BATTLE OF CLONTARF
BORU’S LAST COSTLY VICTORY
Irish High King wanted to unite his people, but his
enemies - including the Viking Brodir of Man - stopped him
at Clontarf in 1014.
As the dreaded Viking longboats cut sleekly toward the shore dimly
outlined in the evening dusk, the lights of the Irish army’s
distant campfires could be seen a mile or so inland.
The ruse had worked for Brodir of Man.
The Vikings had fooled Irish High King Brian Boru
into thinking they had deserted their allies at the
fortress of Dublin.
In reality, the Vikings had simply sailed out of sight, to return in the
darkness in hopes of catching the Irish unprepared for the
enemy’s reappearance the next morning.
The Vikings also knew that the pious Brian would be
loath to do battle on such a holy day as April 23, 1014,
More important to the Viking Brodir than such sacrosanct niceties were
the treasures he would possess after he had destroyed the
Irish armies. Not
only the wealth of the kingdom but also the high kingship
itself might be his.
Of course, others coveted the same things -
including his ally Sigtrygg, the Danish king of Dublin,
and Sigurd, the Viking earl of the Orkney Isles.
But they could be dealt with after the Irish -
including Brian Boru - had been destroyed.
First things first.
Ireland, to this day not noted for unity, consisted of 100 to 200
different tribal kingdoms in the early 11th century, as
well as various Norse and Danish settlements scattered
among the provinces of Ulster, Leinster, Connaught,
Munster and Meath. Sparsely
populated and with few large villages, Ireland had become
popular with the colonising Vikings in the 9th century.
It was not long before the invaders began to
arrange marriage alliances with Irish noble families and
assimilate into the culture of the island.
Many Irish boys were adopted by Norse settlers and
became vicious fighters known to the Irish as the
Gall-Gael, or “Sons of Death.”
Living in close proximity, the Irish warriors and Vikings fought
constantly, with tribal factions joining one side or the
other as circumstances dictated.
From such violent relations, blood feuds developed
over the generations.
Although no standing army as such existed in Ireland, landowners owed
military service to their tribe and had an obligation to
defend tribal lands when they appeared threatened.
Each tribal chief provided a number of warriors
from his own personal war band, as well as the warriors of
his sub-chiefs, to his immediate superior - the number of
warriors averaging 700 fighters per tribal unit. The kings, troubled by the fickleness of their subjects,
employed bands of mercenaries as bodyguards, although they
had a habit of deserting to a higher bidder at inopportune
times. By the
mid-9th century, most such mercenaries were Viking
settlers from the Western Isles and Argyll, and “Scots”
(Irish settlers) ... from “Alba” (what is now called
The Irish warriors, educated by older, experienced soldiers, were
brought up in a climate of almost continuous warfare. It was the custom, say the ancient histories, for young men
to prove their mettle by going to Connaught and killing a
the Irish appear to have been ferocious warriors, their
actual military service obligations lasted a grand total
of three fortnights every three years.
Undoubtedly, local leaders spent much of their
wealth hiring mercenaries or paying for nonaggression
treaties with their Viking neighbours.
Most of the old chroniclers depict the weaponry of the Irish as
identical to that of the Vikings.
The chiefs wore chain-mail and helmets and wielded
heavy two-handed axes.
The vast majority of warriors, however, fought
unarmoured with spear, axe, shield and sword.
The Irish chiefs also employed large numbers of “kerns”, lightly
armed skirmishers who used javelins - apparently
longer-ranged missile weapons were considered a
less-than-honourable method of inflicting casualties, even
though weapons such as slings had been used from the
A common Irish battle custom was to cut off the heads of slain enemies;
another was to place a sword or spear-point between an
enemy’s teeth while accepting the unfortunate warrior’s
ceremonies undoubtedly encouraged the antagonists to
summon up their utmost skill and bravery to avoid being
In this violent, war-torn land the Vikings behaved toward the Irish just
as viciously. The
Viking raiders, commanded by their earls and kings,
numbered up to 1,000 men per leader; the leader paid and
supplied the adventurers.
