The Druid’s Betrayal: A Folktale of the River Bann, Ireland

river-bann-ireland
Pinpoint Location: River Bann, Ireland / Map data ©2016 Google

This folktale of the river Bann tells of the terrible fate of Tuag, daughter of Conall Collomrach.

During the old Pagan times in Ireland, flourished the monarch Conall Collomrach. Little is known of his exploits, but we do know that his reign was brief, and his end was violent.

Conall had a lovely daughter, named Tuag, who was only an infant at the time of his death. The fame of her beauty, and the fact that she was an unprotected orphan, reached the ears of Conaire Mor, one of the most just, brave and compassionate men of the time.

To get custody of the child, Conaire sought the aid of a Druid, named Fer-Fi, son of Eogabail, who belonged to the Tuatha De Danaan race.

Fer-Fi lived in a fort on the banks of the Upper Bann, and he was a skilled performer on the harp. He could manipulate its strings to produce the most wonderful melodies, from the heroic to the lively and soul-inspiriting. Some even said his songs worked magic. He was famed throughout the whole of Ireland; and all the princes and chiefs were eager to invite him to their forts. As such, the famed bard easily gained entry to the home of the infant Tuag’s fosterer.

Admiring her great beauty, the minstrel composed a song in her praise. As he played this softest and sweetest lullaby, he threw the fosterer, his wife, children and the baby princess into a profound sleep. Gently lifting the infant from her cradle, he wrapped her in a warm covering. Then, carrying the harp on his back, he set out on the road for Conaire Mor’s royal residence, at Emania.

The king bestowed a large reward on the Druid, and, looking on the infantile expression of features, he dearly loved the child. Placing her under the guardianship of female attendants, he gave instructions that none of the princes or chiefs of his court should have access to her until she attained an age, when Fer-Fi should return and begin her musical and literary education.

Every day the monarch saw the princess and rejoiced to find her grow in grace and beauty, until she reached her tenth year and Fer-Fi came to court to fulfill his agreement with the king. The Druid brought the princess to his own home, where every convenience and comfort was provided for her. Each year he promised a visit to Emania, so that, while entertaining the court with his songs and harp, he could report on her accomplishments.

To great beauty of person, the Princess Tuag united great powers of mind and an exquisite taste for music, so that her reputation spread all over Ireland. But no prince or chief dare visit or make proposals of marriage to her against the wishes of the monarch.

However, a notorious magician, Manahan MacLir, ruled as king over the Isle of Man. He desired the maiden and sent a messenger to his brother Druid, successfully bribing him with a large sum of money. Fer-Fi promised to secretly meet Manahan MacLir, and his fleet, at the mouth of the River Bann to deliver the young princess.

Often had the royal maiden rambled along the banks of the pleasant Bann, admiring the scenery and rushing waters of its many streams through ravines and dells, where the oak forests grew thickly along its course; but always she was accompanied by her guardian, who was now about to betray her trust.

Fer-Fi had a canoe hollowed out from the trunk of a gigantic tree, and it was moored on the river bank. Taking his harp, as usual, the Druid ran his fingers over the strings and began by playing the slow lullaby for the young princess, until her eyes closed in a mesmeric sleep. Lifting the innocent maiden in his arms, and carrying her to the boat, the druid placed her in the stern and unfastened the cord which bound it to a tree on the river-bank.

The canoe, with an occasional paddle of the oars, glided along with the current until Fer-Fi and the sleeping princess came to the expansive opening of Lough Neagh. There the Druid set up a mast, and, having fixed it firmly in the socket, he spread a sail, and careered over the surface of the lake, until he came to the northern edge. Here, they entered the Lower Bann, and glided swiftly on the current through the territory of Dalriada; broad valleys on either side and thickly wooded.  At last, the boat reached the embouchure which united it with the ocean.

The fleet of Manahan MacLir was not yet in sight, which greatly alarmed and embarrassed Fer-Fi. He lifted up the sleeping beauty, and laid her gently on the strand, while a sigh of repentance escaped his lips and tears fell from his eyes. But, fearing the wrath of King Conaire should he turn back, he turned away to seek a sea-worthy vessel to continue to the Isle of Man. There he hoped for safety, and he even persuaded himself that the princess would enjoy peace and happiness, as queen consort to Manahan MacLir.

Fate chose differently. During the druid’s absence, a great wave came rolling from the northern ocean and swept over the strand on which Tuag lay. The lovely maiden never woke again; when the tide rolled back, she was a corpse.

Fer-Fi, the betrayer, tried to escape from Erinn (Ireland), but he was overtaken by a tempest and perished in the depths of the ocean.

When those tidings reached the monarch and people of Ireland, all bemoaned the fate of the unfortunate princess. In remembrance of the tragic event, they changed the name of the fateful embouchure of the River Bann, Inber n-Glas, which was called Tuag Inbir by succeeding generations.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Motif: N339.9 Girl abducted by fairy left on shore – where she is accidentally drowned. Note that, due to political events at a later date, the region of origin for this legend is currently within the borders of Northern Ireland. Since the tale clearly predates this event, it is included in the Irish collection. Manannán mac Lir is a sea deity in Irish mythology, and variations of the legend exist which clearly state he intentionally drowned Fer-Fi for his failure to deliver the princess.

  2. There is an area about 2 miles up stream from were the upper bann enters the Lough Neagh on the shore of the Bann known as the Dornya or Doirnach a little higher ground and covered in untouched trees an area feared as it is believed to be the home of the fairies

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