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A look at the echtrae and related tales from Irish mythology, which detail dealings with the other worlds of Irish myth.


A tale of a great voyage in search of marvellous treasures features in the Mythological Cycle and concerns Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba, the three sons of Turenn. The story begins with an attack by the Tuatha Dé Danann's traditional and fearsome enemies, the Fomóire. The three sons of Cainte - Cian, Cu and Cethe - set off to fend them off with the permission of the high king Lugh Lámfada (a son of Cian). Cian sets off and reaches the Plain of Muirthemne, where he encounters the sons of Turenn, who were themselves at odds with the sons of Cainte. A result of this is that Cian winds up dead.

Meanwhile, his son Lugh has been dealing with the Fomóire threat and discovers the nefarious deed of the sons of Turenn. A council is convened at Teamhair, where Lugh sets a price for his father's life, in the form of a series of precious and magical objects from all across the world. The sons of Turenn have little option but to comply, and set off in search of them.

Their adventures take them to the following places: -

With the aid of Manannan's curragh Scuabtuinne, and despite Lugh's best efforts and intentions, they are successful, though at great cost: the three die together soon after their return to Ireland.


The first of the listed echtrae that we will cover here is the Immram Brain maic Febail, which documents the adventure of a crew captained by one Bran, the son of Febal.

One day, Bran was in the vicinity of his stronghold when he heard strange music behind him, despite his being sure he was alone. He walked on, but still the music pursued him. Eventually, the strange, sweet strains caused him to fall asleep. Thereafter, roused from his slumbers, he discovered nearby a silver branch with copious white flowers, which is revealed later to be from the wonderland of Emain. He took this and went back to his court.

Thereafter, Bran and his warriors saw a beautiful maiden in otherworldly garb on the floor of the house. This woman began to regale Bran with a song extolling the wonders of a marvellous sequence of places out to sea, finishing up by revealing that 150 islands two or three times the size of Ireland lie in the ocean to the west. She eventually leaves, whither, no-one knew, carrying with her the remarkable silver branch, which leapt to her from Bran's hand as though compelled by some unknown force.

The next day, Bran, with thirty of his men, takes himself to the sea-coast, with the intention of finding the glorious Tír na mBan, the "Land of Women" sung of by their enigmatic visitor. They put to sea and sail westwards.

Two days later, they are surprised to see a man driving his chariot across the foaming waves. This fellow too begins a song, and introduces himself as Manannan the son of Lír, heading to Ireland to sire a son, Mongan son of Fiachna. Manannan explains that, although Bran and company can see only the waves, he himself sees plains covered with flowers and rivers of honey. His quatrains include prophecies and a cosmogony of a Christian nature.

Eventually, Bran's expedition makes landfall, but only after coasting around a land of laughter. They are wary to exit their coracles at the strand of Tír na mBan, but a ruse by the chieftainess forces them ashore. They remain for what seems a year, but represents a significantly longer span of time in Ireland and the rest of the known world: upon returning to Ireland, Bran introduces himself to a group of men at Srub Brain who tells him that such cannot be the case, as the Immram Brain is one of their tales from centuries ago! A member of Bran's crew, Nechtan son of Collbran, leaps ashore, turning immediately into a pile of ash, as though long deceased.


Dáire Doimthech, ancestor of the Dáirine and Corcu Loígde, had five sons. In response to a prophecy which stated that his son Lugaid would be king of Ireland, he named all five thus! They were variously named as follows: -

  • Lugaid Laigde (Mac Níad);
  • Lugaid Cosc;
  • Lugaid Orc;
  • Lugaid Cal;
  • Lugaid Laeghas; and
  • Lugaid Corb

A druid states that the Lugaid who will eventually win the kingship (for only one would) would be the one to capture a golden fawn, which will appear in the assembly at Teltown. This soon comes to pass, and the hunt, with the five Lugaids in the vanguard, comes to Benn Etair, where the five are separated from their comrades by an otherworldly mist. They continue to Dál Mescorb, where Lugaid Laigde catches it.

However, there is soon a heavy snowfall, and each Lugaid in turn seek shelter in a great house, where dwells a loathly lady. When Lugaid Laigde's true destiny is revealed, she becomes a beautiful woman, introducing herself as the spirit of "Sovranty," and the pair make love.

Needless to say, by the following morning, house, hag and fire have all vanished, with the five brothers finding themselves on a level plain. They return to the assembly.


