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: -
- Two small, bare islands with forts on them, in which dwell the marauders of Leix. However, before Máel Dúin has the chance to deal with them, a great wind blows them out into the "great, endless ocean."
- An island of ants, each the size of a foal.
- A steep island with terraces about it, with a row of trees in which large birds were found.
- An island with "a beast like a horse," with sharp nails and dog's legs.
- A flat, wide island with a vast plain covered with huge hoof-marks and the shells of enormous nuts. The demonic inhabitants are seen coming ashore for a horse race.
- A steep island with a great house looking over the plain and sea, with a valve which flings salmon into the dwelling.
- A wooded island surrounded by cliffs on which Máel Dúin finds a cluster of three apples.
- The island home of a contorting monster, which flings stones at the crew.
- An island of cannibalistic horses.
- A large island with golden apples, short, red pig-like creatures and birds which dwell on the sea during the daytime and the island by night.
- An island featuring a fort with white ramparts, wherein dwells a preternatural cat, which burns one of Máel Dúin's foster-brothers to ashes.
- An island divided by a bronze palisade with black and white sheep on either side.
- An island with a mountain, river and herds of pigs and cattle, under the care of a gigantic fellow.
- Inber Tre-cenand, the island of the mill of hell, which grinds everything that is begrudged.
- An island whose black inhabitants never cease from wailing. Another foster-brother is left behind here.
- An island divided into four by fences of gold, silver, brass and crystal, with kings, queens, warriors and maidens in each section. The crew drink liquor and sleep for three days, after which the isle is nowhere to be seen.
- An island in which a woman dwells in a fortress with a bronze door and fastenings. Again, the island disappears while the men sleep.
- The Purgatory of Birds, where the souls of men live on in avian form.
- A holy island with a golden rampart and miraculous fountain, where a man whose only clothing was his hair lived.
- An island of hostile blacksmiths.
- A sea resembling green glass.
- A sea like a cloud, beneath which the crew behold the goings-on of the inhabitants beneath.
- An island whose inhabitants are in terror of Máel Dúin and his men due to a prophecy that they would conquer it and expel them.
- An island where salmon drop from a watercourse which goes over the place like a rainbow.
- A great column of silver with a silver net, part of which Diuran takes back to Armagh. A voice is heard on the summit speaking an unknown language.
- An island standing on a single pedestal.
- An island inhabited by seventeen young women, who take good care of Máel Dúin and his crewmates.
- An island with trees like the willow or hazel, which bear great berries which produce an intoxicating juice.
- Another otherworldly island, this one featuring a small church and fortress, where the fifteenth man of St. Brendan of Birr's community lives alone. There are two castles to the south-west above which two huge eagles battle until Vespers. The island also boasts a fountain of youth.
- An island whose inhabitants laugh constantly. The last foster-brother remains behind here.
- An island protected by a fiery rampart, whose inhabitants drink from golden vessels.
- A rock on which a penitent from Tory Island dwells.
- An island with plentiful livestock, though no signs of human inhabitants. The men see a falcon there which is of the same kind as those of Ireland. They follow it and see a land like Ireland at nightfall.
- A small island (only one now) where the marauders of Leix live. They welcome Máel Dúin, who makes his peace with them.
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
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.
- An island full of lamenting men, where one of the crew is lost when he begins wailing when set ashore.
- An encounter with a little bird, who is the soul of their jester who had previously died whilst at sea.
- A marvellous island with a grove of apple trees and a river of wine running through the middle of it.
- An island with four sets of men in each quarter of it: "a folk sedate, fair grey"; royalty; champions; and servants. The Irishmen appear lacklustre in comparison with the people of the island.
- An island on a single pedestal.
- A river in the form of a rainbow, whose waters have the flavour of honey between noon on Saturday and terce on Tuesday.
- A column of silver covered by a fishing net, from which Lochan takes a portion. This is identified as the same column seen by Máel Dúin and his crew.
- An island with a church, flocks of birds and huge red flowers, where dwells Daga, a disciple of St. Andrew.
- An island divided into portions where the living and the dead dwell on either side of a plain, which is beset by rollers of flame from the fiery sea.
- An island with a bronze palisade, where dwells a woman who feeds the crew.
- They encounter birds, one of whom is the soul of a penitent Irishwoman.
- Three wondrous rivers, a river of otters, of eels and of black swans, where the souls of men being punished for sin in the form of birds are at the mercy of demons.
- A beautiful island with a plain of shining grass, purple flowers and birds and bees, where an ancient harpist dwells.
- A man who rowed on Sunday.
- The Miller of Hell.
- A man who rode on Sunday.
- An island in which dishonest blacksmiths are punished.
- A man who carried wood on Sunday.
- A fiery sea.
- A sea of worms, who gnaw at the boat.
- An island with a wood filled with honey and a lake wherein dwells a monster.
- The island of St. Ailbe of Emly's congregation. He was a precursor to St. Brendan.
- Two islands with hermits.
- An island where a disciple of Christ dwells. He points them towards the Point of Spain, from where they return to the mundane world.
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.
SNÉDGUS AND MAC RÍAGLA
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: -
- Stricken by thirst after three days, they come to a stream with a milky flavour.
- An island with a silver fence, fish-weir and mechanism by which huge salmon, larger than a bull-calf, are captured.
- An island with cat-headed warriors and a Gaelic champion.
- The Plain of Heaven, with a huge tree populated by birds, with one particular bird at the canopy, who tells them the history and future of the world. A leaf from the tree is taken back to St. Columba, and eventually finds its way to Kells.
- An island full of dog-headed men where a cleric comes to give them food and drink.
- An island of pig-headed men and reapers reaping corn.
- An island populated by Irishmen, who tell the travellers that Elijah and Enoch also dwell there, and that there is a lake of water and a lake of fire which are only prevented from overflowing Ireland by the prayers of Sts. Martin and Patrick.
- A "great, lofty" island ruled by a magnanimous Christian king.
AN IBERIAN IMMRAM: THE VOYAGE OF ST. AMARO
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.