The Battle of Dundalk—The Danes supposed to be Christianized—Brian
Boroimhé and his Brother Mahoun—The Dalcassians fight the Danes—Mahoun
is assassinated—Brian revenges his Brother's Murder—Malachy's Exploits
against the Danes—Malachy and Brian form a Treaty and fight the
Danes—Malachy wins "the Collar of Gold"—Brian's "Happy Family" at
Kincora—He usurps the Supreme Power, and becomes Monarch of
Ireland—Remote Causes of the Battle of Clontarf—Gormflaith is "grim"

with Brian—Blockade of Dublin—The Danes prepare for a Fierce
Conflict—Brian prepares also—The Battle of Clontarf—Disposition of
the Forces—Brian's Death—Defeat of the Danes.

[A.D. 926-1022.]


any of the sea-coast towns were now in possession of the Danes. They
had founded Limerick, and, indeed, Wexford and Waterford almost owe them
the debt of parentage. Obviously, the ports were their grand
securities—a ready refuge if driven by native valour to embark in their
fleets; convenient head-quarters when marauding expeditions to England
or Scotland were in preparation. But the Danes never obtained the same
power in Ireland as in the sister country. The domestic dissensions of
the men of Erinn, ruinous as they were to the nation, gave it at least
the advantage of having a brave and resolute body of men always in arms,
and ready to face the foe at a moment's notice, when no selfish policy
interfered. In 937 Athelstane gained his famous victory over the Danes
at Brunanbriegh in Northumberland, and came triumphantly to reclaim the
dagger[208] which he had left at the shrine of St. John of Beverley.
After his death, in 941, Amlaff returned to Northumberland, and once
more restored the Danish sway. From this time, until the accession of
the Danish King Canute, England was more or less under the dominion of
these ruthless tyrants.[209]

"The Danes of Ireland, at this period, were ruled by Sitric, son of
Turgesius, whose name was sufficient to inspire the Irish with terror.
Through policy he professed willingness to enter into a treaty of peace
with Callaghan, King of Munster; and, as proof of his sincerity, offered
him his sister, the Princess Royal of Denmark, in marriage. The Irish
king had fallen in love with this amiable and beautiful princess, and he
readily consented to the fair and liberal measures proposed. He sent
word to Sitric he would visit him; and, attended by a royal retinue, to
be followed in a little time by his guards, as escort for his future
queen, proceeded to meet his royal bride.

"Sitric's project of inveigling the King of Munster into his district,
in order to make him prisoner, under the expectation of being married to
the Princess of Denmark, having been disclosed to his wife, who was of
Irish birth, she determined to warn the intended victim of the meditated
treachery, and accordingly she disguised herself, and placed herself in
a pass which Callaghan should traverse, and met him. Here she informed
him who she was, the design of Sitric against him, and warned him to
return as fast as possible. This was not practicable. Sitric had barred
the way with armed men; and Callaghan and his escort, little prepared
for an encounter, found themselves hemmed in by an overwhelming Danish
force. To submit without a struggle was never the way with the
Momonians. They formed a rampart round the person of their king, and cut through the Danish ranks. Fresh foes met them on every side; and, after
a bloody struggle, the men of Munster were conquered. Callaghan, the
king, and Prince Duncan, son of Kennedy, were brought captives to
Dublin. Then the royal prisoners were removed to Armagh, and their safe
keeping entrusted to nine Danish earls, who had a strong military force
at their orders to guard them.

"The news of this insidious act rapidly fanned the ardour of the Munster
troops to be revenged for the imprisonment of their beloved king.
Kennedy, the Prince of Munster, father of Duncan, was appointed regent,
with ample powers to govern the country in the king's absence. The first
step was to collect an army to cope with the Danes. To assemble a
sufficient body of troops on land was easy; but the great strength of
the northern rovers lay in their swift-sailing ships. 'It must strike
the humblest comprehension with astonishment,' says Marmion, 'that the
Irish, although possessed of an island abounding with forests of the
finest oak, and other suitable materials for ship-building—enjoying
also the most splendid rivers, loughs, and harbours, so admirably
adapted to the accommodation of extensive fleets, should,
notwithstanding, for so many centuries, allow the piratical ravages of
the Danes, and subsequently the more dangerous subversion of their
independence by the Anglo-Normans, without an effort to build a navy
that could cope with those invaders on that element from which they
could alone expect invasion from a foreign foe.' This neglect has also
been noticed by the distinguished Irish writer—Wilde—who, in his
admirably executed Catalogue of the Antiquities in the Royal Irish
, observes:—'Little attention has been paid to the subject of
the early naval architecture of this country. So far as we yet know, two
kinds of boats appear to have been in use in very early times in the
British Isles—the canoe and the corragh; the one formed of a single
piece of wood, the other composed of wickerwork, covered with hides.'
Larger vessels there must have been; though, from the length of time
which has since elapsed, we have no traces of them now. Kennedy not only
collected a formidable army by land, but 'he fitted out a fleet of
ships, and manned it with able seamen, that he might make sure of his
revenge, and attack the enemy by sea and land.' The command of the fleet
was conferred on an admiral perfectly skilled in maritime affairs,
Failbhe Fion, King of Desmond.

