The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill could have been translated Wars of the Irish with the Gauls. The Gaedhil were the Irish descendants of Noah, which is to say the purest Irish of all, while the Irish word for the Gauls of France had come to mean any stranger from across the sea. In actual practice, Gaill meant “Viking.” This account of the centuries-long struggle between the Dal Cais clan and the Norse intruders (ending with the triumph—and death—of Brian Boru at Clontarf) was once thought to have been written immediately after the battle by mac Liag, a member of Boru’s court described in The Annals of Clonmacnoise as “the arch poet of Ireland and one that was in wonderful favor with king Bryan.” Actually, although it may be based on earlier accounts, this seems to have been written several generations later as a work of family propaganda commissioned by Brian’s descendants.

As such, it is addressed to a lay audience (even though it was probably written by monks) with historical and religious references that include the Old Testament, Greek mythology, the ancient gods and goddesses of Ireland (who are still very active indeed), and orthodox Christianity. The battle descriptions are vivid and somewhat romanticized, especially when it comes to describing uniforms and clothing, and it should be remembered that Irish warriors of this period rarely used bows and—unlike the Vikings—never wore armor.


Brian was then on the plain of Ath Cliath [Dublin], in council with the nobles of the Dal Cais, and with Maelsechlainn [Malachy], and with Murchadh [Brian’s son], and with Conaing, and with Tadhg, son of Cathal, and with the nobles of Conacht together, and with the men of Mumhain and the men of Midhe [Meath]; but it happened that the men of Midhe and Maelsechlainn were not of one mind with the rest.

Brian looked out behind him and beheld the battle phalanx, compact, huge, disciplined, moving in silence, mutely, bravely, haughtily, unitedly, with one mind, traversing the plain towards them; and three score and ten banners over them, of red, and of yellow, and of green, and of all kinds of colours; together with the everlasting, variegated, lucky, fortunate banner, that had gained the victory in every battle and in every conflict, and in every combat; by which seven battles had been gained before that time, namely, the gold-spangled banner of Fergal Ua Ruairc, chief king of the territory of Brefni and Conmaicni; and Fergal himself was there, and Domhnall, son of Ragallach, and Gilla-na-naemh, son of Domhnall, grandson of Fergal, and the nobles of the territory of Brefni and Conmaicni in like manner. And they came near the tent, and stopped there; and Fergal and the nobles advanced to where Brian was, to meet him, and Brian gave them a hearty friendly welcome; and Murchadh rose up to him, and seated him in his place. And Brian asked him the news, and he told him that Aedh, son of Ualgairg Ua Ciardha, king of Cairbri [parts of Counties Leitrim and Cavan], refused to accompany him to that battle in defence of Brian. And therefore Brian cursed Ua Ciardha, and the Cairbri, and gave a blessing to Fergal and to the men of Brefni also.

Some, indeed, have said that the pay of the pirates was spent the night before that battle, and that they had gone homewards as far as Benn Edair [Howth], when they saw the conflagration and devastation of the country; for they had offered Brian the night before, that if he would delay the burning until the morrow’s sunrise, they would raise their sail-masts, and never return again; for they dreaded the valour of Murchadh, and of the Dál Cais in general.

But now the fleet returned, and came to one place; both the foreigners of Ath Cliath and the Laighin, and they formed seven great strong battalions. And then ensued a conflict, wrestling, wounding, noisy, bloody, crimsoned, terrible, fierce, quarrelsome: that conflict of the Dál Cais and the men of Munster, and of Conacht, and of the men of Brefni, and of the foreigners, and of the Laighin.


Now on the one side of that battle were the shouting, hateful, powerful, wrestling, valiant, active, fierce-moving, dangerous, nimble, violent, furious, unscrupulous, untamable, inexorable, unsteady, cruel, barbarous, frightful, sharp, ready, huge, prepared, cunning, warlike, poisonous, murderous, hostile Danars [Danes]; bold, hard-hearted Danmarkians, surly, piratical foreigners, blue-green, pagan; without reverence, without veneration, without honour, without mercy, for God or for man. These had for the purposes of battle and combat, and for their defence, sharp, swift, bloody, crimsoned, bounding, barbed, keen, bitter, wounding, terrible, piercing, fatal, murderous, poisoned arrows, which had been anointed and browned in the blood of dragons and toads, and water-snakes of hell, and of scorpions and otters, and wonderful venomous snakes of all kinds, to be cast and shot at active and warlike, and valiant chieftains. They had with them hideous, barbarous, quivers; and polished, yellow-shining bows; and strong, broad green, sharp, rough, dark spears, in the stout, bold, hard hands of freebooters. They had also with them polished, pliable, triple-plated, heavy, stout, corslets of double refined iron, and of cool uncorroding brass, for the protection of their bodies, and skin, and skulls, from sharp terrible arms, and from all sorts of fearful weapons. They had also with them valorous, heroic, heavy, hard-striking, strong, powerful, stout swords.


