Turlogh O’Brien: A Timeline

Before Howard’s Turlogh O’Brien, there was a historical O’Brien:

Toirdelbach Ua Briain (1009–14 July 1086), anglicised Turlogh O’Brien, was King of Munster and effectively High King of Ireland. A grandson of Brian Boruma, Toirdelbach was the son of Tadc mac Briain who was killed in 1023 by his half-brother Donnchad mac Briain.

For the first forty years of his life nothing is known of Toirdelbach. It was not until the 1050s that he found allies in Connacht and in Leinster, particularly the powerful King of Leinster Diarmait mac Mail na mBo, who would aid his claims to be ruler of Munster. It took perhaps ten years of sustained attack to remove his uncle Donnchad from power, and send him into exile, and to place Toirdelbach in power in Munster as Diarmait’s faithful ally.

On Diarmait’s death Toirdelbach took over the reins of power, establishing himself as ruler of more than half of Ireland. While not a great military leader, he was a capable politician whose influence extended as far north as Ulaid and who made and unmade Kings of Connacht. He died after more than two decades in power, following a lengthy illness, still in control of events. His son Muirchertach Ua Briain would be the leading king of his day, and his grandson Toirdelbach Ua Conchobair would be greater yet.

Toirdelbach (Turlogh) was the son of Tadc mac Brian (Teige O’Brien), son of Brian Boruma, and Mor, daughter of Gilla Brigte Ua Mail Muaid of Cenel Fiachach. His father was killed in 1023, probably on the orders of his half-brother Donnchad (Donagh) mac Briain who thereby made himself king of Munster. Donnchad, while he successfully retained control of Munster for four decades, was never able to achieve the same success as Brian. Epigraphic evidence shows that he aimed to be king of Ireland, and perhaps considered himself to be such, but the annalists and later historians recognised no such pretensions.

As for Toirdelbach, the annals record nothing of him until the 1050s, at which time he was seeking, and finding, outside assistance against his uncle. Donnchad’s (or Donagh’s) main rivals were Diarmait mac Mail na mBo, King of Leinster from 1042, and Aed in Gai Bernaig, King of Connachtfrom 1046. Diarmait in particular was a serious threat; allied with Niall mac Eochada, King of Ulster, he installed his son Murchadas ruler of Dublin in 1052, driving out Donnchad’s brother-in-law and ally Echmarcach mac Ragnaill. From the beginning of the 1050s onwards, Donnchad came under sustained attack from both Aed and Diarmait. Toirdelbach first joined with Aed in the early 1050s, raiding into Tuadmumu in 1052 and inflicting a heavy defeat on Donnchad’s son Murchad in Corco Mruad, the north-west of modern County Clare in 1055. By 1058 Toirdelbach had gained Diarmait’s support, for he was present when Diarmait, the Leinstermen and the Osraige drove Donnchad from Limerick, which he burned so that it would not fall into the hands of his enemies, and defeated him at Sliabh gCrot in the Galtee Mountains.

In 1060 Donnchad attempted to divide his enemies by submitting to Aed. This was unsuccessful as Aed attacked again in 1061, razing the Dal gCais fortress at Kincora and burning their church at Killaloe. Injury was added to insult when Diarmait brought an army and Toirdelbach in his train, to Munster in 1062. Donnchad’s son Murchad led the unsuccessful resistance, and even when Diarmait returned to Leinster, Toirdelbach defeated his kinsmen. By 1063, Donnchad was beaten. Deposed, he went on pilgrimage to Rome where he died the following year. Diarmait installed Toirdelbach as a puppet king in Munster.

                                                                                                                                           — Wikipedia

And now a timeline for Robert E. Howard’s Turlogh O’Brien.

(This assumes that REH knew more about Turlogh than Wikipedia does.)

995 — Born to the Clan na O’Brien. Newborn, he is tossed into a snowdrift to test his right to survive.

1003 – (?) Captured by Normans in obscure circumstances. The boy Turlogh may have been shipwrecked on the Normandy coast.  He may have been taken by Norman pirates in the Channel and held for ransom while on a voyage with kinsmen. Alternatively, perhaps he was sent into Normandy as a hostage during negotiations by clan O’Brien with the Normans. It’s possible, considering that his grandfather Brian Boru had just become High King of Ireland after at last defeating his rival Mael Sechnaill. (This happened in 1002.)