"When the army of Munster arrived near Armagh, they learnt the prisoners
had been removed thence by Sitric, and placed on board ship. Enraged at
this disappointment, they gave no quarter to the Danes, and advanced
rapidly to Dundalk, where the fleet lay, with the king and young prince
on board. Sitric, unable to withstand the opposing army on shore,
ordered his troops to embark, and resolved to avoid the encounter
through means of his ships. While the baffled Irish army were chafing at
this unexpected delay to their hoped for vengeance, they espied, from
the shore of Dundalk, where they encamped, a sail of ships, in regular
order, steering with a favourable gale towards the Danish fleet moored
in Dundalk bay. Joy instantly filled their hearts; for they recognized
the fleet of Munster, with the admiral's vessel in the van, and the rest
ranged in line of battle. The Danes were taken by surprise; they beheld
an enemy approach from a side where they rather expected the raven flag
of their country floating on the ships. The Munster admiral gave them no
time to form. He steered straight to Sitric's vessel, and, with his
hardy crew, sprang on board. Here a sight met his gaze which filled his
heart with rage; he saw his beloved monarch, Callaghan, and the young
prince, tied with cords to the main-mast. Having, with his men, fought
through the Danish troops to the side of the king and prince, he cut the
cords and set them free. He then put a sword into the hands of the
rescued king, and they fought side by side: Meanwhile Sitric, and his
brothers, Tor and Magnus, did all they could to retrieve the fortunes of
the day. At the head of a chosen band they attacked the Irish admiral,
and he fell, covered with wounds. His head, exposed by Sitric on a pole,
fired the Danes with hope—the Irish with tenfold rage. Fingal, next in
rank to Failbhe Fion, took the command, and determined to avenge his
admiral. Meeting the Danish ruler in the combat, he seized Sitric round
the neck, and flung himself with his foe into the sea, where both
perished. Seagdor and Connall, two captains of Irish ships, imitated
this example—threw themselves upon Tor and Magnus, Sitric's brothers,
and jumped with them overboard, when all were drowned. These desperate
deeds paralysed the energy of the Danes, and the Irish gained a complete
victory in Dundalk bay.

"The Irish fleet having thus expelled the pirates from their coast, came
into harbour, where they were received with acclamations of joy by all
who witnessed their bravery. Such is a summary of Keating's poetic
account of this day's achievements; and there are extant fuller accounts
in various pieces of native poetry, especially one entitled 'The Pursuit
after Callaghan of Cashel, by the Chief of Munster, after he had been
entrapped by the Danes.'"

The year 948 has generally been assigned as that of the conversion of
the Danes to Christianity; but, whatever the precise period may have
been, the conversion was rather of a doubtful character as we hear of
their burning churches, plundering shrines, and slaughtering
ecclesiastics with apparently as little remorse as ever. In the very
year in which the Danes of Dublin are said to have been converted, they
burned the belfry of Slane while filled with religious who had sought
refuge there. Meanwhile the Irish monarchies were daily weakened by
divisions and domestic wars. Connaught was divided between two or three
independent princes, and Munster into two kingdoms.

The ancient division of the country into five provinces no longer held
good; and the Ard-Righ, or chief monarch, was such only in name. Even
the great northern Hy-Nials, long the bravest and most united of the
Irish clans, were now divided into two portions, the Cinel-Connaill and
Cinel-Owen; the former of whom had been for some time excluded from the
alternate accession of sovereignty, which was still maintained between
the two great families of the race of Nial. But, though this arrangement
was persevered in with tolerable regularity, it tended little to the
promotion of peace, as the northern princes were ever ready to take
advantage of the weakness of the Meath men, who were their inferiors
both in numbers and in valour.

