Brian Boru

Patrick Weston Joyce

153. Brian Boru the son of Kennedy, of the Dalgas race (157) was born in Kincora in 941. In 964 his brother Mahon became king of all Munster. At this time the Danes held the chief fortresses of the province, including Limerick, Cork and Waterford, from which their marauding parties swept continually over the country, murdering and destroying wherever they came. King Mahon and his brother Brian, finding that they were not strong enough to withstand them openly, crossed the Shannon with those of their people who abode on the open plains, and took refuge among the forests and mountain solitudes of Clare. From these retreats they carried on a relentless desultory warfare with the foreigners, during which no quarter was given on either side.

154. After a time both parties grew tired of these destructive conflicts; and a truce was agreed on between Mahon and the Danish leaders. But young Brian would have no truce: and he maintained the war on his own account against fearful odds, till at last he was left with only fifteen followers.

And now the king, Mahon, hearing how matters stood, and fearing for his brother's safety, visited him in his wild retreat, and tried to persuade him to abandon further resistance as hopeless. But all in vain: the young chief was not to be moved from his purpose. And he at length persuaded his brother the king to resume hostilities; and the two brave brothers collecting all their forces, formed an encampment at Cashel, from which they sent expeditions to ravage the Danish settlements all round.

155. Now when Ivar of Limerick, king of the Munster Danes, heard of this uprising, he was infuriated to madness; and making a mighty gathering of all the Danes of Munster he determined to march into Thomond and exterminate the whole Dalcassian race root and branch. Molloy king of Desmond and Donovan king of Hy Carbery (in the present Co. Limerick) basely joined and encouraged him; and bent on vengeance he set out from Limerick with his whole army for the encampment at Cashel.

156. When the Dalcassian chiefs heard of this they marched west, and met the enemy half way at Sulcoit, now Sollohod, a level district near the present Limerick junction, twenty miles from Limerick city. The battle of Sulcoit began at sunrise on a summer morning of the year 968, and lasted till mid-day, when the foreigners gave way and fled—"fled to the hedges and to the valleys and to the solitudes of the great flowered-covered plain." They were pursued and slaughtered all the way to Limerick, which now was taken possession of by the victorious Irish. After this decisive battle Mahon defeated the Danes in seven other battles, till at last he became king of all Munster.

157. It is necessary to observe that at this time there were two ruling families in Munster. The Owenaghts or Eugenians who ruled Desmond were now represented by Molloy, and afterwards by the Mac Carthys: the Dalgas or Dalcassians now represented by Mahon and Brian, and afterwards by the O'Briens, ruled over Thomond. It had been for many centuries the custom that the kings of the Eugenian and Dalcassian families should be alternately kings of all Munster.

158. Mahon's uninterrupted success excited the envy and deepened the hatred of Donovan, Molloy, and Ivar the Dane; and they laid a base plot for his destruction. In 976 he was invited to a friendly conference to Bruree, the residence of Donovan, who on his arrival seized him and sent him to be delivered up to Molloy and his Danish associates.

Molloy sent forward an escort to meet him in the pass of Barnaderg, near Ballyorgan, between the counties of Cork and Limerick, with secret instructions to kill him, while Molloy himself remained behind within view of the pass, but a good way off. And when he saw in the distance the flash of the naked sword, he knew the deed was done; and mounting his horse he fled from the place.

159. But this villainous deed only raised up a still more formidable antagonist, and swift retribution followed. Brian now became king of Thomond: and his first care was to avenge his brother's murder. Proceeding with his fleet to Scattery island where Ivar had taken refuge after the battle of Sulcoit, he slew him and his Danes. Next, in 977, he captured Bruree, Donovan's fortress, and killed Donovan himself, with Harold the son of Ivar and a vast number of their followers.

It was now Molloy's turn: and Brian, marching south in 978, encountered his army in Barnaderg, the very spot where the great crime had been committed two years before. Molloy was defeated with a loss of 1,200 men; and immediately after the battle he himself was found hiding in a hut and was killed without mercy by Murrogh the young son of Brian. After this last battle Brian was acknowledged king of all Munster.

160. Malachi, who we have seen became king of Ireland in 980, now grew jealous of the growing power of Brian; and to humble him he made an inroad into Thomond in 982, and uprooted and destroyed the venerable tree of Magh-Adhair [Moy-Ire] under which the Dalcassian kings had for ages been inaugurated. This led to a war of skirmishes and plundering expeditions, which continued with varying fortunes for several years.

During this period, Malachi never lost an opportunity of attacking the Danes. In 996 he swooped down on Dublin, then and for long after a Danish city, and plundered it. Among the trophies that he brought away were two heirlooms greatly prized by the Norsemen, the ring or collar of the Norwegian prince Tomar—who had been killed 148 years before—and the sword of Carlus, who fell in battle in 869. This is the incident referred to by Moore in the words:—"When Malachi wore the collar of gold which he won from her proud invader."

At last the two opponents, having crushed all other competitors, found themselves so evenly matched, that they agreed to divide Ireland between them, Malachi to be king of Leth Conn and Brian of Leth Mow (102).

161. Mailmora king of Leinster was not pleased with the terms of this peace, which placed him permanently under the jurisdiction of Brian. In the very next year—999—he and the Danes of Dublin revolted. Whereupon Brian marched northwards, and being joined by Malachi, encamped at Glenmama near Dunlavin in Wicklow. Here they were attacked by Mailmora and Harold the Dane of Dublin; and in the terrible battle that followed Brian and Malachi defeated them and slow 4,000 of the Danes and Leinstermen.

162. About this time Brian came to the determination to depose Malachi; and the better to strengthen himself he made alliance with those who had lately been his enemies. He married Gormlaith mother of the king of the Dublin Danes (Sitric of the Silken Beard) and sister of Mailmora king of Leinster; he gave his own daughter in marriage to Sitric; and he took Mailmora into favour and friendship.

His next proceeding was to invade Malachi's territory, in 1002, in violation of the treaty of four years before; and he sent to him to demand submission or battle. And Malachi finding he was not strong enough to resist, rode into Brian's encampment with merely a small guard and without any guarantee or protection, and telling him plainly he would fight if he had been strong enough, he made his submission. This was in 1002; and from that year Brian was acknowledged king of Ireland, Malachi going back to his own special kingdom of Meath.

163. And now after forty years of incessant warfare Brian devoted his mind to works of peace. He rebuilt the monasteries that had been destroyed by the Danes, and erected bridges and fortresses all over the country. He founded and restored schools and colleges, and took measures for the repression of crime. The bright picture handed down to us of the peaceful and prosperous state of Ireland from Brian's accession to the battle of Clontarf, is illustrated by the well-known legend, that a beautiful young lady richly dressed, and bearing a ring of priceless value on her wand, traversed the country alone from north to south without being molested—a fiction which Moore has embalmed in the beautiful song "Rich and rare were the gems she wore."