Royal of the Month: Brian Boru

  April 27, 2014 at 1:02 am by

For April’s Royal of the Month, I have chosen Ireland’s most famous High King – or in Irish, Ard Rí – Brian Boru, who was slain 1,000 years ago on April 23rd, 1014.

A sculpture of Brian Boru outside the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle

The exact date of Brian’s birth has been debated over the centuries, but its believed he was born c.941 in Kincora, Killaloe County Clare. His father, Cennétig mac Lorcáin, was the King of Munster and his mother, Bé Binn, was the daughter of the King of Maigh Seóla. The young Brian grew up in an Ireland divided by dynastic strifes and the constant dangers from dreaded Viking raids. The Vikings had extended their territories deep into Ireland and had set up a stronghold at the city of Limerick, which was quite close to the domains controlled by Brian’s father and family.

In 951, Brian’s father died and he was succeeded by Brian’s older brother, Mathgamain, as King. In 967 Brian and his brother defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Sulcoit where the Norse Ivar, King of Limerick and his sons were slain. In 976, Brian succeeded his brother as King following the murder of Mathgamain by the Norse. King Brian later defeated the remaining Vikings at the Battle of Cathair Cuan in 978.

The next two decades saw Brian in almost constant warfare with the Vikings and their Irish allies; by 997 Brian ruled almost all of the Southern Kingdoms of Ireland and next turned his attention on the Kingdom Leinster and Norse-held Dublin. In December 999, Brian – this time allied with the High King of Meath – defeated the Norse of Leinster and their Irish allies at the Battle of Glenmama in County Kildare. Following his victory, Brian marched on Norse Dublin which was captured and sacked. The alliance between Brian, King of Munster and the High King of Ireland did not last, and by 1002 the two of them were at war with each other.

Brian Boru, King of Munster

The High King Máel Sechnaill was forced to surrender his title to Brian who was then proclaimed High King of Ireland. Brian now set about cementing his authority over the Island of Ireland and forcing the various Kings, Princes and Lords to accept his rule as High King.

It is believed Brian was married four times; he had at least six sons and three daughters. His most famous wife was Gormflaith, daughter of the King of Leinster whom Irish history has not been too kind to. Peace lasted until 1012 when the King of Leinster, encouraged by his sister Gormflait, rebelled along with Norse Lords of Dublin against Brian Boru.

In 1014, Viking reinforcements arrived in Dublin during Holy Week from Orkney and and the Isle of Man. Brian Boru and his army marched on Dublin, accompanying him were his son Murchad and his grandson Toirdelbach as well as his brother and nephew. The bloody battle which took place at Clontarf near Dublin on Good Friday 1014 resulted in the complete defeat of the Vikings and Kingdom of Leinster, it’s said the Vikings were driven into the sea.

One of the fleeing Vikings from the Isle of Man named Brodir is believed to have discovered the unguarded old High King Brian praying in his tent after the battle and murdered him. Brian’s son Murchad and his grandson Toirdelbach were also killed. What happened to the body of King Brian Boru is a mystery with some records indicating that he was buried at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh.

Following the death of Brian, his son Donnchad mac Briain succeed him as King of Munster, but was not powerful enough to contest the High Kingship.

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