Chapter VII: The Voyage of Maldun
Besides the legends which cluster round great heroic names, and have, or at
least pretend to have, the character of history, there are many others, great
and small, which tell of adventures lying purely in regions of romance) and out
of earthly space and time. As a specimen of these I give here a summary of the
"Voyage of Maeldun," a most curious and brilliant piece of invention,
which is found in the manuscript entitled the "Book of the Dun Cow"
(about 1100) and other early sources, and edited, with a translation (to which I
owe the following extracts), by Dr. Whitley Stokes in the " Revue Celtique"
for 1888 and 1889. It is only one of a number of such wonder-voyages found in
ancient Irish literature, but it is believed to have been the earliest of them
all and model for the rest, and it has had the distinction, in the abridged and
modified form given by Joyce in his "Old Celtic Romances," of having
furnished the theme for the "Voyage of Maeldune" to Tennyson, who made it
into a wonderful creation of rhythm and colour, embodying a kind of allegory of
Irish history. It will be noticed at the end that we are in the unusual position
of knowing the name of the author of this piece of primitive literature, though
he does not claim to have composed, but only to have "put in order,"
the incidents of the "Voyage." Unfortunately we cannot tell when he
lived, but the tale as we have it probably dates from the ninth century. Its
atmosphere is entirely Christian, and it has no mythological significance except
in so far as it teaches the lesson that the oracular injunctions of wizards
should be obeyed. No adventure or even detail, of importance is omitted in the following summary of the story, which is given thus fully because the
reader may take it as representing a large and important section of Irish
legendary romance. Apart from the source to which I am indebted, the "Revue
Celtique," I know no other faithful reproduction in English of this
The "Voyage of Maeldun" begins, as Irish tales often do, by telling
us of the conception of its hero.
There was a famous man of the sept of the Owens of
Aran, named Ailill
Edge-of-Battle, who went with his king on a foray into another territory. They
encamped one night near a church and convent of nuns. At midnight Ailill, who
was near the church, saw a certain nun come out to strike the bell for nocturns,
and caught her by the hand. In ancient Ireland religious persons were not much
respected in time of war, and Ailill did not respect her. When they parted, she
said to him: "Whence is thy race, and what is thy name?" Said the
hero: "Ailill of the Edge-of~Battle's my name, and I am of the Owenacht of
Aaan, in Thomond."
Not long afterwards Ailill was slain by reavers from
Leix; who burned the
church of Doocloone over his head.
In due time a son was born to the woman and she called his name
was taken secretly to her friend, the queen of the territory, and by her Maeldun
was reared. "Beautiful indeed was his form, and it is doubtful if there
hath been in flesh any one so beautiful as he. So he grew up till he was a young
warrior and fit to use weapons. Great, then was his brightness and his gaiety
and his playfulness. In his play he outwent all his comrades in throwing balls,
and in runnig and leaping and putting stones and racing horses."
One day a proud young warrior who had been defeated by him taunted him with his lack of knowledge of his kindred and
descent. Maeldun went to his foster-mother, the queen, and said: "I will
not eat nor drink till thou tell me who are my mother and my father."
"I am thy mother," said the queen, "for none ever loved her son
more than I love thee." But Maeldun insisted on knowing all, and the queen
at last took him to his own mother, the nun, who told him: "Thy father was
Ailill of the Owens of Aran." Then Maeldun went to his own kindred, and was
well received by them; and with him he took as guests his three beloved
foster-brothers, sons of the king and queen who had brought him up.
After a time Maeldun happened to be among a company of young warriors who
were contending at putting the stone in the graveyard of the ruined church of
Doocloone. Maeldun's foot was planted, as he heaved the stone, on a scorched and
blackened flagstone; and one who was by, a monk named Briccne, [here we have
evidently a reminiscence of Briccriu of the Poisoned Tongue, the mischief-maker
of the Ultonians] said to him: "It were better for thee to avenge the man
who was burnt there than to cast stones over his burnt bones."
"Who was that?" asked Maeldun.
"Ailill, thy father," they told him.
"Who slew him?" said he.
"Reavers from Leix," they said, "and they destroyed him on
Then Maeldun threw down the stone he was about to cast, and put his mantle
round him and went home; and he asked the way to Leix. They told him he could
only go there by sea. [the Arans are three islands at the entrance of Galway
Bay. They are a perfect museum of mysterious ruins,]
At the advice of a Druid he then built him a boat, or coracle, of skins
lapped threefold one over the other; and the wizard also told him that seventeen
men only must accompany him, and on what day he must begin the boat and on what
day he must put out to sea.