In any case Turlogh spent two or three years there, possibly even at the castle of the then Duke of Normandy, Richard, second of that name, who ruled the duchy between 996 and 1026. Richard’s duchess was Judith, a lady from Brittany, who would then have been twenty-one, about 12 years younger than her husband.  Judith’s father (REH fans will grin at this) was named Conan.  Conan I, Duke of Brittany from 990 onward, and Count of Rennes before that.

Young Turlogh learned to appreciate the value of mail from watching the Norman fighting men, even though most Gaelic warriors scorned it as cowardly. Perhaps he imitated their custom of shaving and cutting their hair short when he grew to manhood, too.  Even the rough fisherman on the remote western coast in “The Dark Man” guesses Turlogh’s identity by that, outlaw in the wilds though he is at the time.

1005 or 1006 – Turlogh returns home.  He’s now ten or eleven years old. I believe ten. Brian Boru is working and fighting to impose his will as High King on the only province that as yet does not recognize his authority – Ulster of the O’Neills. This was difficult. By land there were three main ways an invading army could enter that province, and they all favored the defenders. Brian used co-ordinated forces by land and sea to achieve his goal, as the Ulster rulers couldn’t stop his fleet from attacking their shores. That must have been the context in which young Turlogh honed his sailing and sea-fighting skills. (“The Dark Man” makes it plain that he did so somehow, and while still a lad.)

1010 – Turlogh turns fifteen in this year. Moira, daughter of Murtagh, a Dalcassian chief, is seven, and Turlogh is evidently fond of her. This is the girl he will later seek to rescue from Thorfel the Fair in “The Dark Man.”

1014 – Battle of Clontarf. Easter. Turlogh fights there memorably, meeting one of the Viking chiefs (Brodir) in the battle and putting him to flight. Among the other mighty warriors present is Athelstane, the renegade Saxon from Wessex, whose path will cross Turlogh’s again and again. 

Brodir kills Brian Boru in his tent as he departs, and Turlogh swiftly catches up with Brodir. He avenges his grandfather by slitting Brodir the Warlock’s belly and walking him around a tree until all his entrails are wound about the trunk. This gruesome incident later finds its way into the Icelandic Njal’s Sagha, or The Burning of Njal. (Some of the characters in the saga fight at Clontarf.) 

Shortly thereafter, “all Erin is rocking under the Dalcassian throne.” Turlogh is outlawed from his clan, accused of treachery and intrigue with the Danes. “The jealousy of a cousin and the spite of a woman.” (“The Grey God Passes”)

Turlogh’s father Teige and his uncle Donagh or Donchad, Teige’s half-brother, are already divided by mistrust and ambition. The “cousin” who was jealous is probably a son of Donchad’s. The “spite of a woman” that contributed is more obscure. If the exact circumstances are ever discovered, it’d make a good story.

1015 — Canute of Denmark’s fleet sets sail for England. Turlogh, who hates the Danes to the point of madness, goes to England to fight them. He becomes a friend of King Ethelred’s son, the warrior prince Edmund Ironside. During the winter of 1015-16 he pretends to desert to the Danes in the guise of a Danish-Irish bastard named Wulf, hoping to get close enough to Canute to murder him and so finish his invasion. While in Canute’s camp he challenges two Jomsvikings who insult him, fights both at once in a formal holmgang, and kills both. This gains him the by-name of “Wulf the Quarrelsome” among the Vikings.

Athelstane the Saxon, once of Wessex, now in Canute’s service, recognizes Turlogh and guesses his purpose in the Danish camp. He exposes him to save Canute’s life. Turlogh has to cut his way out and run. Overtaken by some of the Polish riders who form part of Canute’s invasion army (sent by Canute’s ally, Boleslaw the Brave of Poland) Turlogh kills them too and completes his escape on a Polish horse.