The Viking huscarl (housecarl) became synonymous with this hardy warrior
race, well-armoured and loyal to the death to their earl.
Not all Vikings, however, were well-armed and armoured.
Though the bulk of the raiders became well-off as
pirates, those new to the profession or conscripted out of
need were more akin to the more lightly equipped Irish in
dress and weaponry.
The standard Viking tactic was to form their divisions into shield
walls, five or more men deep and close enough together to
lock shields, allowing 1½ feet per man;
that prevented missiles from doing much harm.
Vikings used the old-style German “boar’s head”,
or swine array, attack formation, with their most heavily
armoured and best-armed men in the front ranks and those
more lightly armoured filling in behind.
This formation concentrated plenty of impact on a
small frontage - a necessary tactic if the enemy’s
shield wall were to be broken.
While their methods may sound simplistic today, the
combination of honour-bound loyalty to the leader,
superior armament and the incentives of loot and glory
made the 11th-century Viking warrior a formidable opponent
on land or at sea.
The Irish, loyal to their individual tribes, were poorly equipped in
comparison to their Viking adversaries.
Still, fighting not for pillage but to protect
their homes and families in most cases, the Irish managed
to give a good account of themselves when battling the
Irish prepared fortified encampments at night and
entertained themselves with jugglers, poets and musicians
to keep their spirits up during the grueling campaigns.
When in battle, the Irish would often make an
impromptu mad dash at the enemy lines, hoping to smash
into the enemy formation with enough momentum to cause
their foe to break ranks and lose cohesiveness.
Unlike the Vikings, who felt that any form of deceit, subterfuge or
underhandedness simply proved the wisdom of a leader, the
Irish disdained the use of stealth and guile, though
ambushes were considered a normal form of warfare.
The Irish often extended courtesies to their
enemies, a practice that perplexed the Vikings.
In the year 1002, for instance, Brian Boru marched
to Tara (the Irish capital) to demand that the High King
Malachi either submit or do battle.
Malachi asked for a month’s delay - time to
muster his army, and Brian upholding the Irish tradition
of honourable fairness in war, granted his request.
The Irish sense of honour brought the grantor of
such graces even greater glory in the end - provided that
he was the victor!
Even though the Irish and Viking warriors were culturally similar, they
retained their ethnic pride and prejudices.
During the centuries before the battle of Clontarf,
historical momentum was building toward a final
cataclysmic battle that would decide whether Ireland would
remain Celtic or become another Viking colony.
To finally bring the issue to a bloody climax it
only required an Irish leader who was sufficiently
charismatic and physically powerful to unite the clans.
Brian mac Cenneidigh, born in the province of Munster around 941 AD, was
the youngest of 12 brothers, all but two of whom would be
killed in battle. Members
of the Dal Caissan clan, the brothers fought continuous
wars against the Danes and Irish rivals from Leinster.
When his brother, Mahon, became King of Munster and
eventually undertook a treaty with the Vikings of Ivar,
who was the Norse king of Limerick, Brian Boru then waged
guerrilla war against the Vikings from his base in the
Thomond mountains. When the Vikings broke their treaty, Brian lead an army that
defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Sulchoid in 968.
(He then followed the Vikings back to Limerick.
Where he was so angry to find large numbers of
enslaved Irish children that he executed three thousand
Vikings in revenge.)
Mahon assumed the mantle of provincial king in 968, but he was
assassinated eight years afterward.
Brian succeeded him.
He caught and killed the assassins who had murdered
Mahon and then proceeded to bring the southern half of
Ireland under his rule.
According to the ancient chronicle known as the Cogadh, “He was not a stone
in place of an egg, nor a wisp of hay in place of a club;
but he was a hero in place of a hero.”
Civil war, an endemic element of Irish history, did not abate during the
latter part of the 10th century.
Malachi claimed the high kingship of Ireland in
980, after defeating the Danish Vikings at the Battle of
Tara the year before. Brian and Malachi then proceeded to fight a 20-year war
before being forced to join forces just before the turn of
the century to defeat an invading Danish Viking army at
killed 7,000 of the enemy, sacked Dublin and ravaged
Leinster in the process.
