How the Dailgais returned Home after Clontarf,
by Geoffrey Keating

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 1, edited by Charles A. Read (1880)

(The great battle of Clontarf was fought on Friday, April 23d, 1014)

This illustrious tribe met with new difficulties in their return, for Donough Mac Giolla Patrick, king of Ossery, having raised a considerable army of his own subjects and the people of Leinster, resolved to hinder the march of the Dailgais, and oppose their journey through any part of his territories. For this purpose he sent out scouts and spies to attend the motions of this tribe, and to bring him intelligence of every day's march since they began their journey from the battle of Clontarf. The King of Ossery had conceived an invincible hatred against the Dailgais, because Bryen Boiroimhe had made his father prisoner and killed many of his subjects, and therefore he thought that it was reasonable for him at this time to take revenge for the indignities his father had received, which he proposed to accomplish by harassing the Dailgais, and cutting them off in their return. But before he began hostilities he sent a messenger, Donough, the general of that tribe, to Athy, where he was encamped, to demand hostages from him, as security that he would not commit any outrages in passing through his country, or if he refused, the King of Ossery would oppose his march and prevent his return. Donough received this insolent demand with scorn and indignation, and instead of complying, returned for an answer that he was amazed at the baseness of the King of Ossery for taking advantage of the distress of his army; but notwithstanding his men were fatigued by their long journey, he would decide the dispute with him in a pitched battle, and give him ample satisfaction; and told the messenger withal, that it was the greatest misfortune of his whole life to be insulted by Mac Giolla Patrick, whom he ever despised as below his notice; but now his circumstances were so changed, as to put him under the contempt of a cowardly prince, who had the insolence to demand hostages, or to challenge him into the field, where he did not doubt to make him feel the force of his arms, and of his courageous followers, who were justly esteemed invincible.

The messenger, instead of returning the answer, presumed to dissuade Donough from his design of fighting; and insisted that his men were in no capacity to engage with the forces of his master, whose army was fresh and in good heart, and seemed impatient to enter into the field. But Donough replied with his usual majesty that if the law of nations had not secured him from ill treatment, he would instantly cut his tongue out for his insolence, and ordered him out of his presence with this injunction, to tell his master that he would meet him and his subjects of Ossery in the field if he had but one man to stand by him. With this answer the messenger returned, and Donough drew up his men in order of battle. His sick and wounded he designed to commit to the charge of one third part of his army, and with the rest he resolved to engage the enemy, but the wounded soldiers, who were lying upon the ground, immediately started up, and by the violence of the motion bursting open their wounds, they desired their general not to leave them behind, but suffer them to have a part in the action; and stopping their wounds a second time with moss, they laid hold of their weapons, and took their places in the ranks, resolved to assist their companions, and come off with victory or bravely die in the attempt. But most of them were so much reduced by loss of blood that they could not stand upon their legs, and to remedy this misfortune, they desired the general that a number of stakes should be cut in the neighbouring wood and driven into the ground; every wounded soldier was to be tied fast to one of these piles, and then to be placed regularly between two sound men, which would have that effect, that their sound companions would be ashamed to fly and abandon them in that helpless condition to the fury of the enemy; and therefore it would sharpen their courage to reflect that nothing but victory could secure the lives of their distressed friends, who would be cut off to a man if they were not relieved by the bravery of their fellow-soldiers. This proposal was put in execution to the great surprise of the enemy, who judged that they had nothing to expect but death or victory.

The army of Leinster and Ossery, under the command of Mac Giolla Patrick, were astonished at the resolution of that martial tribe, who were under arms expecting the sign of battle. They positively refused to fight, and told the king in a mutinous manner that nothing but a defeat was to be expected from the bravery of the Dailgais, that the wounded were as eager to engage as the sound, and therefore they would not run wilfully into the jaws of lions, who would inevitably tear them to pieces. Mac Giolla Patrick was ashamed, after he had given the challenge, to retire without fighting; and, upbraiding his army with fear and cowardice, insisted that they had the advantage of numbers, that the enemy had but a handful of men, worn out with grievous wounds and long marches, and that the first charge must give them victory. But the courage of the Dailgais, and their unexpected resolution, had impressed such a terror upon the army of Leinster, that they absolutely refused to engage with such desperate enemies; and the king, fearing a general mutiny and defection, was obliged to give over his design, and content himself with falling upon the Dailgais, and by constant skirmishes and stratagems of war to cut them off in their retreat; and this method was so successfully executed, that he annoyed the Dailgais and destroyed more of their men than he could possibly have done in a pitched battle. The conduct and experience of Donough was remarkable in making good his retreat and securing his men against the sudden attack of the enemy; but, notwithstanding all his diligence and caution, he brought back into their own country no more of that valiant tribe than 850, for a great number perished in the battle of Clontarf, and 150 were cut off in their return by Mac Giolla Patrick, king of Ossery.

Related book

Brian BoruBrian Boru: King of Ireland

By Roger Chatterton Newman

Brian Boru is chiefly remembered as the man ‘who drove the Danes from Ireland’, and who died at the Battle of Clontarf on Good Friday 1014. But there was far more to his life than that. The youngest son of an obscure king from Thomond, he came closer than any Irishman before or after him to uniting Ireland. He tamed the Danes of Limerick and the Norsemen of Dublin, overthrew the six-century monopoly of the Ui Neill on the high throne of Ireland and became one of the few high kings to invest that throne with any real authority....see more details

Further reading

Brian Boru by P. W. Joyce, taken from A Concise History of Ireland
The Battle of Clontarf by John O'Donovan, taken from the Dublin Penny Journal, 1832