The Voyage of Mael Duin

1. The Birth and Early Life of Mael Duin

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LONG AGO, there lived among the Eoganacht clan of Ninuss, in the kingdom of Thomond, a warrior named Alill Ocar Agha (or ‘Alill of the Edge of Battle’). He was a hero and a chief among his clan and family, and he was famed as a brave fighter. The king of Thomond led a raid…

2. Mael Duin learns the Truth

ONE DAY, the youths of the Royal Court were at play, competing among themselves in tests of strength and skill. Máel Dúin was winning every contest, and at last one of his companions, consumed with envy, burst out in anger and frustration: “To think that you, whose clan and kin no one knows, whose father…

3. Mael Duin builds a boat and sets sail

BEFORE HE DID ANYTHING ELSE, Máel Dúin went to the country of Corcomroe, to see Nuca the druid, to ask him for charms and blessings for the boat he had decided to build. The druid gave Máel Dúin the charms and blessings he asked for, and told him on what day he should begin to…

4. The Island of the Murderers

AND THEY ROWED into the night, until at about midnight they came to two small and barren islands, on each of which was a fort. Coming from the forts was the sound of a gathering, the outcry of intoxication, the commotion of warriors boasting of spoils won, and the cries of prisoners and hostages. Máel…

5. The Island of the Ants

THEY DRIFTED AIMLESSLY for three days and nights, with no sign of land.But early on the morning of the third day, before the sun had risen, they could hear a sound from the northeast. “It is the voice of waves against the shore,” said Máel Dúin. When the sun rose and the day brightened, they…

6. The Island of the Great Birds

IN THE EARLY HOURS of the fourth day after they had fled the island of the ants, they again heard the murmur of waves on a distant beach. As the day dawned, they saw a large island, with high terraces all around it, rising one behind another. On the terraces grew rows of tall trees,…

7. The Island of the Fierce Beast

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FOR ANOTHER THREE DAYS they sailed without seeing land, and then on the fourth day, they came upon an island that was great in size, with vast and flat sandy beaches. As they approached it, they saw a huge animal standing on the beach, looking at them attentively. It was like a horse in shape;…

8. The Demonic Horse Race

AFTER SAILING for several more days, a broad, flat island came into view. The crew cast lots, and it fell to Germane to go and examine it, but he did not think the task a pleasant one, for thoughts of the gigantic ants and the taloned monster they had met on the other islands were…

9. The Palace of Solitude

HAVING LEFT THE DEMONS to their horse racing, they sailed for a full week with no sign of land, and suffered greatly from lack of food and water.Their hunger was great by the time they came upon a vast island, which rose high out of the waves. On the shore, right on the water’s edge,…

10. The Apple Tree

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AND NOW they were a long while voyaging, and again they were without food and drink. So they suffered from hunger and thirst, until they came to an island with great cliffs all around it. A single apple tree grew in the middle of the island. It was very tall, and all its branches were…

11. The Island of the Wondrous Beast

13 The Wondrous Creature

THE NEXT ISLAND had a stone wall all round it. When they came near the shore, an animal of vast size, with a thick, rough skin, started up inside the wall, and commenced to run around and around the island. Its racing seemed swifter than the rush of the cold wind of March to Máel…

12. The Island of the Bloodthirsty Horses

The Bloodthirsty Horses

A MOST BEAUTIFUL island next came into view. On it they saw multitudes of large animals shaped like horses that were standing tightly packed together, one next to the other. As they drew near, the voyagers watched as one of the horse-like creatures opened its mouth and tore a great piece out of the side…

13. The Island of the Fiery Swine

THEY SAILED for a long time, suffering much from hunger and thirst, and praying fervently to be relieved from their distress. At last, when they were beginning to sink into a state of despondency, being quite worn out with toil and hardship of every kind, they sighted land. It was a large and beautiful island,…

14. The Palace of the Little Cat

AFTER ROWING for a long time, their store of apples failed them, and again they had nothing to eat or drink. They baked under a hot and merciless sun, and the sea gave forth an evil stench, which filled their mouths and noses, so that it was hard to breathe. They were mightily relieved when…

15. The Island of the Black and the White Sheep

ON THE MORNING of the third day, they came to another island, which was divided into two halves by a wall of brass running clear across the middle. They saw two great flocks of sheep, one on each side of the wall; and all those on one side were black, while those on the other…

16. The Burning River

ON THE THIRD DAY, a large, broad island came into view. On it was a herd of gracefully shaped swine; they were most handsome creatures. They killed one of the smaller young for food, but it was to heavy to carry to the boat, so they butchered and cooked it on the spot. Towards the…

17. The Mill

THE NEXT ISLAND they came to, not far from the last, had a large mill on it. Near the door stood the miller; he was a huge, strong, and burly man. Both the mill and the miller were hideous, and ugly to the eye. Máel Dúin saw countless crowds of men and horses laden with…

18. The Island of Weeping

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THEY HAD NOT been sailing for long when they discovered another large island, on which there was a great multitude of people who had entirely black skin and clothes, and black head-dresses as well. They were all perfectly black, from head to foot. They kept walking about, sighing and weeping and wringing their hands, as…

