Emerald Isle

Tuag of the Bann

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Historical Cycle

Beauty is perilous thing

The old pagan times in Ireland were fraught with peril for even the mightiest warriors, with chieftains and tribes going to war often and for many reasons – pride, hatred, love and greed! And so it was with the fierce King Conall Collomrach. Little is known of his exploits, but his reign was brief and his end was violent, leaving behind only an infant daughter whose name was Tuag.

Even as a little child, Tuag was of great beauty, and people spoke with wonder at her fairness and the delight she brought to her minders with her antics. News about her even reached the ears of King Conaire Mór, who was known as one of the most just, brave and compassionate men in the country.

Despite his royal status however it was not within Conaire's power to simply demand the child from her foster family, since they lived in a hostile kingdom, so he asked for the help of Fer Fi the Druid, the son of Eogabail who was of the Tuatha De Dannan.

Fer Fi had built himself a Dún or fortress on the banks of the Bann river, and he was remarkably skilled with the harp. He could play melodies for the hunt whch would have you hearing the boar's thunder, and songs of the wind that would have you holding your hat. He sung of heroes and legends, and all who heard him play were moved to tears or laughter as he desired. He was famed throughout the whole of Ireland and all the princes and chiefs were eager to invite him to their forts.

Such a famous bardic Druid easily gained entry to the home of the infant Tuag's fosterer!

He had no sooner laid eyes on the baby Tuag than he spontaneously composed a song to praise her, a gentle lullaby which caused all present to swoon into a deep, sweet sleep. He swaddled the babe in a warm blanket and gently lifted her from her cradle, then took her away on the road to Emain Macha, where ruled Conaire Mor!

The delighted king showered Fer Fi with gold for his feat, and loved the child from the moment he saw her. He told his female attendants to take care of her and let none of his princes or chiefs visit her until she reached the age when Fer Fi might return and begin her education in music and the laws and legends of the land.

Daily the king rejoiced to see Tuag grow in grace and beauty, until she reached the age of ten and Fer Fi arrived to commence his teaching, as he had agreed with Conaire. He took Tuag to his own home and made sure she was well looked after, and once a year they would visit Emain Macha to entertain the court and show her progress.

As well as becoming a young lady of sublime beauty, Princess Tuag began to demonstrate formidable powers of mind along with her skill in music – and yet no prince or chief would dare to visit her or propose marriage, for fear of Conaire Mór.

But all was not well in the house of Fer Fi. He had gained his magical powers through the instruction and blood of his De Dannan ancestors, and they in turn could some day ask a price for the favour shown him. Looking deep and long into his sacred pool in darkness under the sardonic grin of a sallow moon, he began to hear whispers from the spiders, calls and demands among the creaking of the trees, cajoling and pleading in the rainsong, begging and threatening from these ancient spirits – and the loudest was one of the most powerful among them – Manannan Mac Lir, lord of the ocean!

He put them from his mind but couldn't find any rest, tossing and turning and sweating heavily. None of his potions or herbs could ease his discontent and he found his legendary skill with the harp beginning to slip, his fingers fumbling, and his mind reaching with difficulty for the least part of his ancient lore.

Louder yet spoke the voices from the pool, bubbling up from imponderable depths, until finally he opened his ears to them and heard what they asked. I can tell you that he groaned to hear it, for Tuag had caught the eye of Manannan himself, and the monarch of the seas desired that she should be his bride!

Yet he was promised a pile of gold as tall as himself sitting on a horse, ever greater skill with the harp, and even the secrets of the Sidhe if he should bring Tuag to Mannanan, so Fer Fi secretly promised to meet the fleet of the ocean at the mouth of the river Bann to deliver the young princess.

Tuag enjoyed walking along the river's edge to relax and enjoy the scenery, so it was not difficult for Fer Fi to await her arrival, run his fingers over the strings and begin playing the same slow lullaby for the young princess, until her eyes closed in a mesmeric sleep. He had readied a canoe which was hollowed out of the trunk of a gigantic tree, and it was moored on the river bank where the oak forests grew most thickly nearby.

Lifting the innocent maiden in his arms and carrying her to the boat, the Druid placed her in the back and unfastened the cord which bound it to a tree on the river bank. They glided along the current until they came to the wide opening of Lough Neagh. There he lifted a mast and a sail with it and sailed swiftly with the freshening wind through the territory of the Dal Riada, at last coming to the sea.

No fairy fleet could he see, which alarmed and embarrassed Fer Fi, so he lifted up the sleeping beauty, and laid her gently on the strand.

As he waited he began to repent, and to wonder what fate awaited her in Mannanan's arms. Tears fell from his eyes and he sighed, but he was too afraid of what King Conaire might do if he turned back now, so he began looking around for something more suitable to voyage into the ocean.

He hoped for safety in the court of Mannanan, and he even persuaded himself that the princess would enjoy peace and happiness as his queen consort.

But it was not to be. While he was searching a great wave came rolling from the northern ocean and swept over the strand upon which fair Tuag lay. The lovely maiden never woke again, for when the tide rolled back, she was nowhere to be found.

Fer Fi the betrayer tried to escape from Ireland, but as he fled he was overtaken by a tempest and drowned in the depths of the ocean.

When tidings of these events reached the monarch and people of Ireland, all bewailed the fate of the princess. In memory of the tragic event they changed the name of the fateful mouth of the River Bann, which was called Tuag Inbir by succeeding generations.

The mouth of the river Bann can be found on the map below!

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