THE WAR OF THE GAEDHIL WITH THE GAILL

THE EARLY VIKING RAIDS

Long after his death, Turgesius (Turgeis) became the Genghis Khan of the Vikings. His enemies (and their descendants) used him as an example of all that was evil in his people. Geoffrey Keating, in his history, wrote—invoking the name of another Mongol chieftain—that even “the great Tamatlane, the scourge of God, could not be compared to him for cruelty.” According to legend, he arrived in northern Ireland at the end of the ninth century, took command of the Viking forces, ravaged the countryside, captured Armagh, and drove out the bishop and defiled the sacred relics of St. Patrick. Perhaps even worse was the story that after he captured the monastery of Clonmacnoise on the Shannon River, his wife, Ota (or Aud), sat upon the altar and chanted pagan spells. It is worth noting, however, that The Annals of Clonmacoise recorded only that “Turgesius Prince of the Danes” burned the monastery in 842 along with “churches and houses of religion” at Clonfert, Tyrdaglasse, and Lothta.

The crimes of Turgesius and other early Viking chiefs are cataloged in The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill (Cogodh Gaedhel re Gallabh), a twelfth-century account written to promote the cause of the descendants of Brian Boru and the Dal Cais clan, a book that will be examined in greater detail in Part IV.

ANOTHER FLEET CAME INTO THE harbour of Luimnech [Limerick, A.D. 834]; and Corco-Baiscinn, and Tradraighe, and Ui Conaill Gabhra were plundered by them. The Ui Conaill defeated them at Senati, under Donnchadh, son of Scannlan, king of Ui Conaill, and Niall, son of Cennfaeladh, and it is not known how many of them were there slain.

There came after that [A.D. 839] a great royal fleet into the north of Erinn, with Turgeis, who assumed the sovereignty of the foreigners of Erinn; and the north of Erinn was plundered by them, and they spread themselves over Leth Chuinn. A fleet of them also entered Loch Eathach, and another fleet entered Lughbudh, and another fleet entered Loch Rai. Moreover, Ard Macha [Armagh] was plundered three times in the same months by them; and Turgeis himself usurped the abbacy of Ard Macha and Farannan, abbot of Ard Macha, and chief comharba [successor] of Patrick, was driven out, and went to Mumhain, and Patrick’s shrine with him; and he was four years in Mumhain, while Turgeis was in Ard Macha, and in the sovereignty of the north of Erinn ….

There came Turgeis, who [brought] a fleet upon Loch Rai, and from thence plundered Midhe and Connacht; and Cluain Mic Nois [Clonmacnoise] was plundered by him, and Cluain Ferta of Brenann, and Lothra, and Tir-dá-glas, and Inis Celtra [monasteries of Meath and Connaught], and all the churches of Derg-dheirc, in like manner; and the place where Ota, the wife of Turgeis, used to give her audience was upon the altar of Cluain Mic Nois. The Connachtmen, however, gave them battle, in which Maelduin, son of Muirghes, royal heir apparent of Connacht, was slain.

After this came three score and five ships, and landed at Dubhlinn of Athcliath [Dublin] and Laghin [Leinster] was plundered to the sea by them, and Magh Bregh. But the Dal Riada [a clan in Antrim] met them in another battle, in which was slain Eoghan, son of Oengus, king of Dal Riada.

After this there came great sea-cast floods of foreigners into Erinn, so that there was not a point thereof without a fleet. It was by these that Bri-Gobhann [Munster] was plundered, and Tressach, son of Mechill, killed. A fleet came to Ciarraighe Luachra, and all was plundered by them to Cill Ita and Cuil Emhni; and the Martini of Mumhain were plundered by the fleet of Luimnech, who carried off Farannan of Ard Macha, from Cluain Comairdi to Luimneach, and they broke Patrick’s shrine.

It was in this year [A.D. 845] Turgeis was taken prisoner by Maelsechlainn; and he was afterwards drowned in Loch Uair, viz., the year before the drowning of Niall Cailli, and the second year before the death of Fedhlimidh, son of Crimhthann; and it was in the time of these two that all these events took place. Now, when Turgeis was killed, Farannan, abbot of Ard Macha, went out of Mumhain [to Ard Macha], and the shrine of Patrick was repaired by him.

