A Brief Visit to Tir na n’Og

Before the exploration of the world made it necessary for fairylands to be located in alternate universes, dimensional pockets, or far-off planets, it was pretty common for the writers of legends to set them in unexplored or barely explored regions near their own homelands. Such was the case for Tir na nOg, the home of the Irish fairies known as Tuatha de Danann, thought to be located to the west of Ireland, just off the map.

I wouldn’t be too surprised if more recent fictions that utilize Tir na nOg place it in a more hidden and/or mystical location, as Melody Grandy does when she has Zim visit the place in Zim Greenleaf of Oz.

Indeed, Tir na nOg is kind of similar to Oz, as it’s a land of plenty where no one ages or dies. Someone who used to be active on the Oz e-mail lists who went by “Boq Aru” proposed that Oz was actually named after the Irish fairyland. While I think Boq Aru’s conclusions usually stretch things about as far as Reachard’s arm, there might be something in that. Anyway, Tir na nOg actually means “Land of Youth,” and was also sometimes known as the Land of the Living and the Land Over Sea, as well as several other similar names. The fairies began living there after being driven out of Ireland itself (well, aside from those who chose to live underground). While Tir na nOg showed up in a fair number of old Irish tales, the most famous story involving the island is that of Oisin, son of the legendary hero Fionn mac Cumhaill. Oisin was famed as a singer and poet, and his name means “fawn,” due to his mother having been turned into a deer. He was brought to the Land of Eternal Youth by a fairy known as Niamh of the Golden Hair.

He lived with her on Tir na nOg for three years, while 300 years passed in the mortal world. Eventually, he became homesick, and Niamh told him he could go back and visit his old homeland as long as he stayed on the back of her horse Embarr. Of course, he fell off, and promptly aged those missing 300 years and died shortly after that. Some versions of the tale say that he was able to tell his story to St. Patrick before going to the grave. If this story sounds familiar, it might be because of its similarity to the Japanese tale of Urashima Taro, but the idea of time running differently in magic lands is hardly limited to these two.

The Narnia books, for instance, use this same basic principle, although time in Narnia actually runs faster than it does on Earth. In the Oz series, time seems to be pretty much the same in fairyland as in the Great Outside World, but there is an incident in The Lost King of Oz when Dorothy visits California and grows to the age she would have been if she hadn’t moved to Oz.

Her story works out more happily than Oisin’s or Urashima’s, though, as she’s able to get back to Oz and her childhood with some wishing sand. By the way, Oisin and Niamh had a son named Oscar, which is the first name of the Wizard of Oz. And the Wizard was at least sometimes played as a stereotypical Irishman in the stage play, so maybe there’s more to this connection than meets the eye. Probably just coincidence, but still pretty cool. By the way, in case you’re wondering why Zim visited Tir na nOg, it was to find his great-grandmother, a cloud fairy named Aurea. As far as I can tell, there’s no Irish precedent for this character, and her name sounds like the Latin for “gold” rather than anything Gaelic. Tir na nOg is now a popular name for Irish-style pubs, and I remember there being a show a few years back called The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog. Never watched it, but it looked pretty derivative of Power Rangers from the commercials.

This entry was posted in C.S. Lewis, Celtic, Chronicles of Narnia, Japanese, Mythology, Oz and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to A Brief Visit to Tir na n’Og

  1. Jason has been working on Dungeons and Dragons stuff, and among all the gaming books he was using for inspiration (some of which are not strictly D&D, for the nitpicky), he found a fantasy worldmap that is quite obviously based on a warped version of the actual Earth; and in the middle of the Atlantic– or, what used to be the Atlantic– is a group of large islands that doesn’t tie directly into anyplace real, which I pointed out was probably based on Atlantis then. In the gameworld the map belonged to, this was the land of the elves. And then– because looking at all these maps had inspired us– we started watching Lord of the Rings, and it occurred to me that The Grey Havens are also off to the west somewhere of a particularly european continent. And then there’s Tir na nOg. I think it’s had a lot of effect on european people supposing the land of faerie is off to the west somewhere! OR, of course, maybe that’s because the land of faerie IS in the North Atlantic somewhere and WE JUST DON’T KNOW ABOUT IT… but anyhoo.

    • Nathan says:

      I would imagine that’s a European thing, as they had an ocean to the west with no idea what might be found there. I believe the Chinese placed their Island of the Immortals to the east, which would make sense.

      As for Tolkien, I think I remember seeing that he associated Numenor with Atlantis, and that his Land of Faerie also lay somewhere to the west. Of course, he was European.

  2. One of the biggest problems I see here is the reliance on folklore. I am Irish and a decendant of Be chuma the wife of Conn and Art. She was a real person not a fairy, but it was the roman Catholics like St. Patrick that came in and forced Christianity on my ancestors especially Bridget another member of my tribe who they murdered and called her a saint later. The Tribe of Dan, Tribe of Danu’, Tuathe de Daanan, are the same nomadic people and have been all over the world even before the second flood. The Danube river in Europe was also named after the goddess Danu. These are facts. Israel is not the cradle of life for my Tribe like previously thought, there were many. There is simply more than one “Atlantis” which was a Greek word;BTW, that were covered up with water after the second deluge. I hope this helps or please correct me for I am always interested in a different perspective than the biased Catholic history of our planet.

    • Nathan says:

      I believe the Catholic explanation for St. Bridget is that she was named after the goddess, but they weren’t the same. A lot of scholars find this unlikely.

  3. mallory oconnor says:

    Ques: Is there a connection with tir-na-nog and the Fountain of Youth? Any suggestions?

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