So when his company was ready he put out and hoisted the sail, but had gone
only a little way when his three foster-brothers came down to the beach and
entreated him to take them. "Get you home," said Maeldun, "for
none but the number I have may go with me." But the three youths would not
be separated from Maeldun, and they flung themselves into the sea. He turned
back, lest they should be drowned, and brought them into his boat. All, as we
shall see, were punished for this transgression, and Maeldun condemned to
wandering until expiation had been made.
Irish bardic tales excel in their openings. In this case, as usual, the mise-en-scène
is admirably contrived. The narrative which follows tells how, after seeing
his father's slayer on an island, but being unable to land there, Maeldun and
his party are blown out to sea, where they visit a great number of islands and
have many strange adventures on them. The tale becomes, in fact, a cento of
stories and incidents, some not very interesting, while in others, as in the
adventure of the Island of the Silver Pillar, or the Island of the Flaming
Rampart, or that where the episode of the eagle takes place, the Celtic sense of
beauty, romance, and mystery find an expression unsurpassed, perhaps, in
In the following rendering I have omitted the verses given by Joyce at the
end of each adventure. They merely recapitulate the prose narrative, and are not
found in the earliest manuscript authorities.
The Island of the Slayer
Maeldun and his crew had rowed all day and half the night when they
came to two small bare islands with two forts in them, and a noise was heard
from them of armed men quarrelling. "Stand off from me, cried one of them,
"for I am a better man than thou. 'Twas I slew Ailill of the Edge-of-Battle
and burned the church of Doocloone over him, and no kinsman has avenged his
death on me. And thou hast never done the like of that."
Then Maeldun was about to land, and German [pronounced "Ghermawn "
- the "G" hard] and Diuran the Rhymer cried that God had guided them
to the spot where they would be. But a great wind arose suddenly and blew them
off into the boundless ocean, and Maeldun said to his foster-brothers: "Ye
have caused this to be, casting yourselves on board in spite of the words of the
Druid." And they had no answer, save only to be silent for a little space.
The Island of the Ants
They drifted three days and three nights, not knowing whither to row, when at
the dawn of the third day they heard the noise of breakers, and came to an
island as soon as the sun was up. Here, ere they could land, they met a swarm of
ferocious ants, each the size of a foal, that came down the strand and into the
sea to get at them; so they made off quickly, and saw no land for three days
The Island of the Great Birds
This was a terraced island, with trees all round it, and great birds sitting
on the trees. Maeldun landed first alone, and care fully searched the island for
any evil thing, but finding none, the rest followed him, and killed and ate many
of the birds, bringing others on board their boat.
The Island of the Fierce Beast
A great sandy island was this, and on it a beast like a horse, but with
clawed feet like a hound's. He flew at them to devour them, but they put off in
time, and were pelted by the beast with pebbles from the shore as they rowed
The Island of the Giant Horses
A great, flat island, which it fell by lot to German and Diuran to explore
first. They found a vast green racecourse, on which were the marks of horses'
hoofs, each as big as the sail of a ship, and the shells of nuts of monstrous
size were lying about, and much plunder. So they were afraid, and took ship
hastily again, and from the sea they saw a horse-race in progress and heard the
shouting of a great multitude cheering on the white horse or the brown, and saw
the giant horses running swifter than the wind. [Horse-racing was a particular
delight to the ancient Irish, and ii mentioned in a ninth-century poem in praise
of May as one of the attractions of that month. The name of the month of May
given in an ancient Gaulish calendar means "the month of
horse-racing."] So they rowed away with all their might, thinking they had
come upon an assembly of demons.
