One of Ireland’s most famous Kings, Brian Boru was born Brian Mac Cennétig in the town of Killaloe in Co. Clare. Brian was born into a family of no great distinction (his father was a Dál gCais Chieftain called Cinnéide), but through his battles, he would go on to become Ireland’s most famous king, and arguably one of the most famous Irishmen of all time. Brian ended the domination of the Uí Néill dynasty and ultimately the end of the High Kingship in Ireland to be crowned King of Ireland in 1002, before taking on the Norsemen (Vikings) in one of Ireland’s most famous and gruesome battles – The Battle of Clontarf – in 1014. It was at this battle were Brian brutally lost his life after being slain by Brodir, a Viking from the Isle of Man.
Brian ruled as the King of Ireland for 12 years from 1002 to 1014, and previous to this was the King of Munster, after taking over from his brother Mathghamhain (Mahon), who was murdered by the Norsemen of Limerick in 976. Brian had several wives and children, the most famous being Gormlaith whom he married in 997. Boru’s first wife was Mór, a daughter of the King of Uí Fiachrach Aidne in Connacht (now County Galway). They had three sons including Murchad, who fought and died with Brian in the Battle of Clontarf. Brian is thought to have fathered at least six sons and three daughters with four wives, and today, descendants of Brian Boru are thought to be those with surnames like Ó Briain, O’Brien or O’Brian.
Follow the journey of Ireland’s greatest king, and retrace his steps through Clare and Tipperary with King Brian’s itinerary below.
While the exact birth date of Brian Boru isn't, it is thought that he was born around 941, although some historians claim that he was indeed born in the 920s. Brian was born in the town of Killaloe, an area that would later become the location for his fort when he became both King of Munster, and Ireland.
Following the death of their father, Brian's brother Mathghamhain (Mahon) became the King of Munster, and the pair fought many battles with Vikings in the area during the time, particularly in the Limerick, Clare and Tipperary regions. Brian and Mahon recovered the town of Cashel from the Vikings in 968.
Brian's father, Cinnéide, was a Dál gCais Chieftain and in 968, Brian's brother Mathghamhain (Mahon) became the King of Munster. Following his death in 976, Brian Boru became the leader of Dál gCais, and his journey to becoming King of Ireland was underway.
Brian surprises the Viking King Ivar of Limerick in an attack at Scattery Island that is also thought to have resulted in the death of two of Ivar's sons. Scattery Island had lots of invasions over the years, especially from the Vikings, but Brian managed to win it back, and in the process end Viking rule in Limerick.
In 997 Brian made an alliance with the reigning Irish high king, Máel Sechnaill (Malachy) of Meath. The kings agreed to split Ireland in two, with Mael effectively ruling the north and Brian ruling the south.
As part of the deal for ruling the south of Ireland, Boru took control of Dublin before restoring Sitric Silkbeard to the throne as his underling. Brian then married Sitric's mum Gormlaith although this was a short-lived marriage. They did, however, have a son called Donnchad, who would go on to become Brian's successor as the King of Munster.
With relations with Sitric, the King of Dublin no longer what they once were, a period of battles ensued which ultimately led to the Battle of Clontarf. The Battle of Glenmama was one such battle in which Brian and Máel Sechnaill defeated the Leinster army led by Sitric and King Máel Mórda. Following this battle, Sitric would go on to marry Brian's daughter Sláine in an effort to unite the armies of Dublin and Munster.
Following their alliance in 997, Brian defeated the Uí Néill High King, Máel Sechnaill in 1002, ending a near 600-year rulership of Ireland from the Uí Néill's (dating back to the days of Niall of the Nine Hostages). This resulted in Brian being recognised as the King of Ireland, and he duly took up this seat at his headquarters in the town of Killaloe.
In 1005, Boru embarked on a journey around Ireland, spending time in Ulster, and Armagh in particular. Brian was a generous benefactor of the Irish church, and during this trip around Ireland, he declared Armagh as the religious capital of Ireland. Boru's body would later return to Armagh following his death.
Considered to be the bloodiest battle in Irish history, Brian Boru marched his army into battle in Dublin where he fought the Vikings and Leinster men in several locations around the area, including the Clontarf seafront. With some 10,000 thought to have lost their lives at the battle, Boru ended victoriously in the biggest battle of his career, although this did prove to be his last battle as he was killed at his tent by Brodir, a Viking from the Isle of Man.
Following his death at the Battle of Clontarf, a battle that also saw his son Murchad and grandson Tairdelbach killed, Boru was taken to Armagh where he was eventually led to rest at St Patrick's Cathedral in the city.
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