Gormlaith ingen Murchada was born in Naas, County Kildare in 960 AD. Gormlaith went on to become a queen in the late 10th and early 11th centuries. She was the daughter of Murchad mac Finn, a king of Leinster of the Uí Fhaelain line, and sister to Máel Mórda who eventually became King of Munster. Gormlaith’s first marriage was to Óláfr Sigtryggsson (known as Amlaíb in Irish sources), Norse king of Dublin and York, with whom she had a son, Sitric Silkbeard, who went on to become a king, and a daughter Máel, who also became a queen. After a military defeat at Tara, Óláfr retired to Scotland and died the following year. It is believed that Gormlaith went on to marry Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill of Mide but there is not enough historical evidence yet to prove this.
In 997, Gormlaith married the great Irish king Brian Boru, with whom she had a son, Donnchadh. Donncadh went to on to become King of Munster and stayed with his father at Tara after his mother and father parted ways. It is said that Gormlaith is partly responsible for the demise of Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf, by encouraging her brother, Máel, and son, Sitric, to fight against him.
Most of what is written about Gormlaith can be found in the Book of Leinster and ancient sagas referencing her. Given the time gap between her death and these writings, these resources can’t be totally relied upon but they do give a good insight into the queen’s life.
Visit Trinity College and see the Book of Leinster in person. The book catalogues many different stories crafted by abbots and supposedly commissioned by Diarmait Mac Murchada, once King of Leinster.
Gormlaith was born at a time when the Norsemen (Vikings) had invaded and settled in Ireland and were reaching their full strength against native kingdoms.
Gormlaith is believed to have been married to the Norse King of Dublin, Óláfr Sigtryggsson up until his death in 981. Their son Sitric would follow in his footsteps by becoming King of Dublin, while Gormlaith would go on to marry one of Sitric's main enemies.
Gormlaith married the great Brian Bóru in 997 AD and had a son, Donnchadh, with him. Boru was an enemy of Gormlaith's son Sitric, having fought in several battles with him. Their marriage was short-lived and Gormlaith was believed to be in opposition to Brian ever since.
Although Gormlaith wasn't physically involved in the Battle of Clontarf, it is thought that she incited either her brother, Máel, or son, Sitric, to fight against Brian Bóru. The battle took place on Good Friday in 1014 and resulted in a victory for Brian's forces, but ultimately the death of Brian at a tent near the battlefield.
Gormlaith is believed to have died in 1030 although very little is known about her death.
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