The fabled paradise island of Tír na nÓg is said to be located off of the west coast of Ireland. Tír na nÓg is the land of perpetual youth, a land where time stands still. In legend, those who live on the island never grow old, never get sick and never know sorrow. The island is covered in blooming flowers which never die, orchards of fruit trees, and forests dripping with honey. Days are filled with sports, food and drink. The weather is always perfect, neither too hot nor too cold. Everyone is beautiful and young, they live in perpetual happiness. To live on the island paradise of Tír na nÓg was desired by all Irishmen.
Once long ago, an Irishman had a chance to live in paradise. Oisín (pronounced uh-SHEEN) was a great Irish warrior, revered as a fine athlete and gifted poet. He was the son of Fionn Mac Cumhaill. Fionn was the leader of a group, the Fianna, who guarded the King of Ireland. Oisín and the Fianna explored the green hills of Ireland daily, hunting and protecting the King. Oisín was very happy with his life.
One day, while traveling through the hills hunting with friends, Oisín saw a majestic white horse. Riding the white horse was a beautiful maiden. The maiden was the most alluring woman Oisín had ever seen, and he was captivated. She had a godly appearance, with long golden hair and a pale blue dress covered in stars. A golden light surrounded her.
She approached the group on her horse. She told them her name was Niamh. She was the daughter of the king of the mystical land of Tír Na nÓg. She had heard of a great warrior named Oisín, and she came to take him back with her to Tír Na nÓg.
Oisín loved his father, and he did not want to leave him. But he was drawn to Niamh and her promises of the Land of Eternal Youth. Within moments, Oisín had fallen in love with Niamh and agreed to return to Tír Na nÓg to live with her. He promised his father he would return soon, and bade his friends farewell.
Oisín was very happy in Tír Na nÓg with Niamh. What he had heard of the land was true. Everyone was young, and beautiful, and happy. He and Niamh had a son, Oscar and daughter, Plor na mBan. But he felt a longing, as though something was missing from his life. He missed his father, the Fianna, and his homeland of Ireland. He asked Niamh if he could return to Ireland, but she refused. Eventually Niamh realized how much Oisín missed his homeland and his father, and she agreed he should return for a visit. She sent Oisín on her white horse, Embarr, instructing him to remain on the horse. Should his feet touch the land, he would not be able to return to Tír Na nÓg.
Oisín headed home, anxious to see his family, but when he returned, everything was different. The Fianna, his friends, were gone, and his family home was crumbling away and covered in ivy. He was desperate to find something, anything familiar. But he did not recognize this land, and he decided to return to Tír Na nÓg.
During his return, he came across several old men struggling to move a rock. He spoke with them about his father and the Fianna, but the old men told Oisín that Fionn Mac Cumhaill, and the Fianna were not real, and that they were just legends. As Oisín leaned in to help them move the rock, he fell from Embarr’s back. The moment he touched the ground, he aged 300 years and became an old blind man. What Oisín did not know was that time moved more slowly on Tír Na nÓg so what seemed a short time was in fact 300 years. He then understood that his father and friends were long dead.
The story of Oisín and Tír Na nÓg is an endearing Irish legend. Tír Na nÓg remains a symbol of elusive paradise – an island of youth where everyone is happy and no one ever ages, and the tale is the tragic story of a man who returned home too late.
Feature illustration by Richard Hook