Great debate exists as to which High-King of Ireland was the greater; Niall of the Nine Hostages, who ruled from the later Fourth Century to early Fifth Century, or Brian mac Cennétig, better known as Brian Boru, who ruled from 1002 - 1014. Many scholars vote for Niall, for he was the beginning of the Uí Neills 600 year domination of the High-Kingship of Ireland. Niall was an Irish prince, one of the sons of the king of Ulster. However, Brian had no noble beginning or a kingship handed to him on a silver plate.
Brian was the youngest son of twelve boys of King Cennétig mac Lorcáin of Thomond (CGH 237, 250, 427) and his wife Be Binn ni Aurchada, daughter of Aurchad mac Murachada, king of Ui Briuin of west Connacht (BS 188-9, 227). Cennétig (Kennedy) was the first in his genealogical line to become a petty-king. His father, Lorcan mac Lachtna, was the Chief of the local tribe known as Uí Toirdelbegs. Cennétig was killed fighting the Norse of Limerick in 951, and after a series of struggles for the chiefship or kingship of the Dál gCais between rival kindreds, Cennétig’s son, Mathghamhain (Mahon), won in 954. But the Dál gCais (formerly the Uí Toirdelbegs) were the most insignificant tribe living on the Emerald Isle. Brian didn’t have the upstart beginning of Prince Niall. Brian mac Cennétig was a self made man and king.
In Brian’s early years he was educated at the monastery of Clonmacnoise, along the Shannon River, in today’s county of West Meath. He developed a voracious appetite for reading the histories of the military leaders of Europe, such as Julius Caesar and Charlemagne. Because of this love for reading, Brian learned the tactics of the great military leaders and used them throughout his career, making him one of the greatest of Irish generals.
|No known description of Brian's image exists.|
While in his teens, his brother sent for the young Brian to learn the ways of the warrior and to take his place among the Dál gCais fighting the Norsemen of Limerick. After some years, Brian had a falling out with his brother, the King of Thomond, about making peace with the Norse. Brian with a handful of followers of Dalcassians numbering about 200 went into the hills of Clare where they carried out a guerrilla war against the Norse of Limerick, beginning in 962 for several years. It is during this time that Brian married his first wife, Mór, a princess of a sub-king of Connacht. Mór bore at least three sons: Murchadh, Conchobher, and Flann. Also two daughters: Sadhbh and Blanaid (?). Mór died young.
During the guerrilla fighting years, Brian obtained a Norse battle-ax from one of his many skirmishes. The Norse held superior weaponry and armor over the Irish, who did not use chain-mail for protection. The battle-ax was also a formidable weapon. Brian learned how to use the ax and trained his men to learn this skill. Later Brian would include the ax as one of the Irish weapons to help in the defeat of the Norse and other warring Irish tribes as well as some chain-mail. He broke the old tradition of the Nobles could only ride horses in battle, all his guerrilla band rode.
The skirmishes over several years finally had their toll on the Dalcassian guerrilla’s, and they returned to the King of Thomond with about fifteen warriors remaining.
During this time, the many branches of the Eóghanachta Dynasty (MacCarthys) were fighting amongst themselves for the kingship of the province of Munster, the capitol being at Cashel. The Dál gCais marched to Cashel where Mathghamhain was proclaimed and crowned King of Munster in 968 after destroying the Norsemen of Limerick. Mathghamhain was crowned King of Munster on the stone of Cashel (later to be topped with the Cross of St. Patrick still later the stone removed into the chapel to prevent further weather wearing). None of the Eóghanachta branches were strong enough to challenge the Dál gCais. Mathghamhain ruled Munster till 976 when he was assassinated by the Eóghanachta and Ivar (a Dane) of Limerick.
|Mount of Cashel, inauguration site of the kings of Munster.|
For two years Brian fought to avenge the death of his brother and killed those responsible for his brother’s death. In 976, Brian took the position of his late brother and was crowned Chief of Dál gCais and King of Thomond at Maigh Adhair in County Clare. Over the next two years Brian fought in Munster for the provincial kingship his brother had once held. The current king was Mael Muad mac Brain of the Eóghanacht Raithlind, whom Brian slew in 978, opeing the way for his inauguration (AU; CGH 360). Brian was crowned King of Munster on the coronation stone at the Rock of Cashel. As King of Munster, Ireland’s largest province, Brian began his career as a master negotiator and diplomat. He accomplished as much if not more through negotiation and alliances then by war.