The sovereignty of Munster had also been settled on the alternate
principle, between the great tribe of Dalcassians, or north Munster
race, and the Eoghanists, or southeners. This plan of succession, as may
be supposed, failed to work peaceably; and, in 942, Kennedy, the father
of the famous Brian Boroimhé, contested the sovereignty with the
Eoghanist prince, Callaghan Cashel, but yielded in a chivalrous spirit,
not very common under such circumstances, and joined his former opponent
in his contests with the Danes. The author of the Wars of the Gaedhil
with the Gall
gives a glowing account of the genealogy of Brian and his
eldest brother, Mathgamhain. They are described as "two fierce,
magnificent heroes, the two stout, able, valiant pillars," who then
governed the Dalcassian tribes; Mathgamhain (Mahoun) being the actual
chieftain, Brian the heir apparent. A guerilla war was carried on for
some time in the woods of Thomond, in which no quarter was given on
either side, and wherein it was "woe to either party to meet the other."
Mahoun at last proposed a truce, but Brian refused to consent to this
arrangement. He continued the war until he found his army reduced to
fifteen men. Mahoun then sent for him. An interview took place, which is
described in the form of a poetic dialogue, between the two brothers.
Brian reproached Mahoun with cowardice; Mahoun reproached Brian with
imprudence. Brian hints broadly that Mahoun had interested motives in
making this truce, and declares that neither Kennedy, their father, nor
Lorcan, their grandfather, would have been so quiescent towards the
foreigners for the sake of wealth, nor would they have given them even
as much time as would have sufficed to play a game of chess[210] on the
green of Magh Adhair. Mahoun kept his temper, and contented himself with
reproaching Brian for his recklessness, in sacrificing the lives of so
many of his faithful followers to no purpose. Brian replied that he
would never abandon his inheritance, without a contest, to "such
foreigners as Black Grim Gentiles."

The result was a conference of the tribe, who voted for war, and marched
into the country of the Eoghanists (the present co. Kerry), who at once
joined the standard of the Dalcassians. The Danes suffered severely in
Munster. This aroused the Limerick Danes; and their chieftain, Ivar,
attacked the territory of Dal-Cais, an exploit in which he was joined,
to their eternal shame, by several native princes and tribes, amongst
whom were Maolmuadh (Molloy), son of Braun, King of Desmond, and
Donabhan (Donovan), son of Cathal, King of Ui Cairbhri. The result was a
fierce battle at Sulcoit, near Tipperary, wherein the Danes were
gloriously defeated. The action was commenced by the Northmen. It
continued from sunrise till mid-day, and terminated in the rout of the
foreigners, who fled "to the ditches, and to the valleys, and to the
solitudes of the great sweet flower plain," where they were followed by
the conquerors, and massacred without mercy.

The Dalcassians now obtained possession of Limerick, with immense spoils
of jewels, gold and silver, foreign saddles, "soft, youthful, bright
girls, blooming silk-clad women, and active well-formed boys." The
active boys were soon disposed of, for we find that they collected the
prisoners on the hillocks of Saingel, where "every one that was fit for
war was put to death, and every one that was fit for a slave was
enslaved." This event is dated A.D. 968.

Mahoun was now firmly established on the throne, but his success
procured him many enemies. A conspiracy was formed against him under the
auspices of Ivar of Limerick and his son, Dubhcenn. The Eoghanist clans
basely withdrew their allegiance from their lawful sovereign, allied
themselves with the Danes, and became principals in the plot of
assassination. Their motive was as simple as their conduct was vile. The
two Eoghanist families were represented by Donovan and Molloy. They were
descendants of Oilioll Oluim, from whom Mahoun was also descended, but
his family were Dalcassians. Hitherto the Eoghanists had succeeded in
depriving the tribes of Dal-Cais of their fair share of alternate
succession to the throne of Munster; they became alarmed at and jealous
of the advancement of the younger tribe, and determined to do by
treachery what they could not do by force. With the usual headlong
eagerness of traitors, they seem to have forgotten Brian, and quite
overlooked the retribution they might expect at his hands for their
crime. There are two different accounts of the murder, which do not
coincide in detail. The main facts, however, are reliable: Mahoun was
entrapped in some way to the house of Donovan, and there he was basely
murdered, in violation of the rights of hospitality, and in defiance of
the safe-conduct of the bishop, which he secured before his visit.

The traitors gained nothing by their treachery except the contempt of
posterity. Brian was not slow in avenging his brother. "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, and valour after valour."[211]

Public opinion was not mistaken in its estimate of his character. Two
years after the death of Mahoun, Brian invaded Donovan's territory,
drove off his cattle, took the fortress of Cathair Cuan, and slew
Donovan and his Danish ally, Harolt. He next proceeded to settle
accounts with Molloy. Cogarán is sent to the whole tribe of Ui Eachach,
to know "the reason why" they killed Mahoun, and to declare that no cumhal or fine would be received, either in the shape of hostages,
gold, or cattle, but that Molloy must himself be given up. Messages were
also sent to Molloy, both general and particular—the general message
challenged him to battle at Belach-Lechta; the particular message, which
in truth he hardly deserved, was a challenge to meet Murrough, Brian's
son, in single combat. The result was the battle of Belach-Lechta,[212] where Molloy was slain, with twelve hundred of his troops, both native
and foreign. Brian remained master of the field and of the kingdom, A.D.

