Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My #Irish #hero, Brian Boru

Brian Boru by Lion dagonet fabio

January 8

Man Watcher's 

 I never knew this day existed until I was searching for today's bizarre national holiday. What a wonderful holiday for any single lady. But ladies please do not become stalkers.  Since today I was suppose to write about Irish history I thought it would merge both the holiday and Irish post into one. Why not? It's the perfect day to write about a legendary Irish hero. I'm sure all the Irish ladies wanted to be his queen. Ladies and gentlemen, met King Brian Boru of Munster. There are many legends about Brian and it can be hard to distinguish fact from legend. I will try to present you with all the facts about his life as much as I can. He was indeed the Last Great King of Ireland and perhaps the best warrior Ireland has ever known. 

A Royal Heritage

Ireland Early People and Politics
Public Domain
During Brian's lifetime, Ireland had a population just under 500,000 people. There were over 150 kings with small and great kingdoms. Brian was born into one of these royal families.

Brian was born in either 926 or 927AD in Kincora, Killaloe, a town in the region of Thomond to King Cennétig mac Lorcáin and his queen, Bé Binn inion Urchadh. His father was king over Thomond and  Dál Cais. The king was either an heir or canidate to become king of Munster. Thomond is located in the modern region of County Clare, County Limerick, north County Kerry and north County Tipperary.

Queen Bé Binn inion Urchadh was the daughter of King Urchadh mac Murchadh of Maigh Seóla of western Connact. In modern Irish geography, Maigh Seóla  included land along the east shore of Lough Corrib in County Galway, Ireland. The queen's brother was Conor, the King of Connaught. 

Brian's father, King Cennétig mac Lorcáin had many wives and twelve children. Brian is the only son to have been born to Queen Bé Binn inion Urchadh and he was the youngest son. His old Irish name was Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig. 

Names are often used to describe a person and Brian's name tells us alot about who he was. 
Brian - Celtic for high or noble
Bóruma- Has two meaning. 
1) It could have referred to "Béal Bóruma", which was a fort held by his father's tribe. It was located north of Killaloe in Thomond. 
2) It could also refer to the Old Irish word Bóruma, which means "of the cattle tribute" referring to his capacity to become a great overlord. 
mac- In old Irish this mean "of"
Cennétig- Like his father, Brian was the heir or candidate to the Munster throne.

To Battle
Brian and his older brother, Mathgamain mac Cennétig , had learned to fight from their father. Their tribe, Dál gCais, had occupied the territory north of the Shannon River. The Shannon River served as an excellent point for their father to raid the kingdoms of Connacht and Meath. Mathgamain mac Cennétig  and King  Cennétig mac Lorcáin both lead various river raids and Brian certainly must have joined them. Brian also would have been exposed to Vikings during this time. The Shannon River winds around Limerick, which was a Viking settlement during Brian's lifetime. Brian become a very skilled fighter. 

In 951 AD, when Brian's father passed away, Brian's older brother, Mathgamain mac Cennétig came to throne. Brian replaced his brother as the commander of the Dál gCais army. He proved himself many times over to be as fine of a commander as his brother had been under their father's reign. Mathgamain mac Cennétig's reign was never recognized by the other Irish tribes. During the 960s and 970s, Mathgamain mac Cennétig was opposed by Máel Muad mac Brain, a legimate  Eóganacht heir to the  from south of Munster. In the opposite direction the brothers also faced the Viking, Ivan of Limerick, who was imposing tributes on their people and remained a constant threat. In 963AD, Mathgamain mac Cennétig made peace with the Vikings but this peace would not last forever. 

Rock of Cashel by Sean MacEntee
Mathgamain and Brian gained control of the entire province of Munster by capturing the Rock of Cashel the following year. The Rock of Cashel had been the capital of the ancient Eóganachta who were the hereditary overlords of Munster. This defeat allowed the Dál gCais to grow in power and prestige. 