Either shortly before or right after becoming king of Munster, Brian married for the second time to Eachraidh ni Cearbhall, granddaughter of Oilill Fionn, ruler of Uí Aodha Odhbha of Meath. Author Roger Newman, in his biography titled Brian Boru: King of Ireland, suggests that this was perhaps a marriage to get Brian into the heart of Uí Neill territory and establish vassal allegiances. Eachraidh bore at least two sons (Tadhg and Domhnall) and a daughter (Emer.)
|One of covers to novel "Lion of Ireland."|
The palace of the new King of Munster was at Ceanncora (Kincora), located under the present town site of Killaloe, on the eastern edge of County Clare at the bottom shoreline of Lough Derg, where the Shannon River flows to the ocean. Ceanncora was to become the most magnificent palace of an Irish King to date. Here, Brian would entertain his guests and shower them with gifts and set a new standard for hospitality. The enemy was treated the same as a friend or ally. In fact Brian accomplished more through diplomacy then with the sword.
From 978 to 988, King Brian of Munster was continuously fighting factions in Munster of the Eóghanachta branches into obedience. He also had trouble with the Deisie and the Norse element at Waterford. These three tribes were finally subdued and lent strength to his army to fight the often rebellious men of Leinster and the war minded Irishmen of Connacht.
While fighting a rebellious army of Leinstermen, King Brian was caught off guard for the first time by the Ard-Ri (High-King), Maoil-Seachlainn, an Uí Neill of Aileach (Donegal), who marched with an army into Munster and uprooted the sacred oak tree at Maigh Adhair, the inauguration site of the kings of Thomond and chiefs of Dál gCais. This show of force was to remind Brian and all southern Ireland, that there could be only one Ard-Ri in Ireland, and Maoil-Seachlainn was that king.
But trouble continued to brew in Leinster and the Norse city-state of Dublin. In 999, the Ard-Ri and Brian joined forces against those two common foes and met them in Leinster at a place called Gleann Mama, where the rebels were thoroughly routed. This victory was significant in Brian’s move towards a higher throne then that of Munster, which it did. Glenn Mama also brought the scattered tuathas, states and kingdoms that were disorganized in line for a union or federation where there was one policy maker, a central government, and they would be supreme under one king, Brian of Thomond.
Suddenly after Glenn Mama, the Uí Neill found Brian in control of Leath Mogha (southern half of Ireland) and Brian was called “King of Leath Mogha.” Brian out moved the Ard-Ri and was recognized as the over-lord of Dublin by its Norse king, Sitric Silk-Beard Olafssen. It is probably at this time that Brian made a politically astute move and married Gormfhlaith, an ambitious, cunning, and very beautiful woman of a noble house of Leinster. Gormfhlaith had married Dublin’s former Viking king, Olaf Cuaran, when about fifteen, and had a son, Sitric, who would become Dublin’s king. Later she married Maoil-Seachlainn, the Ard-Ri, but was repudiated by him in 999, probably because of the political union of her son, Sitric and her brother, Maol Mordha, a Leinster king want-to-be. This hypothesis is formulated by Newman which is the most probable scenario. By marrying Gormfhlaith (about age 42), Brian now held the power of the Viking element in Ireland in his hands, as well as half of Leinster, all of Munster and a marriage alliance with Connacht. Brian was the undisputed King of Leath Mogha!