But on the other side of that battle were brave, valiant champions; soldierly, active, nimble, bold, full of courage, quick, doing great deeds, pompous, beautiful, aggressive, hot, strong, swelling, bright, fresh, never-weary, terrible, valiant, victorious heroes and chieftains, and champions, and brave soldiers, the men of high deeds, and honour, and renown of Erinn; namely, the heavy weight that broke down every stronghold, and cleft every way, and sprang over every obstacle, and flayed every stout head, that is to say, the descendants of Lugaidh, son of Oenghus Tirech, who are called the Dal Cais of Borumha, and the stainless intelligent heroes of the Gaidhil along with them ….

And these had for the purposes of battle and combat, above their heads, spears glittering, well riveted, empoisoned, with well-shaped, heroic, beautiful handles of white hazle; terrible sharp darts with variegated silken strings; thick set with bright, dazzling, shining nails, to be violently cast at the heroes of valour and bravery. They had on them also, long, glossy, convenient, handsome, white, neat, well-adjusted, graceful shirts. They had on them also, beautiful, many-coloured, well-fitting, handsome, well-shaped, well-adjusted, enfolding tunics, over comfortable long vests. They had with them also, great warlike, bright, beautiful, variegated shields, with bosses of brass, and elegant chains of bronze, at the sides of their noble, accomplished, sweet, courteous, eloquent clansmen. They had on them also, crested golden helmets, set with sparkling transparent brilliant gems and precious stones, on the heads of chiefs and royal knights. They had with them also, shining, powerful, strong, graceful, sharp, glaring, bright, broad, well-set Lochlann axes, in the hands of chiefs and leaders, and heroes, and brave knights, for cutting and maiming the close well-fastened coats of mail. They had with them, steel, strong, piercing, graceful, ornamental, smooth, sharp-pointed, bright-sided, keen, clean, azure, glittering, flashing, brilliant, handsome, straight, well-tempered, quick, sharp swords, in the beautiful white hands of chiefs and royal knights, for hewing and for hacking, for maiming and mutilating skins, and bodies, and skulls.

Woe unto all who shunned not this people, who did not yield unto them. Woe to those who aroused their anger, if it was possible to escape from it. Woe to those who attacked them, if they could have avoided attacking them; for it was swimming against a stream; it was pummelling an oak with fists; it was a hedge against the swelling of a spring-tide; it was a string upon sand or a sun-beam; it was the fist against a sun-beam, to attempt to give them battle or combat; for it is not easy to conceive any horror equal to that of arousing the fierce battle and hard conflict of these warriors.


So these battalions were arranged and disposed in the following manner. The foreigners and the Laighen placed in the front the murderous foreign Danars, under Brodar, earl of Caer Ebroc, chieftain of the Danars; with Conmael, his mother’s son, and with Siucaid, son of Lotar, earl of the Ore Islands, and with Plait, the bravest knight of all the foreigners, and with Anrath, son of Elbric, son of the king of Lochlann, and Carlus, and Torbenn the black, and Sunin, and Suanin, and the nobles of the foreigners of western Europe, from Lochlann westwards, along with them. A line of one very great strong battalion was formed of all the foreigners of Ath Cliath, and it was placed after the above, that is after the Danmarkians.

At their head were Dubhgall, son of Amlaf, and Gilla Ciarain, son of Glun-iaraind, son of Amlaf, and Donchad, grandson of Erulf, and Amlaf, Lagmund, son of Goffraidh, the four crown princes of the foreigners. At their head also, were Ottir the black, and Grisin, and Lummin, and Snadgair, four petty kings of the foreigners, and four chieftains of ships, and the nobles of the foreigners of Erinn along with them. A battalion was also formed of the Laighin and of the Ui Cennselaigh, and it was placed behind the above. And at the head of them were Maelmordha [brother of Brian’s former wife Gormfhlaich], son of Murchadh, king of Laighin, and Boetan, son of Dunlang, king of western Laighin, and Dunlang, son of Tuathal, king of Liphi, and Brogorban, son of Conchobhar, king of Ui Failghi, and Domhnall, son of Fergal, king of the Forthuagha of Laighin, and the nobles of Laighin likewise.

