« PreviousContinue »
1013-1014] BATTLE OF CLONTARF
under Murrough, to move on Dublin by Wicklow, while he himself, with another army, advanced on the town by the Queen's County and Kildare. Having swept all obstacles from their paths, father and son joined forces at Kilmainham, under the walls of Dublin, in September 1013. And now Sitric and Mailmora made vast preparations for defence, while Gormlaith presided over their deliberations. She, indeed the mother of Sitric, the sister of Mailmora and the divorced wife of Brian—was the genius of the rebellion. She urged Sitric to entreat help of his kinsmen Sigurd, earl of the Orkneys, and Brodar of the Isle of Man. "Spare nothing,' she said, 'to get them into thy quarrel, whatever price they ask. They both entered into his
quarrel, and the 'price' each asked was the sovereignty of Ireland and the hand of Gormlaith. Sitric was perfectly accommodating. He said each should be king and each should marry his mother. He made but one stipulation. He said to Sigurd, 'Keep this compact from Brodar,' and to Brodar, “Keep this compact from Sigurd.' And so, in the spring of 1014, the Norse chiefs came to Ireland, with two great armies, to win the crown and to woo Gormlaith.
Meanwhile, Brian had laid the country waste all round Dublin, and at length provoked the Norsemen to sally from the town and risk all in one decisive battle. Brian now moved from Kilmainham, and took up a position on the north of the town, extending his line, probably, from where the Four Courts now stand to Clontarf, and thus keeping the enemy between himself and the sea.
On Good Friday 1014, the battle of Clontarf, as it has been called, was fought. Brian's army consisted of the men of Munster, Connaught and Meath. Murrough commanded the van, which was composed of Dalcassian warriors, leaving the rest of the Munster troops under the direction of Mothla O'Faelan, Prince of the Decies, Waterford. O'Hyne and O'Kelly led the forces of Connaught, while Malachi brought up the rear with the men of Meath.
Sitric's army was composed of the forces of Sigurd and Brodar, which were placed in the van; of the Norsemen of Dublin, commanded by the Norse chief Duvgall; and of the Leinster men, under Mailmora, who formed the rear division.
From dawn till sunset the battle raged. Murrough began the attack with his Dalcassians, throwing himself upon the forces of Sigurd and Brodar. The Norsemen were cased in armour, but it afforded them little protection from the battle-axes of the furious Dalcassians. Yet both Norse and Irish fought with desperate and equal valour. At first the Norsemen drove back their assailants, and Sitric, who watched the battle from the ramparts of Dublin, said to his wife (Brian's daughter), 'Well do the foreigners reap the field; many a sheaf do they cast from them.' But she answe
wered, “The result will be seen at the end of the day,' for she thought only of her own people.
DEFEAT OF THE NORSEMEN
Murrough, seeing that his men were falling back before the Norse forces, placed himself in the front of the fight and urged his warriors forward. In the words of the old chronicler, 'A bird of valour and championship arose in him, and fluttered over his head and on his breath.' Seeing Sigurd in the distance, he dashed straight for him. The Norsemen flung themselves between their chief and the Irish leader, but Murrough cut his way through them
like a fierce, tearing, all-powerful lioness that has been roused and robbed of her whelps; or like the fierce roll of an impetuous, deluging torrent, which stems and smashes everything that opposes it. . . . There fell fifty by his right hand and fifty by his left in that onset, and he never repeated a blow to anyone, but only the one blow, and neither shield nor mail coat was proof to resist any of these blows.' At length he came face to face with Sigurd, and Sigurd did not shrink from the conflict. Hand to hand both warriors fought, and valiantly the retainers of each rallied to their chief.
But Murrough with one crushing blow' cleft the helmet of the Norse commander in twain, and with another struck him lifeless to the ground. Then the Dalcassians dashed madly forward, and the Norsemen fled to the sea. Sitric and his wife still watched the scene from the ramparts of Dublin. 'Methinks,' she said, 'that the foreigners have gained their inheritance.'
What meanest thou ?' he asked. *The foreigners,' she answered, are going into the sea-their natural inheritance.'
Brian, whose failing health-he was now in his seventy-third year---prevented him from taking an active part in the battle, remained in his tent, and from time to time asked his attend ant, Laiten, how went the fortunes of the day.
The battalions,' replied Laiten, "are mixed together in deadly struggle, and I hear their blows as if a vast multitude were hewing down Tomar's Wood with heavy axes. Murrough's banner standing aloft, with the banners of Dalgas around it.'
And again he asked how the battle fared, and Laiten said, “They are now mingled so that no living man could distinguish them; and they are all covered with blood and dust, so that a father could scarce know his own son. Many have fallen, but Murrough's banner still stands, moving through the battalions.' "That is well,' said the king ; 'as long as the men of Erin see that standard they will fight with courage and valour.
And again Brian asked what news from the front, and Laiten again answered,
It is now as if Tomar's Wood were on fire, and the flames burning and the multitudes hewing down underwood, leaving the tall trees standing. For the ranks are thinned, and only a few great heroes are left to maintain the fight. The foreigners are now defeated, but the standard of Murrough has fallen.'
* Evil are those tidings. If Murrough has fallen, the valour of the men of Erin is fled, 1014]
DEATH OF BRIAN
and they shall never look on a champion like him again.
Murrough had indeed fallen, but he had fallen in the arms of victory. The battle was over, the Norsemen had been literally swept into the sea, when the Irish chief, in pressing forward the pursuit, was slain by the retreating foe.
Some Norse stragglers now worked their way to Brian's tent.
Many flying parties of foreigners are around us,' said Laiten, let us hasten to the camp, where we shall be in safety.'
But the king said, 'Retreat becomes us not; and I know that I shall not leave this place alive, for Eevin of Craglea, the guardian spirit of my race came to me last night and told me I should be slain this day, and what avails me -now in my old age—to survive Murrough and the other champions of the Dalgas ?'
The stragglers came nearer to the tent, and among them was Brodar and two other Norse warriors.
'I see some people approaching,' said Laiten.
What manner of people are they?' asked Brian.
A blue, stark-naked people,' answered Laiten.
They are Danes in armour,' said the king, and it's not good to thee that they come.'
Then Brian, who had been resting on a couch, rose and unsheathed his sword. Brodar advanced but heeded him not. But one of the Norsemen said, looking at Brian,
'Cing, cing; it's the king !'