Brian was now undisputed King of Munster. In 984 he was acknowledged
Monarch of Leth Mogha, the southern half of Ireland. Meanwhile Malachy,
who governed Leth Cuinn, or the northern half of Ireland, had not been
idle. He fought a battle with the Danes in 979, near Tara, in which he
defeated their forces, and slew Raguall, son of Amlaibh, King of Dublin.
Amlaibh felt the defeat so severely, that he retired to Iona, where he
died of a broken heart. Donough O'Neill, son of Muircheartach, died this
year, and Malachy obtained the regal dignity. Emboldened by his success
at Tara, he resolved to attack the foreigners in Dublin; he therefore
laid siege to that city, and compelled it to surrender after three days,
liberated two thousand prisoners, including the King of Leinster, and
took abundant spoils. At the same time he issued a proclamation, freeing
every Irishman then in bondage to the Danes, and stipulating that the
race of Nial should henceforth be free from tribute to the foreigners.

It is probable that Brian had already formed designs for obtaining the
royal power. The country resounded with the fame of his exploits, and
Malachy became aware at last that he should either have him for an ally
or an enemy. He prudently chose the former alternative, and in the
nineteenth year of his reign (997 according to the Four Masters) he made
arrangements with Brian for a great campaign against the common enemy.
Malachy surrendered all hostages to Brian, and Brian agreed to recognize
Malachy as sole Monarch of northern Erinn, "without war or trespass."
This treaty was absolutely necessary, in order to offer effective
resistance to the Danes. The conduct of the two kings towards each other
had not been of a conciliatory nature previously. In 981 Malachy had
invaded the territory of the Dalcassians, and uprooted the great
oak-tree of Magh Adair, under which its kings were crowned—an insult
which could not fail to excite bitter feelings both in prince and
people. In 989 the monarch occupied himself fighting the Danes in
Dublin, to whom he laid siege for twenty nights, reducing the garrison
to such straits that they were obliged to drink the salt water when the
tide rose in the river. Brian then made reprisals on Malachy, by sending
boats up the Shannon burning the royal rath of Dun Sciath. Malachy, in
his turn, recrossed the Shannon, burned Nenagh, plundered Ormonde, and
defeated Brian himself in battle. He then marched again to Dublin, and
once more attacked "the proud invader." It was on this occasion that he
obtained the "collar of gold," which Moore has immortalized in his
world-famous "Melodies."

When the kings had united their forces, they obtained another important
victory at Glen-Mama.[213] Harolt, son of Olaf Cuaran, the then Danish
king, was slain, and four thousand of his followers perished with him.
The victorious army marched at once to Dublin. Here they obtained spoils
of great value, and made many slaves and captives. According to some
accounts, Brian remained in Dublin until the feast of St. Brigid
(February 1st); other annalists say he only remained from Great
Christmas to Little Christmas. Meanwhile there can be but little doubt
that Brian had in view the acquisition of the right to be called sole
monarch of Ireland. It is a blot on an otherwise noble character—an
ugly spot in a picture of more than ordinary interest. Sitric, another
son of Olaf's, fled for protection to Aedh and Eochaidh, two northern
chieftains; but they gave him up, from motives of fear or policy to
Brian's soldiers, and after due submission he was restored to his former
position. Brian then gave his daughter in marriage to Sitric, and
completed the family alliance by espousing Sitric's mother, Gormflaith,
a lady of rather remarkable character, who had been divorced from her
second husband, Malachy. Brian now proceeded to depose Malachy. The
account of this important transaction is given in so varied a manner by
different writers, that it seems almost impossible to ascertain the
truth. The southern annalists are loud in their assertions of the
incapacity of the reigning monarch, and would have it believed that
Brian only yielded to the urgent entreaties of his countrymen in
accepting the proffered crown. But the warlike exploits of Malachy have
been too faithfully recorded to leave any doubt as to his prowess in the
field; and we may probably class the regret of his opponent in accepting
his position, with similar protestations made under circumstances in
which such regret was as little likely to be real.

The poet Moore, with evident partiality for the subject of his song,
declares that the magnanimous character of Malachy was the real ground
of peace under such provocation, and that he submitted to the
encroachments of his rival rather from motives of disinterested desire
for his country's welfare, than from any reluctance or inability to
fight his own battle.

