Vikings in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XIII

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,"[4] 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,[5] 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.[6] 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 Lady Gormflaith to have taken matters quietly, even had he been so inclined.


[4] Land.—Wars of the Gaedhil, p. 151.

[5] Brodir.—It has been suggested that this was not his real name. He was Ospak's brother, and Brodir may have been mistaken for a proper name. There was a Danish Viking named Gutring, who was an apostate deacon, and who may have been the Brodir of Irish history.

[6] Baptism.—Burnt Njal, ii. 332.