On this day 999 years ago, Brian Boru, the King of Munster and one of the biggest badass warriors in Ireland at the time, knocked 50 shades of S##t out of the Vikings of Dublin at Clontarf. The Vikings and their allies from Leinster, the Orkneys and the Isle of Mann were led by Sitric Silkbeard. The Battle was a result of over two centuries of treachery, failed alliances and treaties between the Celtic Chieftains and the Norsemen whom had taken a strong foothold in Ireland ever since they gave up plundering the gold, chalices, crosses and manuscripts of the monasteries and the corn harvests of the settled communities. Gradually they established Viking settlements around Ireland and engaged in trade and commerce. However there was a strong opposition to their presence in Ireland from the southern province of Munster. Here Brian had promptly kicked Viking ass on several occasions. Brian’s aim was to unite all the warring Celtic kingdoms and unify the under one rule and one High King.
In 1013, Mael Mordha, the king of Leinster went into revolt after an inter-marriage alliances with Brian had broken down, and joined forces with Sitric Silkbeard and the Vikings. Together, they initially attacked the kingdom of Mael Sechlainn in Meath whom in turn requested the help of the Munster King. Brian being the nice guy that he was, was only too happy to oblige and set off towards Dublin with an army of 4,900 battle ready troops made up of 2,000 Munster men, 1,400 Dalcassians (also Munster men), and 1,500 Connacht clansmen. Opposing them were Mael Mordha’s army of 4,000 Leinster men in addition to Sitrics 3,000 Viking warriors. Now whilst the story of Clontarf spins the battle as a typical good versus evil, Brian Boru versus the Vikings, I reckon knowing how us Irish get on and strongly believe that the Viking population got dragged into an internal fued between two warring Irish clans, drew the short end of the stick and came out the worse for wear. But then what would I know, Im no historical scholar, its just my view, so on with our story.
Only a small segment of the battle was fought close to the seafront at Clontarf, the historic encounter on Good Friday, April 23rd, 1014 entered the annals as the Battle of Clontarf mainly because some 2,000 Vikings had by sunrise on that morning of April 23rd, landed in their longboats at Clontarf.As the two opposing armies faced one another that day the Vikings and the Leinster men were lined across the sloping plains bounded by the sea and the River Tolka, while King Brian’s army occupied the rising ground near Tomar’s Wood in Phibsboro. The most ferocious part of the battle was fought at ‘the Battle of the Fishing Weir’, which is close to the site of the former D.W.D. Whiskey Distillery on Richmond Road. Historic accounts of the battle also refer to the ‘savage encounters’ fought on the ‘Bloody Fields of Marino’ and what is today Phibsboro and Cross Guns.
The result of the bloodiest day in ancient Ireland was a rout for King Brian, although some 4,000 of his troops lay dead on the battlefield. In contrast some 6,000 Leinster men and Vikings were slaughtered including every single Viking leader. King Brian’s army drove the fleeing Vikings back towards the sea at Clontarf, an account of which is descriptively told in a translation from the Gaelic manuscript by J.H. Todd in ‘The Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gaill’, (London, 1867).
“It was at the full tide the foreigners came out to fight the battle in the morning, and the tide had come to the same place again at the end of the day when the foreigners were defeated; and the tide had carried away their ships from them, so they had not at last any place to fly to, but into the sea; after the mail-coated foreigners had all been killed by the Dal Cais….and the foreigners were drowned in great numbers by the sea, and they lay in heaps and in hundreds.”
Even though Brian had just won probably the greatest victory of his long career, he did not live long enough to enjoy it. As he knelt praying in his tent near Cross Guns, a sneaky bastard Viking known as Brodir, whom had been hiding in the nearby woods, ran into the tent of the victorious King slaying the 84-year-old Brian with his axe. Brodir was later captured and slaughtered by another badass warrior, Wolf the Quarrelsome, the younger brother of King Brian. Little Wolfie is said to have gone beserk upon the news of his big brothers death and began a campaign of slaughter against any remaining Norsemen he could find. The battle did lead to an time of piece between the two sides, with the Viking peoples themselves being absorbed into the Irish Culture.