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Brian Boru
Ireland in
the 11th
Century
Young
Brian
Boru
Brian
Boru as
King
Battle of
Clontarf
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Ireland in the 11th Century
• Ireland was not one
unified country in
the 11th Century
• The country was
divided into four
provinces each with
a separate king
• These provinces
were divided into
smaller kingdoms
called tuatha
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Irish Culture in 11th Century
• The people in
Ireland were Celts,
and spoke Gaelic
• Celtic society
centered on kinship,
and people lived
with their extended
family
• Most people lived
on small farms,
growing wheat
A Celtic Farmer
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Brehon Law
• This was a civil
code of laws that
people lived under
• Under them, women
were virtually the
equal of men
• Divorce was
permitted
• Kings were elected
by the local nobles
Image of a Brehon Law Tract
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Christianity in Ireland
• By 1000AD, Ireland
had been Christian
for 500 years
• Monks from Ireland
often carried the
faith to Britain and
Europe
• Many abbots were
involved in local
politics and
occasionally battles!
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The Vikings attack
• Viking raids began
on Ireland in 795 AD
• They often targeted
monasteries, which
were wealthy
• After a few decades,
the Vikings began to
settle in Ireland
• They founded towns
like Dublin and Cork
A Viking Longship
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The Vikings settle in Ireland
• By 950AD, the
Vikings were settled
in Ireland
• They had
independent
kingdoms in
Limerick, Cork and
Dublin
• Often they became
involved in fights
between Irish rulers
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Brian of the Dal Cais
• Brian was born in
941 A.D.
• He was born into the
royal tribe of the Dal
Cais
• Cennedig, his father,
led this tribe
• The Dal Cais were
based in west
Munster, at Kincora
The Dal Cais Crest
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Brian of the Dal Cais
• Brian’s mother was
killed in a Viking
raid on his home
when he was young
• Some years after
this, his father,
Cennedig, died
• His brother,
Mathgamain, then
became the leader
of the Dal Cais
Raid on the Dal Cais
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Brian becomes a warrior
• Mathgamain made
peace with the
Vikings of Limerick
• Brian deserted
Mathgamain to
continue fighting
the Vikings
• His small band of
soldiers became
feared amongst the
Vikings of Limerick
Brian’s band of Dal Caisan warriors
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Brian becomes a warrior
• Soon Mathgamain
joined Brian in his
struggle
• Between them, they
drove the Viking
king, Ivar, out of
Limerick
• In 963 Mathgamain
captured Cashel and
became the King of
Munster
Cashel, home of Munster Kings
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Brian avenges his brother
• Mathgamain ruled
Munster for eight
years
• Ivar returned
however, and had
Mathgamain
murdered
• Brian then
challenged Ivar to
single combat and
killed him in battle
Brian fights Ivar
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Brian as King of Munster
• By 980, Brian had
made himself King
of Munster
• He had drove all the
Vikings out of
Munster and took
Limerick for himself
• Hungry for power,
he began raiding the
lands of Connacht
and Leinster
Brian Boru, King of Munster
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Brian’s power grows
• Brian’s growing
power alarmed the
High King of Ireland,
Mael Sechnaill II
• In 997 AD he called
on Brian to meet
him
• They decided to
each rule half the
country, with Brian
ruling the south
Mael Sechnaill II
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Brian’s power grows
• The Kings of Leinster
and Dublin, who were
now ruled by Brian,
rebelled in 999 AD
• In the midst of winter,
Brian defeated them
at Glenn Mhama
• The Viking King of
Dublin, Sitric, then
promised to remain
an ally of Brian’s
Brian’s victory at Glen Mhama
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Brian becomes High King
• Brian was not
satisfied ruling half
of the country
• Increasingly he sent
raiding parties north
into Mael Sechnaill’s
lands
• He also began
making peaceful
alliances with Mael’s
traditional allies
Brian’s men raided Mael’s lands
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Brian becomes High King
• Mael Sechnaill
eventually realized
that his supporters
had deserted him
• In order to save his
lands, Mael
surrendered the
High Kingship of
Ireland to Brian
• Brian became High
King in 1002 AD
Brian Boru as High King
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Brian Boru as King
• By becoming King,
Brian made history
• He was the first man
to take the crown
from the O Neill
dynasty
• He was also the first
High King who
could be said
actually rule the
entire country
Brian Boru
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Emperor of the Irish
• Brian sought to rebuild
the Church in Ireland
• He ordered that churches
ruined by Vikings be
rebuilt
• He sent overseas to
replace lost books and
artifacts
• In 1005, the abbot at
Armagh declared Brian
the ‘Emperor of the Irish’.
