The following myths contained the adventure involved the heroes and their companions in their voyages. Often their journey take them to numerous otherworldly islands, where some were friendly and hospitable, while other islands were hostile and deadly to visitors.
Here you will find myth and legend from both Irish and Welsh literatures.
The Voyage of Bran (Imram Brain) was one of the oldest tales in Irish literature. It was said that the narrative was first compiled in the 7th century. However, the present work was preserved now in two extant works: the Book of the Dun Cow (early 11th century) and the Book of Leinster (mid-12th century).
The tale is narrative of a journey made by Bran and his followers to the Isle of Women (known in Irish as “Emne” or “Emain Ablach”), and his attempt to return home.
|Bran, the son of Febal, was strolling outside of his stronghold or dun, when he heard music behind him. No matter how he turned his head, the music was always behind his head. The music was so sweet that it lulled him to a magic slumber.
When Bran woke from his strange sleep, he saw a silver branch with white apple blossoms. Bran brought the branch with him to show to his family and friends, where he me a woman in strange gown. The woman sang of the Emain Ablach (Emne or “Isle of Women”), where are beautiful lived.
The season never changed, the weather was perfectly sunny, yet there was always water. There was always endless supply of food. The people never became sick or grow old. You could also never died, nor know grief and sorrow. She was describing the Otherworld.
The woman end her song with invitation for Bran to seek out her beautiful island, before she left, taking the silver branch and blossoms with her.
The next day, Bran organised three companies of 9 men in three currach (plural for curragh or boats), which include his three foster-brothers, as the embark on a voyage to visit the Isle of Women.
They would sail on for two days before meeting a man standing on a chariot drawn by a golden horse, as if he was driving in an open plain, instead of the sea.
The charioteer introduced himself as Manannán Mac Lir, the Irish god of the sea. Manannán told them that he would become the father of Mongan, by sleeping with Caintigern, the wife of Fiachna.
Manannán also sang about Emain Ablach.
Manannán also encouraged Bran to seek out the island. Manannán told Bran that he should reach before sunset.
|Before he reached the Emain Ablach (the Isle of Women), the voyagers reached an island, where they found a crowd of people laughing in delight. Bran sent one of his followers to explore the island.
As Bran’s companion came upon the people, he began to laugh like the islanders. When Bran saw that missing companion would not return, he didn’t send anyone to fetch him. So they left their companion behind in the Isle of Joy or Isle of Merriment, and sailed away.
Not long after leaving the Isle of Joy, they arrived at their destination. They found a woman waiting for them on the shore.
Apparently, Bran has some misgivings about landing in the port of the Emain Ablach. The leader of the women produced a magic ball of thread in her hand. Holding on to one end of the thread, the queen threw the ball to Bran’s curragh. When Bran caught the ball of thread, he could not let go of the ball. The queen easily drew pulled the curragh to her island.
(This magic ball of thread was a property of the queen in tale called the Voyage of Mael Duin. It is quite possible that this was the same island that Mael Duin had visited (including the Isle of Joy), as well as the same queen.)
The queen and the other women welcomed the visitors quite warmly. Each man was paired off with a woman of the island. Bran shared his bed with the queen.
As they had been told, they lived on the island, where there were no changes to the sunny weather. The food and wine were never in short supplied. All of their desires were sated.
It seemed that they had only stayed the beautiful island for a few years. Bran and his companions didn’t realised how much of real time had passed in the outside world.
One day, Nechtan, the son of Collbran, felt homesick, and informed Bran he wished to return home to Erin (Ireland). Bran told the queen that they would now return home. The Queen warned them that they would regret it if they leave the island.
However, Bran insisted on leaving the Isle of Women. So the Queen warned them that should not set their feet on dry land, if they returned to Ireland. (This is so unlike the tale of Mael Duin, where the queen kept them on the island against their will. See the Queen and her Magic Clew, in the Voyage of Mael Duin, for comparison.)
