Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thurkill (d.845)

THURKILL, THORKILL, or TURGESIUS (d. 845), Danish king of North Ireland, could not have been the son of Harold Harfagr as Snorri Sturleson supposed (Heimskringla, i. 131–2, transl. Morris and Magnusson, Saga Library), for this would place him too late. He has, however, with more probability been identified with Ragnar Lodbrok, the half-mythical king of Denmark and Norway. This theory is supported by several striking coincidences, but cannot be said to be proved (War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill, pp. liii seq. Rolls Ser.). As Thurkill he arrived in Ireland with a royal fleet in 832. He took Dublin in the same year, and afterwards assumed the government of all the northmen in Ireland (ib. pp. xlii seq., and 9, Rolls Ser.) Several other Danish fleets arrived about the same time, and it was apparently with their help and that of almost annual reinforcements of his countrymen that Thurkill took advantage of the civil and ecclesiastical strife then prevailing to extend his dominion over the whole north of Ireland. At Armagh, whither he went soon after taking Dublin, he seems to have met with resistance, for he attacked the city three times in one month (ib.; see also Ann. Ult. ap. O'Conor, Rer. Hibern. Script. iv. 208). A few years later, perhaps in 841 (War of the Gaedhil, pp. xliii and 9), Thurkill drove out the abbot of Armagh and assumed the abbacy—that is, the wide ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the chief successor of St. Patrick. He apparently aimed at the suppression of Christianity in Ireland and the substitution for it of heathenism (ib. pp. xlviii and 11). He organised an expedition to Lough Ree, and from there attacked Connaught and Meath (Chron. Scotorum, p. 145, Rolls Ser.), possibly as a step towards the subjugation of all Ireland (War of the Gaedhil, pp. xlviii and 13). In these central districts he again made a determined attack upon the chief centres of ecclesiastical authority, such as Clonmacnoise, Clonfert, Terryglass, and many more (ib.) At Clonmacnoise, which was second only to Armagh in ecclesiastical importance, he placed his wife Ota, who gave audiences or oracular answers from the high altar of the principal church of the monastery. He seems to have been completely successful, and the posting of Danish forces at Limerick, on Loughs Ree and Neagh, at Carlingford, on Dundalk Bay, and at Dublin, seems to point to far-reaching plans of conquest and permanent government (ib.) In 845, however, his career was abruptly cut short. He was taken prisoner by Malachy [see Maelsechlainn I], then king of Meath (afterwards king of Ireland), and drowned in Loch Owel in what is now Westmeath (ib. pp. xliii and 15). His dominion in Ireland probably lasted thirteen, and not thirty years, as Cambrensis states (Gir. Cambr. v. 186, Rolls Ser.). The story of his death given by Cambrensis is quite untrustworthy (ib. v. 185). If Thurkill be rightly identified with the half-mythical Ragnar Lodbrok, he was the ancestor of Olaf Sitricson [see Olaf] and the Hy Ivar of the line of the Danish kings of Dublin and Deira.

[See, in addition to the chief authorities mentioned in the text, Annals of the Four Masters, i. 466 seq. ed. O'Donovan; Annals from the Book of Leinster in the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick, ii. 520 (Rolls Ser.); Saxonis Grammatici Gesta Danorum, lib. ix. 312–13, ed. A. Holder; Langebek's Rer. Dan. Script. i. 267, 496, 507, 518, &c.; Torfæus's Ser. Reg. Dan. pp. 388 seq.; Skene's Celtic Scotland, ii. 314–15; Robertson's Early Kings of Scotland, i. 40, 43, 56; Lappenberg's England under the Anglo-Saxon Kings, pp. 30 seq., transl. Thorpe; Green's Conquest of England, pp. 66, 74 seq.]

A. M. C.-e.