Máel Dúin

Máel Dúin is the hero of the Imram Maele Dúin (the Voyage of Máel Dúin). It may have been composed as early as the eighth century but the surviving written fragments all date from the eleventh century. This imram includes St Brendan of Birr, a contemporary of St Brendan the Navigator, and may have been an influence on the Navigatio sancti Brendani abbatis (the Voyage of St Brendan) – or vice versa.

Máel Dúin’s imram contains both pre-Christian and Christian elements – he is described as the son of a great warrior and a nun who is fostered by Irish royalty following the death of his father. He begins his journey to find his father’s killers and, although he converts to Christianity before the end and forgives them instead, it is often debated whether earlier versions that haven’t survived allowed Máel Dúin his revenge.

Whether Máel Dúin actually existed is debated due to the sparcity of records. However a number of the places mentioned in the imram were potentially in the Otherworld. These include:

  • An island with a horse-like beast who pelts the crew with stones
  • An island of horses and demons
  • An island with a single, large apple tree
  • An island with horse-like creatures who fought (which may be unicorns)
  • An island with a shape shifting creature
  • An island with a great fort containing pillars and cats
  • An island of black sheep and white sheep that can swap colour and herds (may relate to Brendan’s Sheep Island)
  • An island with forts and a crystal bridge
  • An island of colourful birds singing like psalms (Brendan’s Paradise of Birds)
  • An island with a golden wall
  • A sea like green crystal with no monsters but many rocks
  • A sea of clouds with underwater fortresses and monsters
  • An island with a woman who throws nuts (apparently a common behaviour in Otherworld variations of naturalised Sweet Chestnut)
  • An island with a river sky that was raining salmon
  • A silver pillar in the sea surrounded by a silver net
  • An island with a pillar at its centre
  • An island with eternal youth (parallels pre-Christian traditions of Tír na nÓg)
  • An island of fire people
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