1016 – Edmund, who was briefly king, is killed by treachery, organized by Eadric Streona of Mercia. This occurs in November. Turlogh vows to take vengeance on the manifold traitor, who has changed sides more than once during the struggles between Danes and English. First, though, he communicates with Edmund’s widow, Queen Aldgyth, and they make plans to take her infant sons to safety lest Canute have them murdered.

Canute does in fact intend to do just that, but prefers to have them killed far away from England, to avoid unrest among his new subjects. He sends them to Sweden on a ship, with a letter to the Swedish king, Olof Skotkonung, asking him as one king to another to kindly dispose of the little boys.

Turlogh, with a crew of English warriors who fought beside him and Edmund, follows the ship, using information given him by Aldgyth. Before the vessel reaches Sweden, he catches it at one of its landfalls, quietly kills the infants’ guards, and takes them and their wet-nurse down to his own fleet dragon-ship. Then he sets fire to the Danes’ ship, burning it to ashes, and burns the hall in which they shelter for good measure. He lets any women and children out but cuts down the men.

Afterwards he sails south, and further south, stopping at last in Bordeaux for the rest of the winter. 

1017 – In the spring, Turlogh sells his ship to finance the journey overland. He and his band of English warriors cross southern France and the kingdom of Burgundy, then Lombardy by way of Milan and Trent, before heading up through Bavaria to Hungary. Inevitably they meet bandits and wicked predatory lords on the way; quite possibly supernatural menaces too. With Turlogh’s leadership they win over them and protect their young charges.

In Hungary, then ruled by Stephen the First, Turlogh uses diplomacy instead of his ax for once, to convince that (pretty humane for the times) monarch to accept and shelter the English athelings. I’d presume he had to do Stephen a sticky and dangerous favor of some sort, but that once he succeeded, Stephen swore on holy relics to protect the boys.

After that, Turlogh rides back across the German Empire, the northern part of it this time. Passing through Vienna, Nurnberg and Aachen, he came to Normandy, where he still had friends, and gained ship-passage back to England. Being Turlogh, it’s a sure bet he has a number of violent adventures that would do credit to Conan, as he travels.

Back in England, he discovers that King Canute has married Emma of Normandy, the widow of King Ethelred. The wedding took place in July. Emma probably had little choice about it. Canute, in this first year of his reign, has ruthlessly had killed a number of English nobles he mistrusted. One of Ethelred’s sons, Eadwig, (his fifth son by his first marriage) has been among those murdered, even though he’d fled abroad in an attempt to survive. Canute’s assassins had followed him. Eadric Streona is still thriving, though.

Turlogh enters King Canute’s palace at Christmas and kills the traitor. Canute allows men to think it was done by his orders, and has Eadric’s corpse thrown over the wall for dogs to devour. As he says to a protesting underling, “Man, would you rather have it thought that Eadric could be killed in my palace if I had not ordered it?”

At about this same time, strife has arisen between Turlogh’s father Teige, in Ireland, and Teige’s half-brother Donagh, king of Munster. Donagh is defeated. He nurses resentment, and a few years later he murders Teige. Characteristic Irish family relationships.

1018 — Turlogh returns to Ireland at last. He finds a rather less warm welcome there than he was given in Hungary.  An outcast from the O’Brien clan still, and persona non grataamong the O’Neills of the north in a big way, he spends a few months in the Wicklow Hills (east coast) “preying on the O’Reillys and the Oastmen alike.” Then he hears that Moira, daughter of Murtagh, a Dalcassian chief, has been taken by Vikings, and learns who took her – a fact unknown to the other O’Briens. He goes to the west of Ireland to get a boat and rescue her.  

In “The Dark Man,” REH writes, ” … scarcely three years had passed, as the fisherman knew … ” since the battle of Clontarf.  That was at Easter, 1014, so by my chronology it would be over four years. But people, even nobles, didn’t keep close track of time in those days, and common folk like the fisherman even less. He’d think in such terms as “the year Uncle Connor died” or “the year of the great storm at Lugnasadh.” He probably wasn’t sure how many years old he was himself.

Turlogh is young — 23 — and, the story says, he is many years the abducted Moira’s senior. It’s hard to say what would count as “many” in his mind, but I’m assuming Moira is 15.

