The monstrous “insects” of this translation may have been jellyfish. They might have looked to the sailors as the tops of frogs in the water and their stinging tentacles would have coated the oars and the rest of the currach in a venomous poison.
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The Prophecy of the blessed man regarding the Voyage of Cormac the grandson of Lethan.
At another time a soldier of Christ, named Cormac, about whom we have related a few brief particulars in the first part of this book, made even a second attempt to discover a desert in the ocean. After he had gone far from the land over the boundless ocean at full sail, St. Columba, who was then staying beyond the Dorsal Ridge of Britain (Drumalban), recommended him in the following terms to King Brude, in the presence of the ruler of the Orcades (Orkneys): “Some of our brethren have lately set sail, and are anxious to discover a desert in the pathless sea; should they happen, after many wanderings, to come to the Orcadian islands, do thou carefully instruct this chief, whose hostages are in thy hand, that no evil befall them within his dominions.” The saint took care to give this direction, because he knew that after a few months Cormac would arrive at the Orcades. So it afterwards came to pass, and to this advice of the holy man Cormac owed his escape from impending death.
After the lapse of a few months, whilst the saint was remaining in the Iouan island (Hy, now Iona), Cormac’s name was mentioned one day unexpectedly in his presence by some persons in conversation, who were observing that it was not yet known whether the voyage of Cormac had been successful or otherwise. Upon hearing this, the saint joined the conversation and said: “You shall see Cormac, about whom you are now speaking, arrive here today.”
And after about an hour, wonderful to relate, lo! Cormac unexpectedly arrived, and proceeded to the oratory whilst all expressed their admiration and gave thanks to God.
Having mentioned thus briefly the prediction of the blessed man regarding Cormac’s second voyage, we have now to relate another equally remarkable instance of the holy man’s prophetic knowledge regarding his third voyage.
When Cormac was laboriously engaged in his third voyage over the ocean, he was exposed to the most imminent danger of death. For, when for fourteen days in summer, and as many nights, his vessel sailed with full sails before a south wind, in a straight course from land, into the northern regions, his voyage seemed to be extended beyond the limits of human wanderings, and return to be impossible.
Accordingly, after the tenth hour of the fourteenth day, certain dangers of a most formidable and almost insurmountable kind presented themselves. A multitude of loathsome and annoying insects, such as had never been seen before, covered the sea in swarms, and struck the keel and sides, the prow, and stern of the vessel, so very violently, that it seemed as if they would wholly penetrate the leathern covering of the ship. According to the accounts afterwards-given by those who were there, they were about the size of frogs; they could swim, but were not able to fly; their sting was extremely painful, and they crowded upon the handles of the oars.
When Cormac and his fellow-voyagers had seen these and other monsters, which it is not now our province to describe, they were filled with fear and alarm, and, shedding copious tears, they prayed to God, who is a kind and ready helper of those who are in trouble. At that same hour our holy Columba, although far away in body, was present in spirit with Cormac in the ship. Accordingly he gave the signal, and calling the brethren to the oratory, he entered the church, and addressing those who were present, he uttered the following prophecy in his usual manner: “Brethren, pray with all your usual fervour for Cormac, who by sailing too far hath passed the bounds of human enterprise, and is exposed at this moment to dreadful alarm and fright, in the presence of monsters which were never before seen, and are almost indescribable. We ought, therefore, to sympathize with our brethren and associates who are in such imminent danger, and to pray to the Lord with them; behold at this moment Cormac and his sailors are shedding copious tears. and praying with intense fervency to Christ; let us assist them by our prayers, that God may take compassion upon us, and cause the wind, which for the past fourteen days has blown from the south, to blow from the north, and this north wind will, of course, deliver Cormac’s vessel out of all danger.”
Having said this he knelt before the altar, and in a plaintive voice poured forth his prayers to the almighty power of God, who governeth the winds and all things, After having prayed he arose quickly, and wiping away his tears, joyfully gave thanks to God, saying, “Now, brethren, let us congratulate our dear friends for whom we have been praying, for God will now change the south into a north wind, which will free our associates from their perils, and bring them to us here again.” As he spoke the south wind ceased, and a north wind blew for many days after, so that Cormac’s ship was enabled to gain the land. And Cormac hastened to visit Columba, and in God’s bounty they looked on each other again face to face, to the extreme joy and wonder of all. Let the reader, then, carefully consider how great and of what a character the blessed man must have been, who possessed such prophetic knowledge, and who, by invoking the name of Christ, could rule the winds and the waves.
— St. Adomnán’s Vita Columbæ, Book II, Chapter xliii.