Tír na nÓg is one of the names for a mysterious realm that An Tuatha Dé Danann fled to after the Milesian invasion. While many of them decided to go underground in the mounds and hills of Ireland, others moved to the island-dwelling of Tír na nÓg or ‘The land eternal youth’.
Other names for this otherworld include Tír Tairngire (Land of Promise/Promised Land), Tír fo Thuinn (Land under the Wave), Mag Mell (Plain of Delight/Delightful Plain), and Hy Brasil.
Interestingly, Hy Brasil appears on many ancient maps and the mysterious island has been written about for centuries, so perhaps Tír na nÓg really does exist!!
Tír na nÓg has been depicted as an island paradise and a place of everlasting youth, beauty, health, abundance and joy. The islanders engage in dancing, poetry, music, entertainment and feasting on the abundance of fruit and vegetables that grow on the island. Access to Tír na nÓg is said to be achieved by journeying through a mist, by going underwater, or by travelling across the sea on an enchanted boat or horse. The path across the sea is the linear reflection of the sun shining on the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Ireland.
Tír na nÓg has been described as a beautiful place with a forested wilderness and a flowery meadow. There is a well or fountain known as ‘The Fountain of Youth’ which grants immortality to all who drink from it. It is found near a grove of trees with white flowers on every branch, and the air is heavy with the sweetness of their scent. The island is said to have scenic mountains, rivers and crystal-clear lakes filled with salmon. Typically, an enormous tree lies at the centre of the island with birds singing beautiful melodies in its branches.
In some tales, there’s a magnificent palace at its centre with towns and fortresses made of precious metals. In other stories, there is a multicoloured flowery plain full of birds and bees. Some tales describe the presence of large rabbits!
The best-known tale about Tír na nÓg is the story of the young Irish warrior Oisín, son of the legendary Fionn MacCumhaill. Oisín fell in love with the flame-haired maiden, Niamh, whose father was the King of Tír na nÓg, They crossed the sea together on Niamh’s white mare to reach the magical land, where they lived happily for three hundred years. As there is no time or time moves much slower in Tír an nÓg than in the mortal realm, Oisín thought he was only away for a few years.
Despite the eternal joy of Tír na nÓg, there was a part of Oisín that missed his homeland. He occasionally felt a strange longing to return to Ireland. Finally, Niamh knew she could hold him back no longer and sent him back to Ireland but warned him not to set foot on the ground under any circumstances. He promised her he would stay on his horse and return to her as soon as he saw his people.
Oisín travelled back to his home on the magical white mare, but when he arrived, he found that all of his friends and family were long dead, and his castle was in ruins. After all, he had been gone for three hundred years. Oisín turned the mare back towards the west to go back to Tír na nÓg. On the way, Oisín thought that if he carried a rock back to Tír na nÓg, it would be like taking a piece of Ireland back with him.
As he leaned down to pick one up, he fell off the horse and onto the ground. He instantly aged three hundred years, turned to dust and died. Other versions of the story say that Oisín stopped to help three men that were struggling to move a large boulder. He stooped down to help them and fell off the horse. He immediately withered and died before their eyes. It is said that Niamh waits for him on the shores of Tír na nÓg to this day.