Malachi, acknowledging Brian’s military prowess
and growing popularity, offered him the kingship of more
than half the land, but Brian would be satisfied with
nothing less than high king.
By 1002, Brian’s military strength proved
overwhelming, and Malachi abdicated the throne.
Brian wasted no time in occupying it.
Though contemporaries described Brian Boru as an idealised, fearless
king who fostered Irish nationalism, the reality was that
Brian, intelligent enough to know the value of “good
press,” generated political support with lavish
liturgical patronage and used plenty of Viking-style
cunning in his political dealings.
In effect, he appeared to contemporaries as the
mystical type of leader that King Arthur represented for
Around the turn of the century, Brian broke a peace treaty with the king
of Meath, attacking and defeating him.
By 1005, he had used Viking-Irish renegades to
mount raiding expeditions against the western shores of
Britain, at the same time guaranteeing Danish Viking
settlers in Ireland their territories in return for their
military support. Still,
the ethnic hatred smouldered.
text notes that around 1013 Vikings had been billeted in
many Irish homes for some time. The moment came when Brian instructed his countrymen in each
household to kill their “guests” on a given night as
they slept and light a torch to signal that the deed was
was the reality of warfare in the age of heroes.
By the time he was 60, Brian had defeated Vikings and Irish contenders
alike, setting the stage for a strong dynasty to rule over
the fragmented island.
Factionalism was the only thing standing in the way
of Irish unity.
The king of Leinster, Mael Morda, rose in revolt in 1012, refusing to
acknowledge Brian’s rule.
Casting about for allies, he joined up with the
always-troublesome Dublin Vikings in open defiance of the
high king. Brian
tried diplomatically to dissolve this alliance by giving
his daughter to Sigtrygg Silkbeard, the Danish king of
Dublin, while he himself married the legendary Gormlaith,
mother of Sigtrygg, sister to King Mael Morda of Leinster
and former spouse of none other than Malachi!
This political alliance had too many powerful
personages involved to be a success.
While transporting his “tree tribute” (a tax in the form of masts
for ships), King Mael Morda broke a button off a tunic
given to him by Brian.
He asked his sister Gormlaith to mend it, but she
started to scold and shame him for accepting anything from
her husband, Brian, and being subject to his rule.
Stung by his sister’s insults to his honour and
manhood, Mael Morda murdered one of Brian’s heralds and
rode off to his old allies, the Dublin Vikings.
Sigtrygg, ever anxious for a fight, wasted no time
in welcoming his uncle, and immediately attacked an Irish
ally of Brian’s, raising the banner of insurrection.
Various disaffected and rebellious Irish clans
quickly threw in their lot with the Dublin Vikings.
Brian, incensed by Gormlaith’s meddling and intrigues, had her
imprisoned while he marched for three months through the
rebellious lands, raising havoc of his own before
dispatching his son Murchad to raid the lands around
Gormlaith, though imprisoned, did not sit idly by and accept her fate.
At 50 years of age, she had retained her beauty;
she had little trouble persuading Sigurd, the Viking earl
of the Orkney Isles (who was half-Irish), to come to her
not only desired Gormlaith, but he also wanted to sit in
Brian’s seat as high king, like his countrymen Svein and
Cnut had done in England.
Sigtrygg also had sent an appeal for help to Sigurd,
promising Gormlaith’s hand in marriage and support for
Sigurd’s aspirations to the throne. It seemed that the ever-so-reasonable Sigtrygg only wanted
Sigurd to guarantee his continued rule over Dublin.
But Sigtrygg had other plans.
Attempting to garner as much military help as
possible, the wily Dubliner promised Gormlaith to another
renowned Viking warrior of the age - to Brodir of the Isle
Brodir, described by the Irish as a Christian “magician” with hair
so long he had to tuck it in his belt and with mailed
armour that reportedly could not be pierced by steel, make
the same “deal” with Sigtrygg that Sigurd had made -
Brodir was promised the Irish throne as well as a bride in
return for military assistance.
