An Echtra or Echtrae (pl. Echtrai) is one of a category of Old Irish literature about a hero's adventures in the
Otherworld(see Tír na nÓgand Mag Mell); the otherworldly setting is the distinctive trait of these tales. More generally, "echtra" was the Old Irish word for "adventure", the Modern Irish word is "eachtra".
The echtra was one of the most popular of Old Irish genres, so much so that the word later came to be used in the titles of any romance, regardless of otherworldly content. Earlier on, however, an echtra's emphasis was on the hero's time in the Otherworld, the journey to which served merely as a frame story. This distinguishes the echtrai from the "
Immrama", or "Voyages", which focus on the hero's journey rather than the otherworldly destination.
The hero of the echtra is usually invited to the Otherworld by a beautiful maiden or a great warrior, and he must cross either the western ocean or a plain blanketed by a mystical fog. The host is revealed to be one of the
Tuatha Dé Danann, or fairyfolk, and Manannanor Lughoften figure into the tale. The hero's fate after his sojourn varies from tale to tale. Sometimes he stays among the "sídhe" forever, and sometimes he returns with knowledge and gifts for his people. Sometimes the hero discovers his visit has lasted for years or even centuries though he thought no time had passed. He is warned that if he ever touches his home soil again, he will surely perish. In the " Voyage of Bran", the heroes describe their adventure to listeners shore, then sail off into oblivion. In a popular story from the Fenian Cycle, Oisíntouches the ground and instantly ages hundreds of years. He tells his story to Saint Patrickand receives a Christian baptism before passing away.
*James MacKillop (1998). "Dictionary of Celtic Mythology". Oxford. ISBN 0-19-860967-1.
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