1018-1020 — Turlogh draws to himself “certain masterless men and outlaws.” They steal a Viking longship named Ravenand Turlogh renames her Crom’s Hate after an old heathen Celtic god.

He was a pirate who preyed on pirates. Only when his supplies were at ebb would he swoop down and harry the fertile coasts of England, Wales or France. The almost insane hatred for the Vikings that burned in his heart sent him ravaging the strongholds of the raiders in the Hebrides, the Orkneys and even on the coasts of the Scandinavian mainlands. When driving sleet and winter gales lashed the western seas, Turlogh and his tatterdemalions rode the bitter wind, freezing, starving, suffering, to fall on their foes with torch and sword. (“The Shadow of the Hun”)

Turlogh’s main depredations were against the earldom of Orkney, that being the Viking territory closest to Erin and the most immediate menace. Jarl Sigurd Hlodvisson of Orkney had died at Clontarf, but his sons Einar Wry-mouth, Brusi, and Somarled, ruled there after him. Einar is described in the “Orkney Saga” as “ruthless and grasping, a hard and successful fighting man”, one who “made no compromises and stood no arguments. He was a great bully.”  Einar died in 1020 and was probably killed by Turlogh. The Orkney farmers who were Einar’s subjects felt inclined to thank the Irish raider. Einar had made their lives miserable with harsh, exacting taxes. The “Orkney Saga” recounts that Einar Wry-mouth was killed by a farmer’s son named Thorkel after they quarrelled, but then it was written about 1230 A.D., two centuries after the events it describes. Like the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,” it is sure to contain inaccuracies.

1021 — Turlogh and his men set sail from Ireland to raid the Danes in the Baltic. Canute is still King of England and Denmark at this time. On a day in deep winter in the Gulf of Finland, they are shipwrecked while in relentless conflict with a Viking vessel. Turlogh is the sole survivor. He is sheltered by Finns.

At this time the great Jomsviking chief, Thorkel the Tall, loses favour with Canute and is outlawed. (Thorfel the Fair, who abducted Moira O’Brien and thus brought about her death, may have been Thorkel the Tall’s first cousin.)

1022 – Olof Skotkonung, king of Sweden, dies in this year.

When it is early spring in the southern lands, Turlogh leaves on a horse the Finns give him. He wanders through great forests into Russia and falls in with “fierce pagan tribes” who defy “the grandsons of Rurik” (Varangians). But he travels on. When it is nearly winter again, he rescues Somalkeld of the Turgaslavs from a group of Turks who belong to a footloose tribe led by Khogar Khan, who has ambitions and descends from Attila the Hun.  He has overcome and subjected a few Tatar tribes. REH says that these Turks were:

… wilder, fiercer cousins to the Seljuks before whose onslaught the Arab caliphates of Islam were crumbling. This particular tribe had been overthrown in the incessant border warfare, either by the Persians or by some kindred Turkish clan.

That wouldn’t be right. Seljuk Beg, the founder of the Seljuk dynasty, died in about 1038, and his tribe did not menace the Arab caliphates until later. In fact their first incursion was across Persia. 

Still, Khogar Khan’s lot were a wild Turkic tribe, probably still pagan, and the khan himself did descend from Attila – or believed he did. They most likely belonged to the people known as Pechenegs or Patzinaks, who were indeed Turkic, powerful in southern Russia and a menace to the Rus states until they were decisively defeated by Yaroslav the Wise in 1036.

At home in Ireland, on September the second, the High King Mael Sechnaill mac Domnaill, otherwise King Malachy II, dies. Diarmait mac Mail na mBo of Leinster takes his place as High King, though he will be opposed throughout his reign.

Niall mac Eochada of the northern ui Neill defeats the Dublin Norsemen at sea.