The Island of the Stone Door
A full week passed, and then they found a great, high island with a house
standing on the shore. A door with a valve of stone opened into the sea, and
through it the sea-waves kept hurling salmon into the house. Maeldun and his
party entered, and found the house empty of folk, but a great bed lay ready for the chief to whom it
belonged, and a bed for each three of his company, and meat and drink beside
each bed. Maeldun and his party ate and drank their fill, and then sailed off
The Island of the Apples
By the time they had come here they had been a long time voyaging, and food
had failed them, and they were hungry. This island had precipitous sides from
which a wood hung down, and as they passed along the cliffs Maeldun broke off a
twig and held it in his hand. Three days and nights they coasted the cliff and
found no entrance to the island, but by that time a cluster of three apples had
grown on the end of Maeldun's rod, and each apple sufficed the crew for forty
The Island of the Wondrous Beast
This island had a fence of stone round it, and within the fence a huge beast
that raced round and round the island. And anon it went to the top of the
island, and then performed a marvellous feat, viz., it turned its body round and
round inside its skin, the skin remaining unmoved, while again it would revolve
its skin round and round the body. When it saw the party it rushed at them, but
they escaped, pelted with stones as they rowed away. One of the stones pierced
through Maeldun': shield and lodged in the keel of the boat.
The Island of the Biting Horses
Here were many great beasts resembling horses, that tore continually pieces
of flesh from each other's sides, So that all the island ran with blood. They
rowed hastily away, and were now disheartened and full of
complaints, for they knew not where they were, nor how to find guidance or
aid in their quest.
The Island of the Fiery Swine
With great weariness, hunger, and thirst they arrived at the tenth island,
which was full of trees loaded with golden apples. Under the trees went red
beasts, like fiery swine, that kicked the trees with their legs, when the apples
fell and the beasts consumed them. The beasts came out at morning only, when a
multitude of birds left the island, and swam out to sea till nones, when they
turned and swam inward again till vespers, and ate the apples all night.
Maeldun and his comrades landed at night, and felt the soil hot under their
feet from the fiery swine in their caverns underground. They collected all the
apples they could, which were good both against hunger and thirst, and loaded
their boat with them and put to sea once more, refreshed.
The Island of the Little Cat
The apples had failed them when they came hungry and thirsting to the
eleventh island. This was, as it were, a tall white tower of chalk reaching up
to the clouds, and on the rampart about it were great houses white as snow. They
entered the largest of them, and found no man in it, but a small cat playing on
four stone pillars which were in the midst of the house, leaping from one to the
other. It looked a little on the Irish warriors, but did not cease from its
play. On the walls of the houses there were three rows of objects hanging up one
row of brooches of gold and silver, and one of' neck-torques of gold and silver,
each as big as the hoop of a cask, and one of great swords with gold and silver
hilts. Quilts and shining garments lay in the
room, and there, also, were a roasted ox and a flitch of bacon and abundance
of liquor. "Hath this been left for us?" said Maeldun to the cat. It
looked at him a moment, and then continued its play. So there they ate and drank
and slept, and stored up what remained of the food. Next day, as they made to
leave the house, the youngest of Maeldun's foster-brothers took a necklace from
the wall, and was bearing it out when the cat suddenly "leaped through him
like a fiery arrow," and he fell, a heap of ashes, on the floor. Thereupon
Maeldun, who had forbidden the theft of the jewel, soothed the cat and replaced
the necklace, and they strewed the ashes of the dead youth on the sea-shore, and
put to sea again.
The Island of the Black and the White Sheep
This had a brazen palisade dividing it in two, and a flock of black sheep on
one side and of white sheep on the other. Between them was a big man who tended
the flocks, and sometimes he put a white sheep among the black, when it became
black at once, or a black sheep among the white, when it immediately turned
white. [the same phenomenon is recorded as being witnessed by Peredur in the
Welsh tale of that name in the "Mabinogion,"] By way of an experiment
Maeldun flung a peeled white wand on the side of the black sheep. It at once
turned black, whereat they left the place in terror, and without landing.
The Island of the Giant Cattle
A great and wide island with a herd of huge swine on it. They killed a small
pig and roasted it on the spot, as it was too great to carry on board. The
island rose up into a very high mountain, and Diuran and German went to view the
country from the top of it.
On their way they met a broad river. To try the depth of the water German
dipped in the haft of his spear, which at once was consumed as with liquid fire.
On the other bank was a huge man guarding what seemed a herd of oxen. He called
to them not to disturb the calves, so they went no further and speedily sailed
The Island of the Mill
Here they found a great and grim-looking mill, and a giant miller grinding
corn in it. "Half the corn of your country, he said, "is ground here.
Here comes to be ground all that men begrudge to each other." Heavy and
many were the loads they saw going to it, and all that was ground in it was
carried away west wards. So they crossed themselves and sailed away.
