Mar 23, 2014

The Vikings Are Coming! The Battle of Clontarf


Find part 1 here – The Vikings Are Coming! Ard Rí na hÉireann

The Battle of Clontarf by Hugh Frazer, 1826

Máel Morda, still King of Leinster, continued to begrudge Brian Boru’s rule.

In 1012, he once again rebelled with the help of a regional king from Ulster and attacked Máel Sechnaill in Meath. Máel Sechnaill sought help from Brian. Enraged, Brian laid waste to southern Leinster for 3 months, but failed to take back a blockaded Dublin when they ran out of supplies and were forced to retreat at the end of December 1013.

The battle for Ireland was inevitable at this point, but neither king found much support on the island. Máel Morda sent his cousin, Sigtrygg, overseas to rally troops. This troops came in the form of 3,000 mercenary Vikings to add to the Vikings(both Irish and foreign)in their ranks already.

Brian Boru may have also hired as many as 1,000 mercenaries, although he also had Irish Vikings in his troops. Vikings had started arriving in Ireland two centuries before. They had planned to conquer but never did. There were assaults and strikes, pillaging and murderous rampaging, but for the most part they eventually assimilated into the Irish population. Many converted to Christianity. Boru and others still resented their presence in Ireland and wanted them gone.

April 22, after Máel Sechnaill withdrew his support for Brian, Brian heard the Vikings troops had deserted his enemy. This was a misdirection and at sunrise on April 23, longboats containing 2,000 paid Vikings landed in Clontarf.

Strangely, considering the death toll, the fighting began with just two men facing off while the forces either side threw taunts and edged closer. What followed was pure savagery, the worst the encounters were said to take place on Bloody Fields of Marino and the Battle of the Fishing Weir. While Sigtrygg looked on the carnage from the far banks of the Liffey, the boats of the Vikings who had arrived by sea had drifted, leaving them nowhere to flee to. They and their leaders were cut down in their hundreds or drowned as they tried to retreat.

Brian won. However, his victory was short-lived and the octogenarian was assassinated in his tent by Brodir, a Viking from the Isle of Man, who happened upon him while hiding in the woods. His enemy, Sigtrygg, continued as King of Dublin and Máel Sechnaill, who he’d continually besieged and who deserted Brian at the last moment, once again became Ard Rí. What followed was a time of relative peace. Ireland had had her fill of blood. The Irish and remaining Vikings lived in harmony, closer integration and commerce flourished. Sigtrygg, who had already founded Dublin’s first mint, also founded Christchurch Cathedral.

The landscape has altered slightly. Clontarf still boarders the river Tolka and the city, but not the Liffey. The battlefields of Marino are now in Phibsboro. Marino, named so because of the views over the bay, is now blocked by the reclaimed land of Fairview Park. However, in Clontarf the Vikings still come every year in a festival to commemorate the battle.

Please visit to see pictures of the festival and Clontarf today.

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