Turgeis the Devil
|"To attempt to follow, through all its frightful details, the course of outrage and massacre which continued to be pursued by the bands of Turgesius throughout the remainder of that tyrant's turbulent life would be task as wearisome as revolting. Let it suffice, therefore, to state that there is not a single spot of renown in the ecclesiastical history of our country, not one of those numerous religious foundations, that was not frequently, during this period, made the scene of most frightful and brutal excesses."|
Thomas Moore, The History of Ireland
Every so often in human history a blood-soaked, face-eating murder-master comes along who is so impossibly evil, cruel, and utterly unredeeming as a human being that the only logical conclusion is that he was the physical incarnation of Satan's unrelenting desire to bring about the brutal dismemberment of all human souls in Creation and then use those souls to wipe his ball sweat while he makes beef jerky from Sacred Cows and bench-presses Jesus.
In 9th century Ireland that man was a faceless cataclysm of destruction known throughout history only as Turgeis the Devil – the First of the Viking Conquerors of Eire, the Butcher of Clonmacnoise, the Founder of Dublin, and, to this day, one of the most hated men in the history of the Emerald Isle.
| You would have thought the most hated guy in Irish history would have been a Brit, right? Not so much. Because while the English might prefer a wildly different flavor of Christianity than your typical Irishman may subscribe to (and for many years neither side really had a problem violently massacring the other over that dispute), at least the Limeys believed in something other than a Norse Blood God who enjoyed nothing more than the axe-related homicides and, according to one Irish historian, a "creed [that] held out to them the prospect of an eternity during which they should quaff their favorite liquor out of cups made from their enemies' skulls, served to them by nymphs, and fed the lard of a wild boar that ever resumed to its full proportions; relieving the monotony of such enjoyments by cutting each other to pieces."|
As is the case with most of history's greatest badasses, nobody knows shit about Turgeis' past, his family, or anything else before his abrupt arrival on the shores of Northern Ireland. We know that in the late 830s he just materialized at the head of a massive fleet of dragon-headed longboats decorated with multi-colored shields and loaded with spear-hucking bearded Viking asskickers eager for nothing more than to face-shank and/or kidnap and/or massacre every single human being that ran slower than them. And since nothing exists describing what the hell this totally-mysterious, utterly-terrifying Norseman from somewhere in the vicinity of the Norway actually even looked like, he can really only be described using Lovecraftian "imagine the most horrible thing you can imagine and then crank it up by a factor of five and give it tentacles for a beard" terms.
As if that's not enough, the first Viking Conqueror of Ireland is made even more awesome and mysterious in that we can't even fucking agree on the dude's name – the Irish call him Turgeis, modern-day historians suspect his real name was Thorgils or Thorgest, and Wikipedia calls him Turgesius because that's how the Latin-speaking countries referred to him (I usually tend to default to Wikipedia on shit like this, but the page for him there is so terrible that I can't stomach it). I'd argue it doesn't matter – it's that "The Devil" part that's the important bit, and despite the startling lack of knowledge about the dude it's the one thing that everyone can agree on definitively, so as you're reading this just keep in mind that this motherfucker was Pure Evil Incarnate carrying a battle axe and a golden gem-encrusted goblet filled with human entrails and the rest will fall into place.
It's important to note that Turgeis the Devil wasn't the first time the Irish had encountered Vikings – the Norse had been making their trademarked ultraviolent raids on the shores of Eire since the late 8th century, and, quite honestly, by the time Turgeis and his frat brothers appeared on the horizon in 839 the hapless fishing villages of Ireland had already suffered through roughly forty years of intermittent (and totally annoying) pillaging/rampaging at the hands of angry Scandinavians in wolf pelts and it didn't really shake them up all that much anymore.
What set Turgeis apart was that this guy just took a well-established formula and cranked it into turbo mecha overdrive.
You see, Turgeis the Devil realized that the other Viking raiders up to this point were pretty much total idiots. Sure, storming through a village setting fire to thatched-roof cottages and kicking peasants in the gonads with a boot made of reindeer fur was fun and everything, but your typical fisherman and dirt-farmer aren't exactly dripping with gold and jewels and microwave ovens – and once the initial rush of adrenaline associated with torching a town to cinders wears off you really aren't left with much in the way of plunder or loot or souvenirs to bring home to your bearded Viking wife and children. No, instead Turgeis realized that the key to success was to fuck up ultra-holy sites like churches, abbots, convents, and monasteries – for some reason those wacky Catholics liked to stock their places of worship full of golden treasures, and the only people guarding them were a bunch of unarmed holy men equipped with little more than burlap sacks, leather-bound manuscripts, and a vow of non-violence. For a presumably-illiterate Odin-worshipping pagan conqueror who wouldn't know the difference between a crucifix and a Big Mac if it was handed to him by the fucking Hamburglar, the solution here was easy – attack churches, fuck them up, and plunder the shit out of them. It's all the excitement of killing, maiming, and destroying, plus it hits your enemy where it hurts and you can make a little cash in the process.