Bran and his companions departed from the isle, and picked up their missing companion on the Isle of Joy. They arrived at Srub Brain (somewhere in Ireland), while staying on their currach. One of the men on the shore, who saw the arrival of the currach, asked them who they were. Bran replied that he was Bran, the son of Febal. The man on the shore that they know of no one named Bran, except what was told in their ancient legend.
Nechtan ignoring the queen’s warning to not set foot on dry land, he leaped out of the curragh. The moment he touched dry land, Nechtan was reduced to ashes, as if he had been part of the earth for hundreds of years.
Bran told the people on the shore of his adventure to the Isle of Women, where their story was recorded. Their Bran and his companions sailed away in their currach, and were never heard of again.
The Voyage of Máel Dúin’s Boat or Imran Curaig Maile Duin was probably first composed in the 8th century, but preserved in the 11th century manuscript, called the Book of the Dun Cow. Though only the middle section of the tale had survived. The full tale can be found in the Yellow Book of Lecan, from the 14th century.
Though, the characters were Christians, they journeyed from one otherworldly island to another, encountering magic and monsters from Celtic pagan world.
|The raiders from the sea burned down the church when they killed Ailill Ochair Aga, a chieftain of the tribe of Owenacht from Ninus. Ailill was a lover to a nun, who was still pregnant with Ailill’s child, at the time of raid.
After the nun gave birth to a son, she named him Máel Dúin (Mael Duin or Maeldun). The nun was the sister to a queen. Instead of raising her son by herself, she gave the child to her sister. The queen had three sons of her own, but she loved Máel Dúin as if he was her own son. Máel Dúin’s true parents were kept from him. Máel Dúin was brought up like a prince and grew into a strong young man.
However, one day he found out from one jealous companion, that he was not truly the son of the King and Queen of Owenacht. Upset with news, but determined to find out about his true parents, Máel Dúin confronted the queen. At first, the Queen would not say anything, until she relented and told him the truth.
Máel Dúin discovered that the nun was his mother and the pirates had killed his father before he was born.
Máel Dúin was determined to avenge his father’s death upon the pirates. A Druid told Máel Dúin to build a curragh or curaig made out of three thick hides.
The number of companions, who journeyed with Máel Dúin, ranged from 17 to 60, depending on which source you are reading. Anyway, the Druid placed a geis on Máel Dúin that he should only take 17 companions with him. Among his companions were Diurán Lekerd and Germán (Germane)
As they set sail, Máel Dúin’s three beloved foster-brothers wanted to go with him in the voyage. Since Máel Dúin had already chosen his 17 companions, because of the Druid’s warning.
His three foster-brothers threatened to swim after him, which most likely they would have drowned. Reluctantly, Máel Dúin allowed his foster-brothers to come aboard the boat.
By ignoring the Druid’s warning, Máel Dúin had violated his geis, making his journey lasting longer than it was needed, putting more hardship upon everyone.
|After sailing a whole day and night, they arrived on the first island. Before they could land, they heard one man boasting to another, saying that he had killed Ailill and burned down the church after it. Máel Dúin realised he had found his father’s murderer.
Before they could land on the island and attack the pirates, a fierce storm broke out and driving them off course. Máel Dúin (Mael Duin) realised that God was punishing him for breaking his geis that the Druid had set upon him. His long journey had only just begun.
Before their journey ended, they would come across many adventures and dangers, witnessing many fabulous sights. Some of the dangers were easily avoided by sailing away from the island, not even setting foot on the island. Some of their other hardships were mainly insufficient food and drinking water during their long voyage.
Three days after the wild storm, they came across the island inhabited by giant ants. It was just as well as they didn’t set foot on the island, because the ants were looking at them as food. They immediately sailed away from the island when the ants appeared on the beach.
Three days after they encounter with the ants, they were short on food. The voyagers came upon an island with terraces and large trees. All around they found birds. Máel Dúin and his crew caught and killed as many birds as possible, to replenish their food supply.
