Imrama

(Also spelt Immrama)

An imram or immramm is a particular type of story concerning a hero’s journey, typically over the sea, to the Otherworld. This name was previously used for a class of Old Irish literature that focused on the journey to a “Land of Promise”-like destination but has gradually become applied to similar tales from other nations and groups within the Blessed Isles that cover the same or similar actions.

The first imrama may have been written down in the seventh century and contain pre-christian traditions. However, the people recording them will have been Christian monks – with their own traditions of Saints’ lives and pilgrimage tales – so long-standing Irish myths and traditions will have been filtered and mutated somewhat to format they found understandable. That said, even the tenth century very Christian Navigatio sancti Brendani abbatis (‘Voyage of St Brendan the Abbot’) retains distinctive Otherworld flavours.

While the real element of these journeys continues or has been revived in the Ranger-led Expeditions, the fictional element has influenced a number of literary works. With the “Celtic Revival(s)” of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has seen an increased production of fictional Expedition accounts in a similar format as well as fantasy novels that make use of the themes.

See also Echtrai.

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