seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Earliest Verifiable Viking Invasion of Ireland

The earliest verifiable date of a Viking invasion of Ireland is September 9, 872, in Dunrally in what is now County Laois.

The Vikings conduct extensive raids in Ireland and found many towns, including Dublin, Limerick, Wexford, Waterford, Wicklow, Arklow and Leixlip. Literature, crafts, and decorative styles in Ireland and Britain reflect Scandinavian culture. Vikings trade at Irish markets in Dublin. Excavations find imported fabrics from England, Byzantium, Persia, and Central Asia. Dublin becomes so crowded by the 11th century that houses are built outside the town walls.

The Vikings pillage monasteries on Ireland’s west coast in 795, and then spread out to cover the rest of the coastline. The north and east of the island are most affected. During the first 40 years, the raids are conducted by small, mobile Viking groups. From 830 on, the groups consist of large fleets of Viking ships. From 840, the Vikings begin establishing permanent bases at the coasts. Dublin is the most significant settlement in the long term. The Irish become accustomed to the Viking presence and culture. In some cases they become allies and also intermarry.

In 832, a Viking fleet of about 120 ships under Turgesius invades kingdoms on Ireland’s northern and eastern coasts. Some believe that the increased number of invaders coincides with Scandinavian leaders’ desires to control the profitable raids on the western shores of Ireland. During the mid-830s, raids begin to push deeper into Ireland. Navigable waterways make this deeper penetration possible. After 840, the Vikings have several bases in strategic locations throughout Ireland.

In 838, a small Viking fleet enters the River Liffey in eastern Ireland, probably led by the chieftain Saxolb, who is killed later that year. The Vikings set up a base, which the Irish call longphorts. This longphort would eventually become Dublin. After this interaction, the Irish experience Viking forces for about 40 years. The Vikings also establish longphorts in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and Wexford. The Vikings are driven out of Ireland for a short period around 900, but return to Waterford in 914 to found what would become Ireland’s first city. The other longphorts are soon re-occupied and developed into cities and towns.

The last major Irish battle involving Vikings is the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, in which a large force from the pan-Viking world and their Irish allies oppose Brian Boru, then the High King of Ireland and his forces, a small contingent of which are Viking defectors. The battle is fought in what is the now Dublin suburb of Clontarf on Good Friday of that year. Boru, the Irish High King has allowed the Viking King of Dublin, Sigtrygg Silkbeard, one year to prepare for his coming assault. Silkbeard responds by offering the bed of his mother to several Viking lords from Scandinavia, Ireland and Britain. The savage mêlée between the heavily mailed Norse and the unarmoured, yet undaunted Gaels ends in a rout of the Vikings and their Irish allies. Careful accounts are taken by both sides during the battle, and thus many famous warriors seek each other out for personal combat and glory. High King Brian, who is nearly eighty, does not personally engage in the battle but retires to his tent where he spends the day in quiet prayer.

The Viking Brodir of Man chances upon Brian’s tent as he flees the field. He and a few followers seize the opportunity, and surprise the High King, killing the aged Brian before being captured. Brian’s foster son Ulf the Quarrelsome later tracks down and dispatches Brodir by disembowelment. The battle is fairly matched for most of the day and each side has great respect for the prowess of the other, however, in the end, the Irish forces the Norse to return to the sea. Many of the fleeing Vikings are drowned in the surf due to their heavy mail coats as they struggled for the safety of their longships. Others are pursued and slain further inland.

After the battle, Viking power is broken in Ireland forever, though many settled Norse remain in the cities and prosper greatly with the Irish through trade. With Brian dead, Ireland returns to the fractured kingdom it had once been, but is now cleared of further Viking predation.

(Pictured: Guest from Overseas, Nicholas Roerich, 1901)

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Birth of Thomas Arthur, comte de Lally, baron de Tollendal

thomas-arthur-lallyThomas Arthur, comte de Lally, baron de Tollendal, French General of Irish Jacobite ancestry, is born on January 13, 1702. Lally commands French forces in India during the Seven Years’ War, including two battalions of his own red-coated Regiment of Lally of the Irish Brigade.

Lally is born at Romans-sur-Isère, Dauphiné, the son of Sir Gerald Lally, one of the original “Wild Geese” of 1691 and an Irish Jacobite from Tuam, County Galway, who married a French lady of noble family. His title is derived from the Lally’s ancestral home, Castel Tullendally in County Galway where the Lally’s, originally called O’Mullallys, are prominent members of the Gaelic Aristocracy who can trace their ancestry back to the second century High King of Ireland, Conn of the Hundred Battles.