They came upon another island three days later, where they saw a monster waiting at the shore. As they drew closer, Máel Dúin saw that the creature was shaped with the body of a large horse, but with the legs of a dog.
When the boat drew even closer, the monster became terribly excited that it frightened Máel Dúin and his men. Máel Dúin immediately ordered his companions to turn the boat around and row away. The monster became angry when its prey was escaping, so it started hurled large pebbles at the retreating boat.
They next came upon another island and it was seemingly deserted. Máel Dúin sent Diurán and Germán to explore the island. The voyagers came upon a large green racetracks and signs of large hoof prints. When they report back to Máel Dúin, they were alarmed and immediately set out for the sea.
When they left the shore, they saw giant riders, who look more like demons, mounted on equally gigantic horses. These riders immediately began a horse race. Máel Dúin and his crew were relief to find that they had left the island before they were spotted.
Máel Dúin and his crew were suffering from hunger and thirst after being at sea without actually finding food. They came upon a deserted island and found an empty house. This house had abundance of food. They stayed on the island before leaving again.
Before they arrived at the next island, they ran out of food again. On this new island there was a single gigantic apple tree. It branches extend out to sea. They sailed around the island for three days, before Máel Dúin broke one of the branches that had a cluster of apples. This supplied them with food and drink that lasted for forty days and nights.
On the next island they encountered strange horse-like creatures. They saw these creatures tearing skin and flesh of each other. Máel Dúin decided not to land on this island.
They came upon an island surrounded by walls. They saw a monster upon a flat stone platform, performing its daily exercise. The exercise involved turning his body around and around without moving his skin. This strange creature would do this for some time and then resting for awhile, before continuing with the exercise. Sometimes, the creature would stop and run around the entire length of the island, before performing its exercise.
When the creature spotted them sailing away from the island, try to prevent them from escaping. Seeing that the boat was out of reach that it began hurling large round rocks at them. One of the rocks punched a hole through Máel Dúin’s shield and lodged itself into keel of the boat.
They began to run out of food again, when they reached another island. They saw trees bearing fruits, probably apples, and some animals that looked like pigs. However, as they drew closer, the animals look they were set ablaze. These creatures would shake the fruits out of the trees, before eating them.
Máel Dúin and his men were afraid to approach the island. Fortunately, they stayed longer enough out in the sea, to witness how they may gain some fresh supply of food.
Sea birds stayed afloat on the sea, until nighttime, when the flaming pig-like creature would move inland to rest. The flock of bird could safely eat the apples as the fiery creature slept for the night. Máel Dúin saw that was the best option to gain new food.
The next night, as the fiery creature retired for the night, Máel Dúin and his crew landed the boat on the island. They gathered the apples, as much as they could load on the curaig. They left the island before dawn.
The next island had a large palace. They discovered that the island was deserted except that the palace was filled with cats. The palace had some treasures along the wall. One of the treasures was a row of gold and silver brooches; the second row were a number of necklaces in silver and gold. The last treasure were a row of swords with gold and silver hilts.
More importantly, they also found in the dining room, abundance of food and drinks were already set on the table. The cats ignored Máel Dúin and his friends when they sat at the table and ate their fill. They rest in the palace for the night.
In the morning, Máel Dúin’s elder brother eyed the treasure with greed. He asked Máel Dúin should they not take the treasure with them. Máel Dúin wisely told him that they shouldn’t repay the cats’ hospitality by stealing their treasures.
As they left the palace, the eldest foster-brother ignored Máel Dúin’s caution, and took one of the necklaces with him. The cats began glowing like fire as they immediately set out in pursuit against one of the foster-brothers of Máel Dúin. They swarmed over Máel Dúin’s foster-brother, reducing him to ashes. Then the cat returned to the palace.
Máel Dúin took the necklace back to the palace and apologised to the cats, before leaving.
Máel Dúin gathered his foster-brother’s ashes and they sailed out to the sea. Máel Dúin and his crew grieved for the lost of their first companion.
