Category: Irish Stories

Book of Invasions – 1: Ceasair (Pagan version)

Long ago in Northern Africa, a woman named Ceasair had a prophetic dream. She dreamed that a great flood would come and wipe out all her people. She consulted with her grandfather, a priest of Egypt, and he advised her to build an ark and sail west, till she came to a land that had never been inhabited by man, which would not be touched by the flood.

Ceasair built her ark, and started to gather followers. Three times fifty women, with all sorts of skills and knowledge, all that they’d need to make their way in the new land., came to her. So many, that Cesaire had to build three arks to carry them all. The only men to come with her were her father, Bith, her brother, Ladra the pilot, and a young man named Fintan Mac Bochra, who became Cesaire’s husband.

Ceasair and her followers set sail. They sailed for seven years, crossing all over the known world, from the Nile all the way to Asia Minor and the Caspian Sea, across the Mediterranean. They sailed up rivers as far as the Alps, and lost two of their three ships along the way. At last, from a tower in northern Spain, Ceasair saw the coast of Ireland in the distance and knew their journey was nearly at an end. They landed in Ireland, in the harbour of Corca Dhuibhne in Kerry. Ceasair jumped onto the land first, because she was the leader, and so she became the first person ever to set foot on Ireland. Fintan Mac Bochra was the first man. All the others landed safely, except Ladra the pilot who took a wound from an oar to his thigh.

Now that they’d arrived they realized that they were going to have to populate the island, but they only had three men among fifty women! So they decided to divide into three groups, with one man to each group. Noah’s son Bith got 16 women because he was getting on in years and wasn’t as virile as he used to be, and the other two men got 17 women each.

They lived happily together for a while, but unfortunately Bith son of Noah was unable to cope with the task he’d been given and he died – the first death in Ireland – so his 16 women were divided between the other two men. Now Ladra had never quite recovered from the wound he’d taken when they landed, and he quickly succumbed. Now all the women looked to Fintan to populate Ireland.

Poor Fintan, being just one man among fifty women, was completely overwhelmed by this task and ran away and hid in the mountains. Ceasair, deeply in love with him, died of a broken heart. Fintan hid himself away in a cave, where he became a shaman, shapeshifting to take on the forms of all the different animals in Ireland, and living in this way for five thousand years.

One by one, Cesaire’s followers died, of disease, or old age, or other hardships, and over time the numbers dwindled. Only one woman survived, a great warrior woman called Banba, who sometimes had liaisons with Fintan Mac Bochra through the years, when he was in human form.

Book of Invasions – 1: Ceasair (Christian version)

Long ago in Egypt, the wise man Noah had a prophetic dream. The god Yahweh showed him that the world was full of wickedness, and instructed Noah, the only righteous man left, to build an ark and save all the animals. Yahweh would send a great flood to wash the earth clean, and Noah was to repopulate the land when the waters receded. Noah was going to bring all his family with him, but he found out that his son, Bith, and Bith’s son Ladra, had been part of a gang of thieves, along with another young man named Fintan. Noah told Bith he was not welcome aboard the ark!

Bith went to his daughter, Ceasair, who was busy building an ark of her own. Ceasair had her own god, and had decided that she was going to try and get around this flood by sailing west to an unpopulated land. She reasoned that maybe Yaweh wouldn’t send his flood to a land that hadn’t had any sin committed on it. Cesaire agreed to take Bith, Ladra and Fintan with her, as long as they agreed to forsake the god of Noah, and follow all of her commands.

Ceasair built her ark, and started to gather followers. Three times fifty women, with all sorts of skills and knowledge, all that they’d need to make their way in the new land. came to her. So many, that Ceasair had to build three arks to carry them all. Her brother Ladra was a pilot, and made himself useful to her. And Ceasair fell in love with Fintan Mac Bochra and married him.