19. The Island of the Four Fences

THE NEXT was a high island, divided into four parts by four walls meeting in the centre. The first was a wall of gold, the second, a wall of silver, the third, a wall of copper, and the fourth was a wall of crystal. In the first of the four divisions there were kings gathered;…

20. The Palace of the Glass Bridge

THEY CAME NEXT to a small island, and there was a palace on it, with a brass door, and there were brass chains and fastenings on the door, hung all over with little silver bells. In front of the door there was a fountain, spanned by a bridge of glass, which led to the palace.…

21. The Island of the Shouting Birds

ONE NIGHT, soon afterwards, they heard in the distance, towards the north-east, a confused murmur of voices, as if from a great choir singing psalms or chanting. They followed the direction of the sound, in order to find out where it came from; and at noon the next day, they came to an island, very…

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.…

23. The Miraculous Fountain

The Miraculous Fountain

AFTER THREE DAYS, they found another island. It was encircled by a golden rampart, and within the walls, the ground everywhere was white, like fine down or snow. There was another old man there, and his hair also was grown so much that it covered him entirely, so that he had no need of clothing.…

24. The Blacksmiths

WHEN THEY HAD BEEN for a long time roughly tossed about by the waves, they saw land in the distance. As they came near the shore, they could hear the roaring of a great bellows, and the thundering sound of smiths’ hammers striking a large glowing mass of iron on an anvil; and every blow…

25. A Sea of Glass

THEY SAILED ON until they came to a sea like green glass. It was so calm and transparent that the gravel and sand at the bottom were perfectly visible, sparkling in the sunlight. And in this sea they saw neither monsters, nor any animals, nor even rough rocks. There was nothing but the clear water…

26. The Country Beneath the Waves

AFTER LEAVING the sea of glass, they came to another sea, and this one seemed like a clear, thin cloud; and it was so transparent, and appeared so light, that they thought at first it would not support the weight of the curragh, and that they might fall from the surface, down through the drifts…

27. A Prophecy

WHEN THEY CAME to the next island, they were astonished to see that the sea rose up over it on every side, steep and high. It was as if the island lay at the bottom of a vast well, made somehow into the water, so that the crew looked down on the island from a…

28. The Arch of Water

THEY SOON ARRIVED at another island, and here was another strange thing. A great stream of water rose up in a column out of the sand on the beach — and then it arched like a rainbow over the whole of the island, until it descended into the beach on the other side. The water…

29. The Silver Pillar

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THEN THEY TRAVELLED ON, until they came to an immense column made entirely of silver, standing all alone in the ocean. It had eight sides, each of which was the width of an oar-stroke of the curragh, so that its circumference was eight oar-strokes. It rose out of the sea without any land or earth…

30. The Island of the Pedestal

THE ISLAND they saw after this was named Encos (or ‘One Foot’), because it was suspended on a single massive pillar in the middle. They rowed all round it, looking for some entrance; but they could find no landing-place. However, deep down below the surface of the water, they saw a door that appeared to…

31. The Island of the Women

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THE NEXT ISLAND they came to was a large; on one side rose a lofty, smooth, heath-clad mountain. All the rest of the island was a grassy plain. Near the sea-shore stood a great high palace, adorned with carvings and precious stones, and strongly fortified with a high wall all around. They landed on the…

32. The Fruit

FOR A LONG TIME, they were thrown about on high waves that were whipped up by strong winds, but finally, they came to an island with many trees on it. These trees were like hazels, and they were laden with a kind of fruit which the voyagers had not seen before; extremely large, and not…

33. The Three Eagles

SOON AFTER, they landed on another large island. On one side, it was overgrown with great forests of yew and oak; and on the other was a broad flat plain, in the middle of which was a small lake, with herds of sheep feeding in the surrounding meadows. There they also found a church and…

34. The Laughing Folk

THEY SAILED UNTIL they came to an island which had a great level plain extending over its whole surface, and on this plain a vast multitude of people were playing at games and laughing, without any pause. The voyagers cast lots to decide who should go to examine the island, and the lot fell upon…

35. The Island of the Flaming Wall

THEY CAME NEXT to a small island that was encircled by a high wall of fire that circled around the island continually, without pausing. In the side of the wall was a single doorway, which was always open; and whenever this doorway, as it turned around the island, came to them, they could see through…

36. The Monk of Toraigh

THEY HAD NOT BEEN sailing long when they sighted something a long way off towards the south, which at first they thought to be a large white bird floating on the sea, and rising and falling with the waves; but on turning their curragh towards it for a closer view, they found that it was…

37. The Falcon

SOON AFTERWARDS, they saw a lush and beautiful island, covered with rich grassland, and with herds of oxen and sheep browsing over its hills and valleys; but there were no houses nor inhabitants to be seen anywhere. And so they stayed here for some time, and ate their fill of beef and lamb.One day, while…

38. The Homecoming

AS THEY APPROACHED the island, they recognised it as the very same island which they had seen in the beginning of their voyage, on which they had heard the man in the great house boast that he had slain Máel Dúin’s father, and from which the storm had driven them out into the great ocean.…