The Legend of Princess Tuag: An Irish Tragedy
Tuag is a princess in Irish legend. Stories say she was so beautiful that she even attracted the attention of a god, who sent a bard to kidnap her. However, tragedy struck, and the princess lost her life during the attempted kidnapping. The place where Tuag lost her life, the River Bann, is associated with her legend, and its estuary still bears her name.
The Infant Tuag
According to Irish legend, Tuag was the daughter of Conall Collamrach, a High King of Ireland. There are different opinions as to when Conall lived, ranging between the 4th and 2nd centuries BC. It is thought that Conall had a short reign, which ended violently with his death at the hands of his successor. Consequently, little is known about his exploits. However, the stories say that Conall had an infant daughter, Tuag, who was given to a foster family following his death.
Tuag was given to a foster family following the death of her father, Conall Collamrach, a High King of Ireland. (zinkevych /Adobe Stock)
Even as an infant, Tuag was renowned for her beauty, and news of this spread far and wide. Eventually, this news reached the court of Conaire Mór, another High King of Ireland. Interestingly, Conaire is thought to have lived about a century or two after Conall. This means that Conaire could not have been a contemporary of Tuag and her father. In any case, the legend states that Conaire wanted to adopt the princess. Although he was a high king, Conaire did not have the power to simply take Tuag away from her foster family.
Therefore, Conaire sought the help of Fer Fi, a famous Druidic bard. Fer Fi established his fort on the banks of the Bann River and was notable for his mastery of the harp. The bard sang of heroes and legends and was able to move his audience to laughter or tears as he pleased. Such was his skill that all the chiefs and kings of Ireland sought his presence at their courts. Needless to say, Fer Fi had no trouble at all in accessing the house of Tuag’s foster family.
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Fer Fi was notable for his mastery of the harp. The bard sang of heroes and legends and was able to move his audience to laughter or tears as he pleased. ( Erica Guilane-Nachez /Adobe Stock)
Life as a Princess
As soon as the bard laid eyes on the infant princess, he composed a song to praise her. Fer Fi’s song was not just any song, but a powerful lullaby that caused his listeners to fall into a deep sleep. Once this was achieved, the bard swaddled Tuag in a warm blanket, lifted her from her cradle, and brought her to Conaire’s court. In other words, Fer Fi kidnapped the princess for the high king.
Conaire was pleased with Fer Fi’s accomplishment and rewarded the bard with plenty of gold. The high king placed Tuag in the care of his female attendants and kept the princess away from his chiefs and princes. When the princess reached the age of ten, Fer Fi would return to provide Tuag an education in music and in the laws and legends of the land. This was the agreement made between Conaire and the bard.
As the years went by, the young princess grew in grace and beauty. Eventually, Tuag reached the age of ten, and Fer Fi returned to Conaire’s court as promised. The bard brought the princess back to his own fort. This became her home for the next few years of her life. Once a year, Fer Fi would bring Tuag back to Conaire’s court, where the princess would display the progress she had made in the past year, and to entertain the court.
It soon became clear that the young princess was taught well by Fer Fi, and she proved to be a skilled musician. Additionally, Tuag was noted for her intelligence. Furthermore, she was becoming an extremely beautiful young lady. In spite of all her positive qualities, no one dared to ask for the princess’ hand in marriage. It is thought that any would-be-suitor was put off the thought by the idea that they had to first get past the princess’ foster father before obtaining her. It is also believed that Tuag was destined to marry a great and powerful king, perhaps Conaire himself.
Princess Tuag was intelligent, a skilled musician, and an extremely beautiful young lady. ( Kathy /Adobe Stock)
The Danger of Attracting a God’s Attention
Tuag’s qualities were such that she not only attracted the attention of men, but also that of the gods, in particular, Manannan Mac Lir, the mighty god of the sea. According to Irish mythology, Manannan was a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann , a race of supernatural beings. According to one version of the legend, Fer Fi was a descendant of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and it was thanks to them that he was such an accomplished bard. This, however, was not a freely given gift, and the Tuatha Dé Danann could one day ask Fer Fi for a favor.
Indeed, this eventually came in the form of a request from Manannan. As one might have already guessed, the sea god wanted the hand of Princess Tuag in marriage. Fer Fi was caught between a rock and a hard place, as he knew that whatever he did, he was bound to offend someone powerful.
Manannán mac Lir sculpture by John Sutton at Gortmore, Magilligan, County Londonderry (2014). (Kenneth Allen/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Initially, he tried to put aside Manannan’s request. But his herbs and potions were incapable of soothing his anxieties, his skill with the harp began to deteriorate, and he had trouble remembering ancient lore. At the same time, Manannan tried to entice the bard with promises of gold, even greater skill with the harp, and hidden knowledge.
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In the end, Fer Fi relented, and resolved to bring Tuag to the sea god. According to one version of the story, Fer Fi disguised himself as a woman and played a lullaby with his harp. This put the princess to sleep, which allowed him to kidnap her (for the second time), and to bring her to Manannan. As previously agreed with the sea god, Fer Fi was to sail to the sea god’s domain, thought to be the Isle of Man.
Princess Tuag’s Tragic Death
The bard brought the princess to the mouth of the River Bann and laid her on a sandbank called Tonn’s Bank while he went to fetch his boat. According to legend, the storm god was buried under this sandbank. When Fer Fi returned, Tuag was gone, as a huge wave had washed over the sandbank and carried the sleeping princess out to sea, where she drowned.
The mouth of the River Bann, where this tragedy took place, became known as Inbher Tuag. As for Fer Fi, he feared the wrath of Conaire, and tried to escape from Ireland. He set sail, but was caught in a storm, and drowned when his boat capsized.
Top Image: The legend of Princess Tuag is a tragic tale in Irish mythology. Source: Вероника Преображенс / Adobe Stock
By Wu Mingren
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