The History Show

The History Show

Sunday, 6pm

The History Show Sunday 20 April 2014

The History Show

The History Show

Bringing the past to life! Discover how our world was shaped as Myles Dungan and guests explore events ranging from medieval times to the recent past

Millennium of the Battle of Clontarf

On this Easter Weekend, the Battle of Clontarf was under the spotlight.  It took place a thousand years ago this week - on Good Friday in 1014 (which in that year fell on 23 April).

Our studio guests were:

Dr. Catherine Swift, director of Irish studies in Mary Immaculate College with the University of Limerick.

Dr. Ruth Johnson, City Archaeologist with Dublin City Council and author of the books "Viking Age Dublin" and "Before and after the Battle of Clontarf: the Vikings in Ireland and beyond."

Sean Duffy, Professor of Medieval History at Trinity College, and author of the book "Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf".

Some Useful Websites:

National Museum of Ireland Clontarf Exhibition

Click here to view the Official 2014 Commemoration area where you can see latest news and events

Battle of Clontarf Official Events Website

Dublin City Council: Millennium of Battle of Clontarf 1014

Brian Boru - Separating Fact from Legend

The story that many of us will remember from school is a rags to riches tale. It presents Brian Boru as a man who rose from humble origins to become High King of Ireland, and banished the Vikings from the country following a vital victory over them at Clontarf.

Lorcan Clancy spoke to author Eoghan Corry about the origins of this story, and the difficulties involved in separating fact from legend.  


 Brian as he might have appeared at Battle of Clontarf where Norse warriors thought he was a priest (depiction of saintly King David taken from  eleventh-century shrine known as Breac Maodhóg)

 Brian Boru's Origins 

In the link below, Dr. Catherine Swift examines the tradition that Cormac Cas was buried at Duntryleague Hill, near Galbally, Co. Limerick, and what it tells us about the rise of his descendent, Brian Boru.

Click here for Dr. Catherine Swift's article on Brian Boru's origins

The Battle Itself

The battle itself was a complicated affair with Vikings and Irish on both sides.   

Eoghan Corry described the run-up to the battle and gloriously complicated battle itself.

It seems like a contradiction in terms that Brian Boru should be credited with this great victory at Clontarf when he was actually killed at it.  So who really won the Battle of Clontarf?  

As Sean Duffy clarified after this piece, it was a victory of Brian Boru's side rather than the man himself.

Clontarf Heritage Walking Trail

It's been 1,000 years since the Battle - and Clontarf has changed enormously since then geographically.

Where once perhaps only a few people lived in the area, thousands of people now call it home - and many of them are now helping to organise the 2014 commemoration. Louise Denvir went on the town's new Heritage Walking Trail with Colette Gill, Chair of Clontarf 2014 to find out just what can happen in a thousand years.

Louise also spoke to Professor Colm Lennon, who releases his book on Clontarf's history: That Field of Glory in April 1914.

 Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan officially launched the Battle of Clontarf Heritage Trail.

Commemorating Clontarf in 1914

The story of the Battle of Clontarf has often been told as that of a great Irish leader driving a foreign enemy - the Danes - out of the country.

At the time of the 900th anniversary of the battle in 1914, this simplified narrative was ripe for politicisation, as we heard from Donal Fallon. 

 A company of the Irish Citizen Army at Croydon House, Croydon Park, Clontarf, Co. Dublin (the recreation centre of the ITGWU), 1914

Clontarf in 1914: Nationalist commemoration of

the Battle of Clontarf

by Donal Fallon

While the millennium of the Battle of Clontarf has captured the public imagination, previous milestone anniversaries of the iconic moment have likewise had an impact on the populace. In 1914 Irish nationalists organised commemorative events around the theme of Clontarf, and attempted to politicise the historic event in the pages of publications like the Irish Volunteer. Against a backdrop of political uncertainty regarding Home Rule, and with armed volunteers once more appearing on Irish streets, the battle was presented as a definitive victory for a native Irish force over a foreign aggressor.

The nationalist Irish Volunteer newspaper called openly for uniformed Irish men to appear at Clontarf on Easter Sunday, stating that:

Corps throughout the country are eagerly awaiting orders for the big event, and are holding themselves in readiness to send contingents for the fitting celebration of a great National victory. And undoubtedly a Volunteer review will be a fitting and a worthy celebration of Ireland’s victory over the Dane.

An interesting theme that emerged on occasion in the Irish Volunteer and other nationalist publications was the celebration of the assimilation of the Vikings in light of their defeat at the Battle of Clontarf, as Irish nationalists saw it. Thomas McDonagh, in his ‘Marching Song of the Volunteers’, wrote that:

Tired of wayfaring here he found

The welcome due to a valiant foe:

The Viking stock on Irish ground.

Has grown and strongly still shall grow.