But Brian had other chieftains to deal with, of less amiable or more
warlike propensities: the proud Hy-Nials of the north were long in
yielding to his claims; but even these he at length subdued, compelling
the Cinel-Eoghain to give him hostages, and carrying off the Lord of
Cinel-Connaill bodily to his fortress at Kincora. Here he had assembled
a sort of "happy family," consisting of refractory princes and knights,
who, refusing hostages to keep the peace with each other, were obliged
to submit to the royal will and pleasure, and at least to appear
outwardly in harmony.

These precautionary measures, however summary, and the energetic
determination of Brian to have peace kept either by sword or law, have
given rise to the romantic ballad of the lady perambulating Erinn with a
gold ring and white wand, and passing unmolested through its once
belligerent kingdoms.

Brian now turned his attention to the state of religion and literature,
restoring the churches and monasteries which had been plundered and
burnt by the Danes. He is said also to have founded the churches of
Killaloe and Iniscealtra, and to have built the round tower of Tomgrany,
in the present county Clare. A gift of twenty ounces of gold to the
church of Armagh,—a large donation for that period,—is also recorded
amongst his good deeds.[214]

There is some question as to the precise year in which Brian obtained or
usurped the authority and position of Ard-Righ: A.D. 1002, however, is
the date most usually accepted. He was probably about sixty-one years of
age, and Malachy was then about fifty-three.[215]

It will be remembered that Brian had married the Lady Gormflaith. Her
brother, Maelmordha, was King of Leinster, and he had obtained his
throne through the assistance of the Danes. Brian was Gormflaith's third
husband. In the words of the Annals, she had made three leaps—"jumps
which a woman should never jump"—a hint that her matrimonial
arrangements had not the sanction of canon law. She was remarkable for
her beauty, but her temper was proud and vindictive. This was probably
the reason why she was repudiated both by Malachy and Brian. There can
be no doubt that she and her brother, Maelmordha, were the remote causes
of the famous battle of Clontarf. The story is told thus: Maelmordha
came to Brian with an offering of three large pine-trees to make masts
for shipping. These were probably a tribute which he was bound to pay to
his liege lord. The trees had been cut in the great forest of Leinster,
called Fidh-Gaibhli.[216] Some other tribes were bringing their
tree-tributes at the same time; and as they all journeyed over the
mountains together, there was a dispute for precedency. Maelmordha
decided the question by assisting to carry the tree of the Ui-Faelain.
He had on a tunic of silk which Brian had given[217] him, with a border of gold round it and silver buttons. One of the buttons came off as he
lifted the tree. On his arrival at Kincora, he asked his sister,
Gormflaith, to replace it for him; but she at once flung the garment
into the fire, and then bitterly reproached her brother with having
accepted this token of vassalage. The Sagas say she was "grim" against
Brian, which was undoubtedly true. This excited Maelmordha's temper. An
opportunity soon offered for a quarrel. Brian's eldest son,
Murrough,[218] was playing a game of chess with his cousin, Conoing;
Maelmordha was looking on, and suggested a move by which Murrough lost
the game. The young prince exclaimed: "That was like the advice you gave
the Danes, which lost them Glen-Mama." "I will give them advice now, and
they shall not be defeated," replied the other. "Then you had better
remind them to prepare a yew-tree[219] for your reception," answered

Early the next morning Maelmordha left the place, "without permission
and without taking leave." Brian sent a messenger after him to pacify
him, but the angry chief, for all reply, "broke all the bones in his
head." He now proceeded to organize a revolt against Brian, and
succeeded. Several of the Irish princes flocked to his standard. An
encounter took place in Meath, where they slew Malachy's grandson,
Domhnall, who should have been heir if the usual rule of succession had
been observed. Malachy marched to the rescue, and defeated the
assailants with great slaughter, A.D. 1013. Fierce reprisals now took
place on each side. Sanctuary was disregarded, and Malachy called on
Brian to assist him. Brian at once complied. After successfully ravaging
Ossory he marched to Dublin, where he was joined by Murrough, who had
devastated Wicklow, burning, destroying, and carrying off captives,
until he reached Cill Maighnenn (Kilmainham). They now blockaded
Dublin, where they remained from St. Ciaran's in harvest (Sept. 9th)
until Christmas Day. Brian was then obliged to raise the siege and
return home for want of provisions.