Sigtrygg went so far as to tempt his own brother,
but his brother, disgusted with the treacherous
double-dealings of his sibling, joined the army of Brian
Boru instead. Still,
the Vikings of Sigurd and Brodir, more than 2,000 of them,
were a force to be feared. (1,000 of whom were covered in
chain-mail from head to foot.)
As the forces formed during the winter of 1013-1014, Brian, informed of
the mustering of Vikings and rebellious Irish clans in
Dublin, called in his own allies - his old enemy Malachi
and the clans of Meath, the clans of Connacht, Munster and
his own Dal Caissans, as well as a thousand foreign
Once the muster had been completed, Brian sent his
second oldest son, Donnchad, on a raiding expedition into
the rebellious Irish territories, while Brian himself took
the main army and marched through Leinster toward Viking
Dublin. Brian’s strategy was sound.
By attacking and continuing to harass the rebel
bases, he saw to it that many of the rebellious clans
would refuse to leave their threatened homes and march to
rebel army never reached the size it potentially could
have because Brian cleverly managed to neutralise a
sizeable portion of it.
As Sigurd and other Viking adventurers who had joined him sailed in the
tributaries outside Dublin, they were met by Sigtrygg,
Mael Morda’s Irish Leinstermen, the Dublin Vikings, and
the Irish rebels from various clans.
Shortly thereafter, Brodir of Man and his Viking
warriors arrived. The
allied-Viking army resisting Brian Boru reportedly also
contained English, Gall-Gael, Welsh, Flemish and French
warriors, as well as a handful of Normans.
This amalgamation of troops allegedly fought for
promised land and pillage as well as for glory and honour.
Yet, to read of their determined hand-to-hand
combat, revenge for age-old wrongs seems as much a
determinant as anything else.
As he approached the town, Brian Boru’s own Irish army suffered a
serious blow. Perhaps
because of old quarrels, the Irishmen of Meath, commanded
by ex-high king Malachi, drew off from the rest of the
army and refused to take part in the battle plans.
Although upset by the reluctance of his ally, Brian
then was heartened by “news” that the Viking forces
had boarded their longships and headed out to sea,
apparently deserting Sigtrygg.
Unknown to the Irish leaders, of course, Sigtrygg,
Brodir and Earl Sigurd had planned this ruse to lull the
Irish into a sense of false security.
The Vikings sailed out of sight and immediately
turned around, arriving back on the darkened beaches near
Clontarf after sunset and thus ensuring that a battle
would be fought on Good Friday.
Brian’s army, depleted by Malachi’s refusal to fight, still managed
to muster 7,000 or so warriors.
Not only were Brian’s Irish troops present, but
there were also warriors from “Alba” (Scotland) and
Norway and a contingent of newly Christianised Manx
Vikings - all of whom prepared to fight the more heavily
armoured allied-Viking force.
The night before the battle, the Vikings were informed that Sigurd had
brought a sacred raven banner, woven by his mother, which
had the magical properties of ensuring victory for the
army if carried before it - but also promising death to
its bearers. He
tried to downplay that part of the prophecy; even so, he
would have a difficult time finding volunteers to bear his
mother’s banner the next morning.
As dawn broke, the Vikings assembled on the shores near Clontarf before
their beached boats, a mile and a half from the walls of
that time all of Dublin town was south of the Liffey.
Only DubhGall’s Bridge – “Doyle’s Bridge”
– connected it to the north side where the Vikings were
coming ashore.) If
Brian Boru and his followers were totally aghast at such a
surprise, it was not immediately apparent.
Indeed, adversarial warriors in the fortress were
graciously allowed by the Irish to leave their walled
fortress unmolested and join the Vikings forming up near
the oak forrest on the north shore.
Brian, though reluctant to take an active part in a battle on Good
Friday, did ride before his assembling forces, carrying a
crucifix in one hand and a sword in the other.
He gave a short but inspiring speech to his
warriors assembled to do battle and then retired to the
rear, accompanied by a number of personal escorting
guards, who formed a shield wall around him.