Now the same year in which Farannan was taken prisoner, the shrine of Patrick broken, and the churches of Mumhain plundered, [the foreigners] came to Ros Creda [Roscrea, A.D. 845] on the festival of Paul and Peter, when the fair had begun; and they were given battle, and the foreigners were defeated through the grace of Paul and Peter, and countless numbers of them were killed there; and Earl Onphile was struck there with a stone by which he was killed. Much, indeed, of evil and distress did they receive, and much was received from them in those years, which is not recorded at all.

There came after that a fleet of three score ships of the Northmen upon the Boinn [Boyne]; and Bregia and Midhe were plundered by them. [Another] fleet came and settled on Loch Echach, and these plundered all before them to Ard-Macha. Another fleet came and settled on the river of Liffe, and Magh Bregh was plundered by them, both country and churches.

There came after that a very great fleet into the south of Ath-Cliath, and the greater part of Erinn was plundered by them; they plundered, also, Hí of Colum Cille, and Inis Muireoc, and Damhinis, and Glenn dá Locha, and the whole of Laighin, as far as to Achadh Ur, and to Achadh Bó, and to Liath Mocaemhoc, and to Daire-mór, and to Cluain Ferta Molua, and to Ros Cre, and to Lothra, where they broke the shrine of Ruadhan, and they spoiled Cluain Mic Nois, [and as far as Saighir,] and on to Durmhagh ….

The [Viking] Earl, Oiter Dubh [Black Otter], came with an hundred ships to Port Lairge, and the east of Mumhain [Waterford] was plundered by him, and its south; and he put all under tribute and service to the foreigners; and he levied his royal rent upon them. The whole of Mumhain [Munster] became filled with immense floods, and countless sea-vomitings of ships, and boats, and fleets, so that there was not a harbour, nor a landing-port, nor a Dún [dun, fort], nor a fortress, nor a fastness, in all Mumhain, without fleets of Danes and pirates.

There came there, also, the fleet of Oiberd, and the fleet of Oduinn, and the fleet of Griffin, and the fleet of Snuatgar, and the fleet of Lagmann, and the fleet of Erolf, and the fleet of Sitriuc, and the fleet of Buidnin, and the fleet of Birndin, and the fleet of Liagrislach, and the fleet of Toirberdach, and the fleet of Eoan Barun, and the fleet of Milid Buu, and the fleet of Suimin, and the fleet of Suainin, and lastly the fleet of the Inghen Ruaidh. And assuredly the evil which Erinn had hitherto suffered was as nothing compared to the evil inflicted by these parties. The entire of Mumhain, without distinction, was plundered by them, on all sides, and devastated. And they spread themselves over Mumhain; and they built Duns, and fortresses, and landing-ports, over all Erinn, so that there was no place in Erinn without numerous fleets of Danes and pirates; so that they made spoil-land, and sword-land, and conquered-land of her, throughout her breadth, and generally; and they ravaged her chieftainries, and her privileged churches, and her sanctuaries; and they rent her shrines, and her reliquaries, and her books. They demolished her beautiful ornamented temples; for neither veneration, nor honour, nor mercy for Termonn, nor protection for church, or for sanctuary, for God, or for man, was felt by this furious, ferocious, pagan, ruthless, wrathful people. In short, until the sand of the sea, or the grass of the field, or the stars of heaven are counted, it will not be easy to recount, or to enumerate, or to relate what the Gaedhil [Irish] all, without distinction, suffered from them: whether men or women, boys or girls, laics or clerics, freemen or serfs, old or young;—indignity, outrage, injury, and oppression. In a word, they killed the kings and the chieftains, the heirs to the crown, and the royal princess of Erinn. They killed the brave and the valiant; and the stout knights, champions, and soldiers, and young lords, and the greater part of the heroes and warriors of the entire Gaedhil; and they brought them under tribute and servitude; they reduced them to bondage and slavery. Many were the blooming, lively women; and the modest, mild, comely maidens; and the pleasant, noble, stately, blue-eyed young women; and the gentle, well brought up youths, and the intelligent, valiant champions, whom they carried off into oppression and bondage over the broad green sea. Alas! many and frequent were the bright and brilliant eyes that were suffused with tears, and dimmed with grief and despair, at the separation of son from father, and daughter from mother, and brother from brother, and relatives from their race and from their tribe.

Viking ship

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