Battle of Clontarf, 23 April 1014Battle at which the Irish, led by Brian Boru, high king of Ireland, defeated a force of Scandinavians led by the Viking King of Dublin. The victory limited the Scandinavians to their coastal ports. Brian Boru, one of the greatest high kings was killed in the battle.
Showdown at Clontarf
The year preceding the battle was characterised by intense warfare in the east and south of Ireland. Brian fortified a number of locations in Munster (which was also subject to naval attacks) and devoted much of his attention to campaigning against Leinster and Dublin. He spent the final months of the year in the field, attacking as far as Dublin city, while his son, Murchad, also harried much of Leinster. This warfare spilled over into the following year, by which time Sitric of Dublin may have already amassed considerable Viking support from overseas. In April 1014 Brian led an army to Dublin and engaged his opponents in a large pitched battle (the Battle of Clontarf), something he had generally avoided during his career.
Much of what occurred at the battle is uncertain, including its location, owing to a lack of reliable contemporary accounts. Even the earliest and most trustworthy sources to provide any details (the Annals of Inisfallen and Annals of Ulster) appear to have undergone subsequent editing and disagree on fundamental aspects, such as who fought on Brian’s side and who his principal opponents were. Neither mention the date or the placename Clontarf (located on the northern shore of Dublin Bay, about two kilometres from the city centre), although it appears that by the early 12th century it was already associated with the battle. Just as the location is uncertain, so too the armies’ manoeuvres not recorded by the earliest annals, and attempts to chronicle the events of the day rely on later sources whose accounts cannot be taken at face value. As is common with medieval battles, estimates of the number slain must be treated with caution the Annals of Ulster report 6,000 Vikings alone were killed or drowned. Regardless of the numbers, the general impression from the annals is that contemporaries considered this an exceptionally large battle, and the considerable number of named dead nobles on both sides confirm this.
What can be said for certain is that Brian was accompanied primarily by a Munster force, augmented with support from south Connacht. A number of sources claim that his sometime rival and ally, Máel Sechnaill, was present on his side, but the absence of any of Máel Sechnaill’s followers in the lists of casualties implies that his men did not take part in the fighting. Opposing Brian were the armies of Dublin, Leinster, and supporting Vikings (led primarily by Earl Sigurd of Orkney). High-profile casualties abounded, including Máel Mórda, king of Leinster, Earl Sigurd, Murchad son of Brian, and most significantly Brian himself. Brian’s army probably held the field, but it was not in a position to press any advantage, and Sitric remained in possession of the fortress of Dublin. The survivors of Brian’s army returned home, but he was buried by the clergy of Armagh, with whom he had cultivated close ties during his reign.
Brian was already an old man by 1014, and it is unclear whether or not he took part in the fighting. Later accounts (which receive slight support from the 11th-century chronicle of Marianus Scotus in Mainz) claim that he was struck down in his tent, while praying for victory. That he died on Good Friday, while fighting an army with a pagan component (most notably Sigurd of Orkney’s forces), was not lost on his subsequent eulogizers, and both Irish and Scandinavian sources of later centuries depicted him as a paradigm of righteous Christian kingship.
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April 2014 - Speeches, Commemorations Ceremony to mark the Millennium of the Battle of Clontarf
“ Address of the Cathaoirleach and Leas Cathaoirleach at the Commemorations Ceremony to mark the Millennium of the Battle of Clontarf, at Christ Church Cathedral”.Christ Church, Dublin 23 April 2014
Rev Dean Dunne, Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, a cháirde
As Chairman of Clans of Ireland I am honoured to have been asked to say a few words to you on this auspicious occasion.
You will all be aware that approximately 1000 years ago Sitric Silkenbeard , who was the Viking leader in Dublin, had converted to Christianity, “gave up his auld sins” and built a cathedral on this very spot. Those of you who have had a chance to visit the crypt below the cathedral will have seen the very foundations laid by Sitric’s tradesmen. Without doubt he would have visited the works on a daily basis when the cathedral was being built and seen the ox blood being mixed with the lime mortar to give strength which would support the church above for centuries to come. Did you notice the ox blood?
Just down the hill, both north and south, were the Viking wattle houses and life went on as normal on a daily basis. Pigs and chickens to be fed, cattle to be bought and sold and clothes to be made or repaired. No doubt weapons would have to be made and resharpened. There was still plenty of fighting to be done. Stocktaking of plundered gold and silver from the Irish monasteries would not have been a main “banking” activity as most of the monasteries would have been cleaned out of such by the year 1014.
