The Battle of Clontarf: Millennium Celebrations
By Sharon Ni Chonchuir, Contributor
April / May 2014
Vikings, mercenary warriors, and competing clans made up the terrifying cast in one of Ireland’s oldest and best-known battles. All of these different elements will once again play their part in the many events taking place to commemorate the 1000-year anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf and the death of Ireland’s last great High King, Brían Boru.
There are events taking place throughout Ireland. Killaloe, Clontarf, Dublin, Cashel and Armagh – all places that were important in Brían’s life story – are holding celebrations of their own.
A National Brían Boru Heritage Trail is being set up to link these places, with key locations along the trail giving visitors an insight into Viking life, the history of Brían Boru and the significance of the Battle of Clontarf. In Clontarf itself, a sign-posted trail has been designed along the 3km-long promenade. Due to open this March, it aims to bring visitors back in time to that fateful battle 1000 years ago.
The O’Brien clan (descendants of Brían Boru) have planned a series of events that will bring them along this trail. From April 11th to 24th, they will follow an itinerary called “The Footsteps of Brían Ború.”
They will start in his birthplace of Killaloe with lectures, re-enactments and visits to his ancestral throne. They will then proceed to Cashel where he was crowned High King of Ireland and from there to the site of the Battle of Clontarf. They will visit Viking sites in Dublin and Brían’s tomb in Armagh before returning to Clontarf where a banquet will be held in Clontarf Castle to honour the legacy of this great king. They have invited the Kennedy, McNamara and O’Grady clans (all related to Brían Boru) to join them in their celebrations.
Dublin City will stage its main celebration of Brían Boru over the course of the Easter weekend (April 19th to 21st). That weekend, Dublin City Council will stage a dramatic re-enactment of the Battle of Clontarf in St Anne’s Park. It will be the biggest re-enactment ever held in Ireland, with more than 500 people taking part. There will also be a complete medieval village, Viking longboats, falconry, archery, coin striking, and blacksmithing demonstrations, and much more.
The return to Ireland of an iconic painting of the Battle of Clontarf is another great cause for excitement. The painting by Hugh Frazer is the best known image of the battle and it has been out of the country for the past 35 years.
Depicting Brían Boru in his tent overlooking the battle as it stretches towards Howth in the distance the painting had been purchased by the American philanthropist George Isaac from a private collection in Ireland 35 years ago. It had then gone on display at the Isaac Arts Centre in Hawaii until it was recently sold to the private equity firm Kildare Partners. Kildare Partners have made it available for the Clontarf 2014 celebrations, and the painting will be on free display at the Casino at Marino until April 24.
There are academic events being organized too. An international conference marking the millennium of the Battle of Clontarf will be held at Trinity College Dublin on the 11th and 12th of April. This event will be free to the public and lectures will cover topics such as Brían and the Kings of Leinster, the rise of the Dál Cais, the documentary evidence from the Battle of Clontarf, and the High Kingship after Brían.
Additionally, the Long Room at Trinity College will host an exhibition on the history and legend of Brían Boru. The exhibition will include some of the library’s greatest medieval treasures such as the Book of Leinster and the Brían Boru harp. It will also feature the only item known to have been in Brían’s presence – the Book of Armagh. This exhibition will run until the end of October.
An interdenominational service commemorating the millennium will be held in Christ Church Cathedral on the 23rd of April. The National Botanic Gardens will be home to a Viking House and an authentic Viking garden throughout the year. Dublin City Hall will host a series of lunchtime lectures on Tuesdays throughout April.
Killaloe will celebrate with a weekend of all things Viking, including boats, games, tests and pageantry from the 11th to the 13th of April, and another Viking-themed festival the following weekend. Viking longboats will be launched on the lake at Loughgall Country Park near Armagh on the 24th of April and talks and demonstrations will be given on Viking history and warrior weapon training. There will be a symposium, a re-enactment of Brían’s inauguration ceremony and much more besides.