Irish Brehon Law allowed for more than one wife at a time. Brian’s third wife, Dubhchobhlaigh, daughter of King Cathal of Connacht, was Brian’s lawful wife, whom he married in 988, after his victory over Connacht at Port Lairge. Gormfhlaith was a “mate,” or concubine, but legal (although the Christian Church had serious problems with this Irish practice.) Dubhchobhlaigh is believed to be the mother of Brian’s youngest child and son, Donough. She died in 1008-1009.
To really bind the ties with Dublin, Brian arranged the marriage of his daughter, Emer, to King Sitric (Brian’s new step-son).
After Gleann Mama and the business at Dublin, Brian made a quick stab at Tara, possibly hoping to catch Maoil-Seachlainn off guard before his troops could be refreshed. The Ard-Ri was ready and after a brief skirmish, Brian pulled back and returned home. A worried Ard-Ri made an alliance with King Cathal of Connacht.
Peace was upon the Emerald Isle for the new millennium. But the following year Brian sent Sitric in long ships around Ulster raiding its coast. The King of Leath Mogha marched to Dundalk in Ulster in a pageantry of arms. He was testing the Uí Neills cohesiveness to each other and the Ard-Ri. Finally Aodh Ua Neill, king of Aileach and heir apparent to the Ard-Ri, stood with an army before Brian. But there was no battle and one can only speculate what the two kings discussed.
The following year, 1002, Brian marched into Meath, having quickly defeated King Cathal. The Ard-Ri asked the King of Leath Mogha to give him a month to assemble his troops to do battle. Brian graciously gave Maoil-Seachlainn a month, during which time he went to Aileach where he found the Ard-Ri’s Ua Neill Clan not willing to aide him. The Ard-Ri was alone, and his kinsmen, the Uí Neill, turned away. The only thing to do was abdicate the throne of Ireland to Brian mac Cennétig, Chief of Dál gCais, King of Thomond, King of Munster, King of Leath Mogha, and now Ard-Ri or High-King of Ireland. Brian had won the crown without shedding a drop of blood.
|Stamps issued by Ireland in 2002.|
Ireland would be ruled by one King, the Ard-Ri. The high-kingship would no longer be just a figure-head, it would be the central government and all the sub-kings would enforce the orders of that government. Brian endowed liberally the scholastic and monastic institutions and sent emissaries to Europe to find and replace the tens of thousands of books that had been destroyed during Irish and Viking raids, and to invite scholars to come to Ireland where the isle was once more being made into a land of Saints and Scholars. The notable reformation of Ireland had begun. In the Book of Armagh was written: “Briain Imperatoris Scotorum,” (Scots was the term used for the Irish until about 1100.)
It is now that Brian was attached to the name of boruamha (boru). The Gaelic word boruamha, literally means “cattle tax.” A mile north of Killaloe, is the ancient dun (fortress) of Beal Boruamha, where cattle was driven to from surrounding areas by Irishmen to pay their tax to the King of Thomond (cattle was the currency of Ireland). It is believed that since Brian ruled from Ceanncora (Kincora), it was here that the tribute tax of cattle from the various kingdoms of Ireland were gathered.
Tradition states that it was Brian who decreed that surnames should be fixed for clans and septs, showing a common ancestral relationship from a prominent ancestor. But this is only tradition, and it didn’t take hold widely for several more generations. Not even all of the descendants of Brian Boru took the name Ua Briain (O’Brien). But if one’s O’Brien ancestry comes from Munster and particularly counties Clare, Limerick, and Tipperary, they probably descend from the progenitor of the O'Brien Clan.
Another tradition from this period tells of the peace and control that Brian brought to the Emerald Isle. It is said that during Brian’s reign a noble woman dressed in fine clothing and jewels could walk alone the length of Ireland and not be molested. Such was the control that Brian had upon the land and its people.
