Turgesius was a Viking king who laid waste to many churches in the north Midlands.
We have just one island that recalls our Viking heritage, that of Turgesius in Co Westmeath. Strange, when you consider the incessant attacks Ireland endured from the Norsemen. There is nothing to recall Ivar of Limerick, or Olaf in Dublin.
Turgesius Island lies in the eastern end of Lough Lene, Co Westmeath. The lake is the most northerly of a quartet of four lakes — the much bigger Lough Ennel and Lough Owel and the elongated Lough Derravaragh.
Though the other two islands on the lake, Nun’s Island and Castle Island, have an archaeological record, there is none for Turgesius Island giving the fascinating tale that relates to it a semi-mythic provenance.
Turgesius was a Viking king who landed in the north of Ireland in 832 as commander of many ships. And, in good Viking tradition, he laid waste to many churches in the north Midlands, including at Armagh. In Clonmacnoise, he installed his wife Ota as priestess and came to be regarded as something of an anti-Christ by the demonised population.
His influence lasted only 13 years but extended as far as Waterford, where a tower was named after him. And Dublin too, which some scholars claim he founded. Among his notorious acts was a raid on Holy Island in Lough Derg, to which he would have had easy access from the upper reaches of the Shannon. He also had a fort at Lough Lene.
In Topographiae Hiberniae, the Welsh writer Geraldus Cambrensis, in typical dubious reportage, relates: “The good Turgesius was smitten by the daughter of the king of Meath, Maelseachlainn.
“The king hid his hatred in his heart and, granting the girl to Turgesius, promised to send her to him with 15 beautiful maidens. Turgesius was delighted and went to the rendezvous on the appointed day with 15 nobles.”
However, Maelseachlainn had laid a plan and the 15 ‘maidens’ turned out to be 15 young men with shaven faces.
“They killed Turgesius and his companions in the midst of their embraces,” writes Cambrensis. The bloody end of a blood-soaked invader. Another version of the story has Turgesius brought to the nearby Lough Owel, where he was dispatched to a watery grave.
And that’s that, neatly tied up in a knot. Scholars, however, have disputed the story and claim that, at the very least, some or all of it was embellished. There is no comparable record in medieval Irish or Scandinavian literature. One writer suggests that Cambrensis built the tale around some core ‘facts’ and then used poetic licence from comparable continental stories to furnish his own version of an event. James Stewart found similar stories in Plutarch and even Aristotle. This author concludes that, even though Cambrensis was a known propagandist, he neither invented the story nor tampered with tradition. But what of the romantic notion of the heroic Irish king slaying the evil Viking!
Turgesius Island is a regular target of swimmers who circuit of the island. It is just over 2km from an area known as the Cut. The lake itself is a special area of conservation.
Turgesius Island has one major thing going for it and that is its name. For an island that has such an amazing history, and considering the appeal of the Viking saga in Ireland, it is crying out for someone to set up a boat tour there. Information boards and some imaginative use of historical data could easily be conjured up. There are a couple of departure points that would make such a concept realisable. The island has some towering oaks and beeches creating a huge canopy under which a woodland teems with life. It has some appeal for visitors as the remnants of a campfire indicate.
How to get there: Kayaking is permitted on the lake but rigorous cleansing of boats prior to departure is a requirement to help stop the spread of invasive species. You may be asked to produce evidence that you have cleaned your boat.
SOURCE: Irish Examiner
Maccarthy, Dan. “Islands of Ireland: The Westmeath island of a Viking king”. Irish Examiner. Blackpool. 17 aug. 2021. 17 aug. 2021. <https://www.irishexaminer.com/property/homeandoutdoors/arid-40360226.html>.
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