CELT document T303029

The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Ríagla


The text of the following story, now for the first time printed, is taken from a transcript which I made in 1871 from the only known copy, that, namely, in columns 391–395 of H. 2. 16, a manuscript of the fourteenth century preserved in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, and commonly called the Yellow Book of Lecan. The story is one of a class of sagas called Imrama, of which only three other specimens are known to exist, and on which Dr. Schirmer of St Gallen is about to publish a treatise. Like the best known of these sagas, the Imrom Maele Duin, our story is twofold, each part of it being first told in prose and then in verse, which is full, as usual, of chevilles, is often obscure, and is sometimes obviously corrupt. In the present edition the verse is omitted.


The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Riagla (or Mac Riaguil) has been analysed by O'Curry in his Lectures, p. 333, and is quoted by him in his Manners and Customs III, 385, as giving two instances of the rare word sianan, some kind of vocal music. Other such words are cuilefaid=culebad (gl. flabellum) 1; fant 'hollow', borrowed from the Welsh pant; comgaire 'vicinity'; braga (dat. pl. braigtib) 'prisoner'; aile 'fence'; mesrugud 'adjudication'; forbas 'siege'; eisles 'neglect'. The phrase dia bliadna, literally '(that) day of (the following) year', and the act. redupl. future pl. 3 gébtait may also be noted.

Some of the persons named in our tale are historical characters of the seventh century. King Domnall son of Aed, son of S. Colomb cille's first cousin Ainmire, died A.D. 642 (or 639 according to the Four Masters). His successors, Maelcoba's sons, Conall Cael and Cellach, reigned jointly till A.D. 659 (or 656). The middle of the seventh century may therefore be fixed roughly as the date of incidents of the tale.

The Men of Ross, whose vengeful act gives rise to the story, were a tribe whose territory (according to O'Donovan 2) “comprised the parishes of Carrickmacross and Clonany, in the county of Monaghan, and parts of the adjoining counties of Meath and Louth.”



The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Ríagla here below


The Men of Ross were under great oppression after the decease of Domnall son of Aed son of Ainmire; and this was the cause of their oppression. When Ireland was taken by Mael Coba's sons after Domnall, Domnall's sons, even Donnchad and Fiacha, were in the sovranty of Cenél Conaill and the  p.17 Men of Ross—Donnchad over Tirconnell and Fiacha over the Men of Ross.


Great was their oppression under Fiacha, for neither weapon nor coloured raiment 3 was allowed to any of them (and they felt this the more) since they had never before that been subject to a king; and exceeding was the soreness of their servitude.


A year was Fiacha in sovranty over them. At the end of the year comes Fiacha to Boynemouth, and the Men of Ross are summoned to him. He said to them: “Do service still more”.
“We cannot do more”, say they.
Said he to them: “Let each and all of you put your spittle on my palm”.
It was put, and thus was the spittle half of it (composed) of blood.


Then he said: “Your service is not proper yet, for all the spittle is not blood. Cast the hills into the hollows that they may be (level) land. Plant trees in the plains that they may be forests!”


It was then that a deer passed near them. All the king's household go after the deer. Then the Men of Ross took his own weapons from the kin, for none of them had a weapon, and so they killed him.


That deed was evil in his brother Donnchad's eyes, and he came and took them all prisoners, and puts them into one house to be burnt alive.


Then he himself said: “It is not meet for me to do this deed without counsel from my soulfriend, from Colombcille.”


So he sends messengers to Colombcille. And Snédgus and Mac Riagla come from Colombcille, having (this) counsel for Donnchad, to wit, to cast sixty couples of the men of Ross; on the sea, and that God would pass His judgment upon them.



Small boats are given to them, and they are set upon the sea, and men go to watch them, so that they should not return.


Then Snédgus and Mac Riagla turn back to go to Iona, to Colombcille.


As they were in their coracle they bethought them of wending with their own consent into the outer ocean on a pilgrimage, even as the sixty couples had gone, though these were not with their own consent.


So they turn right-hand-wise; and wind wafts them for a while north-westwards into the outer ocean.


After a space of three days a longing of great thirst seizes them, insomuch that they could not endure it.


It was then that Christ took pity on them, and brings them to a stream well-tasting like new milk, and therewith they are satisfied. They render thanks to God and say: “Let us leave our voyage to God, and let us put our oars into our boat.” And thereafter their voyage was left alone, and their oars were put into their boat; and after they arrived, then said the poet:

  1. Snédgus and Mac Riagla
    Of Colomb cille's community,


Then they are sent to another island, with a fence of silver over the midst thereof, and a fish-weir therein; and that weir was a … plank of silver, and against the weir huge salmon were leaping. Bigger than a bull-calf was each of these salmon, and thereof they were satisfied.