The storm was now gathering in earnest, and the most active preparations
were made on both sides for a mighty and decisive conflict. The Danes
had already obtained possession of England, a country which had always
been united in its resistance to their power, a country numerically
superior to Ireland: why should they not hope to conquer, with at least
equal facility, a people who had so many opposing interests, and who
rarely sacrificed these interests to the common good? Still they must
have had some fear of the result, if we may judge by the magnitude of
their preparations. They despatched ambassadors in all directions to
obtain reinforcements. Brodir, the earl, and Amlaibh, son of the King of
Lochlann, "the two Earls of Cair, and of all the north of Saxon
land,"[220] came at the head of 2,000 men; "and there was not one
villain of that 2,000 who had not polished, strong, triple-plated armour
of refined iron, or of cooling, uncorroding brass, encasing their sides
and bodies from head to foot." Moreover, the said villains "had no
reverence, veneration, or respect, or mercy for God or man, for church
or for sanctuary; they were cruel, ferocious, plundering, hard-hearted,
wonderful Dannarbrians, selling and hiring themselves for gold and
silver, and other treasure as well." Gormflaith was evidently "head
centre" on the occasion; for we find wonderful accounts of her zeal and
efforts in collecting forces. "Other treasure" may possibly be referred
to that lady's heart and hand, of which she appears to have been very
liberal on this occasion. She despatched her son, Sitric, to Siguard,
Earl of the Orkneys, who promised his assistance, but he required the
hand of Gormflaith as payment for his services, and that he should be
made King of Ireland. Sitric gave the required promise, and found, on
his return to Dublin, that it met with his mother's entire approbation.
She then despatched him to the Isle of Man, where there were two
Vikings, who had thirty ships, and she desired him to obtain their
co-operation "at any price." They were the brothers Ospak and Brodir.
The latter demanded the same conditions as the Earl Siguard, which were
promised quite as readily by Sitric, only he charged the Viking to keep
the agreement secret, and above all not to mention it to Siguard.

Brodir,[221] according to the Saga, was an apostate Christian, who had
"thrown off his faith, and become God's dastard." He was both tall and
strong, and had such long black hair that he tucked it under his belt;
he had also the reputation of being a magician. The Viking Ospak refused
to fight against "the good King Brian," and, touched by some prodigies,
became a convert to Christianity, joined the Irish monarch at Kincora,
on the Shannon, and received holy baptism.[222] The author of the Wars
of the Gaedhil
gives a formidable list of the other auxiliaries who
were invited by the Dublin Danes. The Annals of Loch Cé also give an
account of the fleet he assembled, and its "chosen braves." Maelmordha
had mustered a large army also; indeed, he was too near the restless and
revengeful Larmflaith to have taken matters quietly, even had he been so

Meanwhile Brian had been scarcely less successful, and probably not less
active. He now marched towards Dublin, "with all that obeyed him of the
men of Ireland." These were the provincial troops of Munster and
Connaught and the men of Meath. His march is thus described in the Wars
of the Gaedhil
:—"Brian looked out behind him, and beheld the battle
phalanx—compact, huge, disciplined, moving in silence, mutely, bravely,
haughtily, unitedly, with one mind, traversing the plain towards them;
threescore and ten banners over them—of red, and of yellow, and of
green, and of all kinds of colours; together with the everlasting,
variegated, lucky, fortunate banner, that had gained the victory in
every battle, and in every conflict, and in every combat."[223] The
portion of the narrative containing this account is believed to be an
interpolation, but the description may not be the less accurate. Brian
plundered and destroyed as usual on his way to Dublin. When he had
encamped near that city, the Danes came out to give him battle on the
plain of Magh-n-Ealta.[224] The king then held a council of war, and the
result, apparently, was a determination to give battle in the morning.
It is said that the Northmen pretended flight in order to delay the
engagement. The Njal Saga says the Viking Brodir had found out by his
sorcery, "that if the fight were on Good Friday, King Brian would fall,
but win the day; but if they fought before, they would all fall who were
against him." Some authorities also mention a traitor in Brian's camp,
who had informed the Danes that his forces had been weakened by the
absence of his son Donough, whom he had sent to devastate Leinster.
Malachy has the credit of this piece of treachery, with other
imputations scarcely less disreputable.

The site of the battle has been accurately defined. It took place on the
plain of Clontarf,[225] and is called the Battle of the Fishing Weir of
Clontarf. The weir was at the mouth of the river Tolka, where the bridge
of Ballybough now stands. The Danish line was extended along the coast,
and protected at sea by their fleets. It was disposed in three
divisions, and comprised about 21,000 men, the Leinster forces being
included in the number. The first division or left wing was the nearest
to Dublin. It was composed of the Danes of Dublin, and headed by Sitric,
who was supported by the thousand mail-clad Norwegians, commanded by
Carlus and Anrud. In the centre were the Lagennians, under the command
of Maelmordha. The right wing comprised the foreign auxiliaries, under
the command of Brodir and Siguard.[226]

