Battle of clontarf in present day Dublin

The Battle of Clontarf

The Battle of Clontarf 1014  – a vibrant Irish Myth

On Good Friday 1014 the battle of Clontarf on the East Coast of Ireland took place between the Irish King, Brian Boru of Munster and Máel Mórda mac Murchada, king of Leinster, whose party was swollen by Norsemen led by Sigtrygg Silkbeard from Dublin and contingents of Vikings from Orkney (led by Sigurðr and Mann (these were the “…ignorant, barbarous, thoughtless, irreclaimable and unsociable foreigners” (Cogadh Gáedhel re Gallaibh, 12th century)

The background of the battle was the on-going strife between the Irish warlords, Brian Boru from Munster and Máel Mórda mac Murchada from Leinster, but also the interest amongst the Norsemen to consolidate their holding of Dublin and North Eastern Ireland.

The battle lasted a whole day from sunrise to sunset and it is estimated between 7 – 10.000 men were killed, amongst whom were the chief protagonists. The battle of Clontarf is often commemorated as a ground-breaking event, which in the end (post 1052) secured the independence of the Irish from the Norsemen, who had carved out an existence in Dublin and elsewhere during the preceding two centuries.

In fact, it was probably more than anything generally. The battle, which seems to have been a very bloody affair, weakened both the Irish and the Norsemen (who anyway at this point were heavily interrelated). One distinguishing factor was that so many of the leaders of the two factions and their sons and family members perished in the battle. It might be characterised as a family feud, which was later framed as a national ground-breaking event.

Commemorating the battle this year is a temporary exhibition at The National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, which aims to “explode” the myths and present the evidence. Viking and Irish weapons, typical of those used in the battle, features alongside hoards of precious silver objects and religious treasures. Much more recent artefacts will bring the story of Brian Boru and Clontarf right into modern times.

In April this exhibition was accompanied by a Battle of Clontarf Conference designed to – once and for all – “establish the truth of what really happened at Clontarf for a twenty-first century audience, to re-evaluate the role of Brian Boru in the light of the latest cutting-edge research, and to bring recent investigations of the subject of the high-kingship of Ireland and of the role of the Vikings in medieval Ireland into the realm of public discourse, dispelling (or perhaps reconfirming) myths, shedding new light, raising public awareness, and promoting new synergetic fields of research by adopting a methodology that is explicitly interdisciplinary.” We eagerly await the publication of the proceedings.


Clontarf 1014 – the exhibition

Clontarf 1014 – a website

Clontarf 1014 – 2014

Clontarf 1014 is kindly supported by the Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht


Early Medieval Ireland AD 400 – 1100. The Evidence from Archaeological Excavations.
By Aidan O’Sullican, Finbar McCormick, Thomas R. Keer and Lorgan Harney
Royal Irish Academic Monographs
Dublin, Royal Irish Academy 2013

Ireland in the Medieval World, AD400–1000. Landscape, Kingship and Religion
By Edel Bhreathnach
Dublin Four Courts Press 2014

Archaeology and Celtic Myth: An Exploration
By John Waddell
Dublin, Four Courts Press 2014
ISBN: 9781846824944





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