Entering the French army in 1721 he serves in the war of 1734 against Austria. He is present at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, and commands the regiment de Lally in the famous Irish brigade in the Battle of Fontenoy in May 1745. He is made a brigadier on the field by Louis XV of France.

Lally is a staunch Jacobite and in 1745 accompanies Charles Edward Stuart to Scotland, serving as aide-de-camp at the Battle of Falkirk Muir in January 1746. Escaping to France, he serves with Marshal Maurice de Saxe in the Low Countries. At the Siege of Maastricht in 1748 he is made a maréchal de camp.

When war breaks out with Britain in 1756 Lally is appointed governor-general of French India and commands a French expedition to India, made up of four battalions, two of whom are from his own Regiment of Lally of the Irish Brigade. He reaches Pondicherry in April 1758, and within six weeks has pushed the British back from the coast to Madras, the headquarters of the British East India Company.

He is a man of courage and a capable general, but his pride and ferocity make him unpopular with his officers and men. He is unsuccessful in an attack on Tanjore, and as he lacks French naval support he has to retire from the Siege of Madras in 1758, owing to the timely arrival of the British fleet. He is defeated by Sir Eyre Coote at the Battle of Wandiwash in 1760, and besieged in Pondicherry, where he is forced to capitulate in 1761.

Lally is sent to England as a prisoner of war. Public opinion in France is very hostile, blaming him for the defeat by the British, and there are widespread calls for Lally to be put on trial. While in London, he hears that he is accused of treason in France, and insists, against advice, on returning on parole to stand trial. He is kept prisoner for nearly two years before the trial begins in 1764. When the Advocate General of the Paris Parlement Joseph Omer Joly de Fleury begins the prosecution, Lally has not received any documentation of the charges and is not allowed a defence lawyer. Throughout the trial, which lasts for two years, Lally fights against Joly de Fleury’s charges but on May 6, 1766 he is convicted and sentenced to death.

Lally makes an unsuccessful attempt at suicide in prison after his sentencing. On May 9, 1766, three days after his conviction, he is gagged to prevent him from protesting his innocence further and is transported in a garbage cart to the Place de Grève to be beheaded. The executioner’s first blow only slices open his skull and it takes a second blow to kill him.


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Death of Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill

máel_seachnaill_II_sculptureMáel Sechnaill mac Domnaill, King of Mide and High King of Ireland, dies on September 2, 1022, at Lough Ennell, County Westmeath. His great victory at the Battle of Tara against Amlaíb Cuarán in 980 results in Gaelic control of the Kingdom of Dublin.

Máel Sechnaill belongs to the Clann Cholmáin branch of the Uí Néill dynasty. He is the grandson of Donnchad Donn, great-grandson of Flann Sinna and great-great-grandson of the first Máel Sechnaill, Máel Sechnaill mac Máele Ruanaid. The Kings of Tara or High Kings of Ireland have for centuries alternated between the various Uí Néill branches. By Máel Sechnaill’s time this alternating succession passes between Clann Cholmáin in the south and the Cenél nEógain in the north, so that he succeeds Domnall ua Néill in 980.

In 980, Amlaíb Cuarán, King of Dublin, summons auxiliaries from Norse-ruled Scottish Isles and from Man and attacks Meath, but is defeated by Máel Sechnaill at Tara. Reginald, Olaf’s heir, is killed. Máel Sechnaill follows up his victory with a siege of Dublin which surrenders after three days and nights. When Maél Sechnaill takes Dublin in 980 he frees all the slaves then residing in the town.

In 997, at a royal meeting near Clonfert, Máel Sechnaill meets with his long-time rival Brian Boru, King of Munster. The two kings make a truce, by which Brian is granted rule over the southern half of Ireland, while Máel Sechnaill retains the northern half and high kingship. In honour of this arrangement, Máel Sechnaill hands over to Brian the hostages he has taken from Dublin and Leinster. The following year Brian hands over to Máel Sechnaill the hostages of Connacht. In the same year, Brian and Máel Sechnaill begin co-operating against the Norse of Dublin for the first time.