The front of Brian’s battalion and of the nobles of Erinn with him, was given to the aforesaid impetuous, irresistible, troops, to the fine, intelligent, valiant, brave, active, lively heroes, viz., to the heroic, victorious Dal Cais, and to the Clann Luighdeach likewise. At the head of these was the matchless, ever victorious, Hector, of the many-nationed heroic children of Adam, namely, Murchadh, son of Brian, the yew of Ross, of the princes of Erinn; the head of the valour and bravery, and chivalry, munificence and liberality, and beauty, of the men of the world in his time, and in his career; for the historians of the Gaedhil do not relate that there was any man of the sons of Adam in his time who could hold a shield in mutual interchange of blows with him. Along with him were also, Tordhelbach, his son, the best crown prince of his time in Erinn, and Conaing, son of Doncuan, one of the three men most valued by Brian, that were then in Erunn; and Niall Ua Cuinn, and Eochaidh, son of Dunadach, and Cudulligh, son of Cennetigh, the three rear guards of Brian; and Domhnall, son of Diarmaid, king of Corcabhaiscinn, and the greater part of the men of bravery and valour of the Dal Cais along with them. One very strong and great battalion was also formed of the chosen hosts of all Mumhain, and was stationed in the rear of the former. At the head of these was Mothla, son of Domhnall, son of Faelan, king of the Desii, and Mangnus, son of Anmchadh, king of Ui Liathain, and the brave and heroic of all Mumhain along with them.

The battalion of Conacht also, was led by Maelruanaidh Ua-n-Eidhin, and by Tadhg Ua Cellaigh, king of Ui Mani, and by Maelruanaidh, son of Murghius, king of Muintir Maelruanaidh; and by Domhnall, grandson of Cuceninn, king of Ui nDiarmada; and with Ualgarg, son of Cerin, and with the nobles of all Conacht along with him.

The ten great stewards of Brian were drawn up, with their foreign auxiliaries, on one side of the army. Fergal Ua Ruairc, and the Ui Briuin, and the Conmaicne, were ordered to the left wing of the army.

Maelsechlainn [Malachy] also, son of Domhnall, king of Temhair, and the battalion of the men of Midhe, with him, were next; but he consented not to be placed along with the rest; because the counsel of the foreigners on the preceding night was that he should put a ditch between him and the foreigners; and that if he would not attack the foreigners, the foreigners would not attack him; and so it was done, for the evil understanding was between them.


Some of the historians of Mumhain, however, say that Murchadh, son of Brian, was placed, mixed with the battalion of Desmumhain, along with his company, namely, seven score sons of kings that were in attendance upon him; for there was not a king of any one tribe in Erinn, who had not his son or his brother in Murchadh’s household; for he was the lord of the volunteers of Erinn, and of her sons, next to Aedh Ua Neill. They say that the two battalions were side by side, namely, the battalion of Desmumhain, and the battalion of Tuadhmumhain, and it is clear that this is true; for when they were arranging the battalion, Murchadh went forward beyond the rest a hand’s cast to attack the foreigners. Then Brian sent Domhnall, son of Emin, to tell Murchadh to fall back until he should be on a line with the Dalcais. Domhnall, son of Emin, went and told this to Murchadh. Murchadh answered that his counsel was timid and cowardly; for … he would not retreat one step backwards … in presence of the Gaill and Gaedhil …. Domhnall, son of Emin, said to Murchadh, “thy countenance is bad, O royal champion, although thy courage is great.” Murchadh answered that he had cause for that, because many a false hero would leave his share of the battle to him at the end of the day. The son of Emin said that he would not leave his share. And he said truly; for he fulfilled his promise.

