Story Archaeology

Uncovering the layers of Irish Mythology through a regular podcast and related articles

Rowing Around Immráma 05: Immrám Curaig Máel Dúin 2 – The Voyage of Mael Duin’s Boat Part 2

The Galway Hooker, Eyre Square, Galway City: by Éamonn O'Doherty

The Galway Hooker, Eyre Square, Galway City: by Éamonn O’Doherty

We are reaching the end of our voyage into “official” Immráma. As we turn for home with Mael Duin and his crew, we ask, “So what does it all mean?”

Journey into new waters with the Story Archaeologists as we begin to chart our Immrám adventures.


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by The Story Archaeologists

Music: “Tam Lin” by Gian Castello

Welcome to our new site!

As our regular subscribers will know, we are in the process of moving the hosting for Story Archaeology. It may look the same (in fact, we hope it looks very familiar!), but it’s all the worky-bits in the background that have changed.

There are bound to be teething problems, so please Don’t Panic!! If something on the site doesn’t work the way it should, there are two easy steps you can take:

Step 1: Contact us – the e-mail address StoryArchaeologists[at]GMail[dot]Com is probably the most reliable way to do this.

Step 2: Come back to the site in a day or two. If it still isn’t working properly, please let us know!

It’s all a bit scary for us, especially as there will be problems we can’t predict! Here are some of the issues that might arise:

  • If you subscribe via iTunes, there shouldn’t be any changes to your subscription. In fact, it was recent problems with our iTunes feed that woke us up to the need for the change. Thanks to our listeners who brought our attention to this!
  • If you get updates via e-mail, you may need to re-subscribe after the 1st May. We’re not sure yet how this will work, so please bear with us while we figure it out! However, if you experience problems after re-subscribing, please get in touch to let us know – we may not find the problem otherwise! Our e-mail will still be StoryArchaeologists[at]GMail[dot]Com
  • If you “Follow” us via WordPress, you may or may not need to re-subscribe after the 1st May. We’re moving our hosting, but we’ll still be using WordPress. Again, we just don’t know whether you will automatically keep following us.


We hope this doesn’t cause too much disruption, but we feel it will be worth it in the long run!

Thanks for your patience!

Isolde and Chris

The Tabulated Immrama

The beautiful Broighter gold boat on a plain kitchen table While we were working on this series, Isolde thought that it might be helpful to create a table comparing all the islands and events of the four members of the set.  Not all the details of each story are present, but it is a useful aide memoire to use while listening to any episode in Series 4, We thought that it might be worth sharing, so here it is. It is a little cumbersome to  place directly into the blog but it can be readily downloaded or read on line as a PDF document. Just click on the link below.

Table of Immráma

And here are the links to available English translations of the four texts:

 Immrám Brain / The Voyage of Bran

Translated by Kuno Meyer:

Immrám Snedgussa ocus Mac Ríagla / The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Ríagla

Translated by Whitley Stokes:

Immrám Uí Corra / The Voyage of the Uí Corra

Translated by Whitley Stokes:

Immrám Curaig Máel Dúin / The Voyage of Mael Duin’s Boat

Translated by Whitley Stokes, published in Revue Celtique, Vol. 9:

The Isle of Intoxicating Berries

A photograph of some red berries

Slowly, oh, so slowly, Máel Dúin became aware of his surroundings. He could sense the sun’s warm brightness on the other side of his eyelids, but he did not want to open his eyes.

He felt relaxed, his limbs heavy, almost languorous, and very comfortable. He had no desire to move a muscle. But why should he move? There was no reason for him to move.

He had been dreaming; a deep peaceful dream, velvet dark and sensuous. Had he been dreaming of the Woman? If he had, he didn’t remember. The sudden pang of regret that this thought delivered was disturbing.

No. He was not sure that he had been dreaming – just sleeping deeply. It had been a satisfying sleep of pleasurable contentment. He was almost sorry to have to return at all from that quiet forgetfulness. He rested a while, hovering between consciousness and sleep. There was no hurry.