Brian's army was also disposed in three divisions. The first was
composed of his brave Dalcassians, and commanded by his son Murrough,
assisted by his four brothers, Teigue, Donough, Connor, and Flann, and
his youthful heir, Turlough, who perished on the field. The second
division or centre was composed of troops from Munster, and was
commanded by Mothla, grandson of the King of the Deisi, of Waterford,
assisted by many native princes. The third battalion was commanded by
Maelruanaidh (Mulrooney of the Paternosters) and Teigue O'Kelly, with
all the nobles of Connaught. Brian's army numbered about twenty thousand
men. The accounts which relate the position of Malachy, and his conduct
on this occasion, are hopelessly conflicting. It appears quite
impossible to decide whether he was a victim to prejudice, or whether
Brian was a victim to his not unnatural hostility.

On the eve of the battle, one of the Danish chiefs, Plait, son of King
Lochlainn, sent a challenge to Domhnall, son of Emhin, High Steward of
Mar. The battle commenced at daybreak. Plait came forth and exclaimed
three times, "Faras Domhnall?" (Where is Domhnall?) Domhnall replied:
"Here, thou reptile." A terrible hand-to-hand combat ensued. They fell
dead at the same moment, the sword of each through the heart of the
other, and the hair of each in the clenched hand of the other. And the
combat of those two was the first combat of the battle.

Before the engagement Brian harangued his troops, with the crucifix in
one hand and a sword in the other. He reminded them of all they had
suffered from their enemies, of their tyranny, their sacrilege, their
innumerable perfidies; and then, holding the crucifix aloft, he
exclaimed: "The great God has at length looked down upon our sufferings,
and endued you with the power and the courage this day to destroy for
ever the tyranny of the Danes, and thus to punish them for their
innumerable crimes and sacrileges by the avenging power of the sword.
Was it not on this day that Christ Himself suffered death for you?"

He was then compelled to retire to the rear, and await the result of the
conflict; but Murrough performed prodigies of valour. Even the Danish
historians admit that he fought his way to their standard, and cut down
two successive bearers of it.

The mailed armour of the Danes seems to have been a source of no little
dread to their opponents. But the Irish battle-axe might well have set
even more secure protection at defiance. It was wielded with such skill
and force, that frequently a limb was lopped off with a single blow,
despite the mail in which it was encased; while the short lances, darts,
and slinging-stones proved a speedy means of decapitating or stunning a
fallen enemy.

The Dalcassians surpassed themselves in feats of arms. They hastened
from time to time to refresh their thirst and cool their hands in a
neighbouring brook; but the Danes soon filled it up, and deprived them
of this resource. It was a conflict of heroes—a hand-to-hand fight.
Bravery was not wanting on either side, and for a time the result seemed
doubtful. Towards the afternoon, as many of the Danish leaders were cut
down, their followers began to give way, and the Irish forces prepared
for a final effort. At this moment the Norwegian prince, Anrud,
encountered Murrough, whose arms were paralyzed from fatigue; he had
still physical strength enough to seize his enemy, fling him on the
ground, and plunge his sword into the body of his prostrate foe. But
even as he inflicted the death-wound, he received a mortal blow from the
dagger of the Dane, and the two chiefs fell together.