Ceasair and her followers set sail. They sailed for seven years, crossing all over the known world, from the Nile all the way to Asia Minor and the Caspian Sea, across the Mediterranean. They sailed up rivers as far as the Alps, and lost two of their three ships along the way. At last, from a tower in northern Spain, Ceasair saw the coast of Ireland in the distance and knew their journey was nearly at an end. They landed in Ireland, in the harbour of Corca Dhuibhne in Kerry. Ceasair jumped onto the land first, because she was the leader, and so she became the first person ever to set foot on Ireland. Fintan Mac Bochra was the first man. All the others landed safely, except Ladra the pilot who took a wound from an oar to his thigh.

Now that they’d arrived they realized that they were going to have to populate the island, but they only had three men among fifty women! So they decided to divide into three groups, with one man to each group. Noah’s son Bith got 16 women because he was getting on in years and wasn’t as virile as he used to be, and the other two men got 17 women each.

They lived happily together for a while, but unfortunately Bith son of Noah was unable to cope with the task he’d been given and he died – the first death in Ireland – so his 16 women were divided between the other two men. Now Ladra had never quite recovered from the wound he’d taken when they landed, and he quickly succumbed. Now all the women looked to Fintan to populate Ireland.

Poor Fintan, being just one man among fifty women, was completely overwhelmed by this task and ran away and hid in the mountains. Cesaire, deeply in love with him, died of a broken heart. Fintan hid himself away in a cave.

Not long after this disaster, Yahweh’s flood caught up to them. All the remaining women were drowned, except for the warrior woman Banba, who ran up into the hills to survive. In his cave, Fintan had a strange dream: he dreamed that he was a salmon, and when he awoke he was a salmon, swimming through the floodwaters and surviving. With the wisdom he learned, and his trick of shapeshifting, Fintan was able to live for five thousand years in Ireland, as salmon, hawk, deer and boar, occasionally becoming a man to share his wisdom with new people who came to Ireland.

Caoilte’s Rabble

Caoilte Mac Ronan was a thin, grey man, and he was the best runner in all of the Fianna. Once, a king in Ireland asked all the fastest men he could find which of them would be able to fetch him sands from all the beaches in Ireland the quickest. They each gave him an answer: days or weeks or months; but when he got to Caoilte, Caoilte only smiled and held out a bag of sand. “I got it,” said he, “while ye were talking.”

Now, one time, the Fianna had stirred up a rebellion among the people of Ireland, and they were at odds with the High King himself, in Tara. He had no intention of starting a fight with the Fianna, so he asked Finn Mac Cumhaill to come peacefully as his hostage until the trouble had blown over, and Finn had agreed.

Caoilte was not there when this bargain was made. When he heard that his leader and friend was being held hostage, he was furious, and set out to avenge Finn. He went on a rampage of destruction, going in through every door that the red east wind blew on and destroying all before him, setting fire to the fields, and giving one man’s wife to another.

At last he came to Tara, and to get himself inside quietly, he took the clothes off the doorkeeper. He snuck into the king’s hall, and took the king’s sword right out of his sheath, replacing it with his own, which was thin as a blade of grass after all the fighting he’d done with it. Still disguised as a servant, he stood behind the king at the feast, holding a candle.

Now, the king was jumpy after hearing all these rumours of Caoilte’s rampage, and he thought he spotted Caoilte there in the shadows. But Finn dismissed this. “Caoilte has a high mind,” he said “And he wouldn’t go creeping about Tara with a candle, he only does high deeds!”

The king was at ease after that, till Caoilte handed him a glass of wine. “There’s a smell of Caoilte’s skin off that wine,” the king said. And at that, Caoilte knew he was discovered, and spoke out.

“Tell me what to do to get freedom for Finn Mac Cumhaill,” he said.

The high king thought about this. It wasn’t that he wanted Finn Mac Cumhaill as a hostage. If nothing else, this business of looking over his shoulder in case there was an enraged man of the Fianna coming for him was playing havoc with his nerves. It was time he wanted, for the rebellion to die down, and so he decided to set Caoilte a task that would surely take even him some time to achieve.