But Leinster and Dublin finally had enough of the tribute tax, and began to rebel at the end of 1012, and Gormfhlaith’s driven desire for intrigue got her repudiated by Brian. The following year Leinster and Dublin began to mobilize their forces realizing that Brian would soon gather a larger army then theirs. Sitric then went for outside help and contacted Sigurd the Stout, Jarl of Orkney and the Scottish isles. Sitric promised to Sigurd in marriage the hand of his mother. Gormfhlaith, and the throne of Dublin. Figuring that Sigurd’s chances of living through the battle were slim, he made the same offer to two other Vikings from the Isle of Man. All this was done in the year 1013.
Ard-Ri Brian Boru, was now seventy-three, and before him his life’s work and ambition was suddenly coming unraveled. The King began to assemble his forces to meet those of rebellious Leinster and Dublin, who dared destroy the unity presently enjoyed on the Emerald Isle. But no help came from Ulster, and the King of Connacht refused. The kindred of Brian’s first wife came from west Connacht and rallied to his banner, as did the Uí Mhaine of Galway. The warriors of Munster assembled and among them was Brian’s son-in-law, Cian, leading the Eóghanachtas. Murchadh mac Brian led the Dalcassians as always, and the former Ard-Ri, Maoil-Seachlainn, brought the forces of Meath. To Brian’s banner also came the Norsemen of Limerick and Waterford. A twist in this scenario, was a contingent of warriors under Domnhall, the Mormear of Mar in Alba (Scotland), being sent from Brian’s other son-in-law, Malcolm II, King of Scots, who was father-in-law to Sigurd the Stout, Jarl of Orkney. (Question: Why did the King of Scots send a contingent, if not indebted to or related to Brian?)
On the eve of 23 April 1014, traditions tell of the appearance of Aoibhinna/Sylvia, a leannan sidhe (banshee) of the Dalcassians, who appeared to Brian and foretold of his impending doom. Also that day was a verbal fight between Maoil-Seachlainn and Murchadh mac Brian. The former Ard-Ri left the field with his forces and returned back to Meath.
|King Brian appears to troops before battle.|
The Battle of Clontarf was fought on a holy day, Good Friday, and the battle lasted from early morning to the setting sun. Brian was too old to fight, but he appeared before his troops to inspire them to their duty in the early sunlight. Throughout the day, Brian prayed in his tent. An estimated ten thousand men at arms battled on the field. With the setting sun came victory to forces of the Ard-Ri, but at a heavy price. Prince Murchadh mac Brian was dead, as were Brian’s additional sons Conchobher and Flann, who are believed to have died here too, and many of the chiefs, chieftains and mighty champions of the tuathas, and the Mormear of Mar.
The fleeing Viking chief, Brodar of the Isle of Man, (of which there are two versions of his and Brian’s encounter): 1 version) came upon Brian’s tent and slaying several body guards, he cleaved the bare head of the Ard-Ri of Ireland while he was praying thanks in his tent. But Brodar was captured later and died a most hideous death. Version 2) has Brian swinging his sword at the same time as Brodar swung his ax. Brian’s sword cutting asunder the legs of Brodar: who bled to death.
To the ecclesiastical church at Armagh in Ulster, the body of the High-King and his son Murchadh, were taken and buried near the high alter.
Union for the people of the Emerald Isle was over, the dream of Brian Boru died with him as did the “notable reformation” of Ireland, all came to a crashing end on that Good Friday. Ireland returned to its former past; tuatha fighting tuatha, king against king, province against province, until 1169 A.D., when the Anglo-Normans came under the invitation of the exiled Leinster King, Diarmaid mac Murchadha, and a new invader was to be encountered.
|Brian "Boru" mac Cennétig|
Born: 941 A.D., (probably Kincora/Killaloe) County Clare, Ireland. Son of Cennétig mac Lorcan and Bebinn ni Aurchada.
Died: 23 April 1014, Clontarf, County Dublin, Ireland.
Brian’s 1st marriage:
962 A.D., to Princess Mór ni Eidigean of Uí Fhaiachrach Aidhne, County Galway. Her father was Eidigean mac Clerig of the Hy Fiachrach (King of West Connacht).
