Text: The Story of Tuan the son of Cairell

The Dál Fiatach were the leading branch of the Ulaid (“men of Ulster). Tuan’s father Cairell appears in the story as the king of the Ulaid; Cairell’s father Muiredach Muinderg [“Red-neck”] is one of the first kings recorded of the Dál Fiatach in surviving historical records. According to other later traditions, Muiredach Muinderg was blessed personally by Patrick and Cairell accepted Christianity – but these may simply be the later hopes of apologists. Although this story is set in the 6th century, it appears to have been written in the late 9th century. The character Finnia [†579, aka “Finnén” or “Findbar”] was the founder of the monastery of Moyvile [Mag Bile] and a member of the Dál Fiatach.

The following text was translated by John Carey and appears here with his kind permission.

When Finnia had come with the gospel into the land of Ireland and the territory of the Ulaid, he went to the house of a rich man there. He did not admit them. They fast against him [the rich man] all Sunday. The man’s faith was not good. Finnia said to his followers, “A good man will come to you. You will be comforted, and he will tell you the history of Ireland since first it was invaded/possessed.”

Next morning a venerable cleric comes to them. He bids them welcome. “Come with me to my hermitage,” said he. “It is more suitable for you.”

They went with him. They perform the offices of Sunday, psalms and preaching and mass. (Finnia) asks his lineage.

He said to them, “I am of the Ulaid of this region: my name is Tuán son of Cairell. I have.assumed my father’s inheritance from Mag nÍtha to this hermitage, to Benna Bairche.”

Finnia asked him for tidings of Ireland, all that had happened since the time of Partholón son of Agnoman. Finnia said that they would not taste food until (he told them). Tuán said to Finnia, “Let me not be constrained on that account. We had rather contemplate the word of God, which you may relate to us.”

“Nevertheless,” said Finnia, “you must tell us your own adventures, and the history of Ireland.”

“Ireland, then,” said Tuán, “has up until now been settled by five settlements. It was not settled before the Flood, nor was it settled after the Flood until one thousand and two years had passed since the Flood went from the land. Then there landed the son of Agnoman son of Starbui, of the race of the Greeks. They came as twenty-four couples, for great was the sharpness of each of them toward the other. They dwelt in Ireland until he had a thousand descendants. A plague came upon them from one Sunday to the next, so that all save one man perished. For it is not usual for there to be a calamity without a fugitive (escaping) from it to tell the tale thereafter. I am that man.”

“Then I was (fleeing) from refuge to refuge and from cliff to cliff, protecting myself from wolves. Ireland was empty for thirty-two years. Age came upon. me at last, and I could no longer travel. I was in cliffs and in wildernesses, and I had caves of my own.”

“The son of Agnoman landed, my father’s brother. I used to see them from the cliffs, and hid from them: I was shaggy, clawed, wrinkled, naked, wretched, sorrowful. I was asleep one night. I saw that I went into the shape of a wild stag. I was there thereafter: I was young, and in good spirits, and the lord of a herd, and I made a circuit of Ireland with a great herd of stags around me. Then I spent that time, Nemed’s span and the span of (Ireland’s) settlement by his offspring. For when Nemed came to Ireland they were thirty-four ships in number, and thirty in each ship. The sea tossed them for a year and a half. They were drowned and died of hunger, save for four couples including Nemed. Their race increased in Ireland until there were four thousand and thirty couples there. Then they all died.”

“Age came upon me at last, and I fled from men and wolves. I stood one night at the entrance of a cave I remembered, and I knew how to go from one shape into another. I went into the shape of wild boar. I found that swift, then, and I was in good spirits; and I was lord of the boar-herds of Ireland, and I used to make a circuit of Ireland. And I had furthermore a dwelling in this region of the Ulaid, which I visited in the time of my old age and wretchedness, For it is in one place that I used to change all these shapes.”

“Sémión son of Stairai took this island. Of them are the Fir Domnann and the Fir Bolg. They dwelt in Ireland. Age came upon me, and my mind was sorrowful, and I could not keep company with the boars and the herds, but was alone in caves and cliffs. I went ever to my dwelling. I remembered every shape in which I had been. I fasted my three days’ fast. I had no strength. I went into the shape of a hawk, that is, a great muirre. I was content with that. My spirit was very mighty. I was happy, eager. I flew across Ireland. I learned all things.”

“Beothecht son of Iordanen took this island from the peoples that were in it. Of them are the Gáilióin, and the Tuatha Dé and Andé, whose origin the men of learning do not know; but they thought it likely that they are some of the exiles who came to them from Heaven.”

“Thereafter I was for ages in the hawk’s shape, until I had outlived all the peoples who had settled in the land of Ireland. The sons of Míl conquered this island by force from the Tuatha Dé. Once I journeyed in the hawk’s shape in which I was to the hollow of a tree, above a stream. My mind was sorrowful. I could not fly, and I feared other birds.”

“I fasted nine days then, and went into the shape of a fresh-water salmon. God puts me into the river. That was wondrous for me then, and I was vigorous and happy, and I was a master of swimming. I escaped from every peril: from the hands of fishermen and from the claws of hawks and from the spears of fishers, so that the wounds of them are in me.”

“When God decided that it was time to help me, and beasts were harrying me, and every fisherman in every pool had learned of me, a fisherman brought me to the wife of Cairell, king of this land. I remember then how the man takes me and cooks me, and the woman alone eats me so that I was in her womb. I remember then. the interval when I was in her womb, etc., and what everyone said to his fellow in the house, and what was done in Ireland during that time. I remember then how speech came to me as to every infant, and I found out everything that was done in Ireland, and I was a prophet, and a name was given to me, that is, Tuán son of Cairell. Then Patrick came with the Faith. I was very old then, and I was baptized, and of my own accord I accepted belief in the King of All, with His creatures.”

Then they offer mass, and go into (Tuán’s) dining hall: Finnia with his followers and Tuán. They are well refreshed. They remain there for a week, conversing. Whatever history and genealogy there is in Ireland, its origin is from Tuán son of Catrell. Patrick had spoken with him before that, and he related it to him, and Colum Cille had spoken with him, and Finnia related it to him in the presence of the folk of the land. And Finnia offered that he should dwell with him, but that was not obtained from him.

“Your house will be illustrious,” said Tuán.

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