Tuan mac Cairill

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In Irish mythology Tuan mac Cairill was a recluse who retains his memories from his previous incarnations, going back to Antediluvian age. Initially a follower of Partholon, he alone survived the plague, or the Flood,[1] that killed the rest of his people. Through a series of animal transformations he survived into Christian times, and, in conversation with St. Finnian of Moville told a brief history of himself and of Ireland from his people onward to the coming of St. Patrick.


His legend is found in an 11th Century manuscript called Lebor na hUidre (The Book of Dun Cow); in a 15th Century manuscript called Laud 610 kept at the Bodleian Library, Oxford; and in a 16th Century manuscript labeled H.3.18 at Trinity College, Dublin.[2]


Tuan who was a hermit or recluse, told St. Finnan that he was born 2000 years earlier and witnessed many of the waves of invaders who came to ancient Ireland - the Nemedians, Fir Bolg and the Tuatha De Dannan.[3][4]

As a lone human guarding the land, he grew hairy, clawed and gray. And he witnessed the invasion of Nemed (who he says was his father's brother), and woke up one day to find himself reborn as a vigorous young stag.[5] The ancient stag watched the Nemedians perish, and was again reborn into a young wild boar, and became the king of the boar-herds, witnessing the taking of Ireland by Semion, leader of the Fir Bolg.[6] Then he became a great hawk (or eagle[7]) and saw Ireland seized by the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians. Later reincarnated into a salmon, he was caught by a fisherman serving a chieftain called Cairill, and was eaten whole by the Cairill's wife, and passed into her womb to be reborn again as Tuan mac (son of) Cairill. He was eventually converted to Christianity, and conversed with St. Patrick and Colum Cille.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Meyer 1897, ¶4.
  2. ^ Arbois de Jubainville & Best 1903, p. 26.
  3. ^ Meyer 1897.
  4. ^ Arbois de Jubainville & Best 1903.
  5. ^ Meyer 1897, ¶6-8.
  6. ^ Meyer 1897, ¶7-10.
  7. ^ Meyer 1897, ¶11-. Irish: murrech adbul: murrech "large sea-bird, a sea-raven (eDIL )", in the prose part, but Irish: seig: séig "a hawk, a bird of the hawk kind (eDIL)" in verse. Mackillop says "eagle"..
  8. ^ Meyer 1897, ¶13-.
  9. ^ Carey 1984.


  • Arbois de Jubainville, Marie Henri de; Best, Richard Irvine (1903), "III. Emigration of Pathelon (Continued), Legend of Tuan Mac Cairill", in Best, Richard Irvine (ed.), The Irish mythological cycle and Celtic mythology, Hodges, Figgis & Co,. Dublin ; Simpkin, Marshall & Co., London, pp. 25–35
  • Carey, John (1984), "Scél Tuáin meic Chairill" [The Story of Tuán son of Cairell] (PDF), Ériu, 35: 93–111, JSTOR 30007779
  • Carey, John; Koch, John T. (1995), "Scél Tuáin meic Chairill The Story of Tuán Son of Cairell", Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland and Wales (2nd ed.), Celtic Studies Publications
  • Mackillop, James (1998), Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-280120-1
  • Meyer, Kuno, ed. (1897), "(Appendix A) Scél Túain maic Cairill do Finnén Maige Bile inso sís [Tuan mac Cairill's Story to Finnen of Moville]", The Voyage of Bran to the Land of the Living : an Old Irish Saga (in Ga and English), vol. 2, Grimm Library No.6 ; David Nutt, pp. 285–301

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