Voices, anxious voices, invaded his ears, troubling his lazy enjoyment.

“Is he dying?”

“He’s still breathing.”

“All that red foam around his mouth. Is it blood?”

“I don’t think so. It looks more like juice from those red berries he ate.”

“But he’s been like this for all of three days.”

“He must be dying. No-one could sleep that long.”

“You could.”

“We shouldn’t have let him test the berries.”

“Someone had to do it, and the lot fell to him.”

“What are we going to do with him?”

The words irritated Máel Dúin. They would not allow him to drift off to sleep again. In spite of himself, Máel Dúin’s memory set to work to piece together everything that had happened.

It had not been much of an island, not like the wide and welcoming Isle of Women. It wasn’t even inhabited. But it had been plentifully clothed in leafy trees, not tall but rich in ruby-berried fruit. The blood red globules seemed ripe and plump with juice, but none of them could put a name to this ready food. No-one knew whether it was palatable, wholesome to eat, or even safe.

Máel Dúin remembered, now, how they had cast lots, choosing one to risk his life and health in the eating. He had been happy to oblige them, not greatly caring what happened to him – not then, not at that time.

But the warm comfort of sleep was lost. The voices bothered him like biting insects. He shrugged his shoulders and opened his eyes, blinking in the sunshine. His crew were gathered around him as he lay on the grass under the shaded fruit tree. He watched the anxiety fade from their faces as he sat up.

“I know,” he assured them. “I have slept for three days. But there is nothing wrong with me. The fruit is good.”

Máel Dúin stood up, stretching like a cat.

“The fruit is more than good – It is excellent.” Máel Dúin smiled. He felt good. The sad weariness and exhaustion had fallen from him like a winter cloak in summer. He felt ready to go forward and complete his voyage of exploration.

“Gather all the berries you can,” he told his crew. “They are a great gift. Not only do they ease thirst, but they lift the spirits and cheer the heart. But,” he added with a grin, ”just ensure you dilute the juice with plenty of water. I don’t want to find you lot asleep for days and have to handle the boat alone.”

They all set to work with a will, filling every vessel they could find.

Trials and tribulations of a pair of Story Archaeologists

Over the last few months we have been exploring the wild watery wonders and terrors of the Immráma. We have reached out for the delicately blossomed branch and healing apples of Manannán ,  and glimpsed the scintillating orchards below the waves. We have witnessed the salmon’s leap over a brazen weir, wondered at milk -running rainbows and pillared isles. We have been to hell and back with the Uí Corra and sailed away from bewildering monsters like Máel Dúin himself.

It has been illuminating and full time fun.  I am afraid the podcast episode covering the most part of Máeldύin’s voyage came out at over two hours! We hope you enjoyed it and enjoyed it in manageable pieces.

While we have been out there delving into our watery story-archaeological trenches we have been undertaking a bit of ‘rowing around’ ourselves.  We have spent the last month or so changing the hosting on the Story Archaeology site. This should, of course, have been simple, the matter of a few days disruption. We had our ‘tech-guy’ my knowledgeable and qualified son who is generally fairly patient with a couple of literary types who originally tried to organise, and number  podcast episodes like a book, frequently  lose or forget passwords (me not Isolde) and strongly object to file names being unable to handle Irish words (Isolde rather than me).

No. It should have been straightforward. It never works out like that, does it? So, I thought I would describe some of the islands of wonder and terror that have delayed the last couple of podcast episodes.

skellig The Island of the Crashing Jaws

Isolde has a great memory but her computer does not. Either that, or it is beginning to demonstrate the first signs of Alzheimer’s. Do computers get senile? Of course her machine has a lot to do. It has to be prepared to talk to her at all times, using the Jaws programme and has to be taught to handle all the idiosyncratic Irish pronunciations, under Isolde’s careful tuition. It equally has to be able to blow up texts to a massive size to allow her to read text at all. Recently it has been more likely to blow up, its own software.!