Vikings attack a monastery
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Emperor of the Irish
• Brian dreamed of
unifying Ireland
under his rule
• To do this, he had to
subdue Ulster,
where local kings
retained their
independence
• After ten long years,
Brian managed to
tame and rule Ulster
Brian goes on campaign
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Emperor of the Irish
• By 1011, Brian had
full control of
Ireland
• He hoped to make
Ireland a united
Christian Kingdom
like France
• Brian was named
Boru because the
Gaelic for tribute is
‘boruma’
Boru receiving tribute
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Unrest in Brian’s Kingdom
• In 1012, Maelmurra,
King of Leinster,
went to pay tribute
to Brian
• A huge row broke
out while he was
playing fidchell with
Brian’s son,
Murcadh
• Maelmurra chose to
rebel against Brian
Maelmurra, King of Leinster
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Unrest in Brian’s Kingdom
• Maelmurra joined
forces with Sitric,
Viking King of
Dublin
• In 1013, Brian
marched north and
laid siege to Dublin
• But he ran out of
supplies and had to
retreat to Munster
for the winter
Sitirc, Viking King of Dublin
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Maelmurra seeks allies
• Knowing Brian
would return,
Maelmurra and
Sitric sought Viking
help
• The Earl of Orkney
promised a large
army
• More Viking aid
came from Denmark
and Iceland
The Earl of Orkney
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Brian rallies his support
• Brian also spent the
winter looking for
support
• He found that the
rulers in Connacht
and Ulster would
not assist him
• Mael Sechnaill, the
former High King,
agreed to join forces
with Brian however
Rallying support
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The Battle of Clontarf
• In the spring of
1014, Brian’s army
marched on Dublin
again
• Awaiting them was
the largest Viking
army Ireland had
ever seen
• Irish independence
itself now seemed
under threat
A Viking Army
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The Eve of Battle
• Brian’s army set up
camp in Clontarf,
just outside of
Dublin
• The night before the
battle, Mael
Sechnaill and Brian
had a huge row
• Mael declared that
he would not now
help the High King
Disagreement in the Camp
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The Battle of Clontarf
• The Battle of
Clontarf was fought
on Good Friday,
1014
• Brian was now 72
years old, and did
not take part in the
battle
• Instead Murcadh,
his son, led the Irish
forces onto the field
Murcadh leads Brian’s army
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The Battle of Clontarf
• The battle began at
dawn and lasted the
entire day
• Initially the
momentum was with
the better armed
Vikings
• As the day grew
longer however, it
seemed that the
Irish could win
Battle of Clontarf
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The Battle of Clontarf
• Crucially, Mael
Sechnaill decided to
enter the battle,
swinging it for the
Irish
• The Vikings were
routed
• They had arrived in
over 300 ships, but
fled home in less
than 24 boats
The Vikings Retreat
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The death of Brian Boru
• Throughout the
battle, Brian prayed
in his tent
• As he was fleeing,
Brodir, the Viking
king of the Isle of
Man, came across
the King’s tent
• He slew the old king
as he was bowed in
prayer
Brodir discovers Boru in prayer
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Brian’s greatest victory
• Brian died alongside
his son, Murcadh, and
his grandson
• Yet he had broken the
military power of the
Vikings in Ireland
• An Icelandic saga paid
tribute to the Irish High
King by recalling that
“Brian fell, but saved
his kingdom.
This Brian was the best
of Kings”
“The Best of Kings”
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