1. Murchadh mac Briain - Married to ???. Killed at Clontarf on 23 April 1014, with his teenage son, Toirdhealbahach.
2. Flann mac Briain - Killed at Clontarf on 23 April 1014.
3. Conchobar mac Briain - Killed at Clontarf on 23 April 1014.
Brian’s 2nd marriage:
988 A.D., to Eachraidh ni Cearbhall mac Oilill Fionn, of Uí Aodha Odhbha of Meath.Her father was the king of Ui Aeda Odba.
4. Tadhg mac Briain - Born: 985 A.D. Married but wife unknown. King of Munster, and assassinated in 1023. (AI; CGH 250, 427; BS 189, 228.)
5. Domhnall mac Briain - Died in 1012 A.D. (AI, AFM)
6. Emer/Slani ni Briain - Married to Viking Sitric “Silkbeard” Olafssen, King of Dublin. (CGG193, 257) (One of her descendants is Gruffudd ap Cynan, King of Gwynedd in northern Wales, HGaC.)
Brian’s 3rd marriage:
998 A.D., to Princess Dubhchobhlaigh ni Cathal of Connacht. She died in 1008-1009. Her father was Cathal mac Conchobair, King of Connacht 973-1010.
7. Donnchadh mac Briain - Married 1st to Neassa ???; 2nd to Dressilla (sister to King Harold Goodwinson of England), daughter of Earl Goodwine, of Wessex. King of Munster, assassinated older brother Tadhg. Died in 1064 A.D., in pilgrimage at Rome. (CGH 238; BS 314, 338, 189, 227) (Pride of Lions)
Brian’s 4th marriage:
999-1002 A.D., to Gormfhlaith ni Murchada (cousin to the King of Leinster.) She died in 1030 A.D. Many writers state that she is the mother of Brian’s youngest child, Donnchadh. She was the daughter of Murchad ma Finn, King of Leinster. Formerly married to Olaf ‘Cuaran/amlaib Cuaran, King of Dublin and York, who died in 981. She was the mother of Brian’s son-in-law, Sitric Olafssen, King of Dublin. She then married Mael Sechnaill mac Domnaill, King of Meath and High-King of Ireland until dethroned by Brian Boru.
Other children but by which mother is unknown:
8. Sadb ni Briain - Died in 1048. Married to Cian mac Nael Muaid, son of Brian’s predecessor in the kingship of Munster.
9. Dub Essa ni Briain - Died in 1052. (CS, AFM)
10. Be Binn ni Briain - Died in 1073. (AU, AFM)
11. Blanaid ni Brian - Married to Malcolm II, King of Scots. Only mention of her is in the historical novel by Morgan Llywelyn. In absolutely no other history does her name appear, thus placing doubt on her existence. (Lion of Ireland)
Frances Bryne. “The Dal Cais: O’Brien High-Kings,” Irish Kings and High-Kings. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1972.
Morgan Llywelyn. Lion of Ireland. (Historical novel) Tor Books, 1981; New York:, 1996.
“ “ . Pride of Lions. (Historical novel) New York: Forge, 1996.
Edward MacLysaght. “O’Brien,” Irish Families. New York, 1957; Crown Publishers, 1972.
Roger Chatterton Newman. Brian Boru: King of Ireland. Dublin: Anvil Books, 1983.
Fr. John Ryan. “Brian Boruma, King of Ireland,” North Munster Studies. Limerick, 1967.