Over the next two years, Turlogh helps the Turgaslavs fight and defeat the horde of Khogar Khan. Prince Yaroslav approves and on occasion sends fighting men to assist. Turlogh and Hrogharskel, the Turgaslav chief, make one journey to Kiev for a diplomatic meeting and council with the Grand Prince Yaroslav. Eventually Turlogh slays Khogar Khan with his own hands.  He marries Danika, the daughter of the Turgaslav leader Hrogharskel.  She bears him a son, but during the war she is killed in battle.  (“The Shadow of the Hun”)

1023 – Back in Ireland Turlogh’s father, Teige O’Brien, is murdered, probably by his half-brother Donchad or Donagh, whose son engineered the accusations of treachery levelled at Turlogh just after Clontarf.

1024 — Having won the war against Khogar Khan’s Turkish tribe, Turlogh departs with his infant son, honored and laden with gifts by Yaroslav. He returns to Ireland by way of the Ukraine and Hungary — where he has been before – and in the latter country he finds that the English athelings, sons of his comrade Edmund, are still there and thriving seven years after he entrusted them to King Stephen.

In Ireland, Niall mac Eochada invades Dublin and takes hostages.

1025 — Turlogh sets foot on Irish soil again for the first time since 1021. He delivers his young son, also named Turlogh, to his cousin Moira’s family. He himself is still an outcast. But he hears of his father’s death, naturally, and just as naturally, goes after vengeance. At this time he’s thirty. His murdering uncle Donagh and Donagh’s son, Aed Without Pity (the cousin who helped frame Turlogh for intrigue with the Danes, but who is apparently unknown to history) are the objects of his vengeance. He slays Aed and later fights against Donagh in a protracted war. 

1026 —  Niall mac Eochada of the northern ui Neill again invades Dublin and takes hostages, repeating his feat of 1024.

Olaf Haraldsson of Norway and King Anund Jakob of Sweden take advantage of Canute’s commitment to England to raid Denmark. One of the Danish jarls, Ulf, began to cherish notions of himself as a successful usurper. Canute sailed for Denmark with a fleet to teach all three a lesson.  Ulf snivelled and promised to be good.  Canute fought the Norwegians and Swedes at the historic Battle of the Helgea, won it, and established himself again as the dominant leader in Scandinavia. Although he had taken part in the battle, supporting Canute, Ulf the would-be usurper did not survive long. One of Canute’s housecarls killed him – in a church at Christmas. Ulf’s killing is reminiscent of the way Eadric Streona died in England; so much so that Canute may have remembered the event and decided to repeat it for this other untrustworthy turncoat.

1027 — King Canute journeys to Rome. There he patches things up with the Pope for various misdeeds. The Pontiff gives Canute his blessing.

While Canute travelled to Rome, Turlogh must have gone aboard that French merchant vessel we find being attacked by Vikings at the beginning of “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth.” Why, and how, can only be surmised. Surmising away, I’d guess that Turlogh went to Cork, originally founded by Vikings. Turned into a real town by them, anyhow, though an abbey had been there long before.

Cork was an important trading centre in the Vikings’ far-flung network, which stretched from Iceland to Constantinople. Turlogh, driven by vengeance as usual, enters Cork because he hears that a Varangian, a Russian Viking he had encountered during his time with the Turgaslavs, in Kiev in fact, is now in the southern Irish port. This man, Bjarni Long-Ax, is a berserker who has served as a captain in the imperial guard of the Byzantine ruler Basil II, distinguishing himself in service against the Bulgars, and also against the Normans and Lombards in southern Italy.  Briefly, Turlogh and Bjarni are old enemies. Turlogh discovers that Bjarni plans to attack a French merchant ship then in Cork, trading French wine for hides and wool, and kills him in single combat to forestall his plan. He has to leave Cork swiftly on the French vessel afterwards.

The merchant ship encounters a violent storm off the coasts of Spain and is blown far south. By chance they are accosted by a Viking raider in the same situation, and all aboard the trader are killed except Turlogh. Then he discovers his old acquaintance Athelstane the Saxon is aboard, and they are shipwrecked on the shores of Bal-Sagoth — “the oldest land in the world.”

Presumably Bal-Sagoth is a relic of the age of Atlantis, when King Kull ruled Valusia, and survived not one but two immense world-wide cataclysms; the one that destroyed Atlantis, and the second one that overwhelmed the kingdoms of the Hyborian Age.

