8 January 1986: 'Bogus' selection of date to mark Dublin's millennium

FROM THE ARCHIVES: By the mid 1980s central Dublin was in a pretty dilapidated state and the city manager, Frank Feely, came…

FROM THE ARCHIVES:By the mid 1980s central Dublin was in a pretty dilapidated state and the city manager, Frank Feely, came up with the idea of celebrating its millennium to boost its image and confidence. The idea was a success, even if there was some doubt over the actual year chosen to represent the anniversary, as this report by Frank McDonald shows. JOE JOYCE

The proposed Dublin millennium, scheduled for 1988 to celebrate 1,000 years of the city’s history, is “entirely bogus”, a leading medieval historian declared yesterday. And he called on the city manager, Mr Frank Feely, to think again before Dublin becomes the laughing stock of Europe.

Last month, the city council accepted Mr Feely’s recommendation that Dublin’s millennium should be marked in two years’ time because it was in 988, according to him, that the Norsemen of Dublin submitted to Malachy, High King of Ireland, to prevent the capture of the city. But yesterday, Dr Howard Clarke, a lecturer in medieval history at UCD, said the city manager had even got the year wrong. “The events he is referring to took place in 989, not 988, and they represent an ignoble rather than a glorious chapter in Dublin’s history because, contrary to what he suggests, the city was actually captured by the High King after a 20-day siege.”

According to Dr Clarke, this incident was of no great historical significance and it didn’t even mark a turning point in the relations between Malachy and the Norsemen. “Mael Sechnaill (Malachy) had captured Dublin before and he captured it several times again,” he said. “The capture in 989 was just one of many during the long reign of this very active High King.”


The siege and capture of 989 is chiefly remembered for the fact that the inhabitants of Dublin were reduced to drinking brine because Mael Sechnaill cut off their fresh water supply. And after it was over, he exacted as punishment an annual tax of one ounce of gold on every household, to be paid on Christmas night.

“This was the High King’s way of rubbing the Norsemen’s nose in it because, of course, they were widely regarded as pagan,” Dr Clare noted. “But there was nothing glorious about it for the city of Dublin, unless you happen to be jingoistic and see in it a Christian Irish King sweeping down and taking the city from foreign pagans.”

Dr Clarke has already written to the city manager pointing out the discrepancy about the year these events took place and questioning whether it was appropriate to celebrate them. “As I see it, 1988 was chosen quite arbitrarily for the ‘millennium’ because it is coming up soon, not long after the Galway 500 and the Cork 800.”

Outlining the options, Dr Clarke said Dublin could postpone celebrations until the year 2041, which will mark the 1,200th anniversary of the establishment by the Vikings of their longphort on the River Liffey. Alternatively, if the city can’t wait that long, 1992 would mark the 800th anniversary of the granting of its municipal charter.

Dublin Corporation’s spokesman, Mr Noel Carroll, admitted that the proposed “millennium” could be seen as an attempt to cash in on the success of the Cork and Galway celebrations, but this didn’t render it any less worthy. He also confessed that the year 1988 had been chosen because it was not far off. “We’re entitled to celebrate 1,000 years of Dublin’s existence. The only question is what year do you pick?

Asked whether the city manager had consulted any medieval historians before making his choice, Mr Carroll said the Corporation had its own archivist. “You can never get these people to agree anyway. After all, there are some who say St Patrick never existed, but that doesn’t get rid of March 17th. And who picked December 25th as Christ’s birthday? Nobody was sure what the real day was, so they had to pick something.”