Thereafter they voyaged to another island, and in that island they found many warriors with heads of cats upon them. One Gaelic champion was therein, and he came down to the strand and made them welcome, and said to them: “Of the men of the Gael am I” he said. “We came here  p.21 a boat's crew, and thereof remaineth none save me alone. They were martyrised by the outlanders who inhabit this island”. And he puts food for them (the clerics) into the boat, and they leave a blessing and take a blessing.


Thereafter the wind wafts them to an island wherein was a great tree with beautiful birds (on its branches). Atop of it was a great bird with a head of gold and with wings of silver; and he tells them tales of the beginning of the world, and tells them of Christ's birth from Mary Virgin, and of His Baptism and His Passion and His Resurrection. And he tells tidings of Doom; and then all the birds used to beat their sides with their wings, so that showers of blood dropt out of their sides for dread of the signs of Doom. “Communion and Creature” was that blood. And the bird bestows on the clerics a leaf of the leaves of that tree, and the size of the hide of a large ox was that leaf. And the bird told the clerics to take that leaf and place it on Colombcille's altar. So that is Colombcille's flabellum to-day. In Kells it is.


Melodious was the music of those birds singing psalms and canticles, praising the Lord. For they were the birds of the Plain of Heaven, and neither trunk nor leaf of that tree decays.


Thereafter the clerics bade farewell to the birds, and they voyage to a fearful land, wherein dwelt men with heads of hounds, with manes of cattle upon them. By God's command, a cleric came to them out of the island to succour them, for they were in danger there, without food; and he gives them fish and wine and wheat.


Thereafter they voyage till they reached a land wherein dwelt men with heads of swine upon them; and they … and they had great bands of reapers reaping the corn in the midst of the summer.


Afterwards they went thence in their boat, and sing their psalms, and pray to God, till they reached a land wherein  p.23 dwelt a multitude of men of the Gael; and the women of the island straightway sang a sianan to them, and the clerics deemed it melodious.

“Sing you still”, saith the cleric, he said; “here is the sianan of Ireland!”. “Let us go, O clerics!” say the women, “to the house of the King of the island, for therein we (leg. ye) shall have welcome and refreshment.”


The women and the clerics enter the house; and the king made the clerics welcome, and they put away their weariness there, and he asked them: “What is your race, O clerics?” “Of the men of Ireland are we”, say the clerics, “and of Colombcille's community.” “How fares it in Ireland?” he said, “and how many sons of Domnall are alive?” saith the King. The cleric answered: “Three sons of Domnall's are alive; and Fiacha son of Domnall fell by the Men of Ross, and for that deed sixty couples of them were set on the sea. That tale is true for you, O clerics! It is I that killed the son of the King of Tara, and we it is that were set on the sea. And well for us was that, for we shall abide here till the Judgment shall come; for good are we without sin, without wickedlness, without … of our crime. Good is the island wherein we arc, for in it are Elijah and Enoch, and noble is the dwelling wherein is Elijah.”


And he made the clerics very welcome, and said: “There are in this land two lakes, a lake of water and a lake of fire, and they would have come long ago over Ireland had not Martin and Patrick been praying for them (the Irish).”
“We would fain see Enoch”, say the clerics.
“He is in a secret place until we shall all go to the battle, on the Day of Judgement.”


Thereafter they voyage from that land, and were in  p.25 the roaring waves 4 of the sea for a long time, until great relief came to them from God, for they were weary. And they beheld a great lofty island, and all therein was delightful and hallowed.


Good was the King that abode in the island, and he was holy and righteous; and great was his host, and noble was the dwelling of that King, for there were a hundred doors in that house, and an altar at every door, and a priest at every altar offering Christ's Body.


So the clerics entered that house, and each of them (host and guests) blessed the other; and thereafter the whole of the great host, both woman and man, went to communion at the Mass.


Then wine is dealt out to them, and the king saith to the clerics: “Tell the men of Ireland,” he said, “that a great vengeance is about to fall on you. Foreigners will come over sea and inhabit half the island; and they will lay siege to you. 5 And this is what brings that vengeance upon them (the Irish), the great neglect they shew to God's Testament and to His teaching. A month and a year you shall be at sea, and youshall arrive safely; and (then) tell all your tidings to the men of Ireland.”