John O’Donovan, ed. & translator, Annals of the kingdom by the Four Masters. 7 Volumes. (Dublin: 1848-51.) (AFM)
W. M. Hennessy, ed. & translator, Annals of Loch Ce. (Rolls series 54, London, 1871.) (ALC)
Sean MacAirt, ed. & translator, The Annals of Inisfallen. (Dublin, 1944, reprinted 1988.) (AI)
Sean MacAirt and Gearoid Mac Niocaill, ed. & translator, The Annals of Ulster. (Dublin: 1983.)(AU)
Whitley Stokes, ed., The Annals of Tigernach, Revue Celtique 16 (1895), 374-419, 17 (1896), 6-33, 337-420, 18 (1897), 9-59, 150-303, 374-91. (Includes text plus translation of Irish text, but no translation of Latin text.) (AT)
J.H. Todd, ed & translator, Cogadh Caedhel re Gallaibh (The War of the Gaedhil with the Gall). (London: Rolls Series 48, 1867.) (Considered as propaganda for the O’Brien Clan and relatives. However, the text of Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh is an earlier material.) (CGG)
M.A. O’Brien, ed., Corpus Genealogiarum Hiberniae. (Dublin: 1962, reprinted in 1976.) (CGH)
W.M. Hennessy, ed. & trans., Chronicum Scotorum (London: Rolls Series 46, 1866.) (CS)
“Genealogies from Hanes Gruffudd ap Cynan,” in Peter C.Bartrum, ed., Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts, (Cardiff, 1966) 35-7. (HGAC)
By Morgan Llewelyn
By Morgan Llewelyn
The land over which Brian Boru had made himself High King, or Ard Ri was still heavily forested and rich in natural resources. Cattle were the economic backbone of the country. Viking-built trading cities such as Dublin and Limerick were exceptions; Ireland remained rural, dependent upon the land, suspicious of urban life.
Social structure was complex. A High King ruled from Meath, exerting varying degrees of power, dependent upon his personal strength, upon the provincial kings of Munster, Ulster Connacht, and Leinster, who in turn claimed tribute from their under-kings, or clan chieftains. Alliances shifted like the turn of the tide. Until Brian Boru rose from obscurity to become first king of Munster, then of Ireland, there had been no sense of national purpose or even of nationhood at all, the land merely being a large island which held a variety of frequently warring tribes. But this was to be expected..
The Gael had, for over a millennium, been a warrior aristocracy in the mold of Homer's Mycenaens. Isolated on an island in the Atlantic, they had long been accustomed to earning their claims to heroism and keeping their battle skills sharp by fighting one another.Sometimes their warfare was little more than stylized ritual; sport. Often it was more savage. The advent of the Danes and Norsemen had introduced a new element as issues of trade and taxation, as well as landholding, further divided the people.
Though historians may always argue about his character and motives, Brian the son of Cinneide, prince of the Dal gCais, was undeniably a man ahead of his time.
Although upon coming to power originally he made his goal the destruction of the foreigners, he was gifted with a larger view. In time he realized that the Scandinavians - who did not call themselves Vikings, as Viking was a verb describing raiding and plunder - had been in Ireland for centuries. They were well established here, they had put down roots and intermarried. Their art forms had enriched indigenous art forms, their trade had become important to Ireland's economy. In short, they could not simply be driven out.
They could, however, be made Irish. Brian Boru saw as no man had before him that this involved thinking of Ireland as nation. He even went so far as to style himself "Emperor of the Irish" in the Book of Armagh, in his effort to unify the land into a prosperous coalescence of its differing inhabitants. His was the first and most nearly successful of all attempts to create a strong, self-sufficient unity here, drawing upon the various strengths and talents of individual tribes and races. His dream would die with him at Clontarf on Good Friday, 1014, drowned in blood as Gael and Dane on one side fought Gael and Dane on the other, unable to agree on anything but plunder and vengeance.
To reach Clontarf Brian Boru - dreamer, opportunist, ruthless pragmatist , skilled harper, accomplished scholar, accomplished warrior - had led an army across the midsection of Ireland, drawing additional supporters as he went.
In spite of his efforts he had made to introduce a form of cavalry, most warriors still fought on foot, and barefoot at that. Battle-dress was as individualistic as the men themselves.Some wore simple saffron-dried tunics with woolen cloaks or shaggy mantles. Others had body protection in the form of boiled leather fitted to the torso, or the occasional set of chain links taken from a dead Dane. Weapons also varied. Brian himself had mastered the battle-axe, but short swords and spears and slings and clubs were very much in evidence. Then as now, many thought there was no substitute for a stout blackthorn cudgel.
