The Battle of Clontarf - The Dublin Penny Journal - 20 October 1832

18 Apr 2014

The Battle of Clontarf.

(The Dublin Penny Journal, Vol I, No. 17. October 20, 1832)

The following account of the battle of Clontarf, is transcribed chiefly from an ancient Irish MS. Entitled Cath Chluana Tarbh, corrected, however, in many parts from the Annals of Innisfallen and Ulster, especially in the list of the chieftains who fell in that remarkable combat. The account of the deaths of Brian and Morogh is translated literally from the original Irish, as given by Mr. Hardiman in his Irish Minstrelsy, vol. 11. P. 361. As the popular and generally received accounts of an event of so great importance in Irish history, these translations will, doubtless, prove interesting to the Irish reader; but it must be confessed that in some of the details there appears even an excessive allowance of exaggeration:

It is said that towards the end of Brian Borumha's reign Ireland flourished in all earthly blessings; and that so strictly were the laws obeyed that, as we are informed by Mac Liag, chief antiquary of Ireland in Brian's time, a lady might travel unattended from Tonn Chliodhna to Tonn Tuaithe (i.e. from one extremity of Ireland to the other) with a gold ring on the top of a wand without being robbed or molested.

No Danes were left in the kingdom, but such a number of artizans and merchants in Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Cork and Limerick, as he knew could easily be mustered at any time, should they dare to rebel, and these he very wisely (as he thought) permitted to remain in those seaport towns for the purpose of encouraging trade and traffic, as they possessed many ships and were experienced sailors.

But such prosperity was of short continuance: Maolmordha, who usurped the crown of Leinster in 999, by the assistance of the Danes, being at an entertainment at Kincora, saw Morogh, Brian's eldest son at a game of chess, and advised his antagonist to a movement which lost Morogh the game; whereupon Morogh observed to him with a sneer, that if he had given as good advice at the battle of Glen-mama, the Danes would not have received so great an overthrow.

To which Maelmordha replied: "my instructions the next time shall guide them to victory," and Morogh with contempt bade defiance. Maelmordha became enraged, retired to his bed chamber, and did not appear at the banquet, but passed the night in restless anger, and ruminating his country's ruin.

Early next morning he set out for Leinster, without taking his leave of the monarch, or any of his household, to shew that he was bent upon desperate revenge. The good monarch on hearing of his departure, sent one of his servants after him to request his reconciliation with Morogh; the servant overtook him east of the Shannon. Maelmordha, who all the while listened with indignation, as soon as the servant was done speaking, raised the rod of yew which he had in his hand, and with three furious blows thereof fractured the servant's skull, to make known to Brian how he rejected such reconciliation.

He pursued his way on horseback to Leinster, where the next day, he assembled his nobles, represented to them the insult he had received at Kincora, and inflamed them to so great a degree that they renounced their allegiance to Brian, confederated with the Danes, and sent the monarch defiance.

Emissaries were sent to Denmark and Norway. The Danes of Normandy, Britain, and the Isles joyfully entered into the confederacy, pleased at the prospect of once more gaining possessions in this land flowing with milk and honey. (In the Chronicles of Adamar Monk of Eparchius of Angouleme, there is a surious passage relative to the views of the Northmen at that time, in which it is stated that they came with an immense fleet, meaning to extinguish the Irish, and to get possession of that most wealthy country which had 12 cities, great Bishopricks, &c. "His temporibus Normanni supradicti, cum innumera classe Hiberniam insulam, quae Irland dicitur, ingressi sunt una cum uxoribus et liberies, &c. ut Hirlandis extinctic ipsi pro ipsis inhabitarent opulentissimam terram quae xii civitales cum amplissimis Episcopatibus et unum regem habet. Ac propriam lingnam sed Latinas literas, quam Sanctus Patricus Romanus ad fidem convertit.")

