From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

An Echtra or Echtrae (pl. Echtrai), is a type of pre-Christian Old Irish literature about a hero's adventures in the Otherworld or with otherworldly beings.

Definition and etymology[edit]

In Irish literature Echtrae and Immram are tales of voyages to an Otherworld. In general the "Echtrae" are set in a pagan context.[1] In contrast the Immram, though containing mythological story elements, are set in post-pagan Ireland, and the main protagonist is Christian,[2] and the journey is usually by sea.[3]

A point of contention in absolute definition exists in the case of "Immram Brain maic Febail".[1] Despite the naming this tale is considered to form part of the Echtrae milieu, and may have been named as an Immram due to a conflation of Bran (Brain) and St. Brendan.[2]

Generally, echtra was the Old Irish word for "adventure" (literally meaning an "outing".[1]), as well as a cognate for the Latin extra,[4] The modern and middle Irish language word is eachtra.

The Dictionary of the Irish Language notes alternative usage meanings in addition to the primary "expedition, voyage, journey" - these include "a warlike expedition", and the more general "tale", or "history".[5]


Though Echtrai often involve a journey to an otherworld, the exact destination or journey can vary - voyages take place by sea in Echtrae Conli; in a journey underneath a lake in Echtrae Laegairi; or into a fairy mound (Sidhe) in Echtrae Nerai;[1] alternatively the story may not include such a journey but instead involve an interaction with otherworldly beings : in Echtrae Nerai, set on Samhain, the hero Nera sees prophetic visions whilst in the presence of a hanged man;[3] whilst in Echtra Mac nEchach Muid-medóin, the hero Níall gains the sovereignty of Ireland by kissing a hag guarding a well.[3]


Lists compiled from (Dumville 1976), (Duignan 2010) :

Tales not titled Echtra, but considered part of milieu
Lost tales

There are also visits to the otherworld undertaken by the hero Cuchulainn, including : Forfess Fer Fálgae, Fled Bricrenn ocus Loinges mac nDuil Dermait, and Compert Con Culainn


  1. ^ a b c d Dumville 1976, p. 73.
  2. ^ a b "Echtrae", Jone's Celtic Encyclopedia
  3. ^ a b c Koch, John T., "Echtai", Celtic Culture - A historical encyclopedia, p. 646
  4. ^ Hart, Aoife Assumpta (2016), Ancestral Recall: The Celtic Revival and Japanese Modernism, McGill-Queens University Press
  5. ^ "Echtra",


  • MacKillop, James (1998), Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Oxford, ISBN 978-0-19-860967-4
  • Dumville, David N. (1976), "Echtrae and Immram: Some Problems of Definition", Ériu, Royal Irish Academy, 27: 73–94, JSTOR 30007669
  • Duignan, Leonie (2010), The Echtrae as an Early Irish Literatary Genre (thesis), NUI Maynooth