(Brian Boru had camped at what is now Kilmainham
the night before, in a dense stand of oak trees known as
Tolmar’s Wood.) The
Irish, incensed by years of bloody skirmishes, of loved
ones being killed or captured and homes destroyed,
prepared to destroy the hated Vikings and their renegade
The allied-Viking army formed up into five battle divisions on the
field; a sixth remained in Dublin, where Sigtrygg also
stayed with 1,000 of his Dublin Vikings manning the walls,
effectively guaranteeing himself a ringside seat without
fear of personal harm.
Sigtrygg’s son commanded the extreme left
division of the allied-Viking army as leader of all those
Dublin warriors who desired to fight in the open that day,
perhaps another 1,000 men.
Next in line stood a strong, 3,000-man force of
Irish rebels from Leinster in two divisions, commanded by Brian’s
rebellious brother-in-law, Mael Morda.
Armed and armoured the same as the Irish clans
opposite them, these fighters from Leinster were the
weakest link in the allied-Viking line.
Sigurd’s Orkney Vikings manned the center - 1,000
well-armoured, axe-wielding veterans of many wars.
And finally, on the right were stationed Brodir’s
Vikings, 1,000 or more them, eager to come to grips with
the supposedly inferior foe.
Brodir’s men anchored their flank on the banks of
Dublin Bay, where the longboats lay beached.
Opposite the Viking allies, Brian’s allied-Irish forces also formed
into regional divisions.
On the Irish right, 1,000 foreign mercenaries and
Manx Vikings assembled opposite the Dublin Vikings.
Next to them, 1,500 clansmen of Connacht were
gathered under their kings, while more than 2,000 Munster
warriors under Brian’s son Murchad continued the front,
flanked by 1,400 Dal Caissans on the extreme left - they
were led by Murchad’s 15-year-old son, Tordhelbach, and
Brian’s brother, Cuduiligh.
Off to the right of the army and several hundred
yards to the rear stood the reluctant army of Meath, 1,500
strong under Malachi, watching and waiting - perhaps to
see which side prevailed before becoming involved.
As the forces formed up into their respective battle arrays, a Danish
Viking chief roared a challenge across the field to an
Irish leader, “Where’s Domhnall?”
Came the reply, “Here, thou reptile,” and
reportedly each man soon fell with the other’s sword in
his breast and holding the adversary’s hair.
Such was the grim, no-quarter combat that would be
the norm this day.
Several other names were called out as more individuals advanced to the
middle ground between the armies to settle grudges and
family feuds. The
massed onlookers cheered on the various combatants who
strode into the no-man’s land between the two forces to
offer or accept a challenge.
As the individual contests were fought between old
enemies, the two armies slowly began to move toward each
other in the early morning light.
Inevitably, the forces closed with crushing impact; their brutal edged
weapons crashing down on helmet and shield.
Swinging his deadly axe with frightful effect,
Brodir fought his way through the first ranks of his
enemies, pushing back the Irishmen before him until a
renowned warrior, Wolf the Quarrelsome, sought him out and
hit him twice with such force that the Viking fell, only
managing to escape Wolf’s axe by ignominiously fleeing
into the woods to his right.
In the center, the Leinstermen of Mael Morda dealt harshly with the
Munster clans opposing them.
They pushed their fellow Irishmen back, and Sigurd’s
Orkney Vikings added to the Irish despair by smashing into
the already engaged and lightly armed Munstermen.
Sigurd fought hard, following his “magical” raven banner and
watching the prophecies of the seers come to pass.
An Irish leader led a mad, impetuous attack
directed at the raven standard and viciously killed the
Vikings near it. He slew the standard-bearer, who was immediately replaced by
another, but he, too, fell to the Irish blades.
According to the old histories, Earl Sigurd ordered the chieftain
Thorstein to pick up the fallen standard, but Asmund the
White warned that he would die if he took it.
Thorstein walked away.