The two adventurers see Bal-Sagoth destroyed and barely get away alive. Then they fall in with a Spanish ship sailing to fight the Moors. At this time the Caliphate of Cordoba is beset by disunity and weakness; it has seemed to the Spaniards that this is a good time to take advantage and raid the shores of the Saracens. The caliphate of Cordoba lies in south central Spain; west of it are the petty Berber emirates, east of it the petty Arab ones.

1028 – Returning from Rome, Canute leaves England again with a fleet of fifty ships to take control of Norway. King Olaf Haraldsson resigns the crown, since his own nobles refuse to support him.  Olaf had shown a nasty tendency to flay their wives for sorcery. Canute was crowned king at Trondheim and thus became monarch of Denmark, England and Norway. Turlogh O’Brien did not think this was good news when he eventually heard it; he remembered the fear he had expressed to Edmund that Canute might one day invade Ireland.

He doesn’t hear it for some time, though. He and Athelstane sail with Don Roderigo del Cortez of the County of Castile (not yet an independent kingdom, but part of the Kingdom of Leon) through the Straits of Gibraltar, and fight the Saracens of southern Spain. This occurs immediately after the destruction of Bal-Sagoth. Turlogh is now 33. Hisham III is the Caliph of Cordoba; he will be the last Ummayad Caliph. 

Don Roderigo’s raid is directed against Malaga, Granada and Almeria, chiefly the second. Granada is ruled by Habbus ibn Maksan ibn Ziri al-Muzaffar of the Zirid dynasty. He was the successor to his uncle Zawi ben Ziwi. His first minister was Shmuel ha-Nagid, the renowned Jewish scholar and politician. 

Almeria is ruled by a former slave named Zuhayr, or Abul Kasim Zohair, who has only just become the emir, succeeding another former slave, his brother Jayran or Khayran.  Jayran came from the palace of Cordoba and began ruling Almeria in 1014. Zuhayr will extend his dominion almost to Cordoba and Toledo before his death in battle in 1038. Both brothers were Slavic in origin and members of an elite and trusted fighting force before their rise. They were the first and second fully independent emirs of Almeria, due to the collapse and fragmentation of Spain’s Ummayad caliphate.

1029 — Turlogh and Athelstane have never fought Moslems before. They get plenty of it with Don Roderigo. After Granada they proceed to Almeria, the wealthiest, most commercially active city in Spain, supported by a flourishing silk industry. The Emir Zuhayr’s most potent weapon is Greek Fire, the secret of which is almost wholly lost in these times, but known to an Arab alchemist living in Almeria.  As an Arab, though, he dislikes his master the emir, whom he regards as a pretended, hypocritical Moslem and a barbarian.  Turlogh and Athelstane help him escape.  Don Roderigo wants the secret of Greek Fire for the Christian kingdoms of Spain, which the alchemist would rather die than help bring about, an attitude with which Turlogh and Athelstane rather sympathise. Neither is more than a skin-deep Christian at best. Both are essentially pagan.

When Don Roderigo is killed in battle at sea, Turlogh and Athelstane help the alchemist and his daughter (who becomes Turlogh’s babe for a time – and Athelstane has found pleasure in the arms of a couple of blonde sisters he rescued from slavery) reach safety in the kingdom of Navarre. The grateful alchemist swears to grant Turlogh whatever he asks. 

1030 — Turlogh hears news that Canute has become master of Norway as well as Denmark and England, and is now planning a massive invasion of Ireland to conquer Turlogh’s home. A mighty fleet is being assembled in the earldom of Orkney. Turlogh returns to Ireland swiftly, taking the alchemist with him, and makes a scouting foray to discover if the rumors are true. They are. Canute’s deputy in this project is Hakon Eiriksson, the current ruler of Norway under Canute, and the son of that Eirik who helped Canute conquer England, becoming Earl of Northumbria when the conquest was complete. Turlogh meets Hakon on the water and kills him. (It’s historically true that Hakon did die in 1030, in a mishap at sea in the Orkneys. It isn’t generally known that Turlogh Dubh caused the mishap.)