Sitric would have stayed close to this cathedral on Good Friday 1014 and let others do the fighting out in Clontarf. By nightfall the word would have come back that the Vikings and their allies had been defeated by Brian Boru and his clansmen. The writing was on the wall for the Viking plundering and the shipping of slaves to all parts of the known world. The large sums of money available for slaves such as learned scribes and hard working men and women was to cease and peace seemed to settle on the land……until the arrival in 1169 of the next visitors to our shores ..the Normans. Then St Lawrence O’Toole stood outside this cathedral and asked them not to burn the city…..but “sin sceal eile”.
Ladies and gentlemen you walk on hallowed ground.
Thank you and enjoy the day.
Michael JS Egan
Cathaoirleach, Clans of Ireland
This afternoon, marks the millennium of a very special occasion in Ireland’s history. It should not be viewed as the celebration of a victory, where the victor in the battle lay dead with, by some accounts, 1,600 of his own men, while the numbers of the vanquished who perished may possibly have been far more. No Ladies and Gentleman, I ask you to view this as a commemoration of the many lives that were lost, fighting for a political cause which helped to shape medieval Ireland. The individual aspirations of the principals involved may be analysed for years to come by historians, but it is true to say that the result of the Battle led to a slightly more representative political system in Ireland. It is for that reason that Brian Boru is classified as a great early Irish hero.
Clans of Ireland is the umbrella body which unites contemporary Irish clans and families, whose histories are ancient, while promoting intellectual research into genealogy, history and culture. It could indeed be said that our aim to unite the clans of Ireland is similar to what Brian Boru set about doing a millennium ago. His use of military tactics is of course completely out of step in our modern Ireland, but it is possible to draw a parallel between Brian Boru’s ambitions and ours.
While it may be a jest to call us ‘the Fighting Irish’, it is now more likely to be considered an anachronistic insult. However, it is an unassailable fact that there was much internecine warfare among neighbouring kings and chiefs a thousand years ago. Yet, although we think of our contemporary national army as having peacekeeping as its sole purpose and consider our political system to be more representative of the population as a whole than in Brian’s era, we are truly fortunate to have been able to retain and celebrate our culture and traditions, much of which dates back to the early medieval period.
Thus, as we commemorate the countless lives that were lost at the battle, I would like you to listen to the names, in the ancient Irish and Norse languages, of the participating notables and compare with the names of our Clan Ceannairi and representatives, which I will read shortly. I have compiled this first list mainly from the very well researched book ‘Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf’ by Dr. Seán Duffy of Trinity College Dublin, who, in turn, mainly used
The 12th. Century Cogadh Gáedhel re Gallaibh,
The Annals of Ulster
The Annals of Inisfallen
The Annals of Clonmacnoise
The Annals of Loch Cé
May I now recall the names of the notables who were with Brian and his Allies
The man himself,
Brian mac Cennétig, progenitor of the O’Briens of Thomond, Limerick and Tipperary and ancestor of the McMahons of Clare
His son Murchadh
His son Tairdelbach mac Murchad
Conaing mac Donncuain mac Cennétig (a nephew of Brian)
Tadhg ua Ceallaigh, son of Murchad, King of Uí Maine and Progenitor of the Ó Ceallaigh of Uí Maine
Máel Ruanaid ua hEidin, King of Uí Fiachrach Aidne in North East Connacht, a nephew of Brian’s first wife
Domhnall Mac Diarmata of the Corca Baiscind in West Clare
Mac Bethad mac Muiredaig of Corca Luachra in North Kerry
Mothla mac Domhnaill mic Fáeláin of Deisí Muman whose head was buried beside Brian in the same tomb at Armagh. Apparently the mayhem was so intense that they could not identify his decapitated torso.
Máel Sechnaill mac Domhnaill, the first King of Tara not to be considered by the writers of the annals as King of Ireland
Domnall mac Eimin mic Cainnich, whose family’s title is now Earl of Mar and Kellie in North Eastern Scotland
Cú Duilig mac Cennétig a grand nephew of Brian
Géibennach na Dubagáin King of Fer Maige
Scanlán mac Cathail King of the Eoghanacht of Loch Léin
Some historians and annals contend that Tadhg ua Conchobhair and Fergal ua Ruairc were not at the battle, but I am naming them as some sources claim that they were there.
