Sitric and the Battle of Dundalk

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XIII

"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 Academy, 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 wicker-work, 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.