Three days later they came upon an island, which divided the island by two brass walls. In the middle was a shepherd, surrounded by flocks of sheep. The shepherd would throw a white sheep over one wall, and this sheep would turn black in colour. And when the shepherd threw a black sheep over the other side of the other wall, it would turn immediately into a white sheep.
Máel Dúin and his companions were astonished at these phenomena. They test this phenomenon, by throwing a white stone on one side of the island. They saw that the stone had turned black. When they threw a black stone on the other side of the island, it turned white. They decided to avoid landing on the island.
They next came upon a new island where they slaughtered one of the pigs, while Diurán and Germán were sent to explore the island. The two friends were heading towards the mountain, when they were block by a river. Germán stuck one end of his spear into the water, and the spearhead melted off as if it was place in furnace. So they avoided the river and head for the other direction.
Here they encountered a giant shepherd, guarding equally giant herd of sheep. The shepherd warned them not to frighten his sheep. So the friends informed Máel Dúin of what they had seen, so they left the island.
The next island they saw a tall miller, who would ground corns for the local population. But that’s not all the mill would ground. Precious stones and other wealth were also grounded.
When Máel Dúin asked the miller why he grounded them, the miller told him that he was the Miller from Hell, and that his mill was called the Mill of Inbher-Tre-Cenand. The miller would grind all the treasures if the owners were dissatisfied with their wealth.
The next island was populated with black people who also dressed in black clothing. Máel Dúin sent his second foster-brother to investigate the island. When he met a crowd, he found everyone weeping. The foster-brother was also overcome with sorrow and started weeping.
When his foster-brother didn’t return, Máel Dúin sent two people to find him. These two companions not only didn’t find his foster-brother, but also lament when they joined the crowd.
With growing concern for his missing people, Máel Dúin sent four more companions to rescue his friends, with instruction to cover their mouths and noses with their mantles, so not breath directly the air on the island.
The four companions had only managed to find and bring back to missing men, but not Máel Dúin’s foster-brother. They had no choice but sail away, leaving his second foster-brother behind.
The next island that they stopped at, where there were four walls that divided the island. These four walls met at the centre of the island. Each wall was made out of the following materials: gold, silver, copper and crystal. Kings resided in the first division, the queens in the second, youths third and maiden in the fourth.
When they landed on the island, the maidens welcomed them, offering them food and beds. When they slept, they did not wake until three days later in their boat. The island was nowhere in sight.
|On the next island, they came across a crystal bridge with a palace on end, and a fountain in the other end of the bridge. They saw a beautiful woman leave the palace, cross the bridge, fill her pail with water from the fountain, before returning to her home. The voyagers thought that she was lovely enough to become Máel Dúin’s wife. The woman rang a magic bell, causing the companions to fall into peaceful slumber.
The next morning they woke, and saw the maiden again, retrieving water from the fountain again. They fell to sleep immediately after she sounded the bell in the next two days.
On the fourth day since their arrival, she welcomed Máel Dúin and his men to join her companion. The woman was dressed like a queen, with a golden circle upon her head. She welcomed each of Máel Dúin’s companions by name. After their meal, Máel Dúin’s companions hoped that the woman would take their leader as her husband. The maiden politely refused.
The next day, the men once again asked the maiden to allow Máel Dúin to become her suitor. She told them that she would decide on the next day of her plan.
When Máel Dúin and his companion woke the next morning, they found that they out on the sea, in their boat, with the island of the crystal bridge gone.
They next came upon an island filled with birds that spoke with human voices. They didn’t stay on this island, but sailed to a nearby island.
On this island, the voyagers met a naked hermit, clothed by long grey hair. The hermit informed them that he had come from Erin (Ireland). The hermit realised that he had a hole in his boat. He had a grassy soil from his homeland in his boat. In a dream, he was told to throw the sod into the sea. Instead of sinking, the sod grew a foot in each direction, each year. Year by year, the sod grew into a little island, and after awhile trees began to grow on the island.