And now the notables of Leinster & Viking Dublin
Sitriuc mac Amlaíb or Sitryg Silkenbeard Viking leader of Dublin, who is said to have remained within the safety of the walls of Dublin during the battle.
Máelmórda King of Eastern Liffey and in 1014 King of Leinster, who is recounted as having died in hand to hand combat with Conaing, Brian’s nephew. He was ancestor of O’Byrnes
Amlaíb or Óláfr mac Lagmainn. Brother of Sitryg and one of the five chiefs of the Dubliners killed at the Battle.
Siucraid mac Lodur or Jarl Sigrid of Orkney who was in joint command and whose mother is thought to have been Gaelic
Gilla Chiaráin mac Glún Iain, whose father had been king prior to Sitriuc and who was heir designate to his uncle. It should be noted that he bore a very Christian name after the founder of Clonmacnoise.
Bródar, Commander of the Viking fleet who came from either the Isle of Man or York, depending on which annals one believes.
Máelmórda mac Murchada King of Leinster
Dúnlaing mac Tuathail
Donnchad ua Erluib
Before asking the Ceannairí and representatives to present themselves to Mac Aodhagáin and to Ó Brian, representing the contemporary Clans of Ireland and the O’Brien Clan I would like to recite this brief translated excerpt from the Cogadh, describing the battle which may give you pause to consider the fate of the clansmen as they went into battle
“These had for the purposes of battle and combat, and for their defence, sharp, swift, bloody, crimsoned, bounding, barbed, keen, bitter, wounding terrible, piercing, fatal, murderous, poisoned arrows, which had been anointed and browned in the blood of dragons and toads, and water snakes of hell, and of scorpions and otters, and wonderful venomous snakes of all kinds, to be cast and shot at active and warlike and valiant chieftains.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I now call on the Ceannairí or the representatives of the clans of Ireland to come forward and symbolically meet with Conor, the O’Brien, the direct descendent of Brian Boru and Michael Egan, Chairman of Clans of Ireland. Those who claim a heritage from Leinster and Leth Cuinn, unless allied to the Uí Maine can you please shake the hand of Mac Aodhagáin and Ó Briain in peace, while those of you from the heritage of Leth Moga, Tuath Muman and Ui Maine can you please shake the hand of Mac Aodhagáin and to Ó Brian in unity.
May I now request
O’Briain Tuath Mumhan (O’Brien of Thomond)
Ó Ceallaigh Ui Maine (O’Kelly of Ui Maine)
Ui Chruadhlaoich Corcaigh (Crowley of Cork)
Mac Fhionnghaile Dhún Na nGall (McGinley of Donegal)
MacFhlannchaidh (Mac Clancy)
Ó Gadhra Cúil Ó bhFinn (O’Gara of Coolavin)
Ó Leathlobhaire Laoise (O’Lawlor of Leix)
Mac Mhadóc Mac Murchadha (Weadick)
Ó Mathúna Raithlind (O’Mahony of Raithlinn)
Bréifne Ó Raghallagh (O’Reilly Breifne)
Ó Tighearnaigh (O’Tierney)
Ó hUigín Cenél Fiachrach (O’Higgins of Cenél Fiachrach)
For those of you who may have missed the name of Tadhg ua Ceallaigh, one of Brian’s allies and my progenitor, I would like the congregation to pause to remember that the army of Brian mac Connetig was not alone on the day and that there were many clansmen from many parts of southern and western Ireland who fought with them, including the household troops of Tadhg ua Ceallaigh. It was these who killed Arnaill Scot at Dubgalls bridge, who was reputed to have been the last of the men of Dublin to die. However, it was also reported that only a hundred of the Connaught army survived and Tadhg ua Ceallaigh himself lost his life. So, it is fitting that a thousand years later, we the clans from throughout Ireland have come together again to support this symbolic O’Brien initiative.
Lastly, before we proceed ceremonially out of this magnificent Christ Church Cathedral and leave Dean Dunne and his pastoral flock in peace, I would like to recall a curious and alternative account given as the reason for the epic Battle. It was said that a merchant, said to be the son of the King of Denmark had entrusted his beautiful wife to the care of Brian while he travelled away on business. Murchad, the son of Brian, we are told ‘made suit to her and won her love and lay with her’.
This ladies and gentleman is an example of why it is generally accepted that most people in this room could claim that in all likelihood they have, if not O’Brien DNA in their system, they most certainly have the blood of someone who fought at the historic battle, coursing through their veins.
