Brian Boru the hero of the Battle of Clontarf...or was he?

The truth about the Battle of Clontarf and Brian Boru (VIDEOS)


Brian Boru the hero of the Battle of Clontarf...or was he?

“It was just a politically intermixed scene. If you think about Queen Gormflaith. She was a key player in the late 10th century. She was a remarkable woman and was married several times.

“The name of her first husband was Olaf Cuaran, the Viking King of Dublin, he was pure Viking and he was also King of York. She was a Leinster princess married to a Viking King.

“Then when he died and she married the King of Tara. So now she’s married to an Irish high king, and then later she married Brian Boru himself and later divorced him.”

It seems that parts of these histories become altered sometimes, often for dramatic effect.

The High King Brian Boru himself is one such example. It is claimed that the king died while praying in his tent, the leader of a great army of men going to battle. However, if you do the math, Brian Boru would have been about 73-years-old and it seems unlikely that such an elderly man would be charging into the battlefield in medieval Ireland.

“We think that one of his favorite sons was actually in charge of the army, but that Brian was close by in his tent and sending messages back and forth,” said Johnson.

Brian Boru could have become stuff of legends, but his worship started during in his own time.

“He is a fantastic character. In his own lifetime he was declared the Emperor of All Ireland in the Book of Armagh, which we still have that book on display in Ireland. Even in his lifetime he had a hold on Ireland’s popular culture as Ireland’s greatest King,” explained Johnson.

“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.”

In the end we must ask, can we take revisionism too far? Will we take the magic from these heroic tales of war if we dig too deep?

Johnson finished by saying, “I was at a lecture recently and this man stood up and said ‘I’m not going to let them take Brian Boru away from us with all this revisionism. To me he’s like Richard the Lionheart of Ireland and we need our national heroes.’... I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

This May, Johnson’s book “Viking Age of Dublin” will be available online. “Before and After the Battle of Clontarf” by Johnson and Howard B. Clarke is currently available from Four Courts Press.

PHOTOS - 1,000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf and death of Brian Boru

Here’s a recent advert for the Battle of Clontarf 2014:

A short video on the Battle of Clontarf from UCD:


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