The hermit also told them that the birds that lived on the island were the souls of his children. These birds brought him food.
The voyagers stayed with for three days and three nights, before they left the hermit.
The voyagers were approaching another island, where they could hear the sound of hammer ringing in the forge. The sound was so loud, that it was obvious that the hammer was not wielded by an ordinary blacksmith. They were actually giant blacksmiths.
Though, they could not see these giants, the voyagers definitely heard them trying to whispers, as the companions approached the island. The whispers can be heard miles away. The giants were really eager for them to come ashore. The giant blacksmiths were hoping to capture them as the main course of their meal.
Máel Dúin alarmed at the giants’ words that they would attack them. Máel Dúin whispered his order to row backward, without turning their boat around.
At first, the giants thought that the boat was still heading towards their shore, yet the boat was actually moving further and further away from the island.
One of the giants angrily rushed out the forge with large red-hot iron masses. The blacksmith threw the irons as hard as he could. Luckily the missiles fell well short of its target, landing in the water. The seawater boiled and bubbled around the boat.
They saw from a distance, the next island where a herdsman was guarding the herd of oxen. The herdsman was armed with a shield, spear and a sword. The voyagers also saw a monster in the tree that was ready to leap on its prey.
Instead of confronting the monster when he sighted the beast, the herdsman immediately fled. The monster leapt and devoured the largest oxen without taking a bite, swallowing its prey whole. Once again, Máel Dúin ordered his companions to turn their boat around and row for their lives.
On the next island, they were confronted by people, who thought the voyagers were pirates or raiders. The islanders began hurling nuts at the voyagers, hoping to drive them away. The voyagers didn’t land on the island, but they did gathered all the nuts to replenish their dwindling food supply.
They then came to island where a water sprout from the sea on one side of the island, flowing to the other side of the island, in the form of an arch or a rainbow. The island underneath the water arch remained dry. As they look in wonder, they realised that they can fish from the arch. Large quantities of salmon fell out of the arch. The voyagers hoarded as many salmon as they could on their boat, before they left.
The next great sight they saw, was the giant eight-sided silver pillar in the middle of the sea. The pillar was so high, that the top disappeared somewhere in the sky. What they also found was that a large silver net was found on one side of the pillar. Yet, the mesh was so large that their boat had easily sailed through it.
As they passed through the net, Diurán cut out a large piece of the mesh. Diurán explained to his companion that he wish to take some proof back to Erin (Ireland) of what he had witnessed when he returned home. Diurán told them that he would place the silver mesh in the shrine of the church in Armagh, in honour of their God.
They came across another island, called Encos or Aonchos, with a single pillar at the centre of the island. They could not find any place to land their boat, so they left.
|Then they came to a large island with a large palace. They landed and found that the palace was inhabited the many beautiful maidens. They invited the voyages to stay with them.
Among the beautiful maiden was a fair queen. The Queen was a widow and these maidens were her children from her previous marriage. As ruler of the island, she has to daily go to the Great Plain, to administer justice among her people.
The Queen told them that they longer have to wander the sea in hardship. On this otherworldly island, they would not age or fall sick.
They stayed in the palace with the queen and her daughters for three months in winter. During that time, Máel Dúin had become the Queen’s lover. However, the men became restless and wanted to return home, to Erin. Máel Dúin told them that they shouldn’t leave, since there was no kingdom greater than that could be found anywhere on Erin. Yet, Máel Dúin refused to stay if his companions wished to leave.
So in the following morning, they embarked when the Queen was absence at the Great Plain. As the boat left the shore, the queen rode up to shore with a magic ball of thread (clew) in her hand and threw it to the boat, while holding one end of the thread with other hand.
Máel Dúin caught the ball of thread, and he could not let go of the ball. The Queen easily pulled them back to the harbour. The Queen angrily admonished them for trying to leave. She place a geis upon the entire crew, that if they try to leave, one of them would always catch the ball of thread, so she could pull them back to the harbour.