Late in 999, however, the Leinstermen, historically hostile to domination by either the Uí Néill overkings or the King of Munster, ally themselves with the Norse of Dublin and revolt against Brian. The Annals of the Four Masters records that Brian and Máel Sechnaill unite their forces and, according to the Annals of Ulster, they meet the Leinster-Dublin army at Glenmama on Thursday, December 30, 999. Glenmama, near Lyons Hill in Ardclough, County Kildare, is the ancient stronghold of the Kings of Leinster. The Munster-Meath army defeats the Leinster-Dublin army. Ó Corráin refers to it as a “crushing defeat” of Leinster and Dublin, while The dictionary of English history says the battle effectively “quelled” the “desperate revolt” of Leinster and Dublin. Most importantly, the defeat leaves the road to Dublin “free and unimpeded for the victorious legions of Brian and Mael Sechlainn.”

The system of alternating succession between the various Uí Néill branches is ended by Brian Boru’s so-called overthrow of Máel Sechnaill in 1002. It is a bloodless shift resulting from the failure of the Northern Uí Néill to support Máel Sechnaill against the aspirations of the extremely militarized overlord of Munster.

With the deaths of Brian Boru, his son, grandson, and many other Munster nobles at Clontarf in 1014, Máel Sechnaill succeeds in regaining the titular High Kingship, but the High Kingship, albeit with opposition, does not reappear until Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó of Leinster rises to power.

(Pictured: Sculpture of Máel Seachnaill in Trim, County Meath, by James McKenna)


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The Battle of Moira

battle-of-moiraThe Battle of Moira, known archaically as the Battle of Magh Rath, is fought on June 24, 637, near the Woods of Killultagh, just outside the village of Moira in what becomes County Down. The battle pits the Gaelic High King of Ireland Domnall II against his foster son King Congal of Ulster, supported by his ally Domnall the Freckled (Domnall Brecc) of Dál Riata.

The battle is allegedly the largest battle ever fought on the island of Ireland, and results in the death of Congal and the retreat of Domnall Brecc. The battle is caused as a result of the invading Gaels spreading out from Galway Bay. The Gaels have fled France and Spain to escape the Roman invasion of those areas. The Gaels are later to be known as Irish but are not native to the island. The native people of Ulster have been pushed into an area the size of two counties in what is now Antrim and Down.

Congal first establishes his power base in Dál nAraidi, where he becomes King before being recognised as King of Ulster in 627. His ambitions soon come into conflict with Domnall II, who becomes High King of Ireland in 628. Ironically, Domnall II rises to such a position because Congal has defeated and killed the previous High King, Suibne Menn, in a previous battle.

Domnall continues to press the rivalry with Congal very quickly. In 629 the two kings engage each other at the Battle of Dún Ceithirn in what is now County Londonderry. On that occasion Congal is defeated and Domnall is left unchallenged as the High King.

Throughout the 630s, Domnall continues to wage war on his rivals in the Uí Néill clan. In 637, however, Congal once again rises to challenge the Ard Rí, and enlists the help of Dál Riata to do so. The two forces meet just east of Lough Neagh.

Little is known about the actual battle itself. The armies of both Domnall II and Congal are primarily made up of warriors native to Ireland. However, Domnall I of Dál Riata brings a more varied force to the fight. His army included Scots, Picts, Anglo-Saxons, and Britons (Welshmen). At least one side has a substantial cavalry force.

There is reason to believe that the battle might have lasted a week, at the end of which the defeated force flees towards the woods of Killultagh. The forces of Ulster and Dál Riata are defeated, with Domnall of Dál Riata forced to flee north to his kingdom’s holdings. Congall is killed in the course of the battle.

The scale of the battle is confirmed in the 19th century when the railway line in Moira is being constructed. Thousands of bodies of men and horses are excavated. When one considers that the survivors probably numbered quite considerably more, then the reputation of the scale of the battle becomes obvious.


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Death of Diarmait Mac Murchada, Irish King of Leinster

diarmait-mac-murchadaDiarmait Mac Murchada, Irish King of Leinster whose appeal to the English for help in settling an internal dispute leads to the Anglo-Norman invasion and conquest of Ireland by England, dies on May 1, 1171 of “an insufferable and unknown disease.”

Mac Murchada is born around 1110, the son of Donnchad mac Murchada, King of Leinster and Dublin. His father is killed in battle in 1115 by his cousin Sigtrygg Silkbeard, king of the Dublin Vikings, and is buried by them in Dublin along with the body of a dog which is considered to be a huge insult.

