Tir na nOg – Oisin and Niamh

Niamh of the Golden Hair Tir na Nog - credit Ralph Horsley DeviantArt

Niamh of the Golden Hair Tir na Nog –
credit Ralph Horsley DeviantArt

Irish Folklore tells the story of Oisin, son of Finn, of the Fianna, who fall in love with the fairy Princess Niamh from the mystical island of Tir na nOg, the Land of Perpetual Youth. For many centuries the fabled island has been sought, which legend says lays off the coast of Ireland. In the twelfth century Giraldus Cambrensis told the story how one day a strange island appeared off the west coast of Ireland, but when the people made out for in in a boat, it vanished as they drew near. Later, as it reappeared, another group attempted to reach it again, and when they were within range, fired a red-hot arrow which struck the land, and made the island stationary.

Many myths and stories are associated with Tir na nOg, and in 1853 Mr O’ Flanagan and Mr Hardiman founded the Ossianic Society to collect and preserve the tales and folklore associated with the Land of Perpetual Youth, one of the most famous being the story of Oisin and Niamh.

Niamh rode out to Erin on a snow-white steed and captured the heart of Oisin, of the Fianna. With her long-golden hair and her voice of quiet beauty, which had the power to still the wind, and stop the baying of the hounds, she sang a song of love, and captivated Oisin, who agreed to travel with her to the land of Tir na nOg. He agreed and mounted the fairy-steed, and they rode away, across the sea, and under the waves where they reached the fairy land.

After a period of a year spent living with Niamh and enjoying everything a mortal man could wish for, Oisin expressed a wish to return to his folk as the desire for home overcame him. He promised to return to her so Niamh agreed, and presented the horse on which they had made their journey. Before he started his journey, Niamh warned him that there were two things he must not do. Firstly he must not dismount from the horse, nor must he allow the Earth’s soil to touch his feet, for if he did, the land of Tir na nOg would be lost to him forever.

Oisin set off, and the fairy horse took him once again to the shores of Ireland, but as he searched the land, he found no trace of his family. At last he came upon a group of peasants labouring in a field to move a large boulder. It was then that he realised how muscular and strong he was in comparison to the mortal men. He felt compelled to help them in their task, and jumped down from his horse. He lifted the stone with ease and tossed it aside. The peasants cheered.

Oisin and Niamh

Oisin and Niamh

At once his rich cloak and fine clothes turned into the rough garments of a poor man, fastened with hemp. Gone were the golden crown upon his head, and the shining blade fixed within his belt. Instead there lay the wooden staff of a beggar man. His body shrivelled and his hair grey. He fell to the ground, suddenly weary and tired, and those before him cried and shrank back, afraid of this apparition in the place of the strong Prince.

He found his voice and begged for their help, in the stuttering tone of a man most old. They drew forward, realising that the threat was to this poor man, and not themselves. They asked who he was, and he told them he was Oisin, son of Finn of the clan Fianna. They scoffed. But the Fianna have all been dead these past three hundred years. Oscar, son of Oisin fell at the battle of Gowra and Finn at the battle of Brea, and nobody knows what manner of death became Oisin, but their legend were sung of at the great feasts.

They then told him that the land now had a new God, brought to them by the Saint Patrick, and so the myths of Oisin and the Fianna are now no longer revered.

Phoebe