So for nine months, they were forced to stay on the island. Each time they tried to leave, she would always bring them back, because Máel Dúin always stood and caught the ball. So finally one day, they decided that someone, other than Máel Dúin, should catch the ball, when they try to sail away.
The next morning they immediately set out for the sea in their boat. The Queen came as usual, mounted on her horse, with the magic ball of thread in her hand. She unerringly threw the ball at the boat. This time, someone else caught the ball in his hand. As the Queen started to pull the thread towards her, Diurán stood up and cut off his companion’s hand. The hand still holding the ball of thread fell into the sea, allowing them to finally escape.
When the Queen and her daughters saw them leaving, they wept over the losses of the men from Ireland.
The voyagers had sailed through days of fairly rough sea before they reached another island that was deserted. Tall trees bearing strange fruits that they had never seen before.
It was decided by drawing the lot that Máel Dúin would try the fruit before anyone. The moment he ate the fruit, he fell in the trance-like slumber. The companions grew concern when they couldn’t wake him, and they had difficulty in telling if Máel Dúin was alive or not.
Máel Dúin woke the next morning, he felt refreshed and told them he never ate any fruit that was so delicious. Máel Dúin ordered his companions to collect the fruits so that they should take the fruits and make wine out of the strange berries. Even the aroma from pressing the fruits caused them to fall into intoxicated sleep. So they had to dilute the wine with a large quantity of water.
They next came upon a large island where they found a hermit. The hermit told how he was on pilgrimage with fifteen other followers, following the path of Brendan of Birra. The other pilgrims died after living a long time on the island. The hermit permitted the voyagers to take what they need as supply when they leave.
The next morning, they witnessed several giant birds that landed on the highest hill. One of the birds was old. The two younger birds they plucked off the feathers from the older bird for three days. When the feathers were removed, the old bird bathed itself in a large lake. When the bird emerged from the lake, the ancient bird was transformed as strong, young bird. Then the great bird flew back where it came from.
Seeing this phenomena, Diurán decided to bathe in the lake, despite the misgivings of the other members. The others thoughts that entering the lake would probably have the opposite effects: changing them into the old men. Only Diurán didn’t hesitate.
After Diurán bathed in the lake, he remained young and healthy for the rest of his life.
Máel Dúin and his companions came upon an island with a small town. They saw a crowd of people laughing and having a good time in their pastimes. It was decided by drawing the lot that Máel Dúin’s third foster-brother should explore the island.
When the young man entered the town, he immediately joined the activity, and couldn’t help himself from laughing. Meanwhile, back on the boat, Máel Dúin and his companions worried when he didn’t return. Fearing to send anyone after his missing foster-brother, they decided to abandon him on the island.
On the next island, they saw a walled town, where the rampart revolved around continuously of the small town. There was a gate that revolved around the wall, so whenever the gate was in front of the voyagers, they could see almost the entire town. What they saw was that everyone was well-dressed and happy, attending feast and singing songs.
Despite the happy mood of the town, they never set foot on the island. (The possibility was that they were probably watching these people who were dead and they were residing on the Isle of the Blest, Heaven or the Underworld.)
|After leaving the Isle of the Blest, their boat came across another hermit. The hermit on his knees, praying on the rock surrounded by the sea. When they approached this old man, the hermit told him a story about why he was on this rock.
The hermit had originally come from the island of Tory, serving as a cook in a monastery. He had secretly stolen gold and silver artefacts from monastery, where he kept some items while selling others.
One day, he had to bury a man in a graveyard, but the voice warned him not to bury the body here. The voice came from the grave itself, the grave of a holy man. The voice told the other body was a body of sinner. In return for not burying the sinner with the holy man, the voice promised to help the digger to gain everlasting life in heaven. So the digger buried the other body in another area of the island.
Some time later he had curragh or curaig (boat) built. The former cook enjoyed the view of the beautiful island from the sea, so he decided to live on the boat for awhile. The thief took all the stolen treasure with him and lived just off the coast from the island.
