BRIAN BORU - THE LAST GREAT HIGH KING OF IRELAND
The line between Irish Legend and Irish Myth have often been
blurred, especially as the retelling of heroic deeds has
been passed on through generations.
Brian Boru was no legend although his life deeds were
legendary. He was very much a real man and was in fact the
last great High King of Ireland and perhaps the greatest
military leader the country has ever known.
Brian Boru was born Brian Mac Cennétig. He mother
to the mother of Conor, the King of Connaught.
His brother, Mahon, had become King of Munster in 951, upon
the death of their father, Cennétig. Together they fought
against the invading Norsemen, who had imposed taxes in
Munster. This struggle eventually led to the murder of Mahon
in 975 Mahon by the Ostermen (Norse). Brain avenged his
brother's death by killing the King of the Ostermen of
Limerick, King Ímar.
From this point onwards Brian held Munster as his own,
including the pivotal trade-centre of Limerick. He marched
into Connaught and Leinster and joined forces with Mael
Sechnaill II in 997. Together they divided Ireland between
The Norse settlers in Dublin especially ranged against Brian
but were defeated at Glen Máma where the King of Leinster
was captured. The King of Dublin, Sitric Silkenbeard, was
soon defeated too.
In 1002 Brian demanded of his comrade Mael Sechnaill that
he recognize him as King of Ireland. Mael agreed, partially
because many of his own people viewed Brian as a hero who
had restored Ireland to greatness after the Viking invasions.
The rule of the UíNéill's was thus at an end as a non-O'Neill
was proclaimed as King. The O'Neill's had been rulers for
over 600 years.
He earned his name as 'Brian of the Tributes' (Brian Boru)
collecting tributes from the minor rulers of Ireland and used
the monies raised to restore monasteries and libraries that
had been destroyed during the invasions.
The Norsemen were not done yet however, and once more waged
war on Brian Boru and his followers at Clontarf in Dublin in
1014. The King of Connaught, Tadhg O'Conor refused to ally
with Brian against the Ostermen although Uí Fiachrach Aidne
and Uí Maine did join with him.
Despite the lack of backing from the men of Connaught, the
Munstermen won the day but lost Brian Boru in the battle. This
battle was a major turning point as it finally subjugated
the Norse presence in Ireland who were henceforth considered
subordinate to the Kingships of Ireland. Their military
threat had been ended and they retreated to the urban centres
of Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, Wexford, and Cork. They
eventually became completely hibernicized and integrated into
After his death and the death of one of his sons, his
remaining sons, Tadg and Donnchad, were unable to assume the
kingship which was assumed by Mael Sechnaill. He died in 1022
after which the role of High King of Ireland became more of
a position in name only, rather than that of a powerful ruler.
Perhaps the best that should be said of Brian Boru therefore,
is that he was the last great High King of Ireland.
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