It is the feast of Samhain in Ireland and, at Rath Cruachan, the seat of the rulers of Connacht (or, prehaps more accurately at this ancient time, Cóiced Ol nEchmacht), and the famous Ailill and Medb are entertaining their loyal retainers with feasting and drinking. There are sports too, though, given the preternatural nature of this festival, they are of a rather macabre nature.

Ailill offers a prize to anyone who will tie an osier around the foot of one of two hanged captives on a gallows in the midst of the dark night, some way from the welcome light and warmth of court.

Several brave souls try and, sensing demonic presences lurking ready to pounce, think better of it. Lastly, one Nera stepps forward, with Ailill offering his own sword as a reward for success.

Thus incentivised, and sensibly fortified with good armour, Nera boldly goes to the foot of the gallows, and succeeds in tying the twig about the ankle of one of the suspended unfortunates.

However, Samhain being Samhain, things take a turn for the decidedly eerie: the man tells Nera that he was thirsty when he was hanged, and begs him to carry him to the nearest house, where he might rectify this.

Unfortunetely, the first two places they visit are ringed by fire and water respectively. Third time lucky for the hanged captive: he takes a drink in another house, from two tubs, before spitting on the denizens of the place, killing them.

Thereafter, Nera puts him back on the gallows and heads back towards Cruachan, but, much to his alarm, he sees the nearby dun aflame and his companions' heads piled up in heaps, removed from their shoulders by the otherworldly enemy. Nera sets off in pursuit and, having entered the dun, is granted an audience with the king, Briun.

Nera is directed to a woman's house, and tasked with bringing firewood to the dun on a daily basis. Every time he sets about his task, he sees a blind man with a lame man on his shoulders emerge from the dun before him and head to a nearby well. Nera asks the woman what this all means, and she explains that the king's crown is kept in the well. She proceeds to explain Nera's earlier visions. It transpires that he had been a guest of the sídhe for what seems to Nera to be three days, and that Ailill, Medb and company were all alive and well back in the Rath. It appears that Ailill and Medb are fated to destroy the sid and purloin the crown. Nera takes ramsons, a primrose and a golden fern back to Rath Cruachan to prove the veracity of his journey. Meanwhile, the woman bears him a child, a son, Aingene.

The prophecy comes to pass, but not before Nera is allowed to bring his wife, son and kine therefrom.

One of the cows, however, is given to the son. This is stolen by the Morrigan and is covered by the Donn of Cualnge. This leads into the second part of the story, the Táin Bó Aingen, in which the famous Cú Chulainn sets off in pursuit of the Morrigan and her booty.


The mighty ruler Conn Cétchathach carved out a strong kingship in Ireland, though remained wary lest the sídhe steal upon the land and gain power over it. Every day, in company with his druids Mael, Bloc and Bluicne and his filid Ethain, Corb and Cesarn, he maintained a dawn watch from the fastness of Tara. On one such occasion, he stumbles upon (almost literally) a magical stone, which unleashes a violent shout which can be heard a great distance away. This, of couse, is the Lia Fáil, the "Stone of Destiny," from the island of Fáil.

Suddenly, a great mist surrounds the party, with a horseman at gallop audible within it. There is, understandably, some panic, though the horseman welcomes Conn and invites him to his home.

They come to a plain with a golden tree, with a house whose ridge-pole was fashioned from pale findruine. A young woman is within the house, bearing a crown of gold, alongside a scál ("phantom"). Eventually, the scál introduces himself as Lugh, with the woman representing the Sovereignty of Ireland.


Conn Cétchathach continued his successful reign, and his family are well-represented in the legends of Ireland. He had two sons, Art (about whom more below) and the flame-haired Connla. Both boys would have their experiences with otherworldly visitors, as would Art's own son, though perhaps none was so poignant as the tale of Connla.

One day, as he stood aside his father on the Hill of Uisneach, he spies a beautiful young woman in outlandish garb approach him. She introduces herself as being from the Plains of the Ever Living, and numbers herself among the sídhe. She has come to take him with her to Mag Mell, which is ruled by Boadach the Eternal, out of her love for him. Conn hears her voice, but cannot see her, and, in panic, calls his druid Coran, who endeavours to exorcise her.

To no avail: before leaving, she throws Connla an apple, which is the only thing he will eat from then on, so great was his longing. The apple is miraculous, and is restored when it is eaten.

