A defining tale in Ireland’s history, Brian Boru’s death and the Battle of Clontarf might have been fabricated claims a Cambridge scholar.
On April 23, 1014 a violent battle between the army of Ireland’s High King Brian Boru and a force led by the rebel king and leader of the Dublin-based Vikings took place outside the fortifications of the growing town. Brian Boru’s forces were victorious, but he was murdered while praying in his tent, or so the story goes.
According to Dr Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, a researcher from St John's College at Cambridge University, this is partly a “pseudo-history” based heavily on the Battle of Troy. Her thesis is mapped out in her new book “Classical Literature and Learning in Medieval Irish Narrative.”
Our knowledge of the Battle of Clontarf is based on an account in “Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh” or “The War of the Irish against the Foreigners.” The Press Association report states that the book “was really a work of fiction aiming to cement Ireland's legendary past in the context of a grand, classical tradition, stretching back to the works of Homer and classical philosophy.”
Dublin City’s Archaeologist Ruth Johnson agrees. She told IrishCentral,“A lot of what we know about Brian Boru comes from the ‘Cogadh Gaedhil re Gallaibh,’ a propaganda document written by his ancestors, maybe two or three generations after him. It is very closely allied to the story of the Trojan War. It sets Brian Boru as the hero and probably has a lot of poetic license included.”
This means that the historical truth is unknown. Ní Mhaonaigh believes the details of the battle will remain a mystery.
She told the PA, “The casting of Clontarf as a national struggle in which the aged, holy Brian was martyred still defines what most people know about the battle, and it has probably endured because that was what numerous generations of Irish men and women wanted to read.
"Academics have long accepted that "Cogadh" couldn't be taken as reliable evidence but that hasn't stopped some of them from continuing to draw on it to portray the encounter.
"What this research shows is that its account of the battle was crafted, at least in part, to create a version of events that was the equivalent of Troy.
"This was more than a literary flourish, it was a work of a superb, sophisticated and learned author." She continued “Whoever wrote this was operating as part of larger, learned European tradition.
"People should not see the fact that it is a fabricated narrative as somehow a slur against Brian, because what it really shows is that his descendants were operating at a cultural level of the highest complexity and order."