In the pages of An Claidheamh Soluis, an editorial soon after the anniversary of the battle outlined a hope that Ulstermen could be won the cause of Ireland, as ‘The Ireland that assimilated the Dane and the Norman should not fail, if opinion were not poisoned by the malicious teachings of the foreigner, to assimilate the Ulsterman.’ The significance of Boru to the Volunteers is clear from the naming of their organised body in Ennis, known as the Brian Boru Corps. It was reported by The Irish Times on 27 May 1914 that the men of the Brian Boru Corps had led a march in the town in celebration of the third reading of the Home Rule Bill, ‘followed by an immense crowd, who cheered John Redmond and Home Rule.’

The year witnessed several commemorations of both the battle and Brian Boru himself. In April, thousands gathered at Kincora, with the Nenagh Guardian proclaiming  that 'in a year when we are verging on Home Rule', the rally was a fitting event. The paper noted that:                                                              

Never since the days of Brian Boru has world famed Kincora -the birth-place of Ireland's greatest king—come so prominently forward as it did on Sunday last, when thousands of Irishmen of all political and religious beliefs assembled to honour the name of Brian Boru.

The lines between history and contemporary politics were blurred in Kincora, with one speaker informing the crowd if Boru were alive among them 'he would go out for the Irish language and would take part in the Volunteers, and not the Carson Volunteers.' The Volunteers themselves featured in some local commemorations, for example at Fermoy, where a crowd heard from a Reverend chairing proceedings that 'there was no finer example than that of Brian Boru, who, at the head of his army, holding the Crucifix aloft, exhorted his troops to victory in their battle for Faith and Fatherland.'

A writer in the Ulster Herald bemoaned the fact that ‘few throughout the length and breadth of the land’ had marked the anniversary, but did praise the ‘bright, burning fires’ lit in some of the hills of Donegal in honour of Clontarf. The Abbey Theatre in Dublin marked the anniversary with a revival of ‘Kincora’ by Lady Gregory, which was generally well received by the media.

Clontarf and Boru continued to play an important role in the ideology of Irish separatism after 1914. Seamus Daly, a member of the Irish Volunteers, recalled Thomas McDonagh addressing him and others on Holy Thursday 1916, remembering preparing weapons at Clontarf for the insurrection ahead. McDonagh ‘reminded us we were standing on historic ground in Clontarf where Brian Boru had defeated the Danes in 1014’. It seems to some Irish nationalists, Boru was as much a part of their heritage as Tone.

1014 Retold on Twitter

As part of an ongoing storytelling experiment, events leading up to the Battle of Clontarf are being retold on Twitter from multiple perspectives.

The cast of characters includes Brian Boru himself and King Sitric of Dublin, but also some lesser known figures who nonetheless had pivotal roles in the action.

Digital story producer, Sabina Bonnici, who is one of the brains behind the project described what it's all about. 

What is 1014 retold?

The Battle of Clontarf in 1014 resulted in the biggest death toll ever in Irish history. One thousand years on, stories about this famous battle tend to revolve around the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru. Dig a bit deeper into the ancient sources and other perspectives emerge...

1014 RETOLD is a Twitter retelling of the events leading up to the Battle of Clontarf from multiple perspectives.

From 7th April 2014, the people of 1014 come to life on Twitter. As well as Brian Boru, a host of other characters tweet their side of the story, including the little-known Irish queen Gormlaith, Sitric Silkbeard and his wife Slaine, Irish Kings Mael Morda and Mael Sechnaill, and of course viking invaders Sigurd and Brodir.

Join the battle on Twitter.

The Twitter handle is @1014retold.

Lorcan Mac Mathuna Composition

One of the ways the Battle of Clontarf is being remembered this year is through song. 

Singer and composer Lorcán Mac Mathúna has put the stories from both Irish and Icelandic texts to music to bring the battle to life. James Keating spoke to Lorcán about music and myth in Middle Irish.

Brian as young warrior king – image from tenth-century Cross of the Scriptures, Clonmacnoise 

On next week's programme.....

The centenary of the Larne Gun Running



Anzac Day which marks the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli in 1915.

About The Show

Bringing the past to life! Discover how our world was shaped as Myles Dungan and guests explore events ranging from medieval times to the recent past.

We want to help explain ourselves to ourselves. We will search out fresh angles on familiar topics, seek out the unfamiliar and will not shy away from bizarre or controversial issues. Our ultimate goal is to make The History Show the primary port of call for those with an intense or even a modest interest in the subject. We want to entice the casual and the curious to join us in celebrating the past.

Our aim is to create informative, reflective, stimulating and above all, entertaining radio.

Join us on Sundays from 6.05pm for The History Show with Myles Dungan on RTÉ Radio 1.

A Pegasus production for RTÉ. 

Music Played on the Show

Sarabande - Duel

Sarabande - Duel

National Philharmonic Orchestra


Tin Whistles

Tin Whistles

Paddy Maloney And Sean Potts




Contact the Show

Presenter: Myles Dungan

Producer: Lorcan Clancy


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