“I have a mind,” said the High King, “to see every creature in Ireland all together in the one place. A pair of each.”

“Right,” said Caoilte, and away he went.

He searched through all of Ireland, hunting down birds and beasts, wild and tame. The creatures were all startled, but Caoilte herded them and drove them on before them so fast that they hadn’t the time to fight amongst themselves. All the same, the deer did not like being so close to the wolves, nor the backbirds to the foxes, so it was a terrible time he had to bring them all together in one place and drive them. He almost had it, when a raven broke south, and a wild duck north, and he had to run them both down and bring them back by their necks before anything else could escape.

At last, he brought them all before the gates of Tara as evening was closing in, and shouted up at the walls for them to send out the king.

The king thought to himself, “This is far too soon,” so he had his men tell Caoilte to wait until morning: he wanted to see all the animals together in daylight. He had them direct Caoilte to a particular house to keep the creatures in all night.

It was a house with nine doors.

No sooner had Caoilte driven all the animals and birds inside, then they let out a dreadful screech, and every one of them did all they could to escape. There was no rest for Caoilte that night; he had to run from door to door all around the house, flinging back birds and beasts all desperately trying to get away from him and each other.

At last, when the sun rose, Caoilte brought all the creatures before the High King of Tara, and such a noise they were still making, that the people called them Caoilte’s Rabble!

As he looked out over the creatures, the High King thought to himself that this hadn’t been a bad plan at all. He had bought another bit of time with Finn Mac Cumhaill as his hostage, and after all, this was a fairly magnificent gift. What king in the world wouldn’t want a gathering of all the wild creatures in his land brought to him as tribute?

So he let Finn Mac Cumhaill go. And the second Caoilte stopped herding and circling the animals, they bolted off in all directions, fleeing from Tara, no two by the same road, so all the profit the High King had of them was that one glance.

Deirdre of the Sorrows

King Conchubar Mac Neasa came to power as a young man. He took the kingship from his foster-father Fergus Mac Roich, for a year, but he showed such wisdom during that year, that the people of Ulster decided he should stay on as king at the end of it. When he was newly come to his throne, he and his warriors of the Red Branch were invited to a feast in the house of Felimid the Harper. Felimid was in high spirits on this night, because his wife was about to give birth to their first child, and he was very excited. He asked if Conchubar’s druid, Cathbad, would make a prophecy to tell him what was in store for his baby. Cathbad placed his hands on the Felimid’s wife’s womb and said that the child was going to be a girl, and her name would be Deirdre, and that she would grow up to be the most beautiful woman who ever lived. “But,” he said, “An excess of anything is deadly, and she will be the cause of so much trouble that she will split the Red Branch in two.”

Now, when they heard this, the men of the Red Branch demanded that the child be killed there and then, before she had the chance to fulfill her destiny, but Conchubar wanted to have the reputation of a wise king, and a merciful king, so he stopped them. He said that he could not countenance the death of an infant in the house of its father, but that he would take the child when she was born. He would have her raised up in secret, and if she grew up to be as beautiful as Cathbad promised, then he would marry her himself, and put her in such a high position that no man would dare to look at her.

So he had his old nurse, Leabharcham, take the baby to a hidden valley and raise the child away from everyone else. From time to time, Conchubar would go and visit, to check how Deirdre was getting along. She grew up every bit as beautiful a child as had been prophesised, but she didn’t have much affection for Conchubar, though he was fair-haired and handsome, and had no shortage of female admirers in Emain Macha.

Leabharcham was very protective of Deirdre, and careful to make sure that none saw her. The only person, besides Conchubar, who she let into the valley was an old man, who would come by to help with the work. He was mute, and could tell no one about the girl in the valley and her enchanting beauty.