The battalions were placed side by side after that. Then Murchadh looked to one side and beheld approaching him, on his right side, alone, the heroical, courageous, championlike, active, beautiful, strong, bounding, graceful, erect, impetuous, young hero, Dunlang O’Hartugan; and he recognised him and made three springs to meet him, and he kissed him, and welcomed him; and “O youth,” said he, “it is long until thou camest unto us; and great must be the love and attachment of some woman to thee, which has induced thee to abandon me; and to abandon Brian, and Conaing, and Donnchadh; and the nobles of Dal Cais in like manner, and the delights of Erinn until this day.” “Alas, O king,” said Dunlang, “the delight that I have abandoned for thee is greater, if thou didst but know it [he had been having a secret love affair with the goddess Aibhell], namely, life without death, without cold, without thirst, without hunger, without decay; beyond any delight of the delights of the earth to me, until the judgment; and heaven after the judgment; and if I had not pledged my word to thee, I would not have come here; and moreover it is fated for me to die on the day thou shalt die.”

“Shall I receive death this day, then?” said Murchadh. “Thou shalt receive it, indeed,” said Dunlang, “and Brian, and Conaing, shall receive it, and almost all the nobles of Erinn, and Toirdhelbhach thy son.” “This is not good encouragement to fight,” said Murchadh, “and if we had such news we would not have told it to thee; but, however,” said Murchadh, “often was I offered, in hills and in fairy mansions, this world and these gifts; but I never abandoned for one night my country nor my inheritance for them.” “What man,” said Dunlang, “wouldst thou choose to be kept off thee this day.” “There are yonder,” said Murchadh, “sixteen men who are captains of fleets, and every one of them is a man to combat a hundred, on sea and on land; besides Brotor, and Cornabbliteoc, and Maelmordha, and the Laighin also.” “Leave to me, then,” said Dunlang, “Cornabbliteoc; and if I can do more, thou shalt have my further aid.” “That is a severe service, indeed,” said Murchadh, “O Dunlang, if thou didst but know it.”


The battalions were now arranged and drawn up on both sides, in such order and in such manner, that a four-horsed chariot could run from one end to the other of the line, on both sides [on the heads of the soldiers standing in line]; and the battalions then made a stout, furious, barbarous, smashing onset on each other. But, alas! these were the faces of foes in battle-field, and not the faces of friends at a feast. And each party of them remembered their ancient animosities towards each other, and each party of them attacked the other. And it will be one of the wonders of the day of judgment to relate the description of this tremendous onset. And there arose a wild, impetuous, precipitate, furious, dark, frightful, voracious, merciless, combative, contentious, vulture, screaming and fluttering over their heads. And there arose also the satyrs, and the idiots, and the maniacs of the valleys, and the witches, and the goblins, and the ancient birds, and the destroying demons of the air and of the firmament, and the feeble demoniac phantom host; and they were screaming and comparing the valour and combat of both parties.

First then were drawn up there, Domhnall, son of Eimin, high steward of Alban, on Brian’s side, and Plait, son of the king of Lochlainn, brave champion of the foreigners; because of Plait having said the night before, that there was not a man in Erinn who was able to fight him, Domhnall, the son of Eimhin, immediately took him up, and each of them remembered this in the morning. Then Plait came forth from the battalion of the men in armour, and said three times, “Faras Domhnall,” that is, “where is Domhnall?” Domhnall answered and said, “Here, thou reptile,” said he. They fought then, and each of them endeavoured to slaughter the other; and they fell by each other, and the way that they fell was, with the sword of each through the heart of the other; and the hair of each in the clinched hand of the other. And the combat of that pair was the first [of the battle].

The person who was on the flank of the battalion of the pirates, was Dunnall, son of Tuathal, king of Liphe, with ten hundred men armed for battle. There met him on the flank of Brian’s forces, against these, their equal in numbers and in might, namely, Ferghail Ua Ruairc, and Domhnall, son of Raghallach; and Gilla-na-Noemh, son of Domhnall O’Ferghail, and the nobles of the Ui Briuin and Conmaicni also. But now these attacked each other, and they detached themselves from the great body of the army, until there was the distance of a bow shot between them, on the north side of the great body; and they began to stab and hew each other. But these parties were equally matched in arms, in vesture, and in appearance. And none of them paid any attention to any evil that was done at Cluain-Tarbh on that day, excepting the evil and contention which they mutually occasioned against each other.

But they very nearly killed each other altogether; and historians do not relate that there survived of the Ui Briuin and Conmaicni, more than one hundred, with Ferghal Ua Ruairc; and the entire of the Ui Cendselaigh were routed there; and they were afterwards pursued to the battalion of the mail-clad men; for there was a wood of shelter near them, and they were in order of battle with their backs towards them; and it was then that nine of the household of Ferghal overtook Dunlang, the son of Tuathal, and killed him; and Mac an Trin, who was the captain of Ferghal’s household, beheaded him, and he brought the head to Ferghal to congratulate him on it. And they went then, the few of them that were left, into Brian’s battalion, and behind Murchadh’s standard; and they had Ferghal’s standard floating there, after the fall of all their other standards, and the killing of their chiefs, namely, ten standards and three score.