Therefore, let me invite you all to follow, in procession, the Clan Ceannairí, led by the O’Brien Pipe and Drum Band as they now leave the Cathedral, after which we have been invited to the magnificent crypt for a cup of tea or something by Dean Dunne.
King Brian of Ireland murdered by Vikings
Brian Boru, the high king of Ireland, is assassinated by a group of retreating Norsemen shortly after his Irish forces defeated them.
Brian, a clan prince, seized the throne of the southern Irish state of Dal Cais from itsoghanacht rulers in 963. He subjugated all of Munster, extended his power over all of southern Ireland, and in 1002 became the high king of Ireland. Unlike previous high kings of Ireland, Brian resisted the rule of Ireland’s Norse invaders, and after further conquests his rule was acknowledged across most of Ireland. As his power increased, relations with the Norsemen on the Irish coast grew increasingly strained. In 1013, Sitric, king of the Dublin Norse, formed an alliance against Brian, featuring Viking warriors from Ireland, the Hebrides, the Orkneys, and Iceland, as well as soldiers of Brian’s native Irish enemies.
On April 23, 1014, Good Friday, forces under Brian’s son Murchad met and annihilated the Viking coalition at the Battle of Clontarf, near Dublin. After the battle, a small group of Norsemen, flying from their defeat, stumbled on Brian’s tent, overcame his bodyguards, and murdered the elderly king. Victory at Clontarf broke Norse power in Ireland forever, but Ireland largely fell into anarchy after the death of Brian.
Battle of Clontarf
The battle of Clontarf took place on April 23, 1014, close to Dublin in Ireland. It was a battle for control of all of Ireland.
The Two Sides
On one side was the army of Brian Bórú, the most powerful of the Irish chieftains at that time. Against Brian were supporters of the king of Leinster and a force of Vikings. The king of Leinster was also supported by men from the Scottish Orkney Islands and from the Isle of Man.
Enemies of Bórú
The Vikings had been in Ireland for many years, and their main settlement was in Dublin. At the time there was no one united country of Ireland. Powerful men known as chieftains controlled different parts of the island, and they sometimes fought each other for greater control. The Vikings had become involved in those struggles. Brian Bórú had claimed to be king of all of Ireland in 1002. When the king of Leinster decided to challenge Brian, the Vikings joined forces with the king of Leinster. Defeating Brian would increase their own power.
Battle and Aftermath
The two sides met at Clontarf, outside Dublin. In the battle that followed, Brian Bórú’s forces overthrew the king of Leinster and defeated the Vikings. However, Brian was killed in the battle and so was his son.
The battle of Clontarf has gone down in history as a heroic struggle between the Irish and the Vikings. In fact, it was more of a power struggle between Irish chieftains. More than 100 years later, Brian’s great-grandson described the battle. Over the centuries the story was added to, giving the battle of Clontarf a legendary status.
Did You Know?
Brian Bórú was too old to fight in the Battle of Clontarf. The enemy killed him in his tent.
Brian Boru has already been slain by Brodir after the successful rout of Murchada's forces, leaving his men to fair under his remaining sons and generals.
In OTL, Malachy's forces meet Brian's at the bridge and are, just as their allies under Murchada had done before, routed to the sea this time, where Brian's forces successfully capture Dublin.
However, our POD begins with the victory of Malachy's forces. Instead, Brian's men are routed away into the sea or are killed before reaching the fortress.
In the battle, the leaders of the Orkney Isles and the Isle of Man, as well as the heirs and possible future-heirs to the kingdom have been killed. In an act of thankfulness for his help, Malachy grants Silkbeard the area north of Dublin, the Isle of Man, and the Orkney Isles.
Leaders died in battle
Brian’s 15-year-old grandson Toirdelbach chased the Viking forces into the sea but was caught by a huge wave and drowned.
Brian’s son Murchad killed Sigurd of the Orkney Vikings but was eventually killed himself. Brodir was leaving the battle field on the shore and went in pursuit of Brian’s tent. When he reached the tent he killed the bodyguard and saw Brian praying. He took the opportunity and killed the old High King by striking him in the head with an axe.
The Munster forces were furious and surrounded Brodir. They closed in on him and cut his stomach open. They then tied the end of his entrails to a tree and made him to circle it until he died.
By the end of the battle it is estimated that between 7,000 and 10,000 men had been killed. King Mórda of Leinster was also a casualty of the battle.