After the death of Énna Mac Murchada, his older brother, Mac Murchada unexpectedly becomes King of Leinster. This is opposed by the High King of Ireland, Toirdelbach Ua Conchobair, who fears that Mac Murchada will become a rival. Toirdelbach sends one of his allied Kings, the belligerent Tigernán Ua Ruairc, to conquer Leinster and oust the young Mac Murchada. Ua Ruairc goes on a brutal campaign slaughtering the livestock of Leinster and thereby trying to starve the province’s residents. Mac Murchada is ousted from his throne, but is able to regain it with the help of Leinster clans in 1132. Two decades of an uneasy peace followed between Ua Conchobair and Mac Murchada. In 1152 he even assists the High King in a raid of the land of Ua Ruairc who has become a renegade.

As King of Leinster, between 1140–70, Mac Murchada commissions Irish Romanesque churches and abbeys at Baltinglass, Glendalough, Ferns, and Killeshin. He sponsors convents at Dublin, two at Aghade, County Carlow, and at Kilculliheen near Waterford city. He also sponsors the successful career of churchman St. Lorcán Ua Tuathail and presides at the synod of Clane in 1161 when Ua Tuathail is installed as archbishop of Dublin.

In 1166, Ireland’s new High King and Mac Murchada’s only ally, Muirchertach Ua Lochlainn, has fallen and a large coalition led by Mac Murchada’s arch enemy, Tigernán Ua Ruairc, marches on Leinster. The High King deposes Mac Murchada from the throne of Leinster and he flees to Wales and from there to England and France seeking the support of Henry II of England in the recruitment of soldiers to reclaim his kingship. Henry authorises Mac Murchada to seek help from the soldiers and mercenaries in his kingdom. Those who agreed to help include Richard de Clare (Strongbow) and half-brothers Robert FitzStephen and Maurice FitzGerald.

In Mac Murchada’s absence, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, son of Mac Murchada’s former enemy, the High King Toirdelbach Ua Conchobair, has become the new High King of Ireland.

Mac Murchada brings an advance party of adventurers back to Ireland in 1167, recaptures Wexford, and waits for Strongbow to arrive. From his base in Wales, Strongbow launches an offensive in 1170, capturing Waterford and Dublin, taking control of the East coast, much to the dismay of the Gaelic Chieftains and Ua Conchobair. To cement the alliance, Mac Murchada marries his daughter, Aoife, to Strongbow, in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin 1170.

The Irish Chieftains do not allow the invaders to settle, however, and they are continually attacked and harassed. It begins to appear likely that they will be driven from Ireland. However, they receive support from Henry II, who has become concerned about the amount of power and influence that Strongbow is amassing in Ireland. The subsequent domination of South Wales by the Normans is a result of the need to keep supply lines into Eastern Ireland open.

Mac Murchada dies on May 1, 1171, leaving Strongbow to declare himself King of Leinster. Mac Murchada is buried in the Cathedral graveyard of Ferns village.


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The Battle of Clontarf

battle-of-clontarfThe Battle of Clontarf takes place on Good Friday, April 23, 1014, at Clontarf, near Dublin, on the east coast of Ireland. The battle is the culmination of two centuries of strife, treachery, failed alliances and treaties that pits the forces of Brian Boru, high king of Ireland, against a Norse-Irish alliance comprised of the forces of Sigtrygg Silkbeard, king of Dublin, Máel Mórda mac Murchada, king of Leinster, and a Viking contingent led by Sigurd of Orkney and Brodir of Mann.

The first Norsemen, also known as Vikings, arrive in Ireland some two centuries earlier, initially plundering the gold, chalices, crosses, and manuscripts of the monasteries and the corn harvests of the settled communities. Gradually they establish Viking settlements around Ireland and engage in trade and commerce.

There is, however, significant opposition to their presence in Ireland, not least in Munster where King Brian Boru has defeated their armies on several occasions. Brian’s aim is to unite all the warring Celtic kingdoms under one rule and one High King.

In 1013, Máel Mórda, the king of Leinster goes into revolt after inter-marriage alliances with Brian have broken down, and joins forces with the Vikings. Together, they initially attack the kingdom of Mael Sechlainn of Meath who summons the help of King Brian. Brian sets off toward Dublin with 4,900 troops. Opposing them are Máel Mórda’s army of 4,000 Leinster men allied to 3,000 Viking warriors.