The Island of the Black Mourners
An island full of black people continually weeping and lamenting. One of the
two remaining foster-brothers landed on it, and immediately turned black and
fell to weeping like the rest. Two others went to fetch him; the same fate
befell them. Four others then went with their heads wrapped in cloths, that they
should not look on the land or breathe the air of the place, and they seized two
of the lost ones and brought them away perforce, but not the foster-brother. The
two rescued ones could not explain their conduct except by saying that they had
to do as they saw others doing about them.
The Island of the Four Fences
Four fences of gold, silver, brass, and crystal divided this island into our
parts, kings in one, queens in another, warriors in a third, maidens in the
On landing, a maiden gave them food like cheese, that tasted to each man as
he wished it to be, and an Intoxicating liquor that put them asleep for three
days. When they awoke they were at sea in their boat, and of the island and its
inhabitants nothing was to be seen.
The Island of the Glass Bridge
Here we come to one of the most elaborately wrought and picturesque of all
the incidents of the voyage. The island they now reached had on it a fortress
with a brazen door, and a bridge of glass leading to it. When they sought to
cross the bridge it threw them backward. [like the bridge to Skatha's dūn,
p. 188] A woman came out of the fortress with a pail in her hand, and lifting
from the bridge a slab of glass she let down her pail into the water beneath,
and returned to the fortress. They struck on the brazen portcullis before them
to gain admittance, but the melody given forth by the smitten metal plunged them
in slumber till the morrow morn. Thrice over this happened, the woman each time
making an ironical speech about Maeldun. On the fourth day, however, she came
out to them over the bridge, wearing a white mantle with a circlet of gold on
her hair, two silver sandals on her rosy feet, and a filmy silken smock next her
"My welcome to thee, O Maeldun," she said, and she welcomed each
man of the crew by his own name. Then she took them into the great house and
allotted a couch to the chief, and one for each three of his men. She gave them
abundance of food and drink, all out of her one pail, each man finding in it
what he most desired. When she had departed they asked Maeldun if they should
woo the maiden for him. "How would it hurt you to speak with her?" says
Maeldun. They do so, and she
replies: "I know not, nor have ever known, what sin is. Twice over this is
repeated. "To-morrow," she says at last, "you shall have your
answer." When the morning breaks, however, they find themselves once more
at sea, with no sign of the island or fortress or lady.
The Island of the Shouting Birds
They hear from afar a great cry and chanting, as it were a singing of psalms,
and rowing for a day and night they come at last to an island full of birds,
black, brown, and speckled, all shouting and speaking. They sail away without
The Island of the Anchorite
Here they found a wooded island full of birds, and on it a solitary man,
whose only clothing was his hair. They asked him of his country and kin. He
tells them that he was a man of Ireland who had put to sea [probably we are to
understand that he was an anchorite seeking for an islet on which to dwell in
solitude and contemplation. The western islands of Ireland abound in the ruins
of hut, and oratories built by single monks or little communities.] with a sod
of his native country under his feet. God had turned the sod into an island,
adding a foot's breadth to it and one tree for every year. The birds are his
kith and kin, and they all wait there till Doomsday, miraculously nourished by
angels. He entertained them for three nights, and then they sailed away.
The Island of the Miraculous Fountain
This island had a golden rampart, and a soft white soil like down. In it they
found another anchorite clothed only in his hair. There was a fountain in it
which yields whey or water on Fridays and Wednesdays, milk on Sundays and
feasts of martyrs, and ale and wine on the feasts of Apostles, of Mary, of John
the Baptist, and on the high tides of the year.
The Island of the Smithy
As they approached this they heard from afar as it were the clanging of a
tremendous smithy, and heard men talking of themselves. " Little boys they
seem, said one, "in a little trough yonder." They rowed hastily away,
but did not turn their boat, so as not to seem to be flying; but after a while
a giant smith came out of the forge holding in his tongs a huge mass of glowing
iron, which he cast after them, and all the sea boiled round it, as it fell
astern of their boat.
The Sea of Clear Glass
After that they voyaged until they entered a sea that resembled green glass.
