The Voyage of Bran


Immram Brain (maic Febail) (The Voyage of Bran (son of Febail)) is a medieval Irish narrative. The content derives from Irish mythology, but was written in the 8th century. Some Irish tale-lists categorise the tale as an Echtra ("Adventure"), but it contains the essential elements of an Immram, or "Voyage". It may have influenced the later story of Saint Brendan's voyage. The concept of "voyage" has been widely used across the world in that time. While this specific set comes from Ireland, it can be tied to some Scandinavian tales as well as other tales told on what is now the United Kingdom. In one rendition, this text has been recorded by Seamus Mac Mathuna.


Bran mac Febail (modern spelling: Bran mac Feabhail) embarks upon a quest to the Otherworld. One day while Bran is walking, he hears beautiful music, so beautiful, in fact, that it lulls him to sleep. Upon awakening, he sees a beautiful silver branch in white bloom in front of him. He returns to his royal house, and while his company is there, an Otherworld woman appears, and sings to him a poem about the land where the branch had grown. In the song, she identifies the branch to be from an apple tree in Emain, another part of Ireland. In this Otherworld, it is always summer, there is no want of food or water, no sickness or despair ever touches the perfect people, and there is no unhappiness or "no rough or harsh voice." She tells Bran to voyage to the Land of Women across the sea, and the next day he gathers a company of nine men to do so. Each of his foster brothers were put in charge of a group of three men.

After two days, he sees a man on a chariot speeding towards him. The man is Manannan mac Lir, and he tells Bran that he is not sailing upon the ocean, but upon a flowery plain. He also reveals to Bran that there are many men riding in chariots, but that they are invisible. He tells Bran of how he is to beget his son in Ireland, and that his son will become a great warrior. He follows by prophesying the life of the boy and how Manannan mac Lir will be a teacher and a father to him.

Bran leaves Manannan mac Lir, and comes to the Isle of Joy. All the people upon the Isle of Joy laugh and stare at him, but will not answer his calls. When Bran sends a man ashore to see what the matter is, the man starts to laugh and gape just like the others. Bran leaves him and sails farther.

He then reaches the Land of Women, but is hesitant to go ashore. However, the leader of the women throws a magical clew (ball of yarn) at him which sticks to his hand. She then pulls the boat to shore, and each man pairs off with a woman, Bran with the leader. There were three times nine "couches" available for all of them.

For what seems to be one year, although it is in actuality many more, the men feast happily in the Land of Women until Nechtan Mac Collbran feels homesickness stir within him. The leader of the women is reluctant to let them go, and warns them not to step upon the shores of Ireland and to get back the man they left on the Island of Joy.

Bran and his company sail back to Ireland. The people that have gathered on the shores to meet him do not recognize his name except in their legends. Nechtan Mac Collbran, upset, jumps off the boat onto the land. Immediately, Nechtan Mac Collbran turns to ashes.

Bran and his company relate the rest of their story to the Irish, and then sail across the sea, never to be seen again.

Historical notes

The Voyage of Bran was first written down in the late 7th century to early 8th century.

The poem shares similar themes and elements with other Irish immrama, such as The Voyage of Brendan and The Voyage of Mael Duin, both written in early to mid-900. For example, Bran, Brendan and Mael Duin each encounter a holy island where the inhabitants live quiet, blissful lives. Bran is told of a tree with holy birds that all sing at the same time, which is similar to what Brendan encounters in his voyage. The stories are also similar in that at one point, one of the travellers is exorcised or left behind on an island, either by free will or as punishment for a sin.

The Voyage of Bran may also be compared to the Welsh text Branwen Daughter of Llŷr from the Mabinogi. The parallels are not along the lines of plot, as with The Voyage of Brendan and The Voyage of Mael Duin, but rather in the names of characters. As Patrick K. Ford[1] writes, both the title character Branwen and her brother Bendigeidfran’s names include the element bran (the -fran of Bendigeidfran is a mutated form), connecting them with the Bran from The Voyage of Bran. Along with their brother Manawydan, Branwen and Bendigeidfran are the children of Llŷr, the Welsh word for ‘sea,’ and cognate with the Irish word lir in Manannan mac Lir.

Structurally, The Voyage of Bran is a combination of poetry and prose, with many short stanzas punctuated by longer, prose narration. These prose narrations are known as Narrative Envelopes.

Parallels with The Voyage of Máel Dúin

The Voyage of Bran has many parallels to The Voyage of Máel Dúin. [2] [3]

Manuscript sources

Editions and translations


  1. Ford, Patrick K. (ed. and tr.). "Branwen Daughter of Llŷr." The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. 57–59.
  2. Oskamp, HPA (1970). The Voyage of Máel Dúin. Groningen: Wolters-Noordhoff Publishing. pp. 101–179.
  3. Mac Mathúna, Séamus (1985). Immram Brain - Bran's Journey into the Land of the Women. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.

Further reading

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