In 1014, as if anticipating trouble with the always-fractious Leinstermen and their allies among the Danes of Dublin, Brian had fortified Thomond. When it became obvious war was inevitable he drew strongly upon support from what are now counties Clare, Limerick and Tipperary. As his army set forth they carried with them a wealth of supplies from the west in terms of material and weaponry, though most of their food must have come from the countryside through which they passed.
It is doubtful if many of the smallholders who watched Brian's army march by had any idea of the issues at stake. Most of the army itself did not. They set out singing marching songs, excited by the opportunities for glory and plunder which battle always provided. Some were undoubtedly frightened, shivering in their cloaks before they were long underway, but unwilling to admit it to their fellows. The indomitable will of the aged but awesome man who led them kept them from deserting, however. Brian Boru was always able to communicate enough of his dream to make men follow him, even against impossible odds. Even against the thousand ships which, it was rumored, would be sailing into Dublin bay to stand against him. Norse and Dane - white foreigners and black foreigners, as they were called- marched in Brian Boru's army to some extent. They had become Irish.
But against them were arrayed the Leinstermen and their own Scandinavian allies, not only the ships from abroad but the well-fortified city of Dublin itself, ruled by Sitric, the son of Brian Boru's former wife Gormalaith. When Brian Boru set the trouble making Gormlaith aside he made of her an enemy who would change the history of Ireland.
Gormlaith's anger called in the armies who intended to overthrow and destroy Brian Boru. Knowing this, knowing also that as a man of seventy-three he might not survive this battle, even if his followers allowed him to fight personally as he had done the preceding year, Brian marched on.
As his armies passed through the rich central plain of Ireland clans who supported them supplied them with dried meat, cheeses, bread - the last of the so-called 'winter food'. Footsoldiers carried skins of Danish beer, the most popular drink of the common man, but would gladly settle for a cup of buttermilk from a friendly farmer. At night in his leather tent the Ard Rí dined on more sumptuous fare, for he was known for his taste for luxury. Irish stew in 1014 did not contain the now-ubiquitous potato, but consisted of mutton, hare, waterfowl, eel, prawns, mussels, barley, onions and root vegetables, kale seaweeds and watercress, and the sediment, or lees, of red wine. As Ard Rí, Brian Boru undoubtedly flavored his with imported cinnamon.
He and his fellow chieftains were richly attired in pleated shirts of bleached linen, vests embroidered with gold thread, form fitting tunics and trews, and crested helmets. Their shields boasted bronze bosses and were swagged with elegant chains. Their spear-heads glittered atop shafts of white hazel. The Ireland they knew was wealthy and worth fighting for.
An important factor in determining the outcome of the battle would be whether Malachy Mór, whom Brian had overthrown to become Ard Rí. would stand with Brian's forces as he had in the past. Their alliance was fragile. Both had wanted the High Kingship; both had once been married to the same woman, Gormlaith of Leinster. But without the help of Malachy and his Meathmen Brian would be dangerously outnumbered.
All of these thoughts must have run through the old King's head as he and his armies advanced on Dublin, their ranks swelled by welcome additions from Connacht, which had proved a staunch ally. But whatever unity Brian had forged among those who considered themselves Irish was about to undergo its most severe test against rebellious Maelmors of Leinster and his foreign allies. Should Brian win, he intended to establish a stable dynasty to replace the strife-fraught custom of alternate kingship and fragmented leadership. Ireland could then present a unified face and proven military might to the rest of the world. It would no longer appear a temptingly easy target for plunder by foreign kings. Ireland could anticipate a similar future to that which Charlemagne had won for his land.
The tapestry of tribes who followed Brian Boru were not thinking in these terms, of course. They had neither his education nor his vision. They simply prayed to God for victory and dreamed of the loot they would take as their share of the spoils. So they marched through that muddy, rainy spring, to converge upon Clontarf. Good Friday, 1014.