Sigurd then turned to another chieftain, who told
him to carry it himself. Sigurd, unwilling to show cowardice or fear, did pick up the
banner, but placed it under his cloak, hoping to avoid the
Irish blades. His
ruse was to no avail - Brian’s son Murchad sought him
out and felled the Orkney leader with a spear thrust.
Brodir’s men, still a threat even with their leader hiding in the
woods, were attacked by the omnipresent Murchad, who led
his personal bodyguard of 140 “king’s sons” along
the line of battle, bolstering morale and valour by his
presence in the Irish ranks.
As in most battles of this period, a leader’s
example could not honourably be ignored, and men would
fight to the death to gain his notice, respect and
Murchad’s assault broke the Manx Vikings, who, with their leader gone,
began to flee back towards their ships.
This left the Leinstermen isolated, although they
continued to press the Munster clans hard after hours of
bloody push and shove.
Curiously, the ebb and flow of battle was often
interrupted while men from both sides drew back from each
other to gain a few moments of mutually needed rest.
Although victorious so far, Mael Morda’s Leinster clans were tired,
disordered and severely weakened by the heavy losses
sustained in hours of battle.
Rallying, the Munstermen mounted a desperate
counterattack against Mael Morda’s troops, and in a
wild, frenzied, tooth-and-nail fight, Mael Morda and the
Munster chieftain killed each other.
On the Viking left, meanwhile, the Dublin Vikings fought toe to toe
against the foreign (Viking) mercenaries Brian had hired.
Here, the axes and spears of the professional
warriors cut through Danish (Dublin Viking) chain-mail
with deadly effect. Slowly,
the Dublin Vikings were forced to fight a delaying action
they could not maintain.
They lost touch with the supporting Leinstermen on
their right. And
as the Leinster clans became even further isolated,
several groups of them joined the Orkney Vikings on their
immediate flank, the two forces momentarily holding in the
face of increasing Irish pressure.
Somewhere at this point in the battle, either the Norwegian Prince Anwud
or Eric of Denmark fought his way through to the exhausted
Murchad, who still managed to throw the attacking Viking
to the ground and stab him before he, too, was killed.
Here was yet another example of the propensity for
leaders of note to seek each other out and fight their own
individual battles throughout the daylong contest.
The deadly axes of the foreign (Viking) auxiliaries finally broke the
Dublin Vikings, who began to run for their fortress. The Orkney Vikings, finding their allies evaporating around
them and seeing that Earl Sigurd and the “magical”
raven banner had fallen, also began to break ranks and
retreat to their ships.
The diffident Malachi had held his own Irishmen in place all day,
watching their fellow countrymen bleed and die on the
fields before them. But
now that the Viking enemy appeared to be in retreat, he
ordered his Meath warriors to join the battle.
Any possibility of the Vikings rallying died in
this final attack. As
the Dublin Vikings streamed toward the single bridge into
Dublin, they were caught by Malachi’s fresh Irish
warriors, and in the ensuing panic only a handful of
survivors managed to return to Sigtrygg’s garrison.
On the other flank, the Orkney and Manx Vikings had nowhere to run.
During the course of the long battle, the tide had
come in, cutting the Vikings off from the safety of their
choice being Irish blades or a hazardous swim, most
elected to run into the sea. As the Vikings fled into the water, Brian’s 15-year-old
grandson Tordhelbach, caught up in the fury of battle,
chased two Danes into the ocean and dragged them under,
drowning himself in the process.
Not all of the defeated Vikings would be killed, however.
Thorstein, the Viking who had wisely refused to
carry Sigurd’s raven banner, was exhausted and resigned
to his fate. He
had paused to tie his shoelace when the Munstermen caught
him and asked why he had not continued to run.
Thorstein replied, “Because I can’t get home
tonight, since I am at home out in Iceland.”
The Irish, generous in their victory, allowed the
Icelander to live.
Not so with another leading participant. It seems Brodir, hiding in the woods, saw Brian just outside,
lightly guarded while most of his men were off in furious
pursuit of the fugitives.
The Vikings fell upon the few Irish retainers,
decapitating Brian with one blow.