Such was its purity that the gravel and the sand of the sea were clearly visible
through it; and they saw no monsters or beasts therein among the crags, but only
the pure gravel and the green sand. For a long space of the day they were
voyaging in that sea, and great was its splendour and its beauty. [Tennyson has
been particularly happy in his description of these undersea islands]
The Undersea Island
They next found themselves in a sea, thin like mist, that seemed as if it
would not support their boat. In the depths they saw roofed fortresses, and a
fair land around them. A monstrous beast lodged in a tree there, with droves of
cattle about it, and beneath it an armed warrior. In spite of the warrior, the
beast ever and anon stretched down a long neck and seized one of the cattle and devoured it.
Much dreading lest they should sink through that mist-like sea, they sailed over
it and away.
The Island of the Prophecy
When they arrived here they found the water rising in high cliffs round the
island, and, looking down, saw on it a crowd of people, who screamed at them,
" It is they, it is they," till they were out of breath. Then came a
woman and pelted them from below with large nuts, which they gathered and took
with them. As they went they heard the folk crying to each other:
"Where are they now?" "They are gone away. "They are
not." " It is likely," says the tale, "that there was some
one concerning whom the islanders had a prophecy that he would ruin their
country and expel them from their land."
The Island of the Spouting Waters
Here a great stream spouted out of one side of the island and arched over it
like a rainbow, falling on the strand at the further side. And when they thrust
their spears into the stream above them they brought out salmon from it as much
as they could and the island was filled with the stench of those they could not
The Island of the Silvern Column
The next wonder to which they came forms one of the most striking and
imaginative episodes of the voyage. It was a great silvern column, four-square,
rising from the sea. Each of its four sides was as wide as two oar-strokes of
the boat. Not a sod of earth was at its foot, but it rose from the boundless
ocean and its summit was lost in the sky. From that summit a huge silver net
was flung far away into the sea, and through a mesh of that net they sailed. As
they did so Diuran hacked away a piece of the net.
"Destroy it not," said Maeldun, "for what we see is the work
of mighty men. Diuran said: "For the praise of God's name I do this, that
our tale may be believed, and if I reach Ireland again this piece of silver
shall be offered by me on the high altar of Armagh." Two ounces and a half
it weighed when it was measured afterwards in Armagh.
"And then they heard a voice from the summit of yonder pillar, mighty,
clear, and distinct. But they knew not the tongue it spake, or the words it
The Island of the Pedestal
The next island stood on a foot, or pedestal, which rose from the sea, and
they could find no way of access to it. In the base of the pedestal was a door,
closed and locked, which they could not open, so they sailed away, having seen
and spoken with no one.
The Island of the Women
Here they found the rampart of a mighty dūn, enclosing a mansion. They
landed to look on it, and sat on a hillock near by. Within the dūn they saw
seventeen maidens busy at preparing a great bath. In a little while a rider,
richly clad, came up swiftly on a racehorse, and lighted down and went inside,
one of the girls taking the horse. The rider then went into the bath, when they
saw that it was a woman. Shortly after that one of the maidens came out and
invited them to enter, saying: "The Queen invites you. They went into the
fort and bathed, and then sat down to meat, each man with a maiden over against
him, and Maeldun opposite to the queen. And Maeldun was wedded to the queen, and each
of the maidens to one of his men, and at nightfall canopied chambers were
allotted to each of them. On the morrow morn they made ready to depart, but the
queen would not have them go, and said: "Stay here, and old age will never
fall on you, but ye shall remain as ye are now for ever and ever, and what ye
had last night ye shall have always. And be no longer a-wandering from island to
island on the ocean."
She then told Maeldun that she was the mother of the seventeen girls they had
seen, and her husband had been king of the island. He was now dead, and she
reigned in his place. Each day she went into the great plain in the interior of
the island to judge the folk, and returned to the dūn at night.
So they remained there for three months of winter; but at the end of that
time it seemed they had been there three years, and the men wearied of it, and
longed to set forth for their own country.
"What shall we find there," said
Maeldun, "that is better than
But still the people murmured and complained, and at last they said:
"Great is the love which Maeldun has for his woman. Let him stay with her
alone if he will, but we will go to our own country." But Maeldnn would not
be left after them, and at last one day, when the queen was away judging the
folk, they went on board their bark and put out to sea. Before they had gone
far, however, the queen came riding up with a clew of twine in her hand, and she
flung it after them. Maeldun caught it in his hand, and it clung to his hand so
that he could not free himself and the queen, holding the other end, drew them
back to land. And they stayed on the island another three months.