She has been struggling with  an island of earthquakes where carefully constructed edifices will suddenly crumple like sandcastles when the tide comes in, without warning and quite indiscriminately. Fortunately, Isolde will be able to leave this annoying island behind soon when Colm builds her a new machine. She won’t regret moving on.

island4 The Islands of the Indomitable Hosts

Moving files from one location to another should be simple enough. They should be able to travel from one island to another across the cyber-sea without getting lost, shifting or otherwise undergoing transmogrification. But what do you do if one island sulks, removes cargo from the departing boat without informing the owner and the other demands fees for allowing the contents onto the destination island and then admits that its harbour is incompatible with the in-coming boat.  You need the powers of an early Irish saint to sort that one out; possibly not Collumcille, for choice. Our Colm has been doing his best and the new hosting now  seems to be behaving effectively.

 island 3The Island of Disappearing  Links

This island has nothing to do with golf, although there have been moments where I wouldn’t have minded having a large and heavy club to brandish. It wouldn’t have helped much. Checking links and re-tagging pictures takes time, especially after two years’ worth of posts. Undertaking the job is a labour of love. However, when an island shrugs and the links are lost, it becomes a labour of Heracles!

 Aerial views, Monoriki island, Mamanuca islands. Fiji Islands.The Island of the Silent Portal

An imram is a journey into the unknown. You can expect the unexpected, the sudden crisis, even being lost, now and again. However it can be very frustrating not to be able to launch the triple skinned boat out onto the cyber-sea at all.

And now I am going to indulge in a bit of a personal rant. I know places in northern Australia where electricity is provided by generators, but where internet coverage is reasonably good. I have sat in a minibus, way out in the featureless Egyptian desert and watched a fellow traveller instantly download a book I had recommended onto her kindle. Recently I was standing in a small remote  village in Eastern Turkey on the Syrian border. Was there Internet coverage to be had? Yes.

So, why is my internet speed and reliability so abysmal in the west Midlands of Ireland, no more than 150 km from Dublin? And don’t set me going on the iniquity of our National Broadband Scheme. My address allows me the choice of one provider only. My sole choice is well protected by having their only complaint line safely tucked away somewhere on the Indian continent protected by guardians whose prime function seems to be  to prevent escalation of complaints into action. It is not the fault of the answerers-on-the-line, I am sure. They do what they are told to do. However, this Island is fraught with monstrous frustration..

Forward to islands new.

So it seems, our personal journey has mirrored the fortunes of our sea-bourne heroes and we, like them, have eventually reached calm and familiar waters. Hopefully, podcast and blog are now on stable dry land and will become easily available and regular again. As we reach our second anniversary at the end of June, we hope to add some new downloadable  resources to the site.  Part of my role in schools is to provide some of the traditional Irish stories, often the lesser known ones, for older Primary age children in an entertaining and appropriate format. I am intending to add either audio or text versions of these stories as I tell them. I also have short plays for class size numbers based on Irish myth and legend. Other downloadable content from Isolde, or myself, will follow.

All content will be freely available but we will be adding a donation link for anyone of our listeners who cares to support a couple of technology impoverished story archaeologists.

Well, we may have reached dry land  for now but the Immrám goes on into a third year. So far, in spite of my rant, we have loved every minute and Story Archaeology has become a big part of our lives. We have made so many new friends and contacts across the world and are delighted that so many of you, out there, care about this rich treasure of Irish tales and texts. Thank you for joining us in our conversations on Irish mythology. Thank you too for so many engaging comments and kind compliments.

Here’s to the on-going journey.


The Isle of Women

ilseofwomenMáeldύin stood at the stern of the triple skinned boat, brooding moodily over the glassy waters.  His eyes remained fixed on the shadowed depths, almost as if he were searching for another of those uncanny underwater islands; a place to dream, a place to drown.

Behind him, was the clamoured activity of the boat. The voices sounded busy, cheerful, in spite of the muffled groans of the man who had been so badly mutilated in their flight from the island.

His men would need his support, his re-assurance. but he could not face them, not yet, not while the rocky island would still be visible, outlined in misted distance. He would not look up until the land, itself, was lost to memory.

