April 2014 - Dr H. Clarke's Lecture Summary April 12th

Clontarf 1014 -  battle of clans?
In many ways, the Battle of Clontarf was a family affair. Contrary to popular perception, the central figure was not Brian Boru but Sitriuc Silkbeard, the king of Dublin. In 1014 he was Brian's son-in-law, while his mother Gormlaith was Brian's former wife and she and her brother Máel Mórda, the king of Leinster, were in alliance with Sitriuc. Brian and Máel Mórda were both killed in the fighting, whereas Sitriuc and Gormlaith lived to tell the tale. On a family level, the real victor of the battle was Sitruic Silkbeard.
Since the beginning of recorded time, the Irish aristocracy had been clan-based. This can be illustrated by the rotating kingship of the province of Leinster, which would not have been possible without an awareness of and general recognition of common ancestry. Similarly, the high-kingship of Ireland was an Uí Néill monopoly by tradition, until this pattern was disrupted by Brian Boru in 1002. His assumption of the high-kingship had the effect, not of uniting Ireland under a single royal dynasty, but of paving the way for the 'trembling sod' of the mid-twelfth century.
The Battle of Clontarf is surrounded by myths, the greatest of which is that Brian saved Ireland from a Viking conquest. For one thing his Munster army included Vikings from Limerick. For another, whatever the intentions of the Vikings from abroad who participated in the epic battle may have been, there was no prospect of such a conquest. The clans of Ireland would have prevented it, as they had always done. Brian Boru and his son Murchad played an heroic part along with many others and deserve to be remembered for that.
Howard Clarke
31 March 2014