never been a wanderer, so you remember that after each storm passes, you can return. And some people even learn how to return during the storms. That’s not me. 🙂 But at least I know for sure that I won’t ever be lost, how can we be lost when we are all woven connected? I think this holds true regardless of the kind of being we are, human or sidhe or nonhuman animal or elemental or something else, we’re not separate, ultimately the worlds, and we, are connected.

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    • Oh I am, Rachele! Lol! We get a lot of mist here in the centre of Ireland. You can watch it rolling up the valley. We are on top of a hill. It always stops by the hedge at the bottom of the garden and never comes in… very eerie! 😁

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  5. Have a look at Hyperborea. Some interesting theories about that and well researched in earlier days. There is talk about there being a stargate where ufos come and go. Also seen by american marine. That could be through the water. Recently i came upon an article saying that Thor came from another dimension and that his dimension and our earth dimension occupied the same place for a while. Different dimensions being close to eachother are referenced more often. Avalon in King Arthur also said to be an island away from earth. Multiple dimension theory is i believe also regular science.

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    • Hi Gertrude! Thank you for introducing me to the legend of Hyperborea! Fascinating and intriguing! There are definitely those who subscribe to the same view with regard to alternate dimensions and space travel. I am certainly open to this interpretation. I also think that given this planets age, there must have been advanced ancient civilisations we know nothing about. Did you read my post, Tuatha de Danann | Who were they really? I discuss some of these ideas in it. You might like it.

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  6. Tir na n’Og, and the Other World. Can it be accessed through the water? Yes it can be, if one can get to the bottom of the expression ‘through the water’. Visible to the senses in its solid and liquid states, and, though invisible in its gaseous form, water is very much existing. Likewise, Tir na n’Og, or the other world of eternal youth and beauty and all things good is very much present, though we cannot perceive its presence within our existing levels of awareness. Probably, we become elevated to such awareness upon shedding our mortal coils and moving on. I am enjoying my dips into Irish mythology through your stories, Ali.

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    • Ah thank you, Raj! You express it so beautifully. Another commenter just introduced me to the legend of Hyperborea. I cant believe I have never heard of it before, especially considering its similarities with the Otherworld. So much to learn! There just isn’t the time in one lifetime to learn it all! 😁

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  7. I especially like your “through water” theory. 🙂 And, I’ve got to say, I LOVE your video! (I also think it’s adorable that you don’t think you have an accent… Your accent is AMAZING!) What a wonderful addition to your blog! 😀 ❤

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    • Haha! Thank you, Rachel, although to be honest, I really don’t like the sound of my own voice. But I posted it because I recently got asked to take part in a short film by Tourism Ireland, and they were disappointed when we met on Skype , and I didn’t have an Irish accent. Tourists want the whole authentic Irish experience, including accent. I didn’t get the job lol! 😂 Glad to see you’re back, you sound in great form, are you well?

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    • Thanks Craig. 😁 I don’t think my theories are anything new, but I have arrived at them myself. I’m slow. I need time to work things through. But I love that light bulb moment, when something ‘feels’ right. Yeah, I’m not very scientific about it. 😁

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  8. Another great post! I think I’ve mentioned in the past a theory about the battle between cultures of the apple (cider, druidic, Celtic, Northern European) and cultures of the vine (wine, Mediterranean, Latin, Christian).

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  9. My favourite; Tir na n’Óg. Another way the story of the time difference between those at home and those who went there could be space travel. When you leave earth and head off into space for many years, everyone will have aged much quicker than yourself on your return. I know this because I am really two hundred years old and only look to be in my fifties. Ahem … 😉 Now, where on earth did I park my rocket?

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    • Haha! Hilarious! But seriously, you do look fantastic. And I agree with the space travel theory, it works for me. And obviously for you! 😂😂😂

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