One day, in the early springtime, when the snow was still on the ground and Deirdre was almost a woman, Leabharcham had the old man slaughter a calf for her and Deirdre. The blood spilled out onto the snow, and a raven came down to eat the bloody snow. And when she saw this, Deirdre cried out, and went into a faint. Leabharcham thought she had been upset at the sight of the blood, but Deirdre told her nurse that she had fallen in love with these three colours, and she would only give her love to a man with hair as black as a raven, skin as white as snow, and cheeks as red as blood.

She asked Leabharcham if she knew of any man who looked like this, and Leabharcham, unable to deny Deirdre anything she asked for, told her of the youngest son of Uisneach, a warrior of the Red Branch, young and brave and beautiful. His name was Naoise, and he had the colouring Deirdre loved. He was inseparable from his brothers, Ainnle and Ardan, and he was the most handsome warrior of the Red Branch.

Deirdre pestered Leabharcham to find some way to let her see Naoise, but Leabharcham refused. She told Deirdre she’d see him soon enough, when Conchubar Mac Neasa married her and took her to Emain Macha with him. But Deirdre would not be put off. She begged Leabharcham to let her see Naoise, and eventually, Leabharcahm relented.

The next time she went to Emain Macha, she told the sons of Uisneach that there was wonderful hunting to be had in the valley where she lived, and to be sure and go there the next time they went hunting. She told Deirdre she could spy on them when they came, and make sure she was not seen.

But when the brothers came to the valley to hunt, Deirdre fell in love with Naoise the moment she saw him. She knew this was the only man for her. Before Leabharcham could stop her, she stepped out to greet him, and it was as if she turned from a girl into a woman at that moment. She smiled at Naoise, and flirted and cajoled him, and he fell completely in love with her the moment he saw her. She asked him if he would run away with her, but Naoise knew who she must be, and he knew that she belonged to Conchubar Mac Neasa, his king. He refused, and Deirdre put a geasa on him, that he had to run away with her.

Naoise had no choice, then, but to get Deirdre as far away from Emain Macha as he could, before the king found out. His brothers Ainnle and Ardan refused to be separated from him, and the four of them fled Ulster, with their servants and retainers.

There was nowhere in Ireland they could rest and be safe, so the sons of Uisneach took Deirdre across the sea to Scotland. The brothers entered into service with the king of Scotland, and became part of his army. But they never stayed in the fort with the other warriors, at the end of every day they would go off into the wilderness, no one knew where. The King of Scotland grew suspicious, and decided to find out what they were keeping a secret from him. He sent spies to follow him, and the spies reported back that the three brothers had come to a camp in the middle of nowhere, where they were greeted by the most beautiful woman any of them had ever seen. Deirdre had made a home for her and Naoise in the wilds, and she took care of him and his brothers, cooking fine food for them, and making sure they wanted for nothing.

As soon as the king of Scotland heard about this great beauty, he wanted her for himself. He knew he couldn’t kill the brothers, when they had sworn to serve him, so he put them on the front lines of every battle, hoping that they would be killed. They were such great warriors that this did not work, but Deirdre realized what was happening, and persuaded Naoise of the danger they were in. They left the king of Scotland’s service, and fled further into the wilderness, coming at last to a remote island in the north, near to the training school of the warrior woman, Scathach.

They lived in the wilds for many years, the brothers hunting, and Deirdre making a home for them.

In Emain Macha, Fergus Mac Roigh was the only one brave enough to raise the subject of the Sons of Uisneach with Conchubar. When Conchubar thought of Naoise’s betrayal, it never failed to drive him to a rage. But Fergus was very fond of the sons of Uisneach, and he never stopped arguing for Conchubar to forgive them, and to let them come home. He made so many arguments and so many pleas, that at last Conchubar gave in. He told Fergus he could invite the brothers back to Ulster, and place them under his own protection as a guarantee of their safety.

