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Literature / The Children of Tuireann

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Brian mac Tuireann and the Women of Fincara (Stephen Reid, 1910)

“If any man should willfully slay my father, it is not in one hour or in one day I would have him put to death; but I would lop off one of his limbs each day, till I saw him die in torment under my hands!”

The Fate of the Children of Tuireann (also known by at least half a dozen different title variants) is an Irish legendary romance, part of the Mythological Cycle of Irish Mythology.

During the second reign of Nuada of the Silver Hand as High King of Ireland, Ireland is oppressed by the Fomor who extort high taxes from the Tuatha Dé Danann. When Lugh of the Long Hand, chief commander of the Tuatha Dé Danann armies, slaughters the tax-collectors of the Fomor, the Fomor mount a punitive expedition.

Lugh's father Cian, son of Cainte, assists his son in rallying the Tuatha Dé to defense. It is on this mission that he runs into the three sons of Tuireann: Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba — mortal enemies of the sons of Cainte. The encounter ends with the death of Cian at the hands of the brothers.

The Fomor are repelled, but Lugh notices that his father is missing. Discovering Cian's body, he guesses the identity of the killers. In the middle of the victory celebrations, Lugh confronts the sons of Tuireann. Brian refuses to confess, but agrees they will pay the blood-fine for Cian — believing they will come out easy in this way.

But Lugh is not so easily appeased. To pay for the death of Cian, he sends the three brothers on a quest to retrieve seven powerful magical objects from all the corners of the world and bring them back to Ireland, so they will help the Tuatha Dé Danann in their coming showdown with the Fomor. With no choice to refuse, the sons of Tuireann set out on a mission against all odds that will lead them to Greece, Persia, and even more exotic places — but can the task be fulfilled at all?

Online translation here.

Tropes in The Children of Tuireann:

  • Anti-Hero: The sons of Tuireann, especially Brian. He kills Cian even though Cian asks for mercy, has no qualms about denying the deed in public, and never shows any remorse.
  • Cool Boat: Scuabtuinne, or "wave-sweeper", the boat of Manannan the sons of Tuireann borrow from Lugh. It self-adjusts its size and sails and steers all by itself.
  • Feuding Families: The sons of Tuireann and the sons of Cainte. There is no explanation of how their feud came into existence.
  • Geas: Lugh of the Long Hand is "under geis" never to refuse a second request. The sons of Tuireann exploit this by asking him to lend them the horse of Manannan, which he refuses, then ask him for the boat of Manannan, which is what they actually want.
  • One-Man Army: The three sons of Tuireann mow down entire armies.
  • Plot Coupon That Does Something: The Healing Apples of Hisberna and the Burning Spear of the King of Persia are of great use to the sons of Tuireann in obtaining the other artifacts. The golden apples instantly cure any wound or disease, and regenerate so that they never run out. The pig skin similarly cures anyone who is wrapped up in it. It's thanks to these that the brothers survive most of their adventure.
  • The Quest: The mission of the sons of Tuireann to collect the blood-fine for the murder of Cian.
  • Refuge in Audacity: When Brian finally finds the cooking spit of the undersea women, he simply walks up and grabs it. The women laugh, saying there's no way he and his brothers could have possibly taken the spit by force, but they're so amused by his audacity that they simply let him have it.
  • Terrible Trio: Of the three sons of Tuireann, Brian is the only one with any ideas or skill to speak of.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Cian, Brian and his brothers, and many of their opponents shift into animal shapes almost casually.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Lugh receives all of the artifacts he requested, but despite their incredible usefulness most of them are never mentioned again in the same mythological cycle (though they were presumably used "offscreen" during the war with the Fomorians).

Alternative Title(s): The Sons Of Tuirenn