The king of Denmark sent his two sons, Carolus Kanutus and Andreas, at the head of 12,000 men, who landed safely in Dublin, and were kindly received and refreshed by Maelmordha. Troops now daily poured into the different ports of Leinster, from Sweden, Norway, Normandy, Britain, the Orkneys and every other northern settlement.

The king of Leinster was also indefatigable, not only in raising new levies but in labouring to detach different princes from the interest of their country. Never were such efforts made by the Danes as upon this occasion; the best men were every where pitched upon for this service. Among others Broder and Anrud, two Norwegian princes, landed at the bead of 1,000 choice troops covered with coats of mail.

The king of Leinster being now animated by the number of his auxiliaries, without longer delay bid defiance by a herald to the monarch Brian, and challenged him to fight at Moynealta a spacious plain near Dublin now cafled Clontarf.

Brian Borumha, with all possible speed, mustered the forces of Munster and Connaught, and marched directly to Clontarf, the place appointed, and there saw the enemy prepared to oppose him, viz. sixteen thousand Danes, together with all the power of Leinster, under the command of their King, Maelmordha, the sole author of this battle.

Then the power of Meath came in to aid their monarch Brian, under the conduct of Maelseaghluin, their King, who, however, intended to betray Brian. For this purpose he sent to the King of Leinster to inform him, that Brian had dispatched his son, Donogh, at the head of a third part of the Eugenian forces to ravage Leinster, and that he himself, with his 1,000 Month men, would desert Brian on the day of battle.

Accordingly, it was determined to attack Brian before Donogh could come up. He was then encamped on the plain near Dublin, with a smaller army than he otherwise should have bad. His opponents formed themselves into three divisions; the first, consisting of 1,000 Northmen, covered with coats of mail from head to foot, and commanded by Carolus and Anrud, two Norwegian princes, and of the Danes of Dublin, under Dolat and Conmael.

The second division consisted of Lagenians, about 9,000 strong, commanded by their king, Maelmordha Mac Morogh, and under him by several minor princes, such as Mac Tuathal or Toole, of the Liffey territory, the prince of Hy-Falgy, (Ophaly) together with a large body of the Danes.

The third division was formed of the Northmen, collected from the islands, from Scotland, &c. It was commanded by Loder, Earl of the Orkneys, and Broder, Admiral of the fleet, which had brought the auxiliary Northmen to Ireland.

Brian was not dismayed by this mighty force, and depending on Providence and the bravery of his troops, prepared for battle, dividing his army likewise into three divisions; one to oppose the enemy's first division, under his son Morogh, who had along with him his son Torlogh, and a select body of the brave Dalcassians, besides four other sons of Brian, Teige, Donald, Connor, and Flan, and various chieftains, Donchuan, Lonargan, Celiocar, Fiongallach and Jonrachtach, and the three chiefs of Teffia, &c. together with a body of men from Conmaicne-mara, a western part of Connaught, under Carnan, their chief.

To this division Maelseachlain was ordered to join his followers. Over the division which was to fight the second of the enemy, Brian placed Kian and Donald, two princes of the Eugenian line, under whom were the forces of Desmond, and other parts of the south of Ireland, viz. Mothla, son of Faelan, King of the Desies; Murtogh, son of Anmchadha, Lord of Hy Liathian; Scanlan, son of Cathal, Chief of Eoganacht of Lough Lein; Cathal, the son of Donovan, Lord of Hy-Cairbre Eabha and Loingseach O'Dowling, Chief of Hy-Conall Gaura; the son of Beothach, King of Kerry-Luachra; Geibbionach, the son of Dubhagan, Chief of Fermoy. To this division also belonged O'Carroll, and his troops of Ely O'Carroll, and it was joined by another O'Carroll, prince of Oriel, in Ulster, and Maguire, Prince of Fermanagh.