Whitley Stokes

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Title statement

Title (uniform): The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Ríagla

Title (orig, Irish): Imrum Snedhghusa ocus Mic Ríagla

Author: unknown

Responsibility statement

Translated by: Whitley Stokes

Text donated by: Jonathan Wooding

Funded by: The HEA via PRTLI 4

Edition statement

1. First draft, revised and corrected.

Extent: 3440 words

Publication statement

Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland

Date: 2009

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: T303029

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT project for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

Source description

Manuscript sources for the Irish text

  1. Dublin, Trinity College Library, MS 1318 alias H 2 16, alias Yellow Book of Lecan, col. 391–395; 14th century (prose, edited by Stokes in this edition).
  2. Dublin, Trinity College Library, MS 1318 alias H 2 16, alias Yellow Book of Lecan, col. 707–715; 14th century (verse, edited by Stokes in RC 26).
  3. Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 1134, olim 23 E 29, alias Book of Fermoy, fol. 86.
  4. London, British Library Add. 30,512 (used by Tomás Ó Máille).


  1. Rudolf Thurneysen (ed.), Zwei Versionen der mittelirischen Legende von Snedgus und Mac Riagla, Programm zur Feier des Geburtstages seiner königlichen Hoheit des Grossherzogs Friedrich des durchlauchtigsten Rector Magnificus der Albert-Ludwigs-Universität zu Freiburg i. Br. (Halle 1904), repr. Gesammelte Schriften I-III, ed. Patrizia de Bernardo Stempel and Rolf Ködderitzsch (Tübingen 1991) II, 538–585.
  2. Tomás Ó Máille, ed., Merugud Cléirech Choluim Chille, Miscellany presented to Kuno Meyer 1912, 307–326 [from British Museum Additional, with variants from the Book of Fermoy].
  3. Whitley Stokes, ed. and trans., The Adventure of St. Columba's Clerics, in: RC 26, 1905, 130-170 [from Yellow Book of Lecan, cols. 707–715].


  1. Eugene O'Growney, Iomramh Sneadhghusa agus Mhic Riagla in: Gaelic Journal 4 (1891) 85–88 (Modern Irish translation).
  2. Rudolf Thurneysen, Sagen aus dem alten Irland. Berlin 1901 (German translation.)
  3. Donncha Ó hAodha, The Poetic Version of the Voyage of Snédgus and Mac Ríagla, in Dán do Oide (Dublin 1997) 419-438 (Modern Irish translation).
  4. More Voyage texts are available at Dr. Wooding's Celtic Christianity e-Library at http://www.lamp.ac.uk/celtic/ccelibrary.htm.


  1. Eugene O'Curry, Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of ancient Irish history. (Dublin 1861) 289; 333–334.
  2. Heinrich Zimmer, Keltische Beiträge II: Brendans Meerfahrt, Zeitschrift für deutsches Alterthum 33 no. 2–4. Berlin 1889.
  3. Gustav Schirmer, Zur Brendanus-Legende. (Leipzig 1888).
  4. A.G. van Hamel (ed.), Immrama (Dublin 1941).
  5. Jonathan Wooding (ed.), The Otherworld voyage in early Irish literature. (Dublin 2000).
  6. Kevin Murray, The role of the Cuilebad in Immram Snédgusa ocus Maic Riagla, in: J. Wooding (ed.), The Otherworld voyage in early Irish literature. (Dublin 2000) 187–193.

The edition used in the digital edition

‘The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Riagla’ (1888). In: Revue Celtique‍ 9. Ed. by Whitley Stokes, pp. 14–25.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  editor 	 = {Whitley Stokes},
  title 	 = {The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Riagla},
  journal 	 = {Revue Celtique},
  number 	 = {9},
  address 	 = {Paris},
  publisher 	 = {Émile Bouillon},
  date 	 = {1888},
  pages 	 = {14–25}


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Creation: Translation by Whitley Stokes

Date: September 1887

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  • The introduction and translation are in English. (en)
  • Some words are in Irish. (ga)
  • A term in the introduction is in French. (fr)
  • A word in the introduction is in Latin. (la)
  • A word in the introduction is in Welsh. (cy)

Keywords: saga; prose; medieval; Voyages; Immrama; translation

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(Most recent first)

  1. 2016-02-12: Minor update made. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2009-09-06: Introduction, footnotes and page-breaks added to file; SGML and HTML versions created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2009-08-06: File converted to XML; proofed; structural and content markup added; header with bibliographic details created; file parsed. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  4. 2009-06: Donated a scanned and proofed HTML version of the file. (text donation Dr J. Wooding, Lampeter)

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G303029: Imrum Snedhghusa ocus Mic Ríagla (in Irish)

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  1. See the Karlsruhe gloss on the Soliloquia of S. Augustin, ed. Windisch, gl. 86. 🢀

  2. Topographical Poems, Dublin 1862, p. xxii, no. 126. 🢀

  3. Compare the tradition about Eochaidh Eugadhach (Four Masters, A. M. 3664) aendath i n-edoighibh moghadh “one colour in the clothes of slaves”. 🢀

  4. Literally “the wave-voice”. 🢀

  5. This probably refers to the Anglo-norman invasion 🢀


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