That same year, Brian lead a group of his men against the Vikings. Using guerrilla tactics, they struck the Vikings whenever they had the chance.  Brian's battle with the Vikings was not sanctioned by his brother. Brian and his small army had done some damage to the Vikings but the Viking did more damage to Brian and his men. In 968 AD, Brian wrote in his journal after four years of battle he only had 15 men left. Brian pleaded with his brother for aide. Mathgamain mac Cennétig decided to break his peace with the Vikings. With the aide of their enemy, Máel Muad mac Brain, they defeated the Vikings in the Battle of Sulcoit. Mathgamain mac Cennétig wrote in his journal "The entire city was reduced to smoke and ash. Any man fit for war was killed and the rest were enslaved." They had captured Limerick and thus had increased their territory yet they had not eliminated Ivan as a threat. The alliance between Mathgamain mac Cennétig and Máel Muad mac Brain was short lived as well. 

 In 976AD, Donnubán mac Cathail aided his father-in-law, the Viking king Ivan, by capturing Mathgamain mac Cennétig. He then gave him over to Máel Muad mac Brain. Máel Muad mac Brain executed Brian's brother and became ruler over Munster. When Brian heard of the news he wrote in his journal,"My heart shall burst inside my breast unless I avenge this great king. He shall forfeit life for this deed or if I parish it will be a violent death". 

The Last Great King Of Ireland
A year after his brother's murder Brian snuck into the Viking stronghold at Scattery Island, took King Ivar by surprised and murdered him in retaliation for his brother's death. His murder marked the end of an independent Norse rule over Limerick. Ivar's noble descedents are the O'Donovan family. After King Ivar's death, Brian continued to challenge King Máel Muad mac Brain to battle. In 978 AD, the two men and their armies met at the Battle of Belach Lechta. Brian killed the Munster king on the battlefield, destroying the last Eóganachta heir. Brian then set his eyes upon Donnubán and the remaining Viking army. John Collins of Myross, an Irish poet of the 13th century, wrote of the battle:

"Donovan, who was well acquainted with the personal abilities and spirit of Brian, Mahon's brother, who now succeeded him as king of North Munster, took into his pay, besides his own troops, fifteen hundred heavy-armed Danes, commanded by Avlavius, a Danish soldier of great experience. Brian, in the Spring of 976(8), entered Kenry, where, at Crome, he gave battle, in which Donovan, Avlavius, and their party, were cut to pieces."

Now with Limerick and Munster under his complete control, Brian set his eyes upon Leinster and  Connacht. He inevitably came into conflict with the High King of Ireland, Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill, whose place of power was at Meath. For fifteen years, the High King Máel Sechnaill tried to weaken Brian's forces by repeatedly leading raids against him in Leinster and Munster. Meanwhile, Brian concentrated his naval forces up the Shannon River in attacks against Connacht and Meath. . In 996 AD, Brian captured Leinster. By doing so he enlarged Dál Cais territory so much he controlled all of the southern portions of Ireland. High King Máel Sechnaill had no choice but to reconcile with his enemy. In 999 AD, the two men decided to share lordship over Ireland by dividing the country in half. But Brian was not happy with the arrangement. He wanted to rule over all of Ireland. 

A year later, Brian gathered his forces from Munster, Leinster, and Dublin. He lead his large army in an attack against  King Máel Sechnaill at the province of Meath. The king struggled to defend his kingdom. His greatest ally was the King of Connacht, Cathal mac Conchobar mac Taidg, yet Connacht was located on the other side of the Shannon River. Brian's naval forces could attack both sides of the shore. The kind decided to have two bridges built over the river to serve as obstacles for Brian's navy and to provide travel between Meath and Connacht.  Despite the efforts, King Máel Sechnaill surrendered his title and lands to Brian two years later. 

Brian served as High King of Ireland until his death on April 23, 1014. Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill regained his lands and title as High King of Ireland upon Brian's death. Brian Boru is the ancestor of the O'Brian noble Irish family. 

The Brian Boru March is said to have been played while his men carried him to his resting place. You can hear the song here. 


  1. Very interesting, Allison! I love the music, too!

    1. Thank you. I'll be posting more on Irish culture and history until the release of Bailey's Revenge. I love this music as well.