There is a story, that surrounds Dunseverick Castle which dates from around the late tenth century and occurred during the time of the first Crusades. At that time Dunseverick Castle was a majestic stronghold along the coast, home to the chieftain and a garrison of soldiers who keep the peace, on the land side there were stables, exercise yards, a harbour and small hamlet which had developed around the castle.
One day news reached the castle about the call for volunteers and Christians to join the first Crusade to the Holy Land with Count Baldwin of Flanders and Godfrey de Bouillon’s. The Chieftain had sons and daughters. Young Turlough was taken with the idea of going away to fight under the banner of the cross and asked his father for permission, being the next heir to the castle, his father was somewhat reluctant to let him go but eventually conceded and Turlough headed of with many other Ulstermen.
Known as Turlough of Dunsobriche his became noted for his warrior skills, on the road to Jerusalem the Crusaders lay siege to the Syrian city of Antioch (1098 AD) and it is said that Turlough was one of the first to mount the walls and break the siege. His valour must have been well known amongst the Crusaders for it found its way back to Ulster. Turlough fought in the final battle which saw the fall of Jeruselem to the Crusaders and was present when Godfrey de Bouillen was made King of Jerusalem and Protector of the Holy Sepluchre.
The story, for we have no factual proof of this, tells that while Turlough was away from Dunseverick it was attacked by an Viking warrior known as Hankon Jarl. At this time Brian Boroihme, the King of Ireland had defeated the Vikings at Clonfort but afterwards the King, his son and grandson were all murdered in their camp. The defeat of the Vikings stop their activities in Ireland but they still raided from the Scottish Islands.
Hankon Jarl was based on the Isles and is said to have stormed Dunseverick Castle and burnt it, he killed the Cheiftain and all the males in his close family and many in the surrounding area, he took Turlough’s sister back to the Isles. He wanted to marry her but she repeatedly refused, after a while she eventually said she would agree to marry him if he repented and became a Christian like her family had been.
Hankon agreed to this and also agreed to come and place himself under the charge of the Abbott of Bangor monastery to receive instruction before being baptised. He was asked to repent for his past and the killings he had done and to do this at Dunseverick. The walls were draped in flags, garlands and wreaths and Hankon kneeled in the courtyard surrounded by an assembly come to witness this transformation. As he knelled his head lowered, the Abbott approached with the cup containing the baptismal water. At this moment a figure moved from the crowd and approached the Abbot and Hakon. A murmur went around the assembly that the newcomer was Turlough the Crusader. “Hakon Jar” he said, you are kneeling now on heaven’s threshold but you will never cross it, beneath the sun of Syria the tale of your cruelty reached me, and I took a vow to wreck horrible vengeance on you. You have come here for baptism, I will baptise you with Greek fire.
Hakon’s hand automatically reached for the hilt of his sword, but it was not there, he was in a sacrament robe for baptism. Hakon stood to face Turlough who pulled out a vase from beneath his cloak and raised it high for all to see. Hakon made a lurch for Turlough who brought the vase down on his head.
Fire from within the jar enveloped Hakon from head to toe. Turlough watched as Hakon writhed beneath the burning breath of mysterious flames. Hakn stood up and grabbed Turlough in his arms saying he would not die alone and the two rolled locked together and died in flames, the people fled as the fire spread around the courtyard. Turlough’s sister screaming and distraught at seeing her brother and future husband die in fire, jumped from the castle wall to the ocean below. The castle was destroyed by fire along with Turlough and Hakon. So goes the story and part truth or myth of Turlough of Dunsobriache.
This information was given to me by the late Bertie McKay of Portbraddon, local historian and fisherman. Bertie had a wealth of knowledge regarding the local coast and the history, one of his ambitions was to have it in print for others to read.