Random Ramblings from a Republican
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The Battle of Clontarf

Source: Irish Heritage Group

The Battle of Clontarf took place outside the town of Dublin on Good Friday (probably April 23rd by following the calender), 1014.

The combatants were led on one side by Brian Boru, then high-king of Ireland, and on the other by the Vikings of Dublin, supported by some of the Leinster Irish and also by Vikings of England, Scotland, the Isle of man, France and the Orkney Islands.

Brian Boru

Boru was a native of Co Clare, and belonged to the Royal house of Thomond. From his early youth he led his followers against the Vikings, who at that time controlled large coastal areas around Ireland. He defeated them in several battles and eventually succeeded in clearing the Vikings from Munster. When his older brother, Mahon, was murdered in 976, Brian Boru became King of Munster. In 1002 he became King of Ireland and his main goal from then on was to clear the Vikings from the whole country. He eventually forced them to a massed battle on Good Friday, 1014. Some accounts say that this battle took place as a result of a dispute over a game of chess with the King of Leinster.

The Battle

Brian brought his army across North Dublin, into the vicinity of Glasnevin, Drumcondra, and Santry. He was joined by the Ulster Irish and several other Irish chiefs from the West as well as a contingent of Scottish Gaels. He was also joined at the battlefield by the King of Meath, which was a separate province at the time. However, the Meath men took no part in the battle. The Vikings and their reinforcements prepared themselves along the coast between Dublin and Clontarf. Much of the land that is today around Clontarf and Fairview was reclaimed from the sea in more recent times, and it is likely that the main fighting took place nearer to what is now Glasnevin and Drumcondra, about 2-3 kilometres from the current coastline.

Brian was an old man by this time, probably well into his seventies, and his chiefs persuaded him to take no active part in the battle. He remained in his tent behind the Irish lines. His 30,000 strong army was commanded by his eldest son. The number on the opposing side is not known but it is likely to have been of about the same magnitude.

The fighting began in the morning and raged for most of the day. There were heavy losses on both sides, but towards evening the Irish forces gained the upper hand and eventually completely routed the Vikings. Many of the Vikings fled into the sea at Clontarf. However, other groups were cut off by the advancing Irish and they scattered in all directions. One of these groups headed West and ended up fleeing past the Irish encampment, where they came across King Brian. A short struggle ended in the death of both Brian and two of his attackers. The victorious Irish troops returned to find their King lying dead in his tent. They bore him from the field along the North road, towards Armagh, where at his own request the great King was laid to rest.


Although the Irish won this great battle, there was a high price to pay. The High-King and his eldest son were dead and so were many of the chieftains who had supported them. The power vacuum led to a series of wars between the various kingships, which eventually led, 150 years later, to the invasion of the Normans and the beginning of English involvement in Ireland.

The Battle of Clontarf was one of the biggest battles of its time and resulted in the defeat of the Viking armies. As a result the iron grip of the Vikings, which had controlled North Western Europe for centuries, began to wane. Over the next fifty years, they were pushed further back towards their homelands in Norway and Denmark by other tribes (including the Normans who were themselves in part descended from the Vikings). It is clear, therefore, that the Battle of Clontarf played a major part in ending the power of the Vikings forever. 
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Ta ar la anois.

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