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Oisín i dTír na nÓg - An Exploration

April 21, 2017

Oisín i dTír na nÓg


Because we cannot escape it. From WB Yeats’ poetry to Into the West, so much of Irish literature and culture has been inspired by and/or refers to it.

WB Yeats

‘The Wanderings of Oisín’ is an epic poem published by Yeats in 1889 in his book, The Wanderings of Oisín and Other Poems. It was his first publication outside magazines, and won him a reputation as an important poet.

A narrative poem, it consists of dialogue between the aged Irish hero Oisín and St. Patrick, the man traditionally responsible for converting Ireland to Christianity.

Most of the poem is spoken by Oisín, relating his three-hundred year stay in the isles of Tír na nÓg; it’s Ireland’s answer to ‘The Odyssey’.

This poem marked the start of Yeats' life-long love and allusion to Irish mythology (let’s not talk about Maud Gonne…) He returned to it often in his work:

We rode in sorrow, with strong hounds three,

Bran, Sceolan, and Lomair,

On a morning misty and mild and fair.

The mist-drops hung on the fragrant trees,

And in the blossoms hung the bees.

We rode in sadness above Lough Lean,

For our best were dead on Gavra's green…

Into the West (directed by Mike Newell)

And who could ever forget this scene?

Grandfather: Now then, Oisín was the most handsome traveller that ever lived and the princess told him that he was too handsome to ever grow old. She took him away over the sea to the Land of Eternal Youth. And there they stayed for a thousand years.

But Oisín was a traveller. He missed his caravan. He missed all his old pals. The princess told him if he ever went back he would die, because he was a thousand years old. But the princess couldn't bear to see Oisin sad, so she gave him her great white horse and told him he must never get off its back.

When Oisín returned to his caravan, the people swarmed around him, rejoicing at the legendary hero's return.

But by God! A terrible thing happened. The saddle broke and Oisín fell down on the ground in front of their eyes.

Here is what they saw: they saw the most handsome man on Earth get older and older, and greyer and greyer, and his hair grew down to his waist and his fingernails grew three inches long, and his bones began to crumble and snap!

And then Oisín disintegrated before their eyes and turned into dust. A little heap of ashes on the ground was all that was left of him.

*brief pause*

Ozzie: What does ‘disintegrate’ mean?

Grandfather: It means to fall apart!

You really should check out this film as part of your revision.

Also, did you know?

Oisín translates literally as little deer or fawn, both of which seem out of keeping with his character in Oisín idTír na nÓg.

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