Emerald Isle

Strange Sailors

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Historical Cycle

Unexpected visitors in the Strange Sailors

The Tailteann games were a grand affair in Ireland once upon a time, every bit as celebrated and renowned as the Olympics are today. Having their roots thousands of years earlier, in the time of the Tuatha Dé Danann, lakes were made and gigantic fires were lit during Lughnasadh, the summer feast in July.

Druids and poets would compose ceapógs or little songs in memory of those who had died, and the mournful guba chants were sung for their rebirth among the people. The menfolk of Ireland would compete in long jumps and high jumps, running, chariot races, duels with swords, every kind of race and test of skill and craft you can imagine.

But no matter how great a spectacle the Tailteann Games were, in the time of Congalach, King of Ireland, an even greater spectacle awaited that nobody could have imagined!

For as the king sat watching the games, what should sail past his face but a salmon, cool as you like, as though swimming in a lake. Mouth agape like a fish himself, the king watched it travel for some distance when a spear flew down from above and frightened the flying fish away.

Looking up, the king and his men saw above them some little distance a ship hanging in the air, of a style both strange and ancient. And crewed it was too, with tall men of fair aspect and odd garment peering down below.

One of the crew hopped over the side and floated gently down near to the king, to retrieve his dart, hair waving like fronds of seaweed in the tide, but one of the king's bold men grabbed his leg and held him fast. Suddenly kicking and thrashing, the man spoke in a tongue peculiar yet understandable, crying that he was drowning, and the king bade his man let him go.

Up he wafted and heaved himself aboard his ship, which then set sail into the distant hills, wreathed in clouds.

Not alone were the games the site of strange flying vessels, for shortly thereafter in the monastery at Clonmacnoise an anchor falling from the sky interrupted the daily services, jamming itself in the Church door! As retold by the Norse Kongs Skuggio,  one of the crew sprang overboard and dove down to loosen the anchor, when some of the congregation grabbed ahold of him.

He struggled to free himself, till the bishop instructed them to let him go for, as he said, if held down he would die as if held under water.  So let him go they did and up he went as though swimming, clambering into his ship and off they sailed into the blue sky. As the Norsemen said, “the anchor has since lain in Clonmacnoise church as a witness that the event really occurred."

Clonmacnoise is marked on the map below, and if you do visit look out for toppling anchors from on high.

More Tales from the Historical Cycle

If you'd like to leave a tip, just click here!

Archaeological information is licensed for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence from the National Monuments Service - Archaeological Survey of Ireland.

Note that this license DOES NOT EXTEND to folkloric, mythological and related information on the site. That data remains under full private copyright protection