Battle of Clontarf

Brian was not acknowledged Ard-Righ by the Northern Ui Neill. To enforce their submission he advanced against Ulster, but he was repulsed by the Ui Neill of the North. He then marched to Armagh and left twenty ounces of gold on the high altar. He obtained hostages from all the northern tribes except the Cinel-Conaill. In 1011 he again invaded Tir-Conaill, and carried off many captives, and the chieftain of the tribe as a hostage.

Now Brian began to erect bridges and forts, and repair churches and monasteries, and he exacted the tribute from Leinster and the foreigners with great severity. Those people rebelled. He soon set out to chastise them, and he plundered Leinster as far as Dublin, to which he laid siege. He remained there till Christmas, 1013, when his provisions failed. He returned home resolving to prosecute the campaign the next spring.

Now the Leinstermen and Northmen made energetic preparations for a final struggle. Large contingents of Northmen came from over sea, and they brought with them 1,000 men with coats of mail. The forces of Brian were composed of the men of Munster and South Connaught. The men of Ulster and North Connaught stood aloof. Donachad was away foraging in Leinster. Both armies were evenly matched. The numbers are not given in our annals.

In the Four Masters it is stated:—

“The ten hundred in armour were cut to pieces, and at least three thousand of the foreigners were slain.”

According to the Annals of Innisfallen there fell 3,012 of the Northmen and 3,000 of the Leinstermen. It was a hard fought battle, and perhaps half the combatants on each side were slain. That would leave each army to number about 12,000 men.

The battle commenced at sunrise on the 23rd April, 1014. The day happened to be Good Friday. The Annals of Innisfallen tell us that Brian went round the army with a crucifix in his left hand, and a sword with a golden scabbard in his right. His army was drawn up in three divisions. The Dalcassians were placed against the foreign Danes, and the men of Connaught met the Danes of Dublin. Malachy with the men of Meath took up their position apart from the main body, and remained inactive for some time. The battle continued without intermission from sunrise to sunset. One account states that the Dalcassians and men of Connaught were eventually routed, with great slaughter. Malachy came to the rescue, and completely defeated the foreigners, who fled in all directions. Broder with some followers directed their flight towards Brian’s tent. At their approach Brian drew his sword, but Broder rushed on him and cleft the King’s head with a battle axe. According to another account the battle lasted all day, and towards evening the Irish made a general attack, which caused the main body of the Danes to give way. Malachy at this critical time delivered his attack and routed the Danes with red slaughter.

Murrough and his son Turlogh fought valiantly.

The body of Brian and that of his son, Murrough, were conveyed with great solemnity to Armagh and interred in the Cathedral, the Archbishop and clergy celebrating the obsequies for twelve days. This was in accordance with a will drawn up by Brian before the battle.

After the battle the Munster clans returned home. Malachy by general consent regained possession of the throne. Donachad succeeded Brian as King of Munster. The Danes were not exterminated. They held their own territories, and soon settled down to their usual occupations. We find them after some time making their usual periodical raids through the country, seizing cattle, and bringing off captives. They finally amalgamated with the Irish. There are many persons, especially in the former Danish territories, bearing Danish names. The termination of three of our provinces is Norse, “ster,” Munster, Leinster, Ulster (“ster” means a place). The termination is never used in Irish. We have some Danish names of places as Waterford, Wexford, Carlingford, etc. Fedrdr is a frith or bay.

The Danes were heathens, but in the 10th and 11th centuries the most of them embraced Christianity. They were mere pirates for a long period, and could not be far advanced in civilisation. They were good mariners, and able to construct strong serviceable ships which were propelled by oars and sails. Each accommodated 100 men. They besides were traders, and they opened up commercial intercourse between this and other countries, which greatly added to the wealth and general improvement of the country.

After the death of Malachy, Donachad, King of Munster and son of Brian, laid claim to the throne, but he was not recognised by Ulster; in fact the high kings from thence forward to the Norman Invasion are called by the annalists, “Kings with opposition,” that is they were not acknowledged by the whole country, but met with opposition from some influential quarter or another.

After some years he was deposed by his nephew, Turlough O’Brian, and taking a pilgrim’s staff he set out for Rome, where he died in 1064. Turlogh died at Kincora in 1086.

Murkertach O’Brien, Turlogh’s son, succeeded. He met with a stout competitor for the throne Donald O’Loghlin, who belonged to the northern Ui Neill. These two princes contended for the throne with varying fortunes for a quarter of a century. Donald marched southwards and destroyed O’Brien’s palace of Kincora. O’Brien, some years after, with an overwhelming army, marched north, and, in revenge, destroyed the palace of Donald, and had the very stones of it removed to Kincora. The contest continued until Murkertach, struck down by a wasting illness, retired to the monastery of Lismore, where he died 1119. Donald died in the monastery of Derry in 1121.