He stayed on the boat for time, before a storm drove from the island and became lost. When the storm abated, he was astonished to see an old man standing on water.
When the old man spoke he recognised the voice as the one who spoke to him in the graveyard. The holy man told that he was being punished for thefts at the monastery, as well for his pride, greed and other vices. The holy man told him that unless he did what he says, the thief would be eternally tormented in hell. Left without much choice, he followed the holy man’s instructions.
So, his first task was to throw all the stolen valuables into the sea. The holy gave him seven piece of cake and cup of watery whey. Then when he left the holy man, his boat drift through the open sea until it stopped upon the first piece of land. But this land was only a rock.
Once he set foot on the rock, the boat immediately drift away, while the rock he was standing, began to grow in height, so the surf did wet him. As a hermit, he lived on the rock, surviving on just the seven cakes and the watery whey, for seven years. When the cakes and whey ran out, an otter brought salmon for him to eat and firewood, each day for another seven years. After this, the otter ceased bringing food to him, but he received half a cake, a slice of fish and cup of ale, each morning.
During all that time on the rock, the hermit spent his hour praying and doing penance for crime and sin. The rock had continuously to grow daily, until it became a small island.
After his tale, the hermit than gave them the same amount of food that he receive each day. Before the voyagers left the hermit, he told Máel Dúin that they would return home safely, only if Máel Dúin forgive the killer of his father (Ailill Ochair Aga) and not to harm them.
Several days after leaving the hermit on the rock, they saw a falcon commonly seen in Erin (Ireland). They used the falcon as a guide, to sail their way home.
After a whole day of hard rowing, heading southeast, until they came upon the same island that they had first seen. The island was where his father’s murderer was living. Arriving on the island, he came upon the house where he overheard the pirates’ conversation.
They had obviously heard that Máel Dúin’s had suffered great hardship in the sea. His father’s killer told them if he ever met Máel Dúin he would ask him to forgive him, and give him a warm reception.
When Máel Dúin heard this, he was no longer angry with the killer. Máel Dúin announced that he had returned and he forgave the father’s killer. The pirate joyfully welcomed him, providing a feast for the tired voyagers. They in return told of their adventure and hardship.
When the voyagers decided to sail home, the pirates gave each of them gifts. Máel Dúin and his companions finally reached home, where his mother and foster-parents joyfully greeted them.
As Diurán had promised, he took silver mesh to the church in Armagh, as a symbol of their great adventure.
The Spoils of Annwfn or Preiddiau Annwfn is a short Welsh poem (c. 9th century) found in the manuscript known as the Book of Taliesin.
The Book of Taliesin was ascribed to the 6th century Welsh bard, Taliesin. Though some of the poems may seem genuine belonging to the 6th century, others were probably composed centuries later. The Spoils seemed to be composed in the 10th century, sometimes before the composition of Culhwch and Olwen. The Book of Taliesin itself was dated around 1275.
The Spoils of Annwfn had attracted a lot of interests for modern scholar, because it is believed that the magic cauldron was the predecessor to the Holy Grail.
Though the narrator never named himself in the poem, it is a good assumption that the bard was Taliesin. It also seemed that Taliesin also took part in Arthur’s campaign to steal the otherworldly cauldron, and he was one of the seven survivors, like in the tale of Branwen (from the Mabinogion).
Note that the Welsh word, Caer means “fort” or “castle”.
|The poem began with telling us that Pwyll and Pryderi held Gwair (Gweir) in the otherworldly prison at Caer Siddi (Fort of Glass). Gwair was a youth, who probably joined Arthur in the enterprise, but was captured and bound in blue chain. Gwair has also been mentioned in the Welsh Triads as one of “Three Exalted Prisoners”. The names of Pwyll and Pryderi were mentioned and had foretold of this event. Taliesin (his name is not mentioned here) sang how only seven survived, and that none other returned from Caer Siddi.
