Throughout history, there are legends of sailors landing on strange, even magical, islands inhabited by otherworldly people.
There are many interesting faerie encounters in this world. Among some of the most interesting of these are the stories taking place at sea. In Lady Gregory's, On Gods and Fighting Men, she details an encounter a group of sailors led by Tadg, who would later be one of the first kings of Ireland, experienced upon landing on one of the secret fae islands. I've recapped it here, with some creative liberties taken for the sake of the narrative, but you can always read the original text via Project Gutenberg's website: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/14465/14465-h/14465-h.htm#L25
Encounter between Tadg and the Tuatha De Danann:
Brave Tadg and his men set out on an ocean voyage. The day began with clear skies, but the weather soon turned. Struggling against the twisting winds and dragging currents of a storm, Tadg's vessel emerged on the water with no land anywhere in sight. The parting clouds revealed singing birds. Though the men stared into the sky for a long while, they could not recognize the creatures overhead. Likewise they had never seen the like before of the white salmon leaping around the boat's edges. Large seals (selkies, maybe?) began to follow their ship and Tadg had no choice but to follow the large whales appearing below.
Twenty days and twenty nights they sailed until they reached an island with an easy, smooth coastline to follow. Tadg and his men viewed land with hope and were overjoyed to find lush, green grass and sheep the size of horses. They might have welcomed the sight of people by then, but no one inhabited the island...or so it seemed.
A massive ram took charge against Tadg. He fought with all his strength against the horns aiming at his chest. His men leapt to action, successfully fending off the multiple enraged rams around them. In the dust and sweat of the ended scuffle, the men gripped their blades and stepped back. Unearthed in the ground lay the impossibly large bones of men. They would not win a fight with these giants, if there were any left here. And if the giants had gone, they certainly wouldn't want to encounter whatever had caused their demise. They hastened back in their boat and deserted the island. (I'd probably do the same!)
They traveled on to another island, where they saw a new set of wondrous birds, blackbirds, the size of cranes with red and green heads. Their blue and crimson eggs sat unprotected in cozy nests, tempting the men eat. To their horror, those who indulged grew feathers on their bodies within seconds of digesting their meal. Quick on his feet, Tadg point to the islands' spring waters, which cured them of this affliction.
Though safe now, Tadg would not stay there. They returned to the boat. After a short while, the waves of the ocean began to beat like the sound of stomping feet (kelpies, maybe?). The men faced yet another tempest, after which even more strange birds surrounded them. To his delight, the land that came into sight next took his breath away.
On shore, they walked through a land of silvery sands, rolling greenery, bright red salmon swimming in streams, and tall trees with purple treetops. (Sound like a Dr. Seuss book to anyone?) But the wonders did not end there. Apple trees, oak trees and hazel nuts provided plenty of food for the men in one area. In another, round, purple berries larger than the men's heads might have made a tasty meal, though they had rivals for the food in the shining birds with pristine, white bodies, purple heads, and gold beaks who devoured the berries while singing sweet songs as they ate. As if the wonders would not cease, it was winter in Tadg's homeland, but summer here. (Perhaps suggesting he was in a different hemisphere?)
Most curious of all, the men saw a hall of white marble, when out of thin air, a beautiful woman came into sight. Their arrival on the island was foreseen, she told them. Then, as a welcome, she said that they would be given as much food and rest as they wanted. Tadg thanked her and asked about the marble hall, the woman told him it was for the king of Ireland - or rather the future king.
As Tadg looked on, he saw a gold hall. On asking about it, a woman in a gold dress appeared. She answered again that his coming was foretold. When he asked who this gorgeous woman was, she said her name was Cesair, and that she was the first to ever reach Ireland. She further divulged that since they'd left their home, they had lived forever in this land.
Tadg asked her again who lived in that gold hall, but her answer was surprising. She said that all those noble persons who had ever had power in Ireland lived there. She also said that this island was one of four paradises in the world, including: Inis Daleb (south), Inis Ercandre (north), and Adam's paradise (east).
Then, Tadg saw a silver hall in the distance and he asked about that. She told him that he needed to go there to ask that question. So Tadg did. On the top of the hill where the hall stood, there was a boy and a girl. They had shining hair and brilliant green clothes and looked like siblings. Tadg spoke nicely to them and they replied by praising him for his bravery, wisdom, and strength. When he asked who the children were, the boy replied that he was Conn of a Hundred Battles. Tadg, who knew him from stories, asked if he was Connla, a great hero of Ireland. He said he was and that the girl had brought him there. The girl said she loved him and because he was here, they could be together forever.
Tadg marveled at that, but asked about the silver hall. The girl said it was empty because it is for all the future kings of Ireland - including Tadg himself. The girl and boy led them to the house and it was a pleasant home, so much so that it was tempting to stay. There were more apple trees here, but with golden apples. The girl said this is what they eat here, but it was also an apple that brought Conn to this place.
Tadg had no time to ponder this curious statement, as a group of women walked up to them just then. (And a good thing too, as many fae legends make it clear not to eat the food if you end up in a faerie land.) The most beautiful of the women spoke, saying that she was Cliodhna of the Fair Hair. She told him that she was the one whom Cliodhna's Wave, a coast in Ireland, was named after and she had been on this island a long time. (By now it's clear to Tadg that these people are either immortal or very long-lived.)
Tadg, though he doesn't want to leave this island, says he has to go. Cliodhna, who makes it clear she wished he could stay longer, bids him farewell and gives him a parting gift. The present is a cup that turns water into wine (what a gift!) and tells him that on the day this cup is parted from him, he will die!
In fact, she tells him his whole death scene right there, which is not as great of a present as the cup, I have to say. Thoroughly freaked out, or at least I would be, Tadg says good-bye and sets sail again for Ireland. The island disappears behind the sailors in a mist.
As amazing as this story is, there are still many more legends about faerie islands. In fact, there are stories of faerie encounters still circulating the globe today. Don't believe me? Check out the Fairy Census, which collected stories from 2014 up until 2017 about supposedly real life fae sightings.
While I take all these stories with a grain of salt, I have always believed that famous Shakespearean quote, "There are more things on Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy..."
There was an Irish King name Tadg, so perhaps this fae woman predicted his kingship after all. Did he die, as history recorded, or did he return to the silver hall after his kingship to live an immortal life on the mysterious island? We'll never know - unless perhaps we ever make such a journey and encounter a faerie island ourselves.
Thanks for reading!
Talismans and Turmoil
Don't forget to join Carissa on her island journey in Talismans and Turmoil, out October 13th and available for preorder now!