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In Irish mythology, Mag Mell ("plain of joy") was a mythical realm achievable through death and/or glory (see also Tír na nÓg and Ablach). Unlike the underworld in some mythologies, Mag Mell was a pleasurable paradise, identified as either an island far to the west of Ireland or a kingdom beneath the ocean. In its island guise it was visited by various Irish heroes and monks forming the basis of the Adventure Myth or "echtrae" as defined by Myles Dillon in his book Early Irish Literature. This otherworld is a place where sickness and death do not exist. It is a place of eternal youth and beauty. Here, music, strength, life and all pleasurable pursuits come together in a single place. Here happiness lasts forever, no one wants for food or drink. It is the Irish equivalent of the Greek Elysium or the Valhalla of the Norse.

Legends say its ruler is the Fomorian King Tethra, or more frequently Manannan mac Lir. Mag Mell's allure extended from the pagan era to Christian times. In later stories, the realm is less an afterlife destination than an Earthly Paradise which adventurers could reach by traveling west from Ireland, often blown off course by providential tempests while on an inspired mission. They typically explore many other fantastic islands before reaching their destination and returning home (or sailing on). Among these voyagers are St. Brendan, Bran mac Febal (see The Voyage of Bran), and Mael Dúin.

Irish monks, being celebrated sailors, doubtless inspired such stories and were inspired by them. They reached and colonised any number of faraway islands, and St. Brendan is even speculated to have reached the New World a thousand years before Columbus.

See also


  • James MacKillop, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Oxford: 1998. ISBN 0-19-860967-1


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