Eventually, Conn and Connla are together on Mag Archommin, where Connla again sees the girl. Coran is again called, though eventually Conn allows his beloved son to leave.

The fey maiden and her human lover depart aboard a canoe of crystal, which is seen gliding into the west.


Conn's only other son was Art, and whatever consolation his wife gave him was soon at an end: Ethne Taebfada, the proud daughter of the Northern king Brislinn Binn, died and was interred at Tailltiu. Conn mourned his beloved wife deeply, and was wont to trek forth alone with his thoughts. One of these journeys took him to Benn Etair maic Etgaith.

It was on this day that the Tuatha Dé Danann were gathered in council, for a grievous deed had been wrought among them: Becuma Cneisgel, daughter of Eogan Inbur, had been caught in adultery with Gaidiar, son of Manannan. She was fortunate to avoid being burnt alive, but was instead sent in exile from the Land of Promise. To Ireland she went, but, unfortunately, her cuckolded husband Labraid Luathlam-ar-Claideb had put the word out to ensure that none of the mounds of that country would give her refuge.

Fortunately for her, Becuma chanced upon the mourning Conn, and informed him that she was Delbchaem daughter of Morgan, who had come from the Land of Promise to sue for the hand of Art. Conn, perhaps unwilling to lose another son to the wiles of the sídhe, becomes her husband instead, and she engineers a situation whereby Art is exiled from Ireland.

The first year of Becuma's queenship is disastrous for Ireland, with widespread famines afflicting the population. It was declared that the only means to right this was to sacrifice the son of a sinless couple. To this end, Conn sets out in Becuma's magical coracle.

  • Conn's journey through the seas is marked by peril, with many sea monsters sighted.
  • The curragh eventually brings him to a beautiful island, wherein dwells Rigru Rosclethan, daughter of Lodan of the Land of Promise, and her husband Daire Degamra, son of Fergus Fialbrethach from the Land of Wonders, and their son Segda Saerlabraid, who returns with Conn.

Segda is spared death by the fortuitous acquisition of a magical cow. This was brought by a mysterious woman, who turns out to be none other than Rigru, who counsels Conn to separate from the "sinful" Becuma. Becuma, meanwhile, had spied Art, now back in Ireland. She is sent away, and eventually finds a safe haven with her foster-sister Aine, daughter of Eogabal. A parting shot is that she tells Art that he must bring Delbchaem daughter of Morgan to Ireland before he eats anything else there.

Art sets out on this perilous adventure from Inber Colptha: -

  • Art heads from island to island, before coming to the island of Creide Firalainn, the daughter of Fidech Fotlebor, who informs him of the travails which lie ahead.
  • Through a "hapless" sea full of monsters he sails, slaughtering and maiming them as he proceeds.
  • Finally, landfall is made amidst a dark forest inhabited by the dog-headed Coinchenn and evil hags.
  • Art climbs the icy mountain, the way up broiling with venomous toads.
  • Next is Saeb Mountain, where dwell lions.
  • Art comes to an icy river with a narrow bridge, guarded by the gigantic Curnan Cliabsalach, son of Duscad, Morgan's doorkeeper, who is overcome after a fierce struggle.
  • Art then defeats and kills Ailill Dubdedach, son of Mongan, who is impervious to weapons, fire and water. Art wrestles him and, eventually, severs his head from his neck.
  • Finally he learns the way to Morgan's stronghold from Coinchenn Cennfada, Morgan's wife and daughter of the Coinchenn's king Conchruth, but is greeted by hags with a bath of lead, and Curnan again.
  • Finally, he comes to Morgan's glorious hall, palisaded by bronze, and meets the beautiful Delbchaem. He must, however, brave Aeb and Finscoth's test (they are sisters of Creide), and a final bout against the powerful Coinchenn before claiming her fair hand.


Art had a son (though not by Delbchaem) named Cormac, who had his own run-in with an otherworldly potentate. Walking alone one day in the vicinity of Tara (an alternative version names the place as Mur Tea), he is approached by a youth carrying a branch with nine red-golden apples on it, which played sweet music when shaken, capable of lulling any woe. Cormac is infatuated and offers the bearer whatever he would desire in return for the branch. The youth demands three things: Cormac's wife Eithne; his son Cairbre; and his daughter Ailbhe. He acceeds to the demand and is granted the branch.

For a whole year, the mourning of the inhabitants ot Tara for the lost royal family is assuaged by the high king's rattling the branch. Once the year is up, Cormac resolves to find the place to which the youth had spirited his wife and children.

