The Battle of Clontarf

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XIII

The site of the battle has been accurately defined. It took place on the plain of Clontarf,[9] 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.[1]

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.


[9] Clonlarf.—There is curious evidence that the account of the battle of Clontarf must have been written by an eye-witness, or by one who had obtained his information from an eye-witness. The author states that "the foreigners came out to fight the battle in the morning at the full tide," and that the tide came in again in the evening at the same place. The Danes suffered severely from this, "for the tide had carried away their ships from them." Consequently, hundreds perished in the waves.—Wars of the Gaedhil, p. 191. Dr. Todd mentions that he asked the Rev. S. Haughton, of Trinity College, Dublin, to calculate for him "what was the hour of high water at the shore of Clontarf, in Dublin Bay, on the 23rd of April, 1014." The result was a full confirmation of the account given by the author of the Wars of the Gaedhil —the Rev. S. Haughton having calculated that the morning tide was full in at 5.30 a.m., the evening tide being full at 55.5 p.m.

[1] Siguard.—Various accounts are given of the disposition of forces on each side, so that it is impossible to speak with accuracy on the subject. We know how difficult it is to obtain correct particulars on such occasions, even with the assistance of "own correspondents" and electric telegraphs.