The myth of Oisín and the land of eternal youth – Iseult Gillespie

In a typical hero’s journey, the protagonist sets out on an adventure, undergoes great change, and returns in triumph
to their point of origin. But in the Irish genre of myth
known as Eachtraí, the journey to the other world
ends in a point of no return. While there are many different versions
of the otherworld in Irish mythology, the most well-known example occurs
in the story of Oisín. Oisín was the son of Fionn mac Cumhaill,
the leader of a group of pagan warriors known as the Fianna. As Oisín rode with his companions one day, he was visited by
the immortal princess Niamh. The two fell instantly in love and Niamh put Oisín onto her white horse and rode with him
to the edge of the Irish sea. As they made for the horizon,
the riders sunk into a golden haze. They came to the shores of
the gleaming kingdom called Tír na nÓg. This was the home of the Tuatha Dé Danann,
the people who ruled Ancient Ireland long before Oisín’s time. From the point of his arrival,
Oisín’s every need was met. He married Niamh in a grand ceremony
and was welcomed into her family. When he wished to hear music,
his ears filled with bewitching tones. When he hungered, golden plates
appeared laden with fragrant food. He admired scenes of great beauty,
and colors that he had no name for. All around him, the land and the people
existed in a state of unmoving perfection. But what Oisín didn’t know was that
Tír na nÓg was the land of youth, in which time stood still
and the people never aged. In his new home, Oisín continued
to hunt and explore as he had in Ireland. But in the land of youth, he possessed
a strange, new invincibility. At the end of each day of adventuring, Oisín’s wounds magically healed themselves
as he slept in Niamh’s arms. Although glory and pleasure
came easily to Oisín in the land of youth, he missed the Fianna
and the adventures they had in Ireland. After three years in Tír na nÓg, he
was struck by a deep yearning for home. Before he embarked on his journey back,
Niamh warned him that he must not alight from his horse
to touch the earth with his own feet. When Oisín reached the shores of Ireland, it felt as if a shadow
had fallen over the world. On the hill where his father’s palace lay,
he saw only a ruin strewn with weeds. His calls for his friends and family
echoed from derelict walls. Horrified, Oisín rode until he came upon
a group of peasants working in the fields. They were struggling to remove
a boulder from their land, and forgetting Niamh’s warning, Oisín leapt from his horse and rolled it
away with his superhuman strength. The crowd’s cheers soon
turned into shrieks. In place of the youth was an old man
whose beard swept the ground and whose legs buckled under him. He cried out for Finn and the Fianna, but the people only recognized these names
from the distant past of 300 years before. Time had betrayed Oisín and his return to mortal lands
had aged him irreversibly. Throughout Irish folklore, sightings of the land of youth
have been reported in the depths of wells, on the brink of the horizon, or in the gloom of caves. But those who know the tale of Oisín
tell of another vision, that of a shining princess carried upon
the distant waves by a white horse, still hoping for the return
of her doomed love.

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