Memory would not let him be. The sea was a mirror reflecting his thoughts back at him in sharp, sunlit little darts. He couldn’t be sure that they had not just sailed away from Paradise.

So many wonders, so many islands, had been laid in their sea path. They had seen so much unexpected beauty and, equally, much that was disturbing, un-natural; dangerous.

The sea mirror reminded him of a bizarre menagerie, seething with huge and hungry ants, slavering cannibal horses and fiery pig creatures. These monsters were not the only threats to natural order that he and his crew had faced.  Things had warped and wavered even as they had watched. Sheep that could be colour changed by moving across a fence, a treasure warding cat that became a deadly weapon, these they had seen with their own eyes. Simple things, natural things, sorrow, joy and sleep, all had become terrors on this voyage into the unknown.

And then they had come, by chance to this Isle of Women. Here they had met with such courtesy, sumptuous hospitality, and warm welcome. Here they had been offered all a man could wish for; feasting, hunting, constant leisured wealth without work and the friendship of fine women, worthy wives. There had been one waiting for each of the weary mariners and the wisest and best for him, his Queen.

This was a land from the oldest tales It had been the long sought reward of many a brave hero, and here, like them, Máeldύin and his comrades could stay, free from sickness, grief and age, forever. If this was not paradise, he did not believe his imagination could encompass anything sweeter.

Then his men had become bored, had become sated with pleasure, until their arms ached for labour and the endeavour of the seas.

“For we have been here for only three months but it has seemed a full three years!” they told him.  “If you will not leave with us then we will depart without you!”

He had sighed, but could not, in conscience, abandon his companions,

And so, they had sought to depart in secret. It was a dishonourable escape to sneak away like thieves in the night. And, it had not even succeeded for his noble woman had brought them back with a ball of wool that held fast, glued to his hand as he stood on the boat. It had reeled them in, whether they would or no.

His companions grumbled openly now, turning against him, certain that he had chosen to catch the lure.

“For if you cannot let go, then we are trapped forever”, they complained.

Even Máeldύin began to believe that there might be a truth in their blame of him.

“If you do not trust me”, he retorted “then when a second chance of escape is put before us, let some other reach out for the wool.”

“And if it sticks to his hand?”

“Then cut it off!”

Máeldύin walked away in disgust.

For  another three times three months they remained in this paradise but the peace of the island had already left it.

Little waves licked at the hide coverings of the boat and Máeldύin looked up, adjusting his balance. The island had passed beyond view into sun-kissed mists. Yet, for a moment, he thought he could still hear the grief-filled voices of the women, crying for their lovers.

Now there was no land to be seen out here on the landless sea where all men were landless, homeless men.  Máeldύin felt his homelessness sink, like a weight, into the blood of his heart. It had been three years now, and he knew his companions yearned to turn for home. But where was home? After the dreadful storm had flung them beyond the known, they had laid the oars aside choosing, perhaps, to go deeper into the unknown where nothing was as it seemed.

And did he even have a home to go back to? In that world also, nothing had been as it seemed. He had given up the kindly court of his fostered childhood, on finding that the tale of his birth had been a lie, Now, only one of the three he had  then thought of as brothers was still alive in the boat. He had told them, begged them, not to come with him. Their place had been in that other, comfortable world,

No. he, Máeldύin, in arrogant search for unadorned truth, had uncovered the dishonour of his blood heritage. He had met his mother, a nun, raped by his father on a raid for plunder and glory. He had met his father’s people and heard the tale of his father’s death at the hand of sea raiders. And this glorious journey had begun as a simple quest for vengeance, for the killing of his father.

Máeldύin sighed deeply, and turned back into the boat, He had tried to be a true son to Aillil, Edge of Battle, a man he had never known, but this desire had led him far beyond his enemies, beyond the edge of the world. Here he had found wonders, terrors, and truths, if truths they were, beyond imagining.

Yet, he had also been given a new family. Máeldύin smiled, in spite of himself, and moved to help his friends, as they sought to save the man whose hand had been sacrificed in their sea escape,

He felt his spirits lifting as the silver mists fled before the strengthening sun.  Now, he knew who he was. Landless man or no, he was a man with a story, and such a tale that the best of bards would be weaving with its words for ever.




