We Will Bring The Doe Alive, a Retelling by Karina Tynan

IMG_6250Introduction : A young woman called *Sadbh was cast into the shape of a deer by a dark *druid for refusing his amorous advances. She was found in that shape by *Fionn Mac Cumhaill who took her to the safety of his *Dún where she regained her human form for a time. She was mother to *Oisín who was also the son of Fionn Mac Cumhaill, leader of the *Fianna of Ireland. 

 I refused to give my love to Doirche, the dark druid of the men of Dea. I was candid with him, thinking he had a normal mind with a share of good in it. I said, No thank you Doirche because I am holding the promise of a much younger suitor you see, closer in age to myself, handsome too if that’s not asking to much of the world. I said, I wasn’t interested in a druid stuck under a black cloak stinking with fire smoke and sweat and how could you, considering all that’s fair, think that I, as young as I am, would want to marry a man as old as you are. As I said, I was candid. I had thought druid’s were wise and loyal to truth but back then I was as young and foolish as a young girl could be, only ever believing the world to be a place full of good nature. I walked away from his proposal innocent to the angry fumes burning up inside him. If I had looked to see how my refusal was settling in him, I would have run a mile, no, a hundred miles as quick as my legs would carry me. Instead I traipsed hither and thither as was my want, dreaming and sighing and hoping for the day to come when I would be falling in love. 

Later that day I felt queer. I was alone and so I went looking for my mother and father but before I found them, my voice had left me. I looked down at my body. My clothes were tearing. The dress I was wearing fell to the floor. Soft white hair began to grow over my breasts, down over my belly. My legs changed shape and colour, white on the inside, red brown on the outside. My hands blackened, becoming toes, only two, more like hooves than toes, my arms became legs. I was four footed. My nose was black and wet, my ears so large that I could hear the movement of dust falling if I listened for it. Soft deer skin covered my whole body. My big black frightened eyes could see the change because I was still me, with my human heart and mind, human tears. I tried to show that it was me to my father, to my mother. Maybe they would see, find another druid to reverse the spell and put Doirche to death for his travesty. Instead I was chased out of my own home, saved from being slaughtered only because there were already enough deer hanging in our cellars that were the making of ten feasts.

I ran wild. I joined no herd for fear they would know my difference. I hid from everything and everyone. I ate what I could find. At first I tried to eat like deer but I could find no liking for the heather. I learned to scavenge, offal given to the pigs, scraps thrown away. I got by just enough to keep my hopes alive. I found some pleasures. I liked to run in *Glenasmole. It reminded me of my childhood, tumbling on the hills, laughing. I would remember that and cry. It was relief to cry. 

Then one day, I heard the sounds of a hunting party. My ears pricked to hear where they were coming from, so I could run the other way. I heard their wolfhounds. They were near. I ran as fast as my legs would carry me but they caught up with me. I thought, I am to be eaten now for sure but no. The hounds recognised me or at least they recognised the human in me because it was in them too but that is another story to be told another time, this story is mine. 

A band of men rode up to see two hounds, licking my face. Bran and Sceolan were belonging to Fionn Mac Cumhaill, the leader of the Fianna of Ireland who were running from wood to sea at that time. I knew all about them, from the stories that were magnificent with prowess and romance. They were surprised at their hounds for not taking me up into their teeth, not throwing me up into the air from one to the other. Their leader spoke: There is magic here he said, We will bring the doe alive. 

And oh joy joy joy for what I didn’t know was, the spell it would lose its power inside the Dún of the Fianna, so when I was brought there I returned to my womanly shape. I had been doe for three years by that time and so I hardly recognised myself because three years on top of a dreaming girl who was barely a woman is a thing to behold when you haven’t seen its coming. My breasts were voluptuous, pink and fair. My hair shone like a brown river silvered with the sun. My waist was pinched into a dip that gave in to hips as fulsome as a two pears with legs limber and strong and as the horses the Fianna were riding through the woods and over the plains. 

In the early days Fionn took me out for many walks among the trees. He spoke his poetry to me. He told me about himself and how happy he would be if I would consent to be his wife. I had no trouble saying yes because the poetry and the nature under the trees had done their work, not to mind the rugged handsomeness of the huge man who was taking me out for the walks. 

We got married. I wore a rose coloured dress with flowers all over my hair, flowers were everywhere, thrown over and under my path as a great red stag took me on his back to the grove where Fionn Mac Cumhaill was waiting to marry me. Everyone cheered and sang for three days and three nights and the only promise I had to make was to love him for my whole life and to never to leave that Dún for if I did that spell was outside, waiting for me. 

After a while our child was growing in my belly. We were Sadbh and Fionn, we were full of happiness and even as he came and went from our dun he went in the knowledge that I was safe from harm in there. That was until the Fianna were called over the bay to *Beinn Edair because there was news of great plundering ships coming in from the snowy lands. And so they had to be turned around by the Fianna with a walloping fear put into them bigger than any desire they’d ever have to come back. 

They were gone for a long time. I worried for them and I listened and I listened until one night I heard them coming and I rejoiced. My belly had grown to be noticeable and life was kicking inside me and I had been thinking how delighted Fionn would be, how he would caress my belly with his big loving hands. I ran to the gateway but what I saw and heard was not the return of Fionn and the Fianna. No, it was Doirche, the dark druid of the men of Dea waiting for me inside the sound and shape of my husband. I was too near the spell to save myself. This time it was locked. There was no way back. 

I ran to Glenasmole because I wanted to cry. I went back to living in the wild where I gave birth to a human child. My little boy gave me such joy but it was  bitter sweet because I knew I could not be his mother for long. I protected him from every danger until seven years had past. Then I would have to let him go to his father. There were things I could never teach him that he would need to know. So one day when the Fianna were out hunting I left my child inside the little glade where I had once been found. Bran and Sceolan came for him showing the whites of their eyes and their white teeth bared for blood. But the child had no fear and so when the men came upon them they found a little boy and two hounds playing together like pups. Then I saw my love ride up to the front of the company and I saw his face when he looked at our son and he knew him and he took him into his arms and he said to his comrades, This is my son. I will call him Oisín, the little deer after his beautiful mother who I lost and when he said it, his eyes glistened with the tears that were collecting in them. 

I was as happy then as I could be. I had fulfilled as much as I could and I thought, I would like to die now. So I faded into the world leaving nothing but echoes of the sorrow of the lost mother of Oisín and lost love of Fionn Mac Cumhaill who loved me still for the whole of his life.

Copyright : The retellings on this site (though true to the myths themselves) are my own work and copyrighted to me so please ask before using elsewhere 

  • Druids : Like priests in the Celtic tradition capable of making prophesies. The word means knowledgable. But like all great power, it can be used as much for bad as it can for good. 
  • Sadbh : An Irish name that means, sweet and lovely lady (Pronounced Sive)
  • Fionn Mac Cumhaill : Leader of the Fianna 
  • Dún : Fort or castle
  • Oisín : An Irish name that means, little deer (Pronounced Usheen) 
  • Fianna : A mythical band of hunter/ warriors trained to live in the wilderness who were also known to be poets and great romancers. 
  • Glenasmole : South Dublin 
  • Beinn Edair : Howth Co Dublin

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