As he embarks on his journey, following the way he saw the youth leave, he is covered in a magical mist and finds himself on a plain with horsemen and a house thatched with feathers. There are three wells at the edge of the plain, each fed by one stream and giving rise to two more.

Eventually, he comes to a large field with a house in its centre, where dwell a tall couple with multi-coloured robes. It is revealed that the man of the house is the youth who took Eithne, Cairbre and Ailbhe, and that he is the famous Manannan mac Lír. Cormac returns to Ireland, having been granted magical gifts.


At around this time, the legendary hero Fionn mac Cumhaill and his Fianna were active in the defence of Ireland. Fionn had a son, Oisín, whose wooing of his beloved, Niamh, was given the shape of an echtra by the poet Micheál Coimín. In his poem, Laoi Oisín ar Tír na n-Óg, Coimín describes the journey as told by Oisín to St. Patrick.

One day, the Fianna were hunting a deer around Loch Lein, when they come upon a mounted maiden, radiant and wearing a golden crown. She tells Fionn that she has come for the love of Oisín, who is suitably enraptured by the lady. She bids him join her in Tír na n-Óg, the legendary "Land of Youth," over which her father reigns as king.

The lovers set off almost at once for the furthest reaches of the west, over the sea, seeing castles, floral meads and beasts of the field as they go. In one, there lurks the fearsome Fomor of the Blows, whom Oisín must defeat the release Niamh's captive friends. The battle is hard, but eventually the giant is slain, and Oisín, Niamh and company reach Tír na n-Óg forthwith.


One day as night drew in, the men of Connacht under their king Crimthann Cas are on Magh nAei in convention. The following morning, they are surprised to see a man emerge from the mist, armed as though for battle, his equipment golden. Crimthann's son Laeghaire Líbhán bids his countrymen welcome the stranger, who introduces himself as Fiachna mac Retach and asks for aid in the recovery of his bride, who has been removed from him by Eochaid mac Sál, and hence to Eochaid's nephew Goll mac Dalbh, ruler of Mag Mell.

In response to the summons, Laeghaire and fifty warriors dive into the énloch on Magh nAei, and emerge in Mag Mell. They raid the dún and return with Fiachna's wife, who utters "the lament of Eochaid Amlabar's daughter." As a boon for his troubles, Laeghaire is given Fiachna's daughter Der Gréine for a night of pleasure, with his retinue similarly rewarded, before they return to Ireland - but only to bid their farewells: Laeghaire and company must needs remain in Mag Mell, where Laeghaire shares the rule with Fiachna.


Taidhg mac Céin was a Munsterman, who, accompanied by his brothers Airnelach and Eoghan, were conducting their royal business in the west of the country. Suddenly, news of a raid comes to them: Cathmann mac Tabarn, ruler of the Allmarachs of Fresen, a land "over against Spain to the south-east," sacks the area around Berehaven, kidnapping, among others, Taidhg's entire family, including Airnelach and Eoghan, as well as Taidhg's wife Líban, whom Cathmann makes his concubine. Taidhg barely escapes the battle.

Soon, however, Taidhg has readied a crew to take the battle to the enemy's home turf. They set off, experiencing many woes along the way, as well as some delights: -

Fresen is a land divided by an inlet of the sea, and defended by powerful men, including Cathmann's nephews Eochaid Redweapon and Tuire tortbhuilleach, along with the major domo Conan Codaichenn, who must be overcome before Taidhg successfully rescues his own.


Niall Noígíallach would become one of the most renowned rulers in Irish history, though his start was inauspicious. The son of the high king Eochaid Muigmedón he may have been, though by a secondary wife, a Saxon Cairenn Casdub, who was loathed by her counterpart Mongfind. Upon his birth, Niall was left exposed, but was taken in by the poet Torna, who foretold his greatness.

Eventually, he is reunited with his half-brothers, and the group visit the blacksmith Síthchenn in Tara. After this, they set out on a hunt, but come to an enclosed area, thirsty and afraid.

Seeking water, they encounter a hag, who requests each brother in turn to kiss her in return for water. Finally, it's Niall's turn, after all of the sons of Mongfind have rejected the notion of such a union. He kisses the loathly lady, who immediately transforms into a beautiful, queenly form, and reveals her true identity as Sovranty, which Niall and his descendants will hereafter enjoy at the expense of Mongfind and her progeny.

Sir Graham