Irish Mythology

The Story of Tuan mac Carell

12th century, Old Irish, Lebor na hUidre (Book of the Dun Cow), Royal Irish Academy.

One evening, Tuan mac Carell fell asleep and awoke the next morning as a deer.

Tuan mac Carell, an old pagan warrior befriended by an early Irish monk of the sixth century AD, is urged to tell the history of Ireland, which Tuan claims to know well. In fact, he claims to know it intimately since he has experienced it all! Once – he recalls – in the days of the first settlers of Ireland, he survived a plague that decimated Partholon and all his other followers and lived to old age going from crumbling fortress to crumbling fortress, from one barren and inhospitable place to another, entirely alone. Then one evening he fell asleep and awoke the next morning as a deer. New settlers had arrived in Ireland. Tuan lived to become the mightiest of all the stags: I was young again and glad of heart.

The new settlers spread over the whole of Ireland and then mysteriously vanished. Tuan felt the onset of old age again and an encroaching weakness took over his life. Then one day, standing at the mouth of his cave, he found himself in the shape of a wild boar. He was young once again! He lived an active and successful life, the mightiest of all the boars in Ireland, watching the affairs of man from the fringes of the forest, until again he felt the imminence of another change of shape. Returning once more to Ulster, where all his transformations had taken place, he woke one morning to find himself in the shape of an eagle.

New settlers had by now arrived in Ireland, the people of the goddess Dana, the Tuatha de Danaan. Shortly afterwards the ancestors of the Gaelic speaking peoples arrived from Spain. After conflict, they agreed to split Ireland, the people from Spain to have the land, and the Tuatha de Danaan to have the interiors of the hills, and they would live alongside each other, sharing a land of two coexisting but separate domains, each living out the drama of their lives, like wild boars of the forest and men of the hunt, each certain of their own exclusive possession of the same land.

Old age affected Tuan again, and he became a salmon. Growing large but still remembering his previous incarnations, he avoided the nets and lines of fishermen until one day he was caught and eaten by the wife of a chieftain, who conceived him in her womb and he was born again, Tuan, son of Carell.

Story recounted from: Rolleston, Thomas, 1911. Myths of the Celtic Race. The Gresham Publishing Company. Reprinted 1998. Myths and Legends of the Celts. Senate, an imprint of Tiger Books International plc. Chapter III. The Irish Invasion Myths: The Legend of Tuan mac Carell, pp 97–101.

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Partholon – Wikipedia

Lebor na hUidre (Book of the Dun Cow) – Wikipedia

Thomas W H Rolleston – Wikipedia