So Fergus went to Scotland, and when he landed on the shore, he let out a shout. Far in the wilds, Naoise was playing chess with Deirdre. When he heard the shout, he jumped to his feet, saying, “That’s the shout of an Irish man!” But Deirdre said it was not, it was definitely the shout of a Scottish man. Fergus shouted from the beach again, and Naoise leaped up, crying “That’s the shout of an Ulsterman!” But again, Deirdre persuaded him that it was not. Then Fergus shouted again, and Naoise cried, “That’s the shout of Fergus Mac Roich!” And nothing Deirdre said could persuade him otherwise.

He asked her why she had lied, and Deirdre told him that she had had a dream the night before. A raven had flown over to Scotland from Ireland, with three drops of honey in its beak. But when it landed, the honey turned into blood. But Naoise and his brothers were so excited at the prospect of seeing Fergus again that they dismissed her dream as a woman’s imaginings, and rushed to greet their dear friend.

Fergus told them the wonderful news: that Conchubar Mac Neasa had finally been persuaded to forgive them, and take them back into the Red Branch. The brothers were thrilled; they had missed Emain Macha, and all their friends there. They swore an oath that they would not eat or sleep till they were back home in Emain Macha. But on the voyage back to Ireland, Deirdre never once took her eyes of the shoreline of Scotland. She sang a lament for having to leave the mountains and loughs of Scotland, the only home she had ever been happy in.

When they landed on the shore of Ulster, a local man came to invite Fergus to a feast. There was a geasa on Fergus, and on all the Red Branch warriors, never to refuse a feast in their honour, and so he could not refuse. Now, this man had prepared the feast for Fergus at Conchubar’s request: he was not nearly so ready to forgive as Fergus thought. Deirdre begged Fergus not to desert them, she was sure something terrible would happen. But he could not refuse. Then Deirdre berated him for being a coward, and deserting the men he’d put under his protection. He was more interested in eating and drinking than in honour! To placate her, Fergus had his son, Fiachu, take up his duty to ensure their protection.

When they arrived in Emain Macha, Conchubar did not come out to greet them. He sent Leabharcham instead, and she told Naoise to hide Deirdre’s face, and she brought them to the Speckled House, where the warriors of the Red Branch hung their weapons, and the heads of their enemies. They were given food and drink there, and Naoise and Deirdre played a game of chess to pass the time.

Conchubar was in two minds whether or not to forgive Naoise. He wanted to let it go, he knew it made him look bad to hold a grudge for so long, but he became so furious when he thought of Deirdre getting away, that he could not bring himself to forgive Naoise. He asked Leabharcham what did Deirdre look like, was she still beautiful? And Leabharcham said, “Oh the wilderness has ruined my poor Deirdre, she is a hag! Her skin is weathered and grey, her fingernails are dirty and broken, what teeth she has left are yellow, and her hair is coarse as a horse’s mane.

At that, Conchubar’s jealousy abated, and he thought how fine it would be to welcome the brothers back into his service. But when as he thought it over, he was not sure he could trust Leabharcham to be impartial when it came to Deirdre. So he sent a servant to spy in the window of the Speckled House and report back to him.

Naoise saw the man looking through the window, and he threw a chess-piece at him that knocked out his eye. The man came back to Conchubar with one eye missing, and said that it was a price worth paying to have seen Deirdre, and he would gladly give up his other eye just to look at her again.

At this, Conchubar’s jealousy came flooding back, and he called on his warriors to attack Naoise and the sons of Uisneach. But half of the men refused to attack their former brothers in arms, and would not fight. The others attacked the Speckled House.

The sons of Uisneach put Deirde in the middle of them, and stood shoulder to shoulder in a circle around her. They were able to fight any number that came at them, and no matter what side Conchubar’s men attacked from, they were met with swords and shields. Fergus Mac Roigh’s son Fiachu fought Conchubar Mac Neasa’s son in single combat. Conall Cearnach saw a man attacking his king’s son, and without pausing to see who it was, he struck Fiachu down dead. But when he saw who it was that he had killed, he cried, “A king’s son for a king’s son!” and he cut the head off Conchubar Mac Neasa’s son.

