book of the dun cowBOOK OF THE DUN COW (Lebor na hUidre) – In the past, Balladeer’s Blog has done deep dives into gods, goddesses and epics from Hawaiian, Inuit, Navajo, Choctaw, Ainu, Nyanga, Norse, Shinto, Aztec mythology and many, many more pantheons. This kicks off a multi-part look at the various works in Ireland’s Lebor na hUidre, The Book of the Dun Cow

        For anyone not familiar with this collection of ancient material, it features cultural, historical and mythological material mixed together in many forms from around 1,000 AD and much earlier. I will be examining the material section by section.

six ages of the worldSIX AGES OF THE WORLD (Sex aetates mundi) – This was one of the many texts from many Christian-influenced cultures that viewed the world from Creation through Jesus Christ as being Six Ages. In this fictional context each age was roughly 1,000 years.

        The First Age lasted from Adam and Eve to Noah and the Great Flood. The Second Age ran from that time period up to the time of Abraham. The Third Age covered Abraham to King David. The Fourth Age picked up from King David to the Babylonian Captivity. The Fifth Age lasted from there to the Birth of Jesus. And the Sixth Age ran through the life of Jesus and everything afterward.

        The assumption that, per these ages, the Sixth Age would end 1,000 years after Christ’s birth contributed to fears of the End of the World occurring around 1,000 AD. Some belief systems add a Seventh Age, as in the supposed 1,000 years of peace, aka the Millenium, which would follow the return of Jesus.

THE BOOK OF BRITAIN (Lebor Bretnach) – This version of real and mythical events from ancient Britain was supposedly a translation by Gilla Coemain, an Irish poet. Material included legends of the ancient settlement of Britain, the life and battles of Arthur from an era before he was listed as a king but called simply a military leader, and lore surrounding various landmarks and monuments around Britain.

elegy for columbaSONG OF COLUMBA (Amra Coluim Chille) – An annotated version of the life and legends regarding Saint Columba, an Irish abbot and missionary who established places of worship in ancient Ireland and spread Christianity to ancient Scotland.

The famous abbey at Iona was among those supposedly founded by this very early saint. 

story told by tuan mac cairillTHE STORY TUAN MAC CAIRILL TOLD TO FINNIAN OF MOVILLA (Scél Tuain meic Cairill do Finnen Maige Bile) – This dealt with the legendary figure Tuan mac Cairill, an extraordinarily long-lived man capable of recalling all of his past lives going all the way back to before the Great Flood. In this fictional context, Tuan supposedly recounted all this to Finnian of Movilla, a Christian missionary, before he died.

        Tuan mac Cairill was the sole (non-Ark) survivor of the Great Flood and had become an elderly, long-haired hermit in ancient Ireland by the time the Nemedians arrived. After witnessing their arrival and successful invasion, Tuan was reborn as a young stag but still recalled his past life.

        As a stag, Tuan again had an unnatural lifespan and lived to witness the departure from Ireland of the mere thirty Nemedians who survived their eventual civil war and other disasters. Reborn again with continuity of consciousness, this time as a boar, Tuan next witnessed the taking of Ireland by the Fir Bolg under the leadership of Semion.

        tuan mac cairillTuan was then reborn as a predatory bird and witnessed the arrival of the Tuatha de Danann, the race identified in legend with the pagan deities of Ireland. He also observed their war with the “evil” Fir Bolg. (Remember, the victors write the histories.)

        Last to arrive were the Milesians, led by Mil, supposedly from ancient Spain. The Milesians ultimately drove the Tuatha de Danann underground while they held the surface world. Again with continued consciousness, Tuan was reborn as a salmon and was eventually caught and fed to the wife of a chief named Cairill.

        Tuan was then reborn as a human from the womb of Cairill’s wife, making him the son of Cairill (mac Cairill). He once again lived to a very old age, eventually converted to Christianity and met some of the early saints of Ireland. 




Filed under Mythology


  1. I look forward to reading more! 🙂

  2. Hmm, interesting, I read Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s “Book of the Dun Cow” (as well as its just-as-depressing-as-the-title-suggests sequel, “The Book of Sorrows”) in my younger days, but never had any idea there was an actual “Book of the Dun Cow”. And then I was wondering if Tuan mac Cairill might be the basis for Morgan Llywelyn’s novel “Finn Mac Cool” (one of my favorite books) but according to Wikipedia that was Fionn mac Cumhaill. So I’m kind of 0 for 2 here.

  3. Never cease to be amazed at your depth. Hm. [To myself: I need to investigate further or assume I can cram no more sophistication in to the grey crevasse twixt my ears?]

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