Then they retreated, Brodir yelling, “Now let man
tell man that Brodir felled Brian,” and were quickly
subdued and taken prisoner by the enraged Irish.
According to the Viking sagas, Wolf the Quarrelsome
ordered that Brodir’s men be killed and that Brodir
himself should die a lingering coward’s death.
Losses to both sides were incredibly high. Out of a total of between 7,000 and 8,000 combatants, the
estimated allied loss was more than 6,000, including
almost all the leaders.
Irish losses were least 1,600, and perhaps as high
as 4,000, including their king, Brian Boru.
It became one of the bloodiest battles in Irish
annals tell of blood dripping from trees in the forest
where the most savage axe-fighting took place.
The next day, Donnchad arrived and tried to tempt Sigtrygg out of
Dublin, but to no avail.
So, on Easter Sunday, the dead Irish leaders were
gathered up along with the wounded, and the Irish warriors
marched home, leaving behind the stripped bodies of
several thousand corpses.
Every invading Viking leader was killed during the
Battle of Clontarf. Also
slain was Maelmora of Leinster, together with most of his
Silkbeard did not die, however, because he did not fight.
With his mother Gormlaith, he watched the entire
battle in safety from the walls of Dublin.
Murrough, the son Brian Boru had trained to succeed
him, was killed late in the day.
Murrough’s 15 year old son Turlough was found
dead in the fishing weir at Clontarf, his fingers still
clutching the hair of a slain Viking.
Most of Brian’s other sons died at Clontarf as
was no man left alive capable of taking the place of Brian
watching the battle from the safety of Dublin
With his troops still fresh and at full strength, latecomer Malachi
claimed the Irish throne once again - and there were few
left to oppose him.
Sigtrygg held out in Dublin until his death in
1042, while the surviving Danes and Norsemen were
assimilated into the Irish populace and culture.
At this stage the Vikings had been in Ireland for
more than 200 years, they had married Irish women, built
towns and established trade.
The Vikings were part of Ireland now.
The cultures of Viking and Gael were merging. (In 1035 Sigtrygg left Dublin to go on a religious
he returned the following year, he gave a grant of gold
and treasure plus “a place on which to build a church of
the Blessed Trinity”, establishing what would become
Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin.)
Donnchad succeeded Malachi as high king, but was
deposed by a rebellious faction in the 1050s, when wars
fought over the throne became even more brutal, ending
only with an Anglo-Norman invasion in the next century.
Clontarf was a spectacular, if costly, victory for
Brian’s armies. After
Clontarf the invading Vikings concentrated their efforts
on England and Scotland.
By the following year a Danish Viking called Canute
would rule England. (The
last Viking expedition to Ireland took place in 1102. In that year the King of Norway, Magnus Barefoot, sailed into
Dublin harbour. He
was met by Muircheartach Ua Brian with an army at his
promptly arranged a truce and, after spending some time in
the city, sailed peaceably back to Norway.
When he returned to Ireland the following year,
however, Magnus was ambushed and slain on the coast of
was buried by the Irish in the cathedral at Downpatrick,
out of respect for his kingship.)
The stories, songs and poems of glory and battlefield prowess at
Clontarf that appeared over the next few hundred years
took on a unique importance.
In the late Middle Ages, if Irish families could
not claim an ancestor killed at the battle, they were not
considered truly noble ..........
modern Dublin’s Sandymount Strand, a young boy with fair
hair and sea-blue eyes walks alone on the beach.
He leaves footprints in the damp sand.
Seagulls wheel overhead, crying.
The boy is paying no attention to the great modern
city of Dublin which rises behind him. Insted he keeps gazing out to sea, watching the waves coming
rolling in with their message from foreign shores. He dreams of what lies beyond the horizon.
Some day he may go and see for himself.
The Vikings never left Ireland.
They are still there!
for the foregoing article included Morgan Llewellyn’s The
Lion of Ireland, a popular novel; and as two primary sources, The Story of
Burnt Njal, translation
by Sir G.W. Dasent; and The Orkneyinga Saga, translation by Hermann Palsson and Paul