seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of American-Irish Writer Morgan Llywelyn

morgan-llywelynMorgan Llywelyn, American-Irish historical fantasy, historical fiction, and historical non-fiction writer, is born Sally Snyder in New York City on December 3, 1937. Her fiction has received several awards and has sold more than 40 million copies, and she herself is recipient of the 1999 Exceptional Celtic Woman of the Year Award from Celtic Women International.

In her teens, Llywelyn moves to the Dallas area, where she develops a love of horses. By the age of 16, she is competing in professional horse shows across the United States. By age 18, she models for Neiman Marcus and Arthur Murray. After 15 years of experience as a horse trainer and instructor, she tries out for and narrowly misses making the 1976 United States Olympic Team in Dressage. She is instead shortlisted, missing the cut off score by .05 percent.

With her mother’s encouragement and a successfully published article on horse training, she refocuses her efforts in tracing the Llywelyn family history and eventually makes a career out of writing historical novels that allow the exploration of her Celtic roots. In reference to this career change, Llywelyn has this to say:

“I have a strong strain of Welsh on my mother’s side, which does indeed go back to Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. And Llywelyn the Great! (We have the proven genealogy from the College of Heralds.) She was very proud of her royal Welsh connection. That is why she was so interested in genealogy in the first place, and inspired me to get involved as well … leading in turn to “The Wind from Hastings.” But both my parents were predominantly Irish – my father totally so – and I spent half the years of my childhood here. So I have always been much more interested in Ireland and its history and legends.”

Llywelyn has received several awards for her works. She receives the Novel of the Year Award from the National League of American Pen Women for her novel, The Horse Goddess, as well as the Woman of the Year Award from the Irish-American Heritage Committee for Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish. The latter award is presented to her by Ed Koch, then-mayor of New York City.

Although Llywelyn’s grandparents have their roots in Ireland, it is only after the death of her parents and her husband in 1985 that she relocates to Ireland. Llywelyn now lives outside Dublin and has become an Irish citizen.

In 1990, Llywelyn begins her focus on writing books geared for younger readers. These works start with Brian Boru: Emperor of the Irish, for which she wins an Irish Children’s Book Trust Bisto Award in 1991, and includes other titles, such as Strongbow: The Story of Richard and Aoife, for which she wins a Bisto Award in the Historical Fiction category, 1993 and the Reading Association of Ireland Award, 1993, and Star Dancer which departs from her usual Celtic topic and is centered on her experiences with Dressage. Further works include The Vikings in Ireland, an exploration of when the Norsemen arrived in Ireland and Pirate Queen, a younger reader’s version of the story of Grace O’Malley, told through letters from Granuaile to her beloved son.

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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.