Although but a small segment of the battle is fought close to the seafront at Clontarf, the historic encounter of Good Friday 1014 enters the annals as the Battle of Clontarf. This is largely because some 2,000 Vikings had landed in longboats at Clontarf by sunrise on the morning of April 23.

As the two opposing armies face one another, the Vikings and the Leinster men are lined across the sloping plains bounded by the sea and the River Tolka, while King Brian’s army occupies the rising ground near Tomar’s Wood in Phibsboro.

The most ferocious part of the battle is fought at the “Battle of the Fishing Weir,” which approximates to the site of the former D.W.D. Whiskey Distillery on Richmond Road. Historic accounts of the battle also refer to the “savage encounters” fought on the “Bloody Fields of Marino” and what is today Phibsboro and Cross Guns.

The result of the bloodiest day in ancient Ireland is a rout for King Brian, although some 4,000 of his troops are killed on the battlefield. In contrast some 6,000 Leinster men and Vikings are slaughtered including every single Viking leader. King Brian’s army drives the fleeing Vikings back towards the sea at Clontarf.

Although Brian has won the greatest victory of his long career, he does not live long to enjoy it. As he kneels praying in his tent near Cross Guns, the Isle of Man Viking Leader, Brodir, who is hiding in the adjacent woods, runs into his tent and kills the 84-year-old Brian with his axe. Brodir is later captured and slaughtered by Ulf the Quarrelsome, the younger brother of King Brian.

The Battle of Clontarf is the watershed of all the hatred, division, and rivalries that have consumed Ireland for centuries. A period of relative peace follows where the Celtic chieftains and the Vikings live together in a spirit of harmony with the emphasis on greater integration, cooperation, and commerce.


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Death of Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke

strongbow-effigy-christ-church-dublinRichard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, Lord of Leinster, Justiciar of Ireland, and Cambro-Norman lord notable for his leading role in the Norman invasion of Ireland, dies in Dublin on April 20, 1176. Like his father, he is also commonly known by his nickname “Strongbow.”

As the son of the 1st Earl of Pembroke, Richard succeeds to his father’s estates after his death in 1148, but is deprived of the title by King Henry II of England in 1154 for siding with King Stephen of England against Henry’s mother, the Empress Matilda. He sees an opportunity to reverse his bad fortune in 1168 when he meets Diarmait Mac Murchada, the deposed King of Leinster.

In 1167, Diarmait Mac Murchada is deprived of the Kingdom of Leinster by the High King of Ireland, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair. To recover his kingdom, Mac Murchada solicits help from King Henry II of England. Henry provides a letter of comfort for willing supporters of Mac Murchada’s cause in his kingdom. However, after his return to Wales, he fails to rally any forces to his standard. He eventually meets Richard de Clare and other barons of the Welsh Marches. Mac Murchada comes to an agreement with de Clare where, for the Earl’s assistance with an army the following spring, he can have Mac Murchada’s eldest daughter, Aoife, in marriage and the succession to Leinster.

Mac Murchada and Richard de Clare raise a large army, which includes Welsh archers and arranges for Raymond FitzGerald to lead it. The force takes the Ostman towns of Wexford, Waterford, and Dublin in rapid succession between 1169 and 1170. Richard de Clare, however, is not with the first invading party and arrives later, in August 1170.

In May 1171, Diarmait Mac Murchada dies and his son, Donal MacMurrough-Kavanagh claims the kingdom of Leinster in accordance with his rights under the Brehon Laws. Richard de Clare also claims the kingship in the right of his wife. At this time, Strongbow sends his uncle, Hervey de Montmorency, on an embassy to Henry II, which is necessary to appease the King who is growing restive at the count’s increasing power. Upon his return, de Montmorency conveys the King’s terms – the return of Richard de Clare’s lands in France, England, and Wales as well as leaving him in possession of his Irish lands. In return, Richard de Clare surrenders Dublin, Waterford, and other fortresses to the English king. Henry’s intervention is successful and both the Gaelic and Norman lords in the south and east of Ireland accept his rule. Richard de Clare also agrees to assist Henry II in his upcoming war in France.

Richard de Clare dies on April 20, 1176 of an infection in his leg or foot. He is buried in Holy Trinity Church in Dublin with his uncle-in-law, Lorcán Ua Tuathail, Archbishop of Dublin, presiding. King Henry II takes all of Strongbow’s lands and castles for himself and places a royal official in charge of them.