E very April 23 we remember with great pride another in the long line of Irishmen who despite all the odds stacked against them, nevertheless decided to take a stand against an oppressive enemy. So set aside a little time today and read his fascinating full story at the link at the end of this article.
The Battle of Clontarf took place on April 23, 1014, near the River Tolka. An Irish army led by Brian Boru, High King of Ireland, fought against a Norse-Irish alliance comprising the forces of Sigtrygg Silkbeard, King of Dublin Máel Mórda mac Murchada, King of Leinster and a Viking army led by Sigurd, of Orkney and Brodir of the Isle of Man. It lasted from sunrise to sunset and ended in a rout of the Viking and Leinster forces.
The battle was an important event in Irish history and is recorded in both Irish and Norse chronicles. In Ireland, the battle came to be seen as an event that freed the Irish from foreign domination, and Brian was hailed as a national hero. This view was especially popular during English rule in Ireland. Although the battle has come to be viewed in a more critical light, it still has a hold on the popular imagination. After 1014, the Vikings continued to raid and plunder England and other areas of Europe and had a base on the Isle of Man. They returned in overwhelming force in 1170 in the guise of the Normans who were the descendants of the Vikings or the 'Northmen' as they were called. and as they say, the rest is history.
Trinity College Dublin marks anniversary of Battle of Clontarf with conference and exhibition
This year marks the 1000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf, one of the most important events in Irish history. Scholars are gathering for a conference, starting today at Trinity College Dublin that will look at the battle, which took place on 23 April 1014, and saw Brian Boru defeat the King of Leinster and his Viking allies.
Entitled Clontarf 1014-2014, the 16th Medieval Dublin Symposium organised by Trinity’s Department of History in partnership with Dublin City Council will bring together for the first time all the world’s leading authorities on the subject. The conference aims to establish the truth of what really happened at Clontarf for a twenty-first century audience, to re-evaluate the role of Brian Boru in the light of the latest cutting-edge research, and to bring recent investigations of the subject of the high-kingship of Ireland and of the role of the Vikings in medieval Ireland into the realm of public discourse.
The 16 papers being given at the conference include ‘What actually happened at the Battle of Clontarf?’ by Seán Duffy, ‘Brian Bóraimhe and the Battle of Clontarf in later Irish tradition’ by Meidhbhín Ní Úrdail, and ‘Ireland in 1014: the great of church and state’ by Donnchadh Ó Corráin.
The university is also hosting exhibition at Trinity College Library, entitled ‘Emperor of the Irish’: Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf, 1014, places the historic Brian in his true context, while highlighting the development of his legend. Between April and October this year, visitors to Trinity College Library’s Long Room can explore Brian’s life, and afterlife, through a collection of exhibits, which date from his own era up to the 21st century.
The principal exhibit is the famous 9th-century Book of Armagh, which will be displayed alongside the Book of Kells. The Book of Armagh is the only surviving item that is known for certain to have been in Brian’s presence it contains an inscription detailing an agreement in 1005 between Brian and the church of Armagh, hailing him as Emperor of the Irish. A further 40 items (including medieval manuscripts and metalwork) will illuminate aspects of Brian’s life and legend. Among these are such treasures as the 12th-century Book of Leinster, the Annals of Ulster and the Brian Boru Harp.
Battle of Clontarf
The battle of Clontarf took place on April 23, 1014, close to Dublin in Ireland. It was a battle for control of all Ireland. On one side was the army of Brian Bórú, the most powerful of the Irish chieftains at that time, and on the other side were supporters of the king of Leinster and a force of Vikings from Scandinavia. The king of Leinster was also supported by men from the Scottish Orkney Islands and from the Isle of Man.
The Vikings had been living in Ireland for many years, and their main settlement was in Dublin. At the time Ireland was not a united country instead, powerful chieftains controlled different parts of the island, and they sometimes fought each other for greater control. The Vikings had become involved in those struggles. Brian had claimed to be king of all Ireland in 1002. When the king of Leinster decided to challenge Brian, the Vikings joined forces with him since defeating Brian would increase their own power.
The two sides met at Clontarf, outside Dublin. In the battle that followed, Brian’s forces under the command of his son overthrew the king of Leinster and defeated the Vikings. An aging Brian, however, was killed by retreating Vikings who stumbled upon his tent. Although the battle of Clontarf has gone down in history as a heroic struggle between the Irish and the Vikings, it was in fact more of a power struggle between Irish chieftains. Over the centuries the story was embellished, giving the battle of Clontarf a legendary status.