In 839, Turgeis started big, going straight for the crown jewel of Christianity in one of the most devoutly-Christian places in the world. The Devil took his ships, loaded them up with dudes, sailed way the fuck up some river, and launched an attack on the city of Armagh – a place that at the time was the single holiest place in Ireland, the seat of the Catholic Church on the island, and the home of the venerated Saint Patrick's remains (yes, we are talking about THAT Saint Patrick, the dude with the green beer and the snakes and all that). After three full-scale assaults against a fanatically-determined but badly-outnumbered force of dedicated Irish peasant warriors – none of whom were expecting to be attacked by fucking Vikings in the middle of the night – the torch-bearing Norsemen battled their way over the walls of Armagh and immediately proceeded to turn the city red with the blood of everyone they could find. While one brave Irish Abbot did manage to escape with the Shrine of Saint Patrick, the Vikings pretty much went nuts on everything else, killing monks and students, knocking over altars, looting, and turning the abbey itself into a twisted Hexen-map-style temple where Turgeis' psycho Blood God Priestess wife offered up animal sacrifices and read tarot cards and did the Macarena until like four in the morning without any consideration for noise ordinances.
A year later, after it was mostly rebuilt, he came back and sacked it again. A couple years after that, he did roughly the same thing to the second-holiest city in Ireland, sailing up the Shannon River with 60 ships and attacking the Abbey at Clonmacnoise – a center of culture and learning that attracted students from as far as England and France . He killed the monks, dragged off their loot, and laughed his ass off with happiness when his wife climbed on a Catholic altar, smeared herself with blood and barbecue sauce, and called on Norse gods for prophesies and badass chicken wings recipes.
Now you are starting to see why the Irish thought he was the physical incarnation of Lucifer.
While this utterly-unprovoked attack (and subsequent fucking up) of Ireland's holiest cities pretty much scandalized every single Catholic on the island and sent them into something just short of an apoplexy, Turgeis the Devil was just getting started. For the next six years, the Viking Warlord sent wave after wave of his longships as far inland as they could get, penetrating up the Boyne, Liffey, and Shannon Rivers and attacking towns that until this point had been utterly untouched by the Viking taint (I meant this figuratively when I typed it, but I suppose a literal interpretation would also be appropriate). He sacked Meath, Clonfert, and Connacht, then hit Armagh a couple more times just for good measure. And, what's worse, not only did The Devil defile basically every church and holy place accessible by river, he also didn't have the good sense to slink away into the night when he was done jacking it up – he stayed behind, drank all their whisky, ate all their food, deposed the local governments (mostly by executing them and then mutilating their charred corpses), and then divided the land up among his own loyal soldiers who'd helped him conquer the joint. Before long, so much of Central and Western Ireland was under Viking control that Turgeis the Devil is actually listed among the Kings of Ireland in some historical registers (with notable one mentioning that he "ruled in peace", but that "the peace was a troubled one and its tranquility was often disturbed").
In addition to forging the first Viking State in Western Europe on a river of blood, Turgeis the Devil is also notable for the fact that he founded the city of Dublin in 841. An area that had been previously to the locals as Dubh-Linn ("The Black Pool"), Turgeis saw the region as a good narrow spot across the Liffey River and decided to set up a trading settlement there to help ship his plundered shit back and forth to Norway or Denmark or wherever the fuck he was actually from. He inadvertently ended up establishing the town that nowadays serves as the present-day capital of Ireland in the process.
Now, ok, fine, founding Dublin is cool and all, but if there are three things the Irish seem to treasure above all else its whiskey, redheads, and Catholicism, and since Turgeis the Devil had pretty epically fucked with all three of them it was now pretty obvious to every red-blooded Irishman that this fucker absolutely had to die.
There are a couple different stories about how Turgeis the Devil met his inevitable fate. The one I prefer goes like this: the Irish King Meal Seachnaill eventually got sick of trying to rule a kingdom that shared a border with a new Viking Empire (and was also getting sick of Turgeis demanding the King hand over his daughter or suffer the consequences), so he sent a message to Turgeis saying, "Ok, fine, I'll let you assholes do whatever you want to the princess as long as you don't fucking kill us," and made plans to hand her over to the Norsemen. When Turgeis and his men reached the designated place, they saw the princess and 15 of her hottest handmaidens standing there waiting for them. The Vikings excitedly ran over to them, eager to snatch some babes, but when they got up close they were horrified to discover that instead of hot babes the handmaidens were DUDES WITH KNIVES and they shanked the fuck out of the Vikings and captured Turgeis the Devil. Mael Seachnaill then had Turgeis beaten up and tortured before binding him in chains and drowning him in a lake known as Lough Weal.
Unlike Jason Vorhees, Turgeis the Devil never resurfaced.
Craughwell, Thomas J. How the Barbarian Invasions Shaped the Modern World. Fair Winds, 2008.
Lynch, John and Matthew Kelly. Cambrensis Eversus. Celtic Soc., 1852.
Moore, Thomas. The History of Ireland. Baudry, 1837.
O'Connor, William Anderson. History of the Irish People. J. Heywood, 1886.
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