The mêlée was too general for an individual incident, however
important in itself, to have much effect. The Northmen and their allies
were flying hard and fast, the one towards their ships, the others
towards the city. But as they fled across the Tolka, they forgot that it
was now swollen with the incoming tide, and thousands perished by water
who had escaped the sword. The body of Brian's grandson, the boy
Turlough, was found in the river after the battle, with his hands
entangled in the hair of two Danish warriors, whom he had held down
until they were drowned. Sitric and his wife had watched the combat from
the battlements of Dublin. It will be remembered that this lady was the
daughter of King Brian, and her interests were naturally with the Irish
troops. Some rough words passed between her and her lord, which ended in
his giving her so rude a blow, that he knocked out one of her teeth. But
we have yet to record the crowning tragedy of the day. Brian had retired
to his tent to pray, at the commencement of the conflict. When the
forces met, he began his devotions, and said to his attendant: "Watch
thou the battle and the combats, whilst I say the psalms." After he had
recited fifty psalms, fifty collects, and fifty paternosters, he desired
the man to look out and inform him how the battle went, and the position
of Murrough's standard. He replied the strife was close and vigorous,
and the noise was as if seven battalions were cutting down Tomar's wood;
but the standard was safe. Brian then said fifty more psalms, and made
the same inquiry. The attendant replied that all was in confusion, but
that Murrough's standard still stood erect, and moved westwards towards
Dublin. "As long as that standard remains erect," replied Brian, "it
shall go well with the men of Erinn." The aged king betook himself to
his prayers once more, saying again fifty psalms[227] and collects;
then, for the last time, he asked intelligence of the field. Latean
replied: "They appear as if Tomar's wood was on fire, and its brushwood
all burned down;" meaning that the private soldiers of both armies were
nearly all slain, and only a few of the chiefs had escaped; adding the
most grievous intelligence of all, that Murrough's standard had fallen.
"Alas!" replied Brian, "Erinn has fallen with it: why should I survive
such losses, even should I attain the sovereignty of the world?" His
attendant then urged him to fly, but Brian replied that flight was
useless, for he had been warned of his fate by Aibinn (the banshee of
his family), and that he knew his death was at hand. He then gave
directions about his will and his funeral, leaving 240 cows to the
"successor of Patrick." Even at this moment the danger was impending. A
party of Danes approached, headed by Brodir. The king sprang up from the
cushion where he had been kneeling, and unsheathed his sword. At first
Brodir did not know him, and thought he was a priest from finding him at
prayer; but one of his followers informed him that it was the Monarch of
Ireland. In a moment the fierce Dane had opened his head with his
battle-axe. It is said that Brian had time to inflict a wound on the
Viking, but the details of this event are so varied that it is
impossible to decide which account is most reliable. The Saga states
that Brodir knew Brian,[228] and, proud of his exploit, held up the
monarch's reeking head, exclaiming, "Let it be told from man to man that
Brodir felled Brian." All accounts agree in stating that the Viking was
slain immediately, if not cruelly, by Brian's guards, who thus revenged
their own neglect of their master. Had Brian survived this conflict, and
had he been but a few years younger, how different might have been the
political and social state of Ireland even at the present day! The
Danish power was overthrown, and never again obtained an ascendency in
the country. It needed but one strong will, one wise head, one brave
arm, to consolidate the nation, and to establish a regular monarchy; for
there was mettle enough in the Celt, if only united, to resist foreign
invasion for all time to come.

King Brian Boroimhé killed by the Viking.

King Brian Boroimhé killed by the Viking.

On Easter Monday the survivors were employed in burying the dead and
attending to the wounded. The remains of more than thirty chieftains
were borne off to their respective territorial churches for interment.
But even on that very night dissension arose in the camp. The chieftains
of Desmond, seeing the broken condition of the Dalcassian force, renewed
their claim to the alternate succession. When they had reached Rath
Maisten (Mullaghmast, near Athy) they claimed the sovereignty of
Munster, by demanding hostages. A battle ensued, in which even the
wounded Dalcassians joined. Their leader desired them to be placed in
the fort of Maisten, but they insisted on being fastened to stakes,
firmly planted in the ground to support them, and stuffing their wounds
with moss, they awaited the charge of the enemy. The men of Ossory,
intimidated by their bravery, feared to give battle. But many of the
wounded men perished from exhaustion—a hundred and fifty swooned away,
and never recovered consciousness again. The majority were buried where
they stood; a few of the more noble were carried to their ancestral
resting-places. "And thus far the wars of the Gall with the Gaedhil, and
the battle of Clontarf."

The Annals state that both Brian and his son, Murrough, lived to receive
the rites of the Church, and that their remains were conveyed by the
monks to Swords, and from thence, through Duleek and Louth, to Armagh,
by Archbishop Maelmuire, the "successor of St. Patrick." Their obsequies
were celebrated with great splendour, for twelve days and nights, by the
clergy; after which the body of Brian was deposited in a stone coffin,
on the north side of the high altar, in the cathedral. Murrough was
buried on the south side. Turlough was interred in the old churchyard of
Kilmainham, where the shaft of an ancient cross still marks the site.

Malachy once more assumed the reins of government by common consent, and
proved himself fully equal to the task. A month before his death he
gained an important victory over the Danes at Athboy, A.D. 1022. An
interregnum of twenty years followed his death, during which the country
was governed by two wise men, Cuan O'Lochlann, a poet, and Corcran
Cleireach, an anchoret. The circumstances attending Malachy's death are
thus related by the Four Masters:—"The age of Christ 1022.
Maelseachlainn Môr, pillar of the dignity and nobility of the west of
the world, died in Croinis Locha-Aininn, in the seventy-third year of
his age, on the 4th of the nones of September, on Sunday precisely,
after intense penance for his sins and transgressions, after receiving
the body of Christ and His blood, after being anointed by the hands of
Amhalgaidh, successor of Patrick, for he and the successor of
Colum-Cille, and the successors of Ciaran, and most of the seniors of
Ireland were present [at his death], and they sung masses, hymns,
psalms, and canticles for the welfare of his soul."