The Death of Brian

Justin McCarthy
Chapter II | Start of Chapter

The victory of the Irish was not gained without heavy cost, for it brought with it the death of Ireland's great Sovereign. Brian, who took but too little care for the safety of his own person, assumed that the battle was all over when he had seen the Danes defeated and dispersing in utter flight. He returned to his tent, in order, it is supposed, to give directions to officers whom he expected to meet there, or, as some say, to offer up a prayer, and was killed by one of the Danish leaders. He may be said to have accomplished the one great purpose of his life, for his active career closed that whole volume of Irish history which has to do with Danish invasion. His memory is still cherished in the national sentiment of Ireland as that of King Alfred is in England. No matter what historical criticism may do with many of the stories which glorify the life and deeds of King Brian, his figure must stand out to all time as that of a great soldier, a sincere patriot, and a wise ruler. His death was in every sense a great loss to his country. There are conditions which may justify at some national crisis the usurpation of supreme authority by a master-spirit, but the masterspirit is not always able to bequeath his own genius and authority to his successors. No Sovereign followed King Brian who could continue the work of peace, union, and prosperity he had begun.

It must be said for the Danes that they had in their time rendered material service to the country they invaded and occupied. Belonging to the race of the Sea Kings, they naturally were able to do good work in the making of harbours, and the remains of their skill are to be seen on many parts of the Irish shores. They were given to the building of towns, and history credits them with the foundation of the City of Dublin, Ireland's metropolis, and other cities as well. After the death of Brian, when all idea of reconquering the island had passed out of the Danish mind, a large number of Danes kept up their settlement in Ireland, and it must be owned that if they did some substantial work for the benefit of the island, they sometimes exercised a very baneful influence by promoting dissension among the ruling Irish Septs and Chieftains.