The division opposed to the third of their antagonists, consisted chiefly of Connacians, commanded by Teige O'Conor, as Chief, under whom were Mulroney O'Heyne, Chief of Aidline; Teige O'Kelly, King of Hy-maine; O'Flaherty, King of Muinter Murchadha; Connor O'Mulroney, Chief of Moylurg; Hugh Guineagh O'Doyle, and Fogartagh, the son of Donall, two Chiefs of Ely; Murtogh, the son of Corc, Chief of Muscraighe-Cuirc; and Hugh, the son of Louglin, Chief of HyCuanach; Donall, the son of Dermod, Chief of Corca-Baisgin; Donogh, the son of Cathl, Chief of Muscraighe Aedlha; Ectigerna, the son of Donegan, King of Ara.

The Northmen who had arrived under Broder at Dublin on Palm Sunday, A.D. 1014, insisted on the battle being fought on Good Friday, which fell on the 23d of April, a day, on which, by reason of its sanctity, Brian would have wished to avoid fighting. (The Niala Sagra states that Brian had been informed by a sort of pagan oracle, that should the battle be fought on Good Friday, the Northmen would be victorious.)Yet he was determined to defend himself even on that day, and holding the crucifix in his left hand, and his sword in the right, rode with his son Morogh through the ranks, and addressed them as follows, as we react in the annals of Innisfallen under the year 1014.

"Be not dismayed because that my son Donogh, with the third part of the Momonian forces is absent from you, for they are plundering Leinster and the Danish territories. Long have the men of Ireland groaned under the tyranny of these seafaring pirates! the murderers of your kings and chieftains, - plunderers of your fortresses! - profane destroyers of the churches and monasteries of God! who have trampled upon and committed to the flames the relics of his saints!" (and raising his voice) , "May the Almighty God, through his great mercy, give you strength and courage this day, to put an end for ever to the Lochlunian tyranny in Ireland, and to revenge upon them their many perfidies, and their profanations of the sacred edifices dedicated to his worship, this day, on which Jesus Christ himself suffered death for your redemption,"

So saving, (continue the annals) "He shewed them the symbol of the bloody sacrifice in his left hand, and his golden hilted sword in his right, declaring that he was willing to lose his life in so just and honourable a cause." And he proceeded towards the centre tp lead on his troops to action; but the chiefs of the army with one voice, requested he would retire from the field of battle on account of his great age, and leave to his eldest son Morogh the chief command.

At sunrise in the morning the signal for battle was given, but at this very critical moment, Maelseachlainn finding an opportunity of being in some measure revenged of Brian, retired suddenly from the scene of action with his 1,000 Meathmen, and remained an inactive spectator during the whole time of the battle, without joining either side.

This defection certainly rendered the division of the monarch's army very unequal in numbers to that of the enemy's which they were appointed to engage with. But Morogh, with great presence of mind, cried out to his brave Dalcassians, "that this was the time to distinguish themselves; as they alone would have the unrivalled glory of cutting off that formidable body of the enemy."

And now whilst the Dalcassians were closely engaged with battle-axe, sword, and dagger, the second division, under the command of the King of Connaught, hasten to engage the Danes of Leinster and their insular levies, whilst the troops of South Munster attacked Maelmordha and his degenerate Lagenians.

Never was greater intrepidity, perseverance, or animosity displayed in any other battle than in this; as every thing depended on open force, and courage. The situation of the ground admitted of no ambuscades, and none were used; they fought man to man, and breast to breast, and the victors in one rank fell victims in the next. The commanders on both sides performed prodigies of valour; Morogh, his son Torlogh, his brethren and kindred, flew from place to place, and every where left the sanguinary traces of their courage.

