Posts Tagged ‘Mag Mell’

As promised, here’s a little information about two of Ireland’s Otherworlds. I have to say, however, that this research gets a bit confusing! I could easily spend many months reading and researching for a clearer picture of these mythical places, so we may see more about them in future posts.

To be honest, some of these may well be the same place. Similarities among their stories suggest that different people called the same place by different names. Also, some authors lump these different names under one name – treating it as a category. For example, in Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry edited by W.B. Yeats, the category of “T-Yeer-Na-N-Oge” (Tir na nOg) lists several different mythic places under it, including Hy-Brasil and The Phantom Isle.

In short, what follows is a generalization and is not conclusive as to whether each is a separate and unique place or whether they are all really the same wondrous locale.

Emhain Ablach

This mysterious Irish island’s name means “Emhain of the Apples” and is one of several associated with the Irish god of the sea and Otherworld, Manannan mac Lir. Etymologists don’t agree on what “Emhain” means (and a translation I found made little sense to me).

It is frequently associated with the Isle of Man, which uses a three-legged triskelion based on a Manx legend that said Manannan held off an invasion by turning into three connected legs and rolling down a hill to attack the invaders. However, Otherworld islands are generally to the west. And if Emhain Ablach is supposed to be an Irish Otherworld, it wouldn’t make sense for it to lie east of Ireland as the Isle of Man does (between Ireland and England).

Emhain Ablach is a paradise and was said to be where Manannan fostered the god Lugh. Generally, only very special people – at Manannan’s invitation – make it there. That invitation usually takes one of two forms: one of Manannan’s daughters takes a lover who can come to the isle or a golden or silver branch that emits lovely music is provided as a key.

One individual to receive that key was Bran, son of Febal. In The Voyage of Bran, we see him walking near his home when sweet music lulls him to sleep. When he awakes, a silver branch with white blossoms is beside him. A woman appears who sings about an island beyond the sea that has thousands of women, sweet music, and no sorrow, sickness, or death. The branch returns to her, and Bran sets out on a voyage to find this island. He meets Manannan who tells him how to reach the island. Bran and his men stayed there for what seemed like a year, but was actually many years.

When one of Bran’s men becomes homesick, they decide to leave. The women warn them that they will regret leaving, but they do so anyway. Upon arriving at Ireland, they are not recognized but the people say they have legends of the Bran’s voyage. After sharing his adventures with them, Bran leaves and is never seen again. Note: It is interesting that in this story, Emhain Ablach is also referred to as “the Land of Women,” which is another repeated description of these special lands and islands.

However, leaving the island often had disastrous effects with Earthly time catching up with those who had visited the island where time ran differently. Some returning men, when putting their foot down on Ireland, would turn to ashes.

Some believe that Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Avalon, as well as the Welsh Ynys Affallach, may be related to or derived from Emhain Ablach.

Mag Mell

Not to be confused with the Mag Mell in the game Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (oh, how the games love to borrow from myth), this Mag Mell (sometimes written Magh Meall) is another Irish mythical realm. It should be said that it is so similar to Emhain Ablach (and Tir na nOg, for that matter) that they really could be one and the same.

Sometimes described as an island off the west coast of Ireland and sometimes as a kingdom at the bottom of the sea, Mag Mell is almost always considered a happy paradise. Indeed, most translations of “mag mell” say it means “plain of joy.”

Most sources do agree that Mag Mell is only accessible to the chosen few who have achieved glory or some other special recognition. In this case, Mag Mell seems much more like Norse Valhalla or Green Elysium than some other Otherworlds. It features happiness, food and drink, and everything pleasurable.

Two rulers are associated with Mag Mell: the aforementioned Manannan and the Fomorian King Tethra, who is also seen as a god of the sea and Otherworld.

Of course, one striking thing is the lack of pain or sickness of these islands – Avalon itself is known as a place of healing. And, of course, the connection to apples.

So what do you think of these Irish myths? Do you see them as significant connections to Avalon?

Until next time when we look at some more isles, bright blessings!


Addition: Check out Part 1Part 3, and Part 4.



