Ok so according to the Christian calendar today is Good Friday. Good Friday is one of those religious holidays observed primarily by Christians to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary in 33AD. Now I know I have written about this before, so for the sake of those, whom may not be aware of today’s significance, please bear with me. On this day one thousand and one years ago a major event occurred just outside Clontarf, which probably changed the course of Irish history forever. This was the day that the legend that was Brian Boru marched his Dalcassian troops from Munster to Dublin and ended the Viking dominance in Ireland forever. You may remember that last year a special celebration of this event was held in St. Anne’s Park, Raheny, to mark the 1000 year anniversary. The Brian Boru Millennium festival was an outstanding success, but sadly there seems to be no plans for a similar event this year. But you can still see my post from last year by clicking HERE. I have always had a massive interest in the history of our ancient culture, but I guess this particular piece of history has a special place for me, as it seems that I am related to the big man himself. And how could a quiet little photographer from Kildare be related to one of the most famous kings in Irish history, I hear you ask? Well last year I found out that on my mother’s side of the family, the O’ Conaing/ Gunning’s, whom belonged to the Dalcassian (DalgCais) clan, are direct descendants of a brother of Brian Boru, Ard Rí or High King of Ireland. Their territory (Thomand) comprised Co. Clare and parts of Limerick and Tipperary. The Gunning family seat was at Castleconnell, also called Castlegunning, so you can expect to see one of my Ruin hunting expeditions to come from the area hopefully during the summer.
Most people will at least know that Boru was one of Ireland’s biggest badass warrior kings and that he was responsible for kicking 50 shades out of our Viking neighbours. But the events which occurred outside Clontarf on that eventful day was a result of more than just Us versus the Vikings. In fact Dublin was in fact originally a Viking Settlement, founded as a trading port, when they became tired of all that raping and pillaging that they are best known for. The main antagonist in this story was the King of Leinster, a jumped up little sh$t known as Mael Mordha. (Funny that’s two Kings of Leinster whom were absolutely rubbish and caused major woes for Ireland, can you remember the other?)
The Irish clans were always well known for their warring ways, usually as a result of one clan nicking cattle from a nearby neighbour and a battle breaking out between the two. This was a regular occurrence which even went back to the ancient times as recorded in many annals. Just luck at the Táin Bó Cúailnge as a prime example of this. Moving on, Boru was a very clever and astute leader whom was attempting to unite all the kings of Ireland under one rule, An Ard Rí, The High King. After an arranged marriage between the Boru and Mordha clans failed to happen, Mordha essentially went rogue. Getting up to all sorts of mischief in 1013AD, which included the fatal mistake of invading the neighbouring lands of the King of Midhe, Mael Sechlainn. This was done with the assistance of the Norse king of Dublin, Sitric Silkbeard. Dublin had been a Viking settlement for many years, and was quite peaceful and prosperous, it has even been said that Silkbeard had assisted Boru in a number of altercations, fighting side by side. But there was still a strong opposition to the Viking presence in Ireland and the invasion of Midhe was the final nail in the coffin.
In an attempt to reclaim his throne and lands Sechlainn then turned to his friend Boru for assistance. And Brian was only too happy to oblige, even though Brian was in his late seventies, this was a perfect opportunity to get rid of two obstacles in one quick swoop. So he set of towards Dublin with an army of just under 5000 battle ready warriors. Consisting of 2,000 Munster men, 1,400 Dalcassians (also from Munster), and 1,500 clansmen, from neighbouring Connaught. Even though they were vastly outnumbered, with Mordha commanding 4000 Leinster men and Silkbeard’s 3000 strong band of Viking warriors which came from Dublin, the Orkneys and the Isle of Mann. The battle was to be a decisive victory for Boru.
Although only a small portion of the 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, landed in their longboats at Clontarf. As the two opposing armies faced off against each other, the Vikings and the Leinster men were lined across the sloping plains bounded by the sea and the River Tolka, whilst 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 old site of the 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.
On one of the bloodiest days in Irelands history was a rout for King Brian, whilst some 4,000 of his troops lay dead on the battlefield, over 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 berserk upon the news of his big brother’s death and began a campaign of slaughter against any remaining Norsemen he could find. The battle did lead to a time of peace between the two sides, with the Viking peoples themselves being absorbed into the Irish Culture.