Twice again the same thing happened, and at last the people averred
that Maeldun held the clew on purpose, so great was his love for the woman. So
the next time another man caught the clew, but it clung to his hand as before;
so Diuran smote off his hand, and it fell with the clew into the sea. "When
she saw that she at once began to wail and shriek, so that all the land was one
cry, wailing and shrieking." And thus they escaped from the Island of the
The Island of the Red Berries
On this island were trees with great red berries which yielded an
intoxicating and slumbrous juice. They mingled it with water to moderate its
power, and filled their casks with it, and sailed away.
The Island of the Eagle
A large island, with woods of oak and yew on one side of it, and on the other
a plain, whereon were herds of sheep, and a little lake in it; and there also
they found a small church and a fort, and an ancient grey cleric, clad only in
his hair. Maeldun asked him who he was.
"I am the fifteenth man of the monks of St. Brennan of
said. "We went on our pilgrimage into the ocean, and they have all died
save me alone.' He showed them the tablet (?calendar) of the Holy Brennan, and
they prostrated themselves before it, and Maeldun kissed it. They stayed there
for a season, feeding on the sheep of the island.
One day they saw what seemed to be a cloud coming up from the south-west. As
it drew near, however, they saw the waving of pinions, and perceived that it was
an enormous bird. It came into the island, and, alighting very wearily on a hill
near the lake, it began eating the red berries, like grapes, which grew on a huge tree-branch as big
as a full-grown oak, that it had brought with it, and the juice and fragments of
the berries fell into the lake, reddening all the water. Fearful that it would
seize them in its talons and bear them out to sea, they lay hid in the woods and
watched it. After a while, however, Maeldun went out to the foot of the
hill, but the bird did him no harm, and then the rest followed cautiously behind
their shields, and one of them gathered the berries off the branch which the
bird held in its talons, but it did them no evil, and regarded them not at all.
And they saw that it was very old, and its plumage dull and decayed.
At the hour of noon two eagles came up from the south-west and alit in front
of the great bird, and after resting awhile they set to work picking off the
insects that infested its jaws and eyes and ears. This they continued till
vespers, when all three ate of the berries again. At last, on the following day,
when the great bird had been completely cleansed, it plunged into the lake, and
again the two eagles picked and cleansed it. Till the third day the great bird
remained preening and shaking its pinions, and its feathers became glossy and
abundant, and then, soaring upwards, it flew thrice round the island, and away
to the quarter whence it had come, and its flight was now swift and strong;
whence it was manifest to them that this had been its renewal from old age to
youth, according as the prophet said, Thy youth is renewed like the eagle's.
[Ps. Ciii, 5]
Then Diuran said: "Let us bathe in that lake and renew ourselves where
the bird hath been renewed." "Nay," said another, "for the
bird hath left his venom in it." But Diuran plunged in and drank of the
water. From that time so long as he lived his eyes were strong
and keen, and not a tooth fell from his jaw nor a hair from his head, and he
never knew illness or infirmity.
Thereafter they bade farewell to the anchorite, and fared forth on the ocean
The Island of the Laughing Folk
Here they found a great company of men laughing and playing incessantly. They
drew lots as to who should enter and explore it, and it fell to Maeldun's
foster-brother. But when he set foot on it he at once began to laugh and play
with the others, and could not leave off; nor would he come back to his
comrades. So they left him and sailed away. [this disposes of the last of the
foster-brothers, who should not have joined the party.]
The Island of the Flaming Rampart
They now came in sight of an island which was not large, and it had about it
a rampart of flame that circled round and round it continually. In one part of
the rampart there was an opening, and when this opening came opposite to them
they saw through it the whole island, and saw those who dwelt therein, even men
and women, beautiful, many, and wearing adorned garments, with vessels of gold
in their hands. And the festal music which they made came to the ears of the
wanderers. For a long time they lingered there, watching this marvel, "and
they deemed it delightful to behold."
The Island of the Monk of Tory
Far off among the waves they saw what they took to be a white bird on the
water. Drawing near to it they found it to be an aged man clad only in the white
hair of his body, and he was throwing himself in prostrations on a broad rock.
"From Torach [Tory Island, off the Donegal coast. There was there a
monastery and a church dedicated to St. Columba] have come hither," he
said, "and there I was reared. I was cook in the monastery there, and the
food of the Church I used to sell for myself, so that I had at last much
treasure of raiment and brazen vessels and gold-bound books and all that man
desires. Great was my pride and arrogance.
