Three kings and a queen
Profiles of the main players in Ireland’s ‘game of thrones’ in 1014
BRIAN BORU (above)
High king of Ireland
Brian Boru was born about 941, one of the 12 sons of Cennétig (died 951), king of the Co Clare people called Dál Cais. He probably got his nickname from Béal Bóraimhe, his fort near Killaloe.
The earlier history of Dál Cais is obscure, but under Brian’s father and brother Mathgamain they blossomed rapidly.
By 982 Brian was beginning to flex his muscles outside Munster, and there followed years of wrangling for supremacy with the high king of Ireland, Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill, of Ireland’s dominant dynasty, the Uí Néill.
Then, in 997, Brian sailed to Bleanphuttoge, on the shores of Lough Ree in Co Westmeath, and made a treaty with Máel Sechnaill. The latter abandoned the centuries-old Uí Néill claim to overlordship of the entire country, and they divided the island between them. This was the high point of Brian’s career to date.
Having defeated the Hiberno-Norse of Dublin at Gleann Máma, southwest of Dublin, in 999, Brian repudiated his agreement, and in 1002 he forced Máel Sechnail’s submission. In effect, Brian was now king of Ireland.
Year after year, Brian led campaigns north until, in 1011, his army forced the one remaining independent power, the king of Cenél Conaill in Donegal, to become his vassal. At this juncture Brian exercised a level of dominance throughout Ireland which no previous king had ever attained.
In 1013 a rebellion erupted led by Sitric Silkenbeard of Dublin and Máelmórda, king of Leinster. Renewed Danish attacks on England and Ireland suggested that Brian now faced a large-scale Scandinavian invasion.
This culminated in the Battle of Clontarf, on April 23rd, 1014 – Good Friday. His army won the day, although Brian was killed. After the battle the bodies of Brian and of his son Murchad were brought to Armagh for burial.
He was succeeded by his son Donnchad (died 1064), then in turn by the latter’s more successful nephew, Tairdelbach (died 1086) and by the latter’s son, Muirchertach (died 1119), the family by then sporting with pride the surname Ua Briain (O’Brien).
King of Dublin
Sitric Silkenbeard was king of Dublin for nearly 50 years, between 989 and 1036. He was the son of King Amlaíb Cuarán of Dublin and York, and of the Leinster princess Gormlaith.
Gormlaith was later married briefly to Brian Boru. Sitric would go on to marry Sláine, Brian’s daughter from another marriage. In other words, Sitric’s wife was the daughter of his ex-stepfather.
His reign was a time of economic prosperity for Dublin, during which, around 997, Sitric introduced Ireland’s first coinage, with the inscription Sihtric Rex Dyflin (Sitric King of Dublin; below right).