The slaughter committed by Morogh, excited the fury of Carolus and Conmael, two Danes of distinction; they attacked him in conjunction, and both fell by his sword Sitric, the son of Loder, observed that Morogh and other chiefs retired from the battle more than twice, and after each return seemed to be possessed of double vigour. It was to quench their thirst, and cool their hands, swelled from the violent use of the sword and battle-axe, in an adjoining well, over which a guard of 12 men were placed; this the Danes soon destroyed. (MS. Account of the battle of Clontarf)

On rejoining his troops the last time, Sitric, the son of Loder, with a body of Danes, was making a fresh attack on the Dalcassians, and him Morogh singled out, and with a blow of his battle-axe divided his body in two, through his armour! (Annals of Innisfallen. Of the great havock which the Irish committed with the battle-axe, Gilaldus Cambrensis thus speaks in the reign of King John: "They hold the axe with one hand, not with both, the thumb being stretched along the handle and directing the blow; from which neither the helmet erected onto a cone can defend the head, nor the iron mail the rest of the body. Whence it happens in our times that the whole thigh (coxa) of a soldier, though ever so well cased in iron mail, is cut off by one blow of the axe, the thigh and the leg falling on one side of the horse, and the dying body on the other.")

The other Irish commanders in like manner distinguished themselves, though their exploits are not so particularly narrated; and it would seem from the number of prime quality that fell on both sides, that the chiefs every where attacked each other in single combat.

The issue of the day remained doubtful, until near four o'clock in the afternoon, and then it was that the Irish made so general an attack on the enemy, that its force was not to be resisted, Destitute of leaders, and consequently in disorder; the Danes gave way on every side. Morogh, at this time, through the violent exertion of his right arm, had both hand and arm so swelled and pained as to be unable to lift them up. In this condition he was attacked by Anrudh, the son of Ebhric, but Morogh closing in upon him, seized him witli the left hand, shook him out of his coat of mail, and prostrating him, pierced him with his sword by leaning with his breast upon it, and pressing upon it with the weight of his body. In this dying situation of Anrudh, he nevertheless seized the skeine (scimitar) which hung by Morogh's side, and with it gave him at the same instant, a mortal wound! The Dane expired on the spot; but Morogh lived until next morning, when he made his confession and received the sacrament.

The confusion became general through the Danish army, and they fled on every side. Laidin, the servant of Brian, observing the confusion, feared that the imperial army was defeated. He hastily entered the tent of Brian, who was on his knees before a crucifix, and requested that he would immediately take a horse and fly. "No," says Brian; "it was to conquer or die I came here; but do you and my other attendants take my horses to Armagh, and communicate my will to the successor of St. Patrick - that I bequeath my soul to God, my body to Armagh, and my blessing to my son Donogh; give 200 cows to Armagh, along with my body; and go directly to Swords of Columbkille, and order them to come for my body to-morrow, and conduct it to Duleek of St. Kianan, and let them convey it to Louth, whither let Maelmurry, the son of Eochy Comharb of St. Patrick come with the family of Armagh, and convey it to their Cathedral."

"People are coming towards us," says the servant. "What sort of people are they," says Brian? "Green, naked people," says the servant. "They are the Danes in armour," says Brian, and he rose from his pillow, seized his sword, and stood to await the approach of Broder and some of his followers; and he saw no part of him without armour except his eyes and his feet. Brian raised his hand and gave him a blow with which he cut off his left leg from the knee, and the right from the ankle, but Broder's axe met the head of Brian, and fractured it; Brian, however, with all the fury of a dying warrior, beheaded Broder, and killed a second Dane by whom he was attacked, and then gave up the ghost. (Translated from the original as given by Mr. Hardiman from the Leabhar Oiris)

From the vast number of chiefs who fell we may form some idea of the carnage on both sides. On the monarch's side besides himself, were slain Morogh with two of his brother and his grandson Turlogh; his nephew Conang; the chiefs of Corca Baisgin, of Fermoy, of Coonagh, of Kerry-Luachra, of Eoganacht Locha Lein, of Hy-Conaill Gabhra, of Hy-Neachach Mumhan, of the Desies, &c. fell in this battle; as did the Connaught princes O'Kelly of Hy-maine, O'Heyne and many others.

