How Lá Leathcheann Aibreán in the Ireland of 845 AD became April Fools’ Day all over the world

Clonmacnoise: Among the places conquered by Turgesius

April’s Fool Day. It’s celebrated, if that’s the right word, all over the world.

But there is some dispute as to its origin.

There is a belief that if came from the fact that, in the Middle Ages,  New Year’s day was celebrated on March 25th in many European towns with a festival which ended on April 1st.

And it’s said that those who celebrated New Year on the first day of January made fun of those who celebrated the later date, referring to the last day of their festival as “April Fool’s Day.”

The celebration of New Year’s Day on January 1st became common in France only in the mid-16th century.

But there are many other claims as to the origin of the day.

But none predate the legitimate claim from Ireland.

It was in the ninth century that a notorious Viking became active in Ireland.

Turgesius is believed to have arrived in Ireland in 820. But it was seventeen years later that he actually invaded bringing with him a fleet of 120 ships. Half the fleet sailed up the River Boyne, and half entered Dublin through the mouth of the Liffey.

He took Dublin and built his headquarters where Dublin Castle now stands.

He rampaged through Ireland and captured, among other places, Clonmacnoise and he built forts the length and breadth of the country.

But he made enemies.

And a few short years after his arrival, probably in 845, he was dead.

It is said he was drowned in Lough Owell.

Local tradition says that Melaghlin or Malacky a local lord of Westmeath who became High King of Ireland, governed under Turgesius and is believed to have asked advice from the Viking as to how best to rid the area of a recently invading flock of birds who were causing damage. Without a second thought, Turgesius recommended destroying their nests and this inspired Melaghlin to do the same in order to rid his territory of the Vikings. Another story of his death states that he demanded Melaghlin’s daughter’s hand in marriage. While pretending to agree, Melaghlin sent Turgesius 12 beardless youths, disguised as his daughter and her attendants, who were in reality assassins.

They drowned the Viking in Lough Owell.

It was April 1st 845.The day became known as Lá Leathcheann Aibreán – April Fool’s Day.

For many years, the people in the Meath and Westmeath areas, where Melaghlin and Turgesius had been best known, celebrated the day by playing pranks on each other.

As the story of Ireland became more and more complex, the story of how April Fool’s Day originated was lost like many others.

There have been many wonderful April Fool’s Day pranks over the years.

In 1905, the Berliner Tageblatt, a German newspaper, reported that thieves had tunneled underneath the U.S. Federal Treasury and stolen all of its silver and gold. The story was quickly picked up by papers throughout Europe and the United States. But it was fake.

In 1957 legendary BBC. Broadcaster Richard Dimbleby told BBC television viewers how a mild Spring had resulted in a massive spaghetti harvest. He said Italian spaghetti farmers were worried that the bumper crop might be affected by a late frost which could affect the flavour.

His commentary was accompanied by film of strands of spaghetti “growing” on trees in the Italian countryside.

Hundreds of viewers contacted BBC to tell them it was a success.
Smell-o-vision: In 1965, the BBC purported to conduct a trial of a new technology allowing the transmission of odour over the airwaves to all viewers. Many viewers reportedly contacted the BBC to report the trial’s success.

And in 1989, BBC’s television sports show Grandstand, saw a fight broke out between members of staff directly behind Des Lynam who was commenting on the professionalism of his team. It was, of course, an April Fool.

A true classic was achieved by The Irish Times in 1965, when the April 1st editorial commented on Taoiseach Sean Lemass’ plan to introduce prohibition in Ireland. The headline was “Staggering” and the writer berated Lemass for his plan. The Taoiseach, who it is said initially fell for the prank, was pictured in the paper the following day holding a pint!

There will always be April Fool’s Day pranks.

But just in case you’re wondering, everything I have written here is absolutely true. Turgesius was indeed lured to his death by boys dressed as girls.

But I’m afraid it wasn’t on April 1 (nobody knows the precise date) and it wasn’t remembered as Lá Leathcheann Aibreán and celebrated for centuries afterwards.

I made those bits up.

April Fool.

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