Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

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The end of the race of Partholan was that they were afflicted by pestilence, and having gathered together on the Old Plain (Senmag) for convenience of burying their dead, they all perished there; and Ireland once more lay empty for reoccupation.

The Legend of Tuan mac Carell

Who, then, told the tale? This brings us to the mention of a very curious and interesting legend—one of the numerous legendary narratives in which these tales of the Mythical Period have come down to us. It is found in the so-called “Book of the Dun Cow,” a manuscript of about the year A.D. 1100, and is entitled “The Legend of Tuan mac Carell.”

St. Finnen, an Irish abbot of the sixth century, is said to have gone to seek hospitality from a chief named Tuan mac Carell, who dwelt not far from Finnen's monastery at Moville, Co. Donegal. Tuan refused [pg 98] him admittance. The saint sat down on the doorstep of the chief and fasted for a whole Sunday,75 upon which the surly pagan warrior opened the door to him. Good relations were established between them, and the saint returned to his monks.

“Tuan is an excellent man,” said he to them; “he will come to you and comfort you, and tell you the old stories of Ireland.”76

This humane interest in the old myths and legends of the country is, it may here be observed, a feature as constant as it is pleasant in the literature of early Irish Christianity.

Tuan came shortly afterwards to return the visit of the saint, and invited him and his disciples to his fortress. They asked him of his name and lineage, and he gave an astounding reply. “I am a man of Ulster,” he said. “My name is Tuan son of Carell. But once I was called Tuan son of Starn, son of Sera, and my father, Starn, was the brother of Partholan.”

“Tell us the history of Ireland,” then said Finnen, and Tuan began. Partholan, he said, was the first of men to settle in Ireland. After the great pestilence already narrated he alone survived, “for there is never a slaughter that one man does not come out of it to tell the tale.” Tuan was alone in the land, and he wandered about from one vacant fortress to another, from rock to rock, seeking shelter from the wolves. For twenty-two years he lived thus alone, dwelling in waste places, till at last he fell into extreme decrepitude and old age.

Then Nemed son of Agnoman took possession of Ireland. He [Agnoman] was my father's brother. I [pg 99] saw him from the cliffs, and kept avoiding him. I was long-haired, clawed, decrepit, grey, naked, wretched, miserable. Then one evening I fell asleep, and when I woke again on the morrow I was changed into a stag. I was young again and glad of heart. Then I sang of the coming of Nemed and of his race, and of my own transformation.... I have put on a new form, a skin rough and grey. Victory and joy are easy to me; a little while ago I was weak and defenceless. ”