A troubled young hero find his own ‘peace of mind’
This is an extraordinary journey story of a troubled young hero born to a nun and a warrior king who is subsequently murdered when a church is burned down. The lying together sound to be not consensual but was this a monastic addition? The story is taken from four vellum manuscripts including the 14th century Yellow Book of Lecan.
Máel Dúin sets out to avenge the death of his father, Ailill Edge of Battle.
Máel Dúin is raised by a Queen, a beautiful bright and playful child and victorious in all his pursuits. But one day an envious soldier warrior tells him he is someone ‘whose clan and kindred no one knows”. He is distraught. He gets his foster mother to take him to his birth mother and he hears the story. A poisoned tongued man from the church, Briccne, tells him to avenge his father.
He seeks the blessings of a wizard Nuan who tells him to build a boat and that the crew should only be seventeen men, no more and no less. But just as they are setting out to sea on the prescribed day, three of his foster brothers swim out. He has a difficult choice. Either they drown or he breaks the wizard’s instructions. He takes them on board.
They are to visit thirty four islands, many of them magical and surreal. The first is the island of his father’s murderers. He hears them speaking. But before he can get ashore he is swept away by a storm. It is clearly the result of the excess crew!
From then on they visit:
- Island of Enormous ants the size of horses
- Island of huge birds that provide food to fill all their stomachs
- A body sharing beast, part horse, part hound
- Island of giant horses, the shells of huge nuts and they see a demon’s horserace.
- House of abundant food especially salmon and much drink
- An island of wondrous fruit, apples which sustains the crew for 40 days
- A revolving beast is on the next island, one that runs around the island but can turn in its skin
- A magical island of fiery beasts all golden apples, where the beasts are pig like with red flames of fire for fur
- A high island with white horses around a rampart and a cat who burns one of the foster brothers to ashes when he steals a necklace
- An island divided by a bronze wall with white sheep on one side and black on the other. When a black sheep is thrown over it becomes white, and same with the white when they cross over
- The island of the burning river, a giant and huge oxen described by him as mere babies
- The island of the Miller of Hell who grinds all concealed wealth down to dust
- Black wailers, dressed in black and when two crew members land they too start wailing
- The island of four walls: gold, silver, copper, crystal
- The island with the Magical Bridge that leads to a palace and a most generous hostess
- Birds who speak with human voices
- Small island with a lonely pilgrim covered with his long white hair
- The island with a wondrous fountain that gives the crew wine, ale and milk
- Savage giant smiths who throw a molten rock at their boat
- Glass sea such that it is like looking through glass
- An underwater city with houses and forests and a fierce creature who swallows an oxen
- Water cliffs and terrified islanders, so the crew moves on
- Stream like an arch over the island that produces salmon when the water is pured
- An immense silver pillar with a silver net
- An island perched on a single pillar but with no landing place
- An island Queen with seventeen daughters and an offer of eternal youth and the pleasures of the daughters
- An island of intoxicating fruits that they collect because of their positive effect but have to water down because so potent
- Island with a hermit and an ancient eagle with restorative water that heals
- The island of constant laughter where the third foster brother goes and stays
- The island of the revolving rampart of fire and great feasting
- The hermit who was once a thief hoarding treasures. He tells Máel Dúin to forgive his father’s killers
- The last island is where they began, the island of the murderers. They are welcomed and treated as guests. They stay for a few days before returning home.
The Connections and insights from Participants on the voyage of Máel Dúin
Connection 1 – The Journey as a life Journey
The journey was one in which you set out in a particular direction, but life takes you somewhere else. This is like life. Life just happens to you.
Connection 2 – Do we have Agency?
Very few people have the power to get where they want to get. You meet people, you network. You just end up in places. You set out to do one thing, but that is not where life takes you.
Connection 3 – Parallels with Homer’s Odyssey
It was very much like Homer’s Odyssey, a journey of island hopping. Less islands. It was a mixture of Calypso and Nausicaa. And the islands were so varied in what they encounter, some hostile, some friendly, some magical. Very rich imagination. And like Odysseus he makes it home in the end.
Connection 4 – Echoes of St. Brendan’s Voyage
The Brendan voyage that took him past the Faroes and Iceland possibly, the Island of Birds and the Island of Fire.
Connection 5 – The Vengeance Theme
The vengeance motivation seemed like a reaction to the painful discovery of his parents encounter and his father’s death. You can bring people off course if they follow you on a mission of vengeance. It all felt like a personal journey based on revenge but the demons Máel Dúin discovers are his own personal demons.
Connection 6 – The Legs cut from under him
What seems clear is that Máel Dúin has an idyllic childhood in which he thinks he is the child of a King and Queen, is loved and very successful. And then when he finds out the truth it is as if “the legs get cut from under him”. This is a huge crisis of identity. Who am I? And then to find out he is the victim of a non-consensual encounter with a nun. Máel Dúin is clearly very distraught. It is as if his whole life’s narrative is taken from him. The journey is the journey to recover an identity.
Connection 7 – The Druid’s Instructions
The clear instructions of the Druid were about the numbers of people to be on the boat, 17 no more no less. But with the brothers swimming out he is faced with a horrible dilemma, ignore the Druid or let his foster brothers drown. Taking them on board means all is not in order, all is not right. And it is as if the natural world shows it. And it is only when the three foster brothers get stuck on islands or killed that the right numbers are restored, and then Máel Dúin can find restitution. It is as if there is a natural order which the Druid is in touch with. Ignore it at your peril. This is a ‘breaking of the geasa’ example.
Connection 8 – A Journey through the Subconscious
Is this Journey to an otherworld as the unconscious? Or is it like the Tibetan Book of the Dead? A shamanic journey
Connection 9 – The Black Sheep / White Sheep
The story of the wall separating white and black sheep and they change colour when thrown over the wall is a remarkable insight into the power of culture and group dynamic to change how you think.
Connection 10 – Too much to take in
It was kind of overwhelming. We need a year on each island or take this as the story for a summer school, perhaps actually do some island hopping.
Connection 11 – Peace of Mind
Máel Dúin begins as a troubled young man but by the end he does seem to have found a state of peace and calm – a good end to a powerful set of experiences and life’s journey.