Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race
Page: 52After the Second Battle of Moytura the Danaans held rule in Ireland until the coming of the Milesians, the sons of Miled. These are conceived in Irish legend as an entirely human race, yet in their origin they, like the other invaders of Ireland, go back to a divine and mythical ancestry. Miled, whose name occurs as a god in a Celtic inscription from Hungary, is represented as a son of Bilé. Bilé, like Balor, is one of the names of the god of Death, i.e., of the Underworld. They come from “Spain”—the usual term employed by the later rationalising historians for the Land of the Dead.
The manner of their coming into Ireland was as follows: Ith, the grandfather of Miled, dwelt in a great tower which his father, Bregon, had built in “Spain.” One clear winter's day, when looking out westwards from this lofty tower, he saw the coast of Ireland in the distance, and resolved to sail to the unknown land.[pg 131]
He embarked with ninety warriors, and took land at Corcadyna, in the south-west. In connexion with this episode I may quote a passage of great beauty and interest from de Jubainville's “Irish Mythological Cycle”:104
“According to an unknown writer cited by Plutarch, who died about the year 120 of the present era, and also by Procopius, who wrote in the sixth century A.D., ‘the Land of the Dead’ is the western extremity of Great Britain, separated from the eastern by an impassable wall. On the northern coast of Gaul, says the legend, is a populace of mariners whose business is to carry the dead across from the continent to their last abode in the island of Britain. The mariners, awakened in the night by the whisperings of some mysterious voice, arise and go down to the shore, where they find ships awaiting them which are not their own,105 and, in these, invisible beings, under whose weight the vessels sink almost to the gunwales. They go on board, and with a single stroke of the oar, says one text, in one hour, says another, they arrive at their destination, though with their own vessels, aided by sails, it would have taken them at least a day and a night to reach the coast of Britain. When they come to the other shore the invisible passengers land, and at the same time the unloaded ships are seen to rise above the waves, and a voice is heard announcing the names of the new arrivals, who have just been added to the inhabitants of the Land of the Dead.
“One stroke of the oar, one hour's voyage at most, suffices for the midnight journey which transfers the [pg 132] Dead from the Gaulish continent to their final abode. Some mysterious law, indeed, brings together in the night the great spaces which divide the domain of the living from that of the dead in daytime. It was the same law which enabled Ith one fine winter evening to perceive from the Tower of Bregon, in the Land of the Dead, the shores of Ireland, or the land of the living. The phenomenon took place in winter; for winter is a sort of night; winter, like night, lowers the barriers between the regions of Death and those of Life; like night, winter gives to life the semblance of death, and suppresses, as it were, the dread abyss that lies between the two.”