22. The Hermit

AT A LITTLE DISTANCE from this they found another small island, with many trees on it, some standing singly, and some in clusters, on which, again, were perched great numbers of birds.

But here they also saw an old man on the island, who had white hair so long that he needed no other clothing. They landed, and greeted him, asking who he was, and where he was from.

“I am one of the men of Erin,” he replied. “On a certain day, a long time ago, I embarked in a small curragh, and put out to sea on a pilgrimage; but I had got only a little way from shore, when my curragh became very unsteady, as if it were about to overturn. So I returned to land, and, in order to steady my boat, I placed under my feet at the bottom, a number of green surface sods, cut from one of the grassy fields of my own country, and began my voyage anew.

“Under the guidance of God, I arrived at this spot; and He fixed the sods in the sea for me, so that they formed a little island. At first I had barely room to stand; but every year, from that time to the present, the Lord has added one foot to the length and breadth of my island, till in the long lapse of ages, it has grown to its present size.

“And on one day in each year, He has caused a single tree to spring up, until the island has become covered with trees. Moreover, I am so old that my body, as you see, has become covered with long, white hair, so that I need no other dress.

“And the birds that you see on the trees,” he continued, “these are the souls of my children, and of all my descendants, both men and women, who are sent to this little island to abide when they die in Erin. God has caused a well of ale to spring up for us on the island; and every morning the angels bring me half a cake, a slice of fish, and a cup of ale from the well; and in the evening the same allowance of food and ale is dealt out to each of my flock.

And it is in this manner that we live, and shall continue to live until the end of the world; for all of us here are awaiting the day of judgment.”

Máel Dúin and his companions were treated hospitably by the old hermit for three days and three nights. On the fourth morning, when they were leaving, he said to them: “All of you shall reach your country and your homes, except one.”


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