Then the fearful, murderous, hard-hearted, terrific, vehement, impetuous, battalion of the Danmarkians, and the vehement, irresistible, unanswerable phalanx; and the fine, intelligent, acute, fierce, valorous, mighty, royal, gifted, renowned, champions of the Dal Cais, and all the descendants of Oilioll Olum met in one place; and there was fought between them a battle, furious, bloody, repulsive, crimson, gory, boisterous, manly, rough, fierce, unmerciful, hostile, on both sides; and they began to hew and cleave, and stab, and cut, to slaughter, to mutilate each other; and they maimed, and they cut comely, graceful, mailed bodies of noble, pleasant, courteous, affable, accomplished men on both sides there. That was the clashing of two bodies of equal hardness, and of two bodies moving in contrary directions, in one place. And it is not easy to imagine what to liken it to; but to nothing small could be likened the firm, stern, sudden, thunder-motion; and the stout, valiant, haughty billow-roll of these people on both sides.

I could compare it only to the variegated, boundless, wonderful firmament, that had cast a heavy sparkling shower of flaming stars over the surface of the earth; or to the startling fire-darting roar of the clouds and the heavenly orbs, confounded and crashed by all the winds, in contention, against each other. Or to the summit of heaven, or to the rapid, awfully great sea, and the fierce, contentious roaring of the four transparent, pure, harsh, directly opposing winds, in the act of breaking loose from the order of their respective positions. Or to the stern terrific judgment-day that had come, to confound, and break down the unity of the four surrounding elements, to crush and finally shiver the compact world, and to take vengeance on it.

To all these could I compare the smashing, powerful, strong, barbarous, shield-shining, target-bossed, red, sparkling, starry onset of the Clann Ludech, under the stout bright axes of the stern, murderous Danars, mutilating, and crushing them; and the gleaming, bright, glassy, hard, straight swords of the Dal Cais, in hard, powerful clashing against the free, sparkling, thrice-riveted, stout, powerful, protective armour of the piratical Danmarkians, smashing with them the bones of their bodies and their skulls, so that the sound of them, and the uproar of them, and the echo of them were reverberated from the caverns, and from the cliffs, and from the woods in the neighbourhood; and it became a work of great difficulty to the battalions on both sides to defend their clear sparkling eyes, and their flushed bright cheeks from the heavy showers of fiery sparks which were sent forth by the royal champions of the Clann Lughdech from the sharp fearful points of their bright gleaming swords, in hacking and cutting the firmly hooked mail-coats off them; and it was attested by the foreigners and foreign women who were watching from the battlements of Ath Cliath, as they beheld, that they used to see flashes of fire from them in the expanse of air on all sides.


Another attestation of this is the description which Maelsechlainn gave of that crush, when the Clann Colmain asked him for an account of the battle. It was then he said, “I never saw a battle like it, nor have I heard of its equal; and even if an angel of God attempted its description, I doubt if he could give it. But there was one circumstance that attracted my notice there, when the forces first came into contact, each began to pierce the other. There was a field, and a ditch, between us and them, and the sharp wind of the spring coming over them towards us; and it was not longer than the time that a cow could be milked, or two cows, that we continued there, when not one person of the two hosts could recognise another, though it might be his son or his brother that was nearest him, unless he should know his voice, and that he preciously knew the spot in which he was; we were so covered, as well our heads as our faces, and our clothes, with the drops of gory blood, carried by the force of the sharp cold wind which passed over them to us.

And even if we attempted to perform any deed of valour we were unable to do it, because our spears over our heads had become clogged and bound with long locks of hair, which the wind forced upon us, when cut away by well-aimed swords, and gleaming axes; so that it was half occupation to us to endeavour to disentangle, and cast them off. And it is one of the problems of Erinn, whether the valour of those who sustained that crushing assault was greater than ours who bore the sight of it without running distracted before the winds or fainting.”


We must now speak of Dunlang. He rushed on the host of the pirates, and spared not one of them, because he had no friendship at all for the foreigners. And he approached Cornabliteoