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A brief account of the lands encountered by Máel Dúin, the Uí Corra, Snédgus and Mac Ríagla, heroes of the great Irish immrama.


Máel Dúin was born in rather unpromising circumstances, the product of a brief dalliance between the warlord Ailill of the "Edge of Battle" and a young prioress. The career of this Ailill, a leading warrior of the Eoganacht of Ninuss, burned brightly but briefly: in a raid on a neighbouring land, he was killed by marauders from Leix, who burned the church of Dubcluain over him. Fortunately, Máel Dúin's mother had connections at the royal court, and her son was brought up there with their three sons.

Finding out about his parentage, he is told that he must make a journey by sea to find the men of Leix responsible for his father's death. He seeks a druid called Nuca in Corcomroe, who advises him as to the precise number of men to take with him. However, this is stymied (as was also the case for St. Brendan) by his three foster-brothers inviting themselves along for the journey. Other crewmembers were Diuran the Rhymer and German. The itinerary of the voyage is as follows: -

The Immrama curaig Mail Dúin is probably the most "pagan" of the three immrama under review here, with many references to what appears to be Irish otherworldly motifs: the island of the seventeen maidens is a reference to Tír na mBan, the "island of women," the paradise of the Immram Brain maic Febail, while salmon, apples, berries and hazelnuts also have liminal connotations in Irish lore. Combined with this are Christian tropes shared with the St. Brendan cycle, such as souls as birds, hermits and penitents on rocks, as well as the island of division, the pillar of silver or crystal and the island of the nefarious blacksmiths.


The Uí Corra - three brothers named Lochan, Enne and Silvester - are sons of Conall the Red, a Connacht man of high status descended from Corra the Fair, and Caerderg, daughter of the erenagh of Clogher, whose youthful misdeeds culminate in the sacking and burning of the church of Tuam.

They later determine to mete out the same fate to Clogher, their grandfather's seat, whereupon Lochan has a vision: -

"Meseems [...] that is not that is meetest for us to do. For evil is the lord whom we have served, and good is the LORD on Whom we have hitherto wrought robbery and brigandage. And I beheld a vision hideous and awful, to wit, that I was borne away to see Heaven and Hell, a place wherein were abundance of punishments on throngs of human souls and on devils. So I saw the four rivers of Hell, even a river of toads and a river of serpents, a river of fire and a river of snow. I beheld the Monster of Hell with abundance of heads and feet upon it, and the men of the world would die of seeing it."

They head to Clonard, the home of the holy man Findén, become Christian, and, having rebuilt Kinvara by way of a penance, embark upon their journey to discover where the sun goes after dark.

Well then, a mighty wind drove them due westward into the ocean of the great sea. And they were forty days and forty nights on the ocean, and many various marvels were shewn to them by God.

The account of the Uí Corra, while heavily reliant on that of Máel Dúin, shows increasing amounts of Christian material, some gleaned from the tale of St. Brendan. The purpose is largely to chastise sinners and to keep people on the straight path. Again, the presence of hermits reminds us of the early monks and their quests for solitude and contemplation, as recorded by Dicuil.


The last of the immrama covered on this page is that of Snédgus and Mac Ríagla, which features the adventures of two members of St. Columba's community at Iona. This tale betrays some classical influences in addition to the usual tropes associated with the immrama, and also refers to an island inhabited by Irishmen.

At the beginning of the story, Snédgus and Mac Ríagla, are determined to take a pilgrimage onto the "outer ocean," and set out in a north-westerly direction. They encounter a variety of strange and wonderful prodigies: -


The influence of the tales of St. Brendan and the related class of immrama had a wide influence. The former in particular features in the literature of a number of languages, including Catalan and Occitan. In the Iberian peninsula, a similar tale is told of the Asiatic St. Amaro and his resolution to visit the Terrestrial Paradise. He encounters many adventures and dangers along the way: -

  • The island known as Tierra Desierta is St. Amaro's first port of call. It has five cities and other fortified settlements, the inhabitants being bloodthirsty men and beautiful women.
  • He then travels through the Red Sea to another island, Fuente Clara, whose inhabitants, though beautiful, are given over to sinful living. Among them is a holy woman who beseeches the saint to depart forthwith.
  • The Mar Quajado, the "Doldrums," where seven ships are caught fast. They only escape through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin.
  • Ysla Desierta, home to many wild animals and a monastery surrounded by high walls. St. Amaro is victualled by a hermit.
  • Following the hermit's advice to travel against the sunrise, St. Amaro and his companions come to the Val de Flores, a wonderful land with a monastery at the foot of a mountain range populated by white friars, one of whom is a native of Babylon, Leonatis. Leonitas has a vision of the lady Baralides, who has been shown the Terrestrial Paradise.
  • St. Amaro eventually comes to the valley Baralides, via Leonitas, has told him of. Two hermits live there.
  • St. Amaro makes his way to the convent known as Flor de Dueñas, where he meets Baralides and her niece Brigida.

Eventually, while his companions and Baralides build a small settlement, St. Amaro makes his way to the Terrestrial Paradise. He returns to find the city which has grown from his companions' camp and lives out his days in that land.

Sir Graham