Covent Garden

Irish Mythology

The Voyage of Bran

9th century—present, Old Irish

It is a branch from an apple tree on a distant isle, an ancient tree that grows in a land without pain, without illness.

Bran mac Febal becomes enraptured by beautiful music that seems to be coming from a silver bough filled with white apple-blossom that has mysteriously appeared outside his fortress. Bran takes this wonderful bough past his gatekeepers and into the hall. A little while later, a woman appears without any warning or announcement, as if by magic, and sings to him. It is, she says, a branch from a distant land, from an apple tree on a distant isle, an ancient tree that grows in a land without pain, without illness, without sadness or disability. There are many plains and many islands, she says. One hundred and fifty islands across the sea, each larger than Ireland. Do not become lethargic or drown yourself in liquor, but journey across the sea to where you may chance upon the Land of Women.

So Bran embarks upon a voyage to the Land of Women. Soon, he sees a chariot coming towards him across the water. In it is the god Manannan, whose land this is. 'Bran sees the wide expanse of the sea,' this god tells him, 'although to me in this chariot it is a broad meadow upon which he moves, a plain of red-headed flowers, a forest with acorns and fruit. Along the topmost branches of this forest floats his coracle. Let Bran row on steadily, it is not far to the Land of Women.

Bran loses one of his companions at an Island of Joy but it is not long before he reaches his destination. He and his companions arrive at the Land of Women and are led to a large building in which there is a double bed for each of them, and food and drink in plenty.

But it seems as though only a year passes before homesickness strikes. The women warn that if Bran and his companions are genuinely intent upon returning to Ireland, they must none of them step onto the land when they arrive. They sail back to Ireland and on the shore they find some people who ask them who they are. Bran calls out from the boat: 'I am Bran mac Febal!'

'You must be mistaken!' they shout back. 'We don’t know any living person of that name, although the story of his voyage is one of our ancient legends!' On hearing this, a man in the boat jumped ashore and immediately vanished into a pile of dust, as though his body had been in the ground for centuries.

Story recounted from: Gregory, Lady A., 1904. Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha de Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland, Arranged and put into English by Lady Gregory. John Murray, London. Reprinted, 1998. Irish Myths and Legends. Running Press Book Publishers, Philadelphia, USA. Part One: The Gods. Book IV: The Ever-living Living Ones. Chapter 10: [Manannan's] Call to Bran, pp 119–23.

See for yourself

Voyage of Bran - Wikipedia

The Voyage of Bran, Son of Febal, to the Land of the Living, Kuno Meyer, 1890. Translated into English from Old Irish:

Gods and Fighting Men – ancient tales of Ireland put into English by Lady Augusta Gregory. 1904. Project Gutenberg.

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