"One day as I dug a grave in which to bury a churl who had been brought
on to the island, a voice came from below where a holy man lay buried, and he
said: 'Put not the corpse of a sinner on me, a holy, pious person !' "
After a dispute the monk buried the corpse elsewhere, and was promised an
eternal reward for doing so. Not long thereafter he put to sea in a boat with
all his accumulated treasures, meaning apparently to escape from the island with
his plunder. A great wind blew him far out to sea, and when he was out of sight
of land the boat stood still in one place. He saw near him a man (angel) sitting
on the wave. "Whither goest thou?" said the man. "On a pleasant
way, whither I am now looking," said the monk. "It would not be
pleasant to thee if thou knewest what is around thee," said the man. "
So far as eye can see there is one crowd of demons all gathered around thee,
because of thy covetousness and pride, and theft, and other evil deeds. Thy boat
hath stopped, nor will it move until thou do my will, and the fires of hell
shall get hold of thee."
He came near to the boat, and laid his hand on the arm of the fugitive, who
promised to do his will.
"Fling into the sea," he said, "all the wealth that is in thy
" It is a pity," said the monk, " that it should go to
"It shall in nowise go to loss. There will be one man whom thou wilt
The monk thereupon flung everything into the sea save one little wooden cup,
and he cast away oars and rudder. The man gave him a provision of whey and seven
cakes, and bade him abide wherever his boat should stop. The wind and waves
carried him hither and thither till at last the boat came to rest upon the rock
where the wanderers found him. There was nothing there but the bare rock, but
remembering what he was bidden he stepped out upon a little ledge over which the
waves washed, and the boat immediately left him, and the rock was enlarged for
him. There he remained seven years, nourished by otters which brought him salmon
out of the sea, and even flaming firewood on which to cook them, and his cup was
filled with good liquor every day. "And neither wet nor heat nor cold
affects me in this place."
At the noon hour miraculous nourishment was brought for the whole crew, and
thereafter the ancient man said to them:
"Ye will all reach your country, and the man that slew thy father, O
Maeldun, ye will find him in a fortress before you. And slay him not, but
forgive him because God hath saved you from manifold great perils, and ye too
are men deserving of death."
Then they bade him farewell and went on their accustomed way.
The Island of the Falcon
This is uninhabited save for herds of sheep and oxen. They land on it and eat
their fill, and one of them sees there a large falcon. "This falcon,"
he says, " is like the falcons of Ireland." "Watch it," says
"and see how it will go from us." It flew off to the south-east, and
they rowed after it all day till vespers.
At nightfall they sighted a land like Ireland; and soon came to a small
island, where they ran their prow ashore. It was the island where dwelt the man
who had slain Ailill.
They went up to the dūn that was on the island, and heard men talking
within it as they sat at meat. One man said:
"It would be ill for us if we saw Maeldun now."
"That Maeldun has been drowned," said another.
"Maybe it is he who shall waken you from sleep to-night," said a
"If he should come now," said a fourth, "what should we
"Not hard to answer that," said the chief of them.
"Great welcome should he have if he were to come, for he hath been a
long space in great tribulation."
Then Maeldun smote with the wooden clapper against the door. "Who is
there?" asked the door-keeper.
"Maeldun is here," said he.
They entered the house in peace, and great welcome was made for them, and
they were arrayed in new garments. And then they told the story of all the
marvels that God had shown them, according to the words of the "sacred
poet," who said, Haec olim meminisse juvabit. ["One day we
shall delight in the remembrance of these things." The quotation is from
Vergil, " Aen." i 203 "Sacred poet" is a translation of the vates
sacer, of Horace.]
Then Maeldun went to his own home and kindred, and Diuran the Rhymer took
with him the piece of silver that he had hewn from the net of the pillar, and
laid it on the high altar of Armagh in triumph and exultation at the miracles
that God had wrought for them. And they told again the story of all that had
befallen them, and all the marvels they had seen by sea and land) and the perils
they had endured.
The story ends with the following words:
"Now Aed the Fair [Aed Finn [This sage and poet has nor been identified
from any other record. Praise and thanks to him, whoever he may have been.]],
chief sage of Ireland, arranged this story as it standeth here; and he did so
for a delight to the mind, and for the folks of Ireland after him."