The Great Stewards of Leamhna (Lennox) and Mar, with other brave Albanian Scots, the descendants of Corc, king of Munster,4 died in the same cause. (Keating. These Scotchmen (albanians) well knew that they were descended from the Irish. It is remarked that at this time the Scots of North Britain had their genuine pedigrees and history, which were many centuries after this period, destroyed by the Long-shanked King of England.)

On the side of the enemy there fell Maelmordha, the cause of all this blood, with the princes of Hy Failge (Ophaly) of Magh-Liffe, and almost all the chiefs of Leinster, with 3,000 of their bravest troops. Of the Danes, besides their principal officers, there fell 14,000 men. The 1,000 men that wore coats of mail are said to have been all cut to pieces.

The Danes were routed and pursued to their ships, and as far as the gates of Dublin. The surviving foreigners took an eternal farewell of the country; and the Irish Danes returned to Dublin.

That this was a real and great victory is attested in the annals of Innisfallen under the year 1014, as also in the annals of the Four Masters and of Ulster. Yet Sir James Ware in his antiquities of Ireland, chap. 24, has some doubts on this point, as if towards the end, the Danes became uppermost.

But the Scandinavian account of this sanguinary battle, (which was long after famous throughout Europe) is sufficient to remove this doubt. The Niala Saga in Johnstone's Ant. Celto-Scand. has a curious account of this battle in which the Northmen are represented as flying in all directions, and large parties of them totally destroyed.

And in the chronicle of Ademar, Monk of St. Eparchius of Angouleme, this battle is represented as even greater than it really was, for it is said that all the Northmen were killed, and it is added that crowds of their women threw themselves into the sea. Yet it is true, that of some of their divisions not a man was left alive. Ademar makes the battle last for three days, but this does not agree with other accounts.

In the Niala Saga above mentioned, a northern prince is introduced as asking some time after the battle, what had become of his men. The answer was, that they were all killed. This seems to allude to the division in coats of mail, which, as we are told in the annals of Innisfallen, were all cut to pieces!

The body of Brian, according to his will, was conveyed to Armagh. First the clergy of Swords, in solemn procession, brought it to their abbey, from thence the next morning, the clergy of Damhliag (Duleek) conducted it to the church of S. Kianan. Here the clergy of Louth (Lughmagh) attended the corpse to their own monastery. The archbishop of Armagh with his suffragans and clergy, received the body at Louth, whence it was conveyed to their cathedral. For 12 days and nights it was watched by the clergy, during which time there was a continued scene of prayers and devotions; and then it was interred with great funeral pomp, at the north side of the altar of the great church.

The body of Morogh with the heads of Conang and Faélan, prince of the Desies, were deposited in the south aisle of that church; but his grandson Turlogh, and most of the other chiefs, were interred at the monastery of Kilmainham.

Donogh, after having plundered Leinster, arrived at Kilmainham, on the evening of Easter Sunday, with the great spoil of Leinster, where he met his brother Teige, Kian, the son of Molloy, and all that survived the battle both sound and wounded; and he sent many presents and offerings to the Comharb of St. Patrick.

Malachy (who resumed the monarchy of Ireland after the fall of Brian,) having been requested by the Clan Colman to describe the battle, thus proceeds:

"It is impossible for human language to describe it, an angel from heaven only, could give a correct idea of the terrors of that day! We retired to the distance of a fallow field from the combatants, the high wind of the Spring blowing from them towards us. And we were no longer than half an hour there, when neither of the two armies could discern each other, nor could one know his father or brother, even though he were the next to him, unless he could recognize his voice, or know the spot on which he stood, and we were covered all over, both faces, arms, heads, hair, and clothes with red drops of blood, borne from them on the wings of the wind! And should we attempt to assist them we could not, for our arms were entangled with the locks of their hair, which were cut off by the swords, and blown towards us by the win, so that we were all the time engaged in disentangling our arms. And it was wonderful that whose who were in the battle could endure such horror without becoming distracted. And they fought from sunrise until the dusk of the evening, when the full tide carried the ships away."

John O’Donovan.