This makes Turlogh’s roster of well-known Vikings slain (both pagan and Christian – he drew no distinction where the invaders were concerned, if he even noticed) a fairly impressive one.  Brodir of Man, Einar Wry-Mouth of Orkney, son of the Jarl Sigurd who fought at Clontarf, very nearly Canute himself, and then Hakon Eiriksson of Norway. Not to mention Bjarni Long-Ax the Varangian, though he’s not known to historical records that I can discover, outside a brief reference in connection with Turlogh’s career, and Eadric Streona, who wasn’t a Viking but certainly colluded with them in a big way.

1031 — Turlogh and the alchemist sail with a squadron of Irish ships to make a raid on Canute’s great fleet before it embarks. They destroy it at anchor in a holocaust of the incendiary substance that burns on water. The alchemist then returns to Navarre – and, as he says wryly, a decent climate. 

Hisham III of Cordoba in this year is overthrown and sent into exile in Lerida. (the North East of Spain.)

In Hungary on the second of September, King Stephen’s last surviving son is killed by a boar while hunting. This may have been no accident. Duke Vazul, suspected of adhering to pagan worship in a land that was still half pagan, led a conspiracy to murder Stephen and become king himself.  It failed. The duke had his eyes gouged out and molten lead poured in his ears. His three sons were exiled.  Bela settled in Poland and married a royal lady of the Peiast Dynasty.  His brothers Andrew and Levente went on to Russia and settled in Kiev.

The relevance of this to Black Turlogh’s career is that the English athelings he had delivered to Hungary years before were now friends of the three brothers and had become suspected of being part of Duke Vazul’s assassination scheme. (They had been on the fatal boar hunt.) They fled with Andrew and Levente, and like them found refuge in Kiev.

The latest orthodox historical view is that the English princes, Edward and Edmund, were sent to Russia first, as infants, by the Swedish king, and only moved to Hungary much later. The comical thing is that for centuries the orthodox historical view was just the reverse –- that they had gone to Hungary direct from England, when very little.  It was forgotten that they had ever been in Russia; or rather the records that indicated it were ignored as faulty.

Funnier yet is that the original view happens to be right. The children were taken direct to Hungary, to save them from Canute’s murder scheme, by Black Turlogh. They didn’t go to Russia until 1031, when they were aged about fifteen and fourteen, fleeing with Andrew, who was a few years older.

1032 Black Turlogh’s son and namesake, growing up in Ireland, is about ten years old. He will become the Turlogh O’Brien recorded in history as King of Munster and effectively High King of Ireland, who died in 1086, and the annals will confuse him with his father, Black Turlogh. 

This is feasible, since “For the first forty years of his life nothing is known of Toirdelbach (Turlogh). It was not until the 1050s that he found allies in Connacht and in Leinster, particularly the powerful King of Leinster, Diarmait mac Mail na mBo, who would aid his claims to be ruler of Clearly, if the usual date given for Turlogh mac Teige O’Brien’s birth – 1009 – was right, dying in 1086 would have made him 77 years old. Brian Boru himself only made it to 73, and that was exceptional.  One of the many things we forget about life in northern Europe a thousand years ago was that people on average lived much shorter lives! Child mortality was terrible, death by disease or infection was rife, and even those who died of old age generally did so in their fifties. Younger, if they were peasants or slaves, and women of course often died in childbirth, or worn out by frequent bearing.

If Black Turlogh’s son, Turlogh the younger, had been born in 1022 or 1023 in Russia, and then died in 1086 in Ireland, a king, that would have made him sixty-three on his deathbed –- which was still a pretty good innings for the eleventh century.

What happened to Turlogh Dubh O’Brien, son of Teige, then?

It’s a good question. Almost certainly he died as he had lived, violently, perhaps still fighting against his father’s killer, his fratricidal wicked uncle, Donagh. Or perhaps he died fighting the Danes, as he’d been doing since he began shaving. I expect he at least outlived the monarch he hated, Canute the Great, which occurred in 1035, and was able to drink to his swift passage to hell.

I picture him passing mysteriously, in mists and storm and blood, with no epitaph more fitting than the words he’d spoken after Clontarf … “What are we all, too, but ghosts fading into the night?”