Bran mac Febail

Imram Brain maic Febail (The Voyage of Bran, son of Febail) is an early imram that can also be read as an echtra. The surviving version was first written down in the eighth century – predating both St Brendan and Máel Dúin‘s imrama – and derives from earlier material.

While Bran is walking one day, he hears music so beautiful that it lulls him to sleep. When he wakes, he sees a beautiful silver branch before him (see The Isle of Apples entry) – a token of entry into the Otherworld. Bran returns home where an Otherworld woman appears and sings to him and his company about the land the branch is from, which is free of sickness, age and despair. She tells the company to travel to the Land of Women, across the sea.

The company leave and, after two days at sea, see a man on a chariot coming towards them. The man introduces himself as Manannán mac Lir and explains that the boat is sailing on a flowery plain, not the sea as the company believes, with many invisible men and chariots around them. At this point in the story, Manannán also foretells Bran’s son and the son’s future as a great warrior.

Bran and his company leave Manannán and come to the Isle of Joy, the inhabitant of which laugh and star but do not answer the company’s calls. One of the company is sent to the island to investigate but starts to laugh and stare like the others. Bran leaves him behind.

The company reach the Land of Women but are reluctant to go ashore until the leader of the women captures them magically. Each man pairs off, Bran with the leader, for what seems to be a year until a man in the original company feels homesick. The leader of the women reluctantly allows them to leave but warns them not to go set foot on Ireland.

The company sail back to Ireland but the people they see on the shores do not recognise their names except from legends. The one who first felt homesick jumps onto the land and immediately turns to ashes. The rest of the company relate their story and then sail away.

The story may have been twisted to fit the standard echtra format and the mention of a son (who otherwise never comes to be) suggests that the use of the ending is a later, likely moralising, change to the story. There are many parallels between this and the tales of St Brendan and Máel Dúin, although many things are told to Bran rather than visited (see Paradise of Birds entry).

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