Conchubar could see that his men were making no headway, so he went to Cathbad the druid for help. Cathbad agreed to help him, but only if Conchubar swore that he would not kill the sons of Uisneach. Conchubar agreed, and said he only wanted Naoise to apologise and all would be forgiven. So Cathbad sent a spell that surrounded the sons of Uisneach with a black and hungry sea. They had to swim, though they were on dry land. Naoise put Deirdre up onto his shoulders, and they swam and fought off their foes, until exhaustion overcame them and their weapons slipped from their fingers.

Conchubar’s men seized them, and Conchubar said that while he couldn’t kill them himself, he would give a fortune to any man who would do the deed for him. None of the men of the Red Branch would do it, but at last one man stepped forward. He was the son of the King of Norway, Maigne Rough hand, and Naoise had killed his father and brothers in a battle long ago. He said he would be glad to kill them for Conchubar.

Ainnle spoke up, then, and asked to be killed first. He was the youngest, and had never lived without his brothers, and did not want to be left alive after them now. Ardan, too, begged to be killed first so he did not have to watch his brothers die. Then Naoise said that he had a sword, given to him by Mananan Mac Lir, that could cut down anything in front of it. He asked Maigne Rough Hand to use his sword, and cut their heads off at the same instant. And so that is what they did: the three sons of Uisneach laid their heads down on the same block, and Maigne Rough Hand swung the sword and chopped all their heads off.

When Fergus Mac Roich came back from his feast and saw the Sons of Uisneach dead, and his own son dead besides, he burned Emain Macha to the ground. Then he, and the half of the Red Branch warriors who had refused to take part in the fight, left Ulster. They went to Conchubar Mac Neasa’s greatest enemy, Queen Maeve of Connaught, and pledged their service to her.

Conchubar put Deirdre into a beautiful house, and surrounded her with the finest things. He began to court her, but Deirdre’s hatred towards him never cooled. She would not look at him, or speak to him, or acknowledge his presence in any way. She cast aside every gift he gave her, and took no joy in the luxuries surrounding her. He would come to sing outside her window, as he was famed for his beautiful voice, and she would shut the window, complaining of a horrible noise.

After a year of this, Conchubar grew angry that all his kindness was being snubbed, and he came to her to ask her if there was any man in the world that she hated more than he. Deirde said, “Well, I hate you with all my heart, but I hate Maine Rough Hand a little more, because he killed my Naoise.”

So Conchubar said, “In that case, I’m going to give you to Maigne Rough Hand for a year, to do with as he pleases, and we’ll see if you’re any kinder to me after that.”

He sent for Maine Rough Hand to come and take Deirdre away. They placed her in Maigne’s chariot, and Conchubar stood on one side of her, and Maigne on the other. On the way to Maigne’s country, Conchubar joked that she was helpless as a ewe between two rams. They passed by a place where the cliffs hung over the road, and Deirdre leaned her head out of the chariot, and dashed her brains out against the rocks.

She was buried in Emain Macha, near to where Naoise and his brothers lay. Conchubar could not bear the thought of them touching one another, even in death, and he had stakes of wood driven into the ground between their two graves. But the wood grew roots down into the graves, and two trees grew up, and twined together.

The Voyage of Bran

Long ago in Ireland, there was a High King named Bran. He was not much interested in being High King, and one day, during a feast, Bran slipped away to get some peace and quiet.

As he was walking, all alone, he began to hear this beautiful music. It was haunting and like nothing he had ever heard before. Bran hunted high and low to see where it was coming from, but no matter what way he turned, the music always seemed to be coming from just behind him. At last, the sweet music lulled him, and he fell asleep. While he slept, he saw a vision: a beautiful woman of the Otherworld, who sang to him about the Land of Women, where everything was pleasant and joyful, and there was never any grief or treachery.

