The Otherworld Voyage

Full Title: The Otherworld Voyage In Early Irish Literature – An Anthology of Criticism

Editor: Jonathan M. Wooding

Publisher: Four Courts Press

Published: 2000

ISBN: 978-1-84682-556-9

Pages: 290, Includes an Appendix, Bibliography, and Index


Prominent in the literature of early Ireland are the tales known as echtrai (adventures) and immrama (voyages), stories telling of journeys to the Otherworld of Celtic legend. These tales have long held a fascination for both scholars and general readers, but there is no satisfactory, comprehensive treatment of them in print. This anthology presents a selection of the most important studies of the subject, to which is added a number of new essays representing the current state of scholarship. A general introduction is provided and an extensive bibliography.

Containing the most important critical materials for an understanding of the Irish Otherworld Voyage legends, this anthology will be of interest and use to teachers and students of early Irish history and literature, comparative literature and mythology.


The idea for this book came during a conference at Maynooth in 1995. The attendees noted the need for a guide to Hiberno-Latin and early Irish voyage literature. They wanted a work of reference for the subject, because this kind of work was not yet available. This text is a selection of past and present criticism concerning the voyage tales and their context. “The articles are to be understood as artifacts particular to their era, though it is to be noted that nothing has been selected for purely historical interest: all the items in this volume has in some way or other provided a perspective, which has not been entirely superseded by later work” p. ix The selection of articles span nearly a century, and they discuss Irish voyage literature, its social and religious context.

Some of these articles were really short (4 pages) like “Two Observations Concerning the Navigatio Brendani” and “The Location of the Otherworld in Irish Tradition”, while others are really long like “Subversion at Sea: Structure, Style, and Intent in the Immrama” (32 pages).

I think my favorite out of all the articles was the one by John Carey, “The Location of the Otherworld in Irish Tradition.” I have to admit, I don’t have a lot of exposure to the Immrama or the Echtrai, but I found this volume very interesting. I’m going to read this book again after I read and digest that part of Irish Literature. I feel like I missed a lot because of my limited exposure to these stories. This is a must have book if you have an interest in Immrama and Echtrai.


Early Irish Literature

Author: Myles Dillon
Publisher: Four Courts Press
Published: 1948 (University of Chicago Press), 1994, 1997
ISBN – 13: 1851821775 pbk

Synopsis: Great classic of Celtic studies. Survival of pre-Christain Druid beleifs in Medieval Christian manuscript texts.

Review: The author started his Preface with why he decided to write the book and what he provided the reader with when he wrote it. He wrote the book because at the time (1948) books about Irish literature were either out of print or about a later time period than the one he discusses here. Dillon decided that this book would present “the imaginative literature of Ireland in a coherent order, choosing only the best that has survived,”. (p.V) He is not providing a history of literature not is he providing a critic of it.

The Preface is certainly a good place to start if you are looking for books on the analysis of Early Irish literature. Dillon lists an interesting group of books to look through though most of them are old, but still very useful.

The Introduction has a short discussion of how the Celts came to Ireland, what the irish society looked like and how the land was divided. It also has a short discussion of the manuscripts that the stories came from and the places they can be found.

Chapters One through Eight discuss the Ulster, Fenian, Mythological and Historical cycles, Adventures, Voyages, Visions and Irish Poetry. All the chapters are a simple retelling of some of the sagas and poetry in the irish Literature tradition with a little introduction at the beginning of each chapter. The whole book makes for a good introduction to Early Irish literature that is not complicated or very academic though still very scholarly. A good book to have in one’s library for sure.