Tavish Dhu

Tavish Dhu (also known as Black Tom) was a Scottish privateer (or pirate) who wreaked havoc against English sailors in the Irish Sea during the 1300s, sometimes on behalf of Robert the Bruce, the Scottish King but mostly on his own behalf. Tavish helped Robert Bruce to capture the Isle of Man from Edward II and then supported his brother Edward Bruce’s attempt to become King of Ireland. In May 1315 he brought a fleet of 6,000 men to Olderfleet (near Larne) and is also believed to have assisted the Scottish troops when they were camped at Coleraine, bringing them across the River Bann to safety when they were threatened by the advancing army of the Earl of Ulster. It was during this time that he also seized four English ships bringing valuable supplies to the Earl of Ulster, when he intercepted them off Portrush in his most notorious act and sailed them up the River Bann to Edward Bruce.

Tavish had a ruthless reputation and was described as “the scum of the sea” and “a cruel pirate”. He shocked Edward II when he raided Holyhead in Wales and sailed off with a merchant ship and rich cargo. The King ordered his finest captains to find and destroy Tavish. On 2nd July 1317, Tavish was eventually captured following a sea battle in which 40 of his crew members died. He was executed and his head was sent to Dublin as a defiant show of triumph. Without Tavish, Bruce soon lost his hold over the Irish Sea and his armies were defeated in Ireland.

As for Tavish, his treasures are said to be buried on the Skerries guarded by his ghost and the ghosts of his crew. Every year, Pirates off Portrush put on displays and re-enact the legends of Tavish Dhu and his crew where Tavish will save Portrush from a terrible fate. The plays are usually performed at the amphitheatre and include other Irish legends and mythological creatures such as the Leprechauns[1]. Some believe that Dhu Varren and Island Dubh of the Skerries are named after the pirate[2].

[1] Causeway Coast Community, Pirates off Portrush Returns for its Seventh Adventure
[2] Tim Hodkinson, Medieval Pirates