Emerald Isle

Battle of Clontarf

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Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Historical Cycle

The Battle of Clontarf, where the mighty Brian Boru disposed of the Vikings

Brian Boru was one of the greatest High Kings of all Ireland, a Christian king whose small dynasty challenged and broke even the power of the O'Neills, who had ruled Ireland from time immemorial. He rose to power at a time when the cruel Norseman was pillaging the lands of both Ireland and England, slaughtering and slave-taking, barbarians in every sense, knowing only the skills and treasures they could plunder from their betters by force of remorseless iron and brute strength.

Great had been the knowledge and lore of the people of Ireland before the coming of the Viking, and from across the known world had come princes and lords to learn at the knee of Irish monks. Fabulous were the arts and sciences cultivated in the Emerald Isle, and peace reigned among the people of the land.

A thousand years past Brian Boru reigned until rebel lords in league with Viking raiders and conquerers rose up to challenge him, led by Sigtrygg Silkbeard and Máel Mórda, king of Leinster. Many were the woes they inflicted on the people of Ireland and many the plunders they took, ranging as far afield as Cork in their lust for slaves and gold, until Brian raised a mighty army along with Máel Sechnaill, his former O'Neill enemy, and numerous others.

He laid siege to the Viking foothold in Dublin in the dark and cold winter of 1013, but bitter winds and foul weather drove him back to his home in Meath until the spring. Not being one to waste time, the bitter master of the Danishmen, Sigtrygg, went overseas in search of Viking warriors, finding Sigurd Hlodvirsson, the Earl of Orkney and Brodir, a warrior of the Isle of Man, apt to answer his call.

So enlarged Sigtrygg felt ready for the return of Brian in spring, and sure as the sun rising Brian Boru and his great host marched again on Dublin. It was on Good Friday in 1014 that they met in battle on the fields of Clontarf, to the north of the Danish settlement. Brian himself came from the north while the barbarians met their ally Brodir with his fleet at the Clontarf Weir.

Such a fight had Ireland never seen! The size of the armies and the presence of kings and champions of great renown became a matter of legend, the green earth trembled at the passing of their many feet. On the one side the Danishmen were clad in mail, howling like beasts and snorting through their flaring nostrils, while on the other the proud men of Ireland stood fast, keen azure blades at the ready, doused now in sunlight but later in blood!

Two mighty warriors strode forth into the field between the forces, they were Plait and Domnall mac Eimin, a Scotsman. They went at it hammer and tongs, and by the end both had died, with their swords in one anothers' hearts and the hair of each clenched in the hand of the other.

Forward then marched the armies, and vast was the ruin wrought that day. The Connacht men set to the Dubliners, helped not at all by their allies from Meath who'd made a secret pact not to fight the men of Dublin, and so vicious was the battle that only a handful of each remained on either side by the end of it. Murchad son of Brian, made great havoc among the Vikings, their armour availed them not at all. Fifty men fell by the sword in his right hand, and fifty men by the sword in his left, and he didn't think it too many.

By the casting of iron darts and spears fell the Danes, with crying and wailing which was heard back in Denmark, and all day they warred, until the forces of Dublin and the savage Vikings broke and fled under the relentless onslaught of Brian's warlike hosts. Brian was himself by then an old man, well past seventy, and had stayed in his tent to pray that the outcome of the battle would be favourable, and it was.

The ocean had risen and blocked off the retreat of the Vikings, carrying away their ships on foamy waves, and they drowned and were slaughtered in great numbers. The foam was red with the setting sun and red with gore that day! And yet all was not done, for mighty Brian was set upon by the villain Brodir and his men who had crept slyly and terrorised by a real fight to his tent away from the battle.

Brian gave them cause to regret their attack, even in his seniority, and perished with his sword in hand. When Brian's men saw this, they fell upon Brodir and put him to death by ritual disembowelment. And so ended one of the greatest High Kings of Ireland. But not in vain did he die for this battle marked the beginning of the end for the barbarous Danish tyranny which had long afflicted the lands of Europe, shattering the raiders and their terrifying myth of invincibility, giving heart to all who stood against them.

The scene where Brian Boru and the savages from abroad wrestled for supremacy is marked on the map.


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