Clontarf, Battle of

views updated May 18 2018

Clontarf, Battle of

The battle of Clontarf in 1014 was the most decisive military engagement in the history of early medieval Ireland. It was fought to the north of the city of Dublin, probably somewhere in the modern suburb of Clontarf, but its exact site has never been satisfactorily identified. Two years before the battle, in 1012, Brian Boru, the high king of Ireland and leader of the Dál Cais sept of County Clare, began a violent quarrel against the men of Leinster. The king of Leinster, Máel Morda, eventually attempted to involve the northern rulers in his dispute against Brian. This dispute widened, with the Dublin Norse also supporting the men of Leinster against Brian. As a result, Brian beseiged Dublin for about three months until Christmas 1013. By the end of that year Brian and his forces left for home, but the men of Leinster and the Hiberno-Norse of Dublin sought the aid of their kinsmen from the Scottish Isles and from the Isle of Man.

By early 1014 these forces had joined up into a great Viking fleet that directly challenged the power and authority of Brian. On Good Friday of that same year Brian and his troops fought this coalition in a protracted and bloody battle in which the Norse and the men of Leinster were resoundingly defeated. But in the hour of victory Brian Boru was assassinated on the field of battle. Tracts such as the famous Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh (War of the Irish with the foreigners) portrayed the battle as a struggle for the control of Ireland and the victory of Brian as the conclusive defeat of their Viking conquerors. But although the Vikings from Man and the Isles who had fought against Brian went home, the Ostmen of Dublin still controlled their city even after their defeat. Therefore, the battle can be seen more accurately as the last attempt by Brian Boru to force his lesser rivals to acknowledge him as high king. Although Brian's forces prevailed, his death brought about a temporary decline in the power of the Dál Cais.

SEE ALSO Dál Cais and Brian Boru; Norse Settlement


Ryan, John. "The Battle of Clontarf." Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 68 (1938): 1–50.

Terry Barry

Clontarf, battle of

views updated May 29 2018

Clontarf, battle of, 1014. Brian Boru claimed the high kingship of Ireland, though resisted by Leinster and by the Norse kingdom of Dublin. After an inconclusive campaign in 1013, the Norse were reinforced from Orkney and the Isle of Man. On 23 April 1014 just outside Dublin, battle was joined. Brian Boru was too old to fight and his troops, largely from Munster, were led by his son Murchad. The Norsemen were led by Sihtric, king of Dublin. Though the Norse were defeated, Brian Boru, inadequately guarded, was killed and the victory was not followed up.

J. A. Cannon