Oisín and Tír na nÓg

Long ago, people in Ireland believed that there was a beautiful land in the western sea called Tír na nÓg - The land of the young. It was a place where the trees were always green, the flowers were always in bloom and men and women never grew old. This is the story of how Oisín, the son of Fionn MacCumhail leader of the Fianna, came to go to Tír na n-óg.

One morning the Fianna were hunting deer on the shores of Lough Leane in County Kerry. As they rested on a hilltop, a beautiful girl came riding towards them on a snow white horse. She was dressed like a princess and her long golden hair hung to her waist.

As she drew near, Fionn called out “What is your name and what land have you come from?” – “I am Niamh of the Golden Hair and my father is King of Tír na nÓg. I have heard of a great warrior named Oisín. I have to come to find him and ask him to return with me to the Land of the Young.”

Fionn was sad, for he feared that if Oisín went with Niamh, he would never see him again. But it was too late, Oisín was already in love with the princess. He accepted Niamh’s invitation and waving goodbye to Fionn and his friends, he jumped onto the horse behind Niamh. Away they galloped into the morning mist.

Over the land and the sea the fairy horse ran, moving as swiftly as a shadow. At last they reached the golden shores of Tír na nÓg. The king and queen welcomed Oisín and held a great feast in his honour. It was a magical land. Oisín hunted and feasted and at night he told stories of Fionn and the Fianna and of their lives in Ireland. Oisín had never felt as happy as he did with Niamh and before long they were married.

Oisín lived in Tír na nÓg for three hundred years, but being so happy, it only seemed like three. Then a great longing came on him to go back to Ireland. Niamh did not want him to go but at last she agreed and gave him the white horse. Niamh warned him “set foot, even once, on the soil of Ireland and you will never return to Tír na nÓg.”

When Oisín reached Ireland he found that everything had changed. There was no trace of his father or the fianna. As he passed through Gleann na Smol, the valley of the thrushes, he saw a group of men trying to move a large stone. “I will help you” he said. The mighty Oisín stooped down in his saddle, and with one hand, lifted the stone. But as he did so, the saddle strap broke and he tumble to the ground. Immediately the fairy horse galloped away and a great change came over Oisín. In the blink of an eye the great hero of the Fianna became a withered old man.

Unsure of what to do, legend has it that the men brought Oisín to Saint Patrick. Saint Patrick tried to comfort Oisín in his old age. When Oisín learned that the Fianna and his father were long since dead, his heart was filled with sadness. Oisín spoke of the old days of the fianna and the many great deeds of Fionn, when they hunted and feasted and listened to great stories. He spoke of his time in Tír na nÓg and his beautiful wife Niamh. Although Oisín died soon after, the wonderful stories of Niamh and Oisín have lived on.