Evans-Wentz, W.Y., The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. New York, New York: Citadel Press, 1994.

Rees, Alwyn, and Brinely Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1961.

James MacKillop, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Oxford: 1998

Jones Celtic Library, and

The Temple of Manannan,

Wikipedia, and


© 2011 PJ Graham

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As noted in yesterday’s post, possible inspirations for Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Avalon is a fairly extensive topic. While I knew of several mythic islands or lands with Otherworld associations or magical elements, a little research quickly revealed a lot of places in the Classical and Celtic world that fit the bill.

So to focus the coverage, I decided to start with Irish mythical places. Welsh, Classical, and any others will be covered later.

Despite a lifelong interest in Irish heritage and lore, many of these Irish Otherworld places were new to me. Of course, Tir na nOg and Mag Mell are familiar. In The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, lists a number of Irish Otherworlds – some well known and others obscure:

“In Irish manuscripts, the Otherworld beyond the Ocean bears many names. It’s Tir-na-nog, ‘The Land of Youth’; Tir-Innambeo, ‘The Land of the Living’; Tir Tairnigire, ‘The Land of Promise’; Tir N-aill, ‘The Other Land (or World)’; Mag Mar, ‘The Great Plain’; and also Mag Mell, ‘The Plain Agreeable (or Happy).’”  (pg 334)

A couple others include Emhain Abhlach and Hy-Brasil. But before we look at the myths of individual places, today let’s look at the Celtic Otherworld in general.

Evans-Wentz explains how, unlike Christians, the ancient Celts did not place their Otherworld in a non-terrestrial space. Instead, their Otherworld was on Earth and was said to appear in many different places, depending on the writer. The description of it would also change from author to author. Evans-Wentz points out that it was sometimes described as a place underground, like the fairy mounds that house the Tuatha De Danann (now known as the Faerie folk) after they were defeated and run off of Ireland proper. He goes on to describe the other Otherworld manifestation:

“More frequently, in the old Irish manuscripts, the Celtic Otherworld was located in the midst of the Western Ocean, as though it were the ‘double’ of the last Atlantis . . .” (Evans-Wentz, pg 333)

In Celtic Heritage, Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees also describe the subjectivity of the Irish Otherworld:

“To the questions: ‘Where is the Other World?’, ‘Is it one or many?’, the answers furnished by myth are contradictory. It is the ‘lower’ half of Ireland, the land under the earth or the sid-mounds. It is also ‘the land under wave’, an island, or a whole series of islands, beyond the sea. Yet it can manifest itself in other places. A mist falls upon us in an open plain, and lo, we are there witnessing its wonders.” (pg 343)

Some may wonder why I’m including Otherworld lands in addition to islands. As we have seen, the Celts had no problem thinking of the Otherworld as migratory, so I see no reason to ignore land-locked mythic places despite Geoffrey’s description of Avalon as an island.

Additionally, the physical place most often considered the best contender to be the location of Avalon is Glastonbury, England. Before the waters were redirected, this area was known to flood, creating an island effect. However, it was not a true island and most who describe its flooded state said it was not completely surrounded by water.

And finally, it is well known in literary and historical circles that Geoffrey mixed and mangled history and myth, so I don‘t think we have to take his every word as gospel.

So where to start? In the next post, we’ll look at Emhain Abhlach and Mag Mell. Both of these places have strong associations with the Irish god of the sea and of Otherworldly islands, Manannan mac Lir. I find this especially of interest because of the possible link between Manannan and Barinthus, the bargeman to Avalon that Geoffrey briefly describes in The Life of Merlin (a subject that will be covered more in the future, probably in October).

So what do you think of the possibility of mythic Otherworlds as the inspiration for Avalon? Do you think it makes Avalon more realistic – or less so?

Until next time, bright blessings!


Addition: Check out Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.



Evans-Wentz, W.Y., The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. New York, New York: Citadel Press, 1994.

Rees, Alwyn, and Brinely Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1961.

Jones Celtic Encyclopedia.

The Temple of Manannan.

© 2011 PJ Graham

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