Then in the next stanza, we find out that Arthur went to a fort with four revolving towers (Caer Prydryvan, or four-sided fort, like a Roman camp) from three loadful of warriors on his ship called Prydwen. (In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia, Arthur’s shield was also called Prydwen.) Arthur came to this Caer, with the intention of stealing the cauldron.
The poet then described how the magic cauldron had pearls around the rim and that the breath of nine maidens heated the cauldron. However the cauldron would not boil meat for a coward. Lleminog (Lleminawg) had thrust his flashing sword into the cauldron. This cauldron was possibly owned by Arawn, the Lord of Annwfn, who appeared in Pwyll Lord of Dyved (Mabinogion). Except for seven, none had return from Caer Fedwydd (Caer Vedwyd, the “Fort of Celebration”).
They had also gone to an island fort with a radiant door, where bright wine was served before them. None but seven returned from Caer Rigour (Fort of Frustration).
Arthur and his men were confronted by 6000 warriors at the top of the walls of the Tower of Glass (Caer Siddi or Caer Wydyr?). They could not converse with their leader. None but seven survived Caer Goludd (Fort of Riches).
Then it get a little confusing here, when he (Taliesin) speak of the failure of other bards to know when a wondrous child was born; those who (the bards) have not made the journey to heaven. The bards knew not why an ox had been collared with a collar made of seven score of links. What is made clear (well, it seemed clear to me) that Arthur had failed in his mission to steal the cauldron and he only returned with six other men from the Caer of Manawyddan (“Fort of the Sea”, because Manawyddan is the name of the Welsh sea god; or it could be spelt Caer Vandwy).
The poet (Taliesin) berated clerks or readers, who know not the birth of their king, nor what the beasts guarded. Taliesin mentioned that they with Arthur, but it turned out disastrously, because only seven returned from the Caer Achren (or Caer Ochren, “Fort of the Woods”).
In another different translation, there was a bit more in the next verse, but I found it was rather confusing. It doesn’t seem to have anything to with the other part of the poem. It appeared that the bard doesn’t like monks, because he compared them with pack of wolves. The bard seemed to be ridiculing the monks for their lack of understanding about nature, because he speak of wind and sea, spark of the fire, the night and dawn.
So what is the poem all about?
Arthur and his band of warriors tried to steal a magic cauldron, by raiding the otherworld, which in the Welsh literature, it was called Annwfn. They raided several otherworldly fortress, but the expedition was failure. Arthur lost all but six of his men. Taliesin seemed to be one of its members, who narrate the event, though his name never actually appeared in the stanzas.
This cauldron was described, as heated by the breath of nine maiden and it would only heat meat for brave warrior. There was also sword mentioned in this same stanza. The cauldron was held at Caer Prydryvan or Caer Vedwyd.
Magic cauldron played large part in both Celtic myths, such as Cauldron of Resurrection in Branwen Daughter of Llyr (Mabinogion), where the British king Bran went to war against the king of Ireland. Or Ceridwen’s Cauldron of Inspiration, which was the cause of Taliesin’s strange birth in Hanes Taliesin.
Strangely enough, there is some similarity between the Spoils of Annwfn and the war in Branwen Daughter of Llyr. Like the Spoils, only seven would survive the war and Taliesin is one of the survivors. However, Bran replaced Arthur as the king in the ill-fated expedition.
There are also similarity between the Spoils of Annwfn with the Irish myth in the Book of Invasions. Tuatha De Danann, the fifth invader of Ireland possessed four great treasure, each one come from an otherworldly city.
There was the Lia Fail. It was sometimes called (“Stone of Destiny”) from Falias. Lugh’s sword from the city of Gorias. Cauldron of Dagda from Murias. And the powerful spear from Finias. Here, the Cauldron of Dagda have the power of regeneration, and to sate the hunger. In many ways, the Cauldron of Dagda seemed to have the same healing power that of the Holy Grail in the Arthurian legend.
The cauldron in the Spoils of Annwfn perhaps have the same power as that of the Cauldron of Dagda.