Brian Boru is one of Ireland’s most famous historical characters. Born Brian Mac Cennétig in the town of Killaloe in County Clare, Brian travelled the length and breadth of the country during his lifetime, fighting battles and leading armies to the battlefield. As part of our Kings and Queens of Ireland website, we delve into Brian’s history, his known whereabouts in Ireland, and the different people he would have crossed paths with. Journey with us as we look at the tale of Brian Boru and find out how you can follow in his footsteps when travelling through Ireland.
The Birth and Early Days of Brian Boru
Brian Boru was born in and around 941. A son of Dál gCais, an Irish chieftain, Brian became King of Munster in succession to his father when he died. Brian then became King of Ireland in 1002 and was in that position up until 1014.
Brian is known to have married numerous times and with his wives bore many children. (One of Brian’s wives, Gormlaith, is another character to feature on our Kings and Queens website if you are interested in finding out more about her). Descendants of Brian Boru are thought to be those with surnames such as Ó Briain, O’Brien or O’Brian. Brian ended the domination of the Uí Néill dynasty and ultimately the end of the High Kingship in Ireland when he took on his crown of High King of Ireland.
When King of Munster, Brian – along with his brother, Mahon – recovered the town of Cashel from the Vikings in 968. Brian is said to have beaten the Viking King Ivar of Limerick in an attack at Scattery Island. 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 this agreement, Brian reigned over Dublin before passing over the throne to Sitric Silkbeard as his underling.
With Sitric placed as King of Dublin (the first Norse king of Dublin), battles ensued and ultimately led to the Battle of Clontarf. One of the battles fought was the Battle of Glenmama, in which Brian and Máel Sechnaill defeated the Leinster army led by Sitric and King Máel Mórda. Following the battle, Sitric would go on to marry Brian’s daughter, Sláine, in an effort to unite the armies of Dublin and Munster.
Brian Boru becomes High King of Ireland
Following their alliance, 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 subsequently 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.
The Death of Brian Boru
In The Battle of Clontarf in 1014, Brian brutally lost his life after being slain by Brodir, a Viking from the Isle of Man. 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. Brian’s body was subsequently taken to Armagh where he was eventually led to rest at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Follow our 3-Day Clare and Tipperary itinerary to experience some of the places synonymous with the legendary king.
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