Rowing Around Immráma 04: Immrám Curaig Máel Dúin – The Voyage of Máel Dúin’s Boat

An illustration of a boat tossed at sea

When Máel Dúin sets out on a voyage to avenge the father he has never known, he encounters a seascape of wonders and terrors where nothing is what it seems.

Join the story Archaeologists as they follow in his wake, discovering some unexpected marvels.

This episode is only the first installment of this maratime epic, and it lasts over 2 hours. So get comfortable and enjoy the journey!

Don’t forget to subscribe to get the latest posts! Related Articles will be posted in the days to come…

Check our Reading List for further reading and resources.

by The Story Archaeologists

Music: “Tam Lin” by Gian Castello

The Birth of the Uí Corra ~ A Connacht Fairy Tale.

A Fairy Tale mother and baby

Once upon a time, in the dear and beautiful land of Connacht, there lived a wealthy man and his wife, who wished for nothing other than a healthy child to make their lives complete.

It sounds like the beginning of a familiar fairy tale, and so it is. In a way, the birth of a child often seems like a fairy tale; at least for a while.

But this couple is different. They don’t just sit and wait, sit and wish. The would-be mother doesn’t sigh passively at a window, musing on a child with hair as black as a raven’s wing and skin as white as the snow. She doesn’t just discover a baby no bigger than her husband’s thumb, or make an unwitting accidental contract with an unexpected goblin or disgruntled witch.

They both wish for a son - preferably a hero-child - who will grow, as is usual, at twice the rate of his peers. They wish their son to be a wise warrior, a champion of his people. Who wouldn’t wish for such a son as this? Sadly, you can’t always choose what your children will be. You must wait and see how they will turn out.

But this couple are not content to wish and wait, to see what might happen. This determined couple have a plan.

They decide that it is the devil who is most likely to give them what they want, and they know just how to set about getting him to oblige them. They follow the old custom and shame the devil into giving them their hearts’ desire. They begin to fast against him.

Now, this is an old custom, and largely forgotten, even in fairy tales. If you had a grievance against someone of high status - a king maybe, or his chief poet, someone you couldn’t hope to take to law - there was one way you might get your problem addressed. If you gave notice and publicly fasted at their door, your opponent could not eat, drink or sleep, could not even say their prayers, while you remained fasting, not without becoming honour-lost; a serious matter indeed.

It was an effective way of getting a point across in most cases, and perfectly legal and above board. How it would work against the devil, I cannot imagine, and our story does not tell. Preventing the devil from saying a Paternoster hardly seems effective; but, however they managed to swing it, their plan worked.

Before long, and after the usual time, the Brugud and his delighted wife found themselves cradling not one, but three sturdy male babies.

And in the best possible fairy tale tradition, the three boys grew into tall, strong, brave, generous young men, possessed of every skill and accomplishment. No-one had a bad word to say about them. These paragons were everything their proud parents had hoped and planned for.

And the happy ending?

Not yet. Not for a while yet.

Not for a long while and a long journey.

For no-one had thought to inform these young heroes of the unusual circumstances of their birth.

There was no fairy godmother on hand to rescue these boys.

This devil’s gift was to have a twist in the tale.

Rowing Around Immráma 03: Immrám Uí Corra

This is Sydney Skybetter, Philip Montana, and Bryan Campbell performing in The Voyage of the Húi Corra (2008). Photo by Tony Dougherty.

This is Sydney Skybetter, Philip Montana, and Bryan Campbell performing in “The Voyage of the Húi Corra” (2008). Photo by Tony Dougherty.

The tale of the Uí Corra may start out as an intriguing fairy tale, but their journey is not for the faint of heart. Their quest for knowledge soon deepens into a dark and stormy voyage of tortured souls and infernal visions.

Join the Story Archaeologists as they plumb the contradictory depths of this under-appreciated Immrám.

