Irish Myths: Oisín and Tír na nÓg

Ireland is known for its rich heritage of mythological tales and ancient symbols. In Irish mythology, tales are usually put into four periods. The first one is called the Mythological Cycle that mainly comprises pre-Christian stories of the god-like early settlers of Ireland, the Tuatha Dé Danann. The second, the Ulster Cycle, focuses on heroic stories of warriors from parts of Ulster and Leinster, with one of the most prominent heroes,  Cú Chulainn. Tales of the Fenian Cycle are mainly concerned with the band of warriors called the Fianna and the myths of hero Fionn MacCumhaill. The last one is called the Historical Cycle or Cycle of the Kings. This collection centers around legendary Irish kings and traces back their family stories mixing history with mythology.

Oisín and the island of Tír na nÓg

The tale of Oisín and the island of Tír na nÓg tells the story of the son of the legendary hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill – Oisín. He was known to be a great fighter and member of a band of warriors called the Fianna. Headed by his father Fionn, the group was in charge of guarding the King of Ireland. One day, when Oisín and his fellow Fianna warriors roamed the fields of Ireland, a majestic white horse appeared in front of them carrying the most beautiful maiden the men had ever seen. Her long hair was of shimmering gold and she wore a pale blue dress covered in stars. Surrounded by a gleaming light, her stunning appearance immediately mesmerized Oisín. As she drew near, she introduced herself as Niamh, the daughter of the King of a mystical land called Tír na nÓg. A paradise where there is no pain nor sorrow but eternal happiness and youth. Niamh explained she had come for the great warrior Oisín to take him back to that mystical land. Though reluctant to leave his father and the Fianna, Oisín agreed to follow Niamh though not without promising to return to his home one day.

And so he joined her and the white horse galloped with them to Tír Na nÓg. Arriving there, Oisín found that Niamh had not promised too much, it truly was the land of happiness. And so the two spend many days in bliss. However, Oisín never forgot his native land, his father, and fellow warriors. When his longing became too strong to bear, he asked Niamh of the favour to return to Ireland to see them again. Initially refusing to let him go, Niamh gave in to his plea and agreed to send him back for a visit. However, before his departure, she advised him not ever to step off her horse‘s back. Should his feet touch the ground, he would never be able to return to Tír Na nÓg.

Screen shot 2012 05 04 at 11.08.31
Illustrated by P.J. Lynch

In joyful anticipation to see his home once again, Oisín set out to Ireland. However, time didn‘t exist in Tír Na nÓg. And so, during the few years, he had spent in that foreign land, 300 years had passed in Ireland. When he arrived he found the great castle his family had inhabited in ruins being deserted for many years. Also, the Fianna and his father did no longer exist and were forgotten amongst the people. Disappointed and desperate he started back for Tír Na nÓg. On his way, he came across several old men trying to move a rock. Oisín leaned down from his horse to help them but lost balance so that his feet touched the ground. Immediately, he aged 300 years, turning him into an old man. And, just like Niamh said, he was now prohibited from returning to Tír Na nÓg. Weak and heart-broken Oisín died soon after. Before his death, however, she shared the tales of the band of warriors called the Fianna and their great leader Fionn Mac Cumhaill.

For more Irish Myths see:

The Children of Lir

Finn Mac Cumhaill and the Salmon of Knowledge

Juliane Girl
Juliane Girl

Hey, It's Juliane. I'm from the north of Germany where I study culture, language, and media. At the moment I'm working as an editor with Babylon Radio.

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