When he woke, Bran found in his had a silver branch with golden apples on it. Not really knowing what this meant, Bran brought it back to the fort with him. That evening, at the feast, the same woman from his dream appeared, but this time, all those present in the hall could see her. She spoke to Bran, and told him to come and find her in the Island of Women. Then the silver branch leaped out of Bran’s hand and into hers, and she was gone.

Bran wasted no time in building a ship. His three foster brothers came with him, and each of them brought nine men. They set sail out west into uncharted waters that no one had ever been to before. As they were sailing, Mananan Mac Lir, the god of the ocean, came riding towards them in his chariot. Bran and his men watched, dumbstruck, as the god reined up beside them and stopped to talk. He told Bran that their skiff was sailing, not through waves, but through an orchard, and that where they saw sea-horses and sea foam, he could see a grassy plain, covered in flowers, with warriors going to and fro across it. He sang to them about all the wonders of the Land Under Wave that he ruled over, and then he took his leave, telling them that he was on his way to meet the wife of a king, to father a child that would be called Mongan.

Bran and his men rowed on, and before long they came to an island, called Moy Meall, or the Island of Joy. There were a great number of people on the shore, but when Bran and his men called out to them, to ask if they were near to the Island of Women, the people only laughed and gaped at them. So one of Bran’s men jumped out of the boat, and waded to shore to see if he could get any answers out of them. But as soon as he landed, he started to laugh like a fool and gape at them, as if he didn’t know them. Bran and his men circled the island, over and over, calling out to their companion to come back to them, but he ignored their calls, and only laughed witlessly.

Downhearted, Bran and his men continued on their way. They came to the Island of Women, and saw the woman from Bran’s vision. But Bran and his men were wary, because of what had happened to their friend, and they kept their distance. Then the woman threw a ball of yarn at Bran’s head, and he put up his hand to stop it. The ball of yarn stuck fast to his hand, and the woman on the shore started to reel the boat, with all of the men in it, in to shore.

When they landed, the men were taken to a beautiful house, and a plate was put before each one. No matter how much they ate and drank, their plates always remained full, and their cups never emptied. When they had eaten and drunk their fill, a woman led each man to his own room, richly appointed, and let them sleep there.

The men stayed on the Island of Women for what seemed to them to be a year. Every day was restful, and easy. All they had to do was to play sports and games, to eat and drink and enjoy themselves, and the women took care of all their wants. But one of Bran’s men, Nechtan, began to feel homesick. He started to pester Bran about going home. The other men shushed him, but he spoke to each of them in turn, reminding them of home, and the people they had left there, until at last Bran relented, and they prepared to go back to Ireland.

The Queen of the Island took Bran aside and warned him that if he returned, he would get only grief. But Bran could see no other option. So the Queen told him that if he must go, he should pick up his companion from the Island of Joy on his way, and when he got to Ireland, he must make sure not to set foot on the land. Bran agreed to this, and off they went.

When they came to the Island of Joy, they called their companion’s name, and he ran straight out to the boat, and recovered his wits as soon as they had him on board. Then they sailed over the sea to Ireland. But when they came near, they could see that the whole coastline had changed. The countryside looked completely different, all the forests were gone, and the people seemed small and grey and weak. They called out to the people on the shore, and no one had ever heard of them. Then one old man came forward, and said that when he was a young boy, he had heard the story of King Bran, an ancient tale that was almost lost.

Nechtan, the man who had been homesick, could not accept this. He flung himself from the deck of the boat, and landed on the shore. But as soon as his feet touched the ground, he turned to dust. Bran realized then that he and his men had been gone for hundreds and hundreds of years, and they could never return home.

Bran carved an account of his voyage on stone tablets, in Ogham writing, and threw the stones to the people on the shore. Then he and his men turned their ship around, and sailed off to the three times fifty Islands of the Otherworld. And as to what adventures befell them after that… nobody knows!

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