Don’t forget to subscribe to get the latest posts!  Related Articles will be posted in the days to come…

Check our Reading List for further reading and resources.

by The Story Archaeologists

Music: “Tam Lin” by Gian Castello

The Island of the Salmon

Leaping Salmon

To travel in the hands of God.
To put away the boat’s oars and let the undulating waves breathe them where they would.
To watch the world’s sun light up the broad plain of the sea into molten gold, glittering with sudden sparks of silver like drowned stars.
There was a great peace in this voyage. The monk had found a calmness of spirit, even when the wind rose and stung the waves to roughness.
He rested, rocked in simple contemplation.

Snedgus’s stomach rumbled loudly and Mac Ríagla looked up, torn from his spiritual musings.
Snedgus shrugged apologetically.
“I can’t help it,” he mumbled. “I’m hungry.”
“The Lord God will provide,” answered Mac Ríagla piously, glancing heavenward. He noticed, in passing, that clouds were covering the late afternoon sun, and that the golden light was changing to grey. A fresh breeze ruffled his robe. Repressing a shiver, he continued his argument.
“Were we not led to find a well of pure water, so wondrous that it seemed to taste of new milk?”
“But milk is not a meal, and that was yesterday.”
“Then pray that the Lord provides you with something more.” Mac Ríagla’s tone was stern as he returned to his meditations.

The light faded, and the sea grew dim. At twilight it was hard to keep fancies at bay. The dying light patterned the ever-moving sea surface with dappled shadows. Could he be sure that Manannán’s marvelous land did not lie hidden in its depths? Did golden apples still dance on silver boughs to the motion of forgotten currents?

He dragged his eyes heavenward again, to where a gibbous moon, pale and watery, was attempting to tear herself loose from ragged clouds. It would rain this night.

Mac Ríagla went to join his companion under the hide covers that made up all the shelter this small vessel had to offer. Two stomachs rumbled, loud and long, from out of the darkness.

The wonder was there for them with the rising of the sun. It was an island, tree-bearded and edged in golden sand. A fast-flowing river rushed joyfully down a forested hill, disgorging its noisy waters into the sea-foam. The boat bobbed and bounced as the two monks guided in the small boat, beaching it comfortably.

On this bright morning, Snedgus and Mac Ríagla gratefully made their morning devotions on dry land. Then they set out to explore this God-gift wonder. There was clean, fresh water to be had. They would not go thirsty. There was dead wood, dry and fire-ready. It would be an easy task to make a blaze to warm their salted bones and to dry their damp clothes. It would be good to cook a hot meal, if there was just… something to cook. Surely, God would reward their devotions with… something.

The two men, warmed but hungry, made their way inland, following the tumbling river uphill to where the land was open and unwooded. The terrain grew more rocky as they climbed, but the river remained rapid.

They were coming to the highest point of the island, almost at its centre. The land rose suddenly steeper, climbing in a grey-green escarpment that almost seemed to border the hill. The sun was higher now, and it was becoming hard to see, to pick out details as they peered up to the top of this sharp slope, sunwards.

Something was glinting silver in the sunshine. The water tumbled down the rock-face – not in one sudden waterfall, but in a series of terraced slopes; a weir. There were clear signs that it had been man-shaped, altered to contain and regulate the flow of the water. Yes, the glinting that had caught their eyes was a fence built to cross the escarpment, almost dividing the island into two halves. But this was a fence of silver – all of silver. Who could have built such a marvel?

Then they perceived the true wonder of the island; for, glinting silver in the morning sun, came salmon dancing up the river in rippling strength, leaping against the current. The two monks watched in amazement as fish after fish began a miraculous journey up the tumbling weir, fighting wave after wave of water in the desire to return to the source. As for the size of these magnificent fish, the hungry monks were certain that each must be as big as a bull-calf.

They watched, admiring the determination and power of the creatures as they leaped to their destiny. As a symbol for faith, it was humbling. The two monks looked at each other. They briefly raised their hands to heaven in grateful thanks. Then,.as one, they stepped into the foaming waters.

Two stomachs growled in unison, already anticipating a satisfying meal.