The predominance of the O’Brien family ended with the death of Murkertach. The struggle for supremacy now lay between Connaught and Ulster. Turlough O’Conor was at the time King of Connaught, and his family having greatly increased their power during the late dissensions, he aspired to the sovereignty of the whole nation. He first led an expedition into Munster, reduced it, and, by dividing, weakened it, making one of the O’Briens King of Thomond and one of the M‘Carthys King of Desmond—1151. He then proceeded into Meath, where he was joined by O’Loghlin and Diarmid MacMurrough, King of Leinster. They divided Meath into two parts. They next attacked and defeated Ternan O’Ruarc and divided his country into two parts, leaving him one. This happened in the year 1152. This was rather a remarkable year for more than one reason.

A synod was held in that year at Kells presided over by Cardinal Paparo, the Pope’s legate, and Dublin and Tuam were constituted archiepiscopal sees, as prior to this there were only two archbishops in Ireland. In this year, also, the elopement of Dervorgilla, O’Ruarc’s wife, with Diarmid, King of Leinster, is said to have taken place. But there is no trustworthy evidence to sustain this contention. Diarmid was sixty-four at the time and the lady forty-four. Our annals make no mention of elopement or abduction. Dervorgilla was possessed of considerable personal property, for in 1158 she presented the clergy with 60 ounces of gold on the occasion of the consecration of the church of Mellifont. O’Ruarc was at war at the time with O’Conor and his allies, among whom was Diarmid. It may be she was taken as a hostage until O’Ruarc made submission to Turlough O’Conor. In any case she returned home, restored to O’Ruarc, in 1153, but she afterwards entered the Convent of Mellifont, where she died in 1193.

Diarmid was unpopular with his own subjects. Cambrensis says he oppressed the nobles, was tyrant to his own people, and hated by strangers. His hand was against every man, and the hand of every man against him. O’Loghlin protected him during his life time against his enemies. When this king was slain in 1166, O’Conor, O’Ruarc, with the men of Meath, the Irish Danes, and his own incensed subjects, rose up and led an army against him. Seeing resistance was in vain he fled to England to seek the aid of Henry II.

It is difficult to form a proper estimate of the character of Diarmid. He is described by almost all the Irish writers as a traitor and renegade, and his name has come down to us with obloquy. Those writers have not taken the trouble to sift the evidence bearing on the subject, but have condemned him summarily. There is no doubt that he sought and obtained the aid of Henry II. Are we to take into account, before we pronounce sentence upon him, the provocation to which he was, subjected? He was deposed from his throne, and banished from his country, and likely he thought this too much for flesh and blood to endure; and that he was justified to seek aid from whatever quarter he might obtain it. It is well to consider both sides of the question, and let us see what our annals say of him.

He was called to the throne at a very young age, and reigned forty years. He was an ambitious but politic ruler, was engaged in all the wars of his time, and succeeded in enlarging his dominions, and governed the affairs of his province with a wise and firm hand. Diarmid married Mor, the sister of St. Laurence O’Toole, and was a benefactor of the Church. He founded and endowed a convent for nuns in the City of Dublin, and two dependent cells in Kilkenny and Carlow in 1151. In the same year he founded the Abbey of Baltinglass for Cistercian monks, and in 1161 an Abbey for Austin Canons at Ferns. He founded and endowed a Convent for Canons in Dublin on the spot where Trinity College now stands, and gave a donation of land to the Abbot of Ossory for the construction of a monastery. These were some of his good works; and now as to his evil deeds. He caused the eyes of Niall ua Mordha of Lex and the Lord of Feara Cualann to be put out. This barbarous practice was common at the time. He killed Domhnall, Lord of Ui Faelain and ua Tuathail, and seventeen of the nobility of Leinster, and many others were killed with them. There probably was an insurrection, which he suppressed with an iron hand. Cambrensis would seem to allude to this incident when he says that he “oppressed the nobles.” The Abbess of Kildare was forced and taken out of her cloister by Diarmid, and compelled to marry one of his soldiers, and he killed 107 of the townsmen who resisted the abduction by force. The Four Masters make no mention of this allegation.

This does not seem to be an unfavourable record for Diarmid, if we compare it with that of any of his contemporaries.

Irish writers state that the expulsion of Diarmid was chiefly due to the alleged abduction of Dervorgilla, that O’Ruarc all along cherished revenge, and took vengeance when he got the opportunity. He could not do this while O’Loghlin lived, because O’Loghlin and Diarmid were too strong for any combination. After the death of O’Loghlin, 1166, he prevailed on Roderick O’Conor to draw the sword. The supposed abduction occurred in 1152, and we may reasonably assume, considering the stirring times that prevailed, that no memory of it survived after the lapse of fourteen years. Roderick O’Conor and O’Loghlin were in conflict as competitors for the throne. Dermod was the ally of O’Conor, but on the latter becoming Ard-Righ he refused submission. O’Conor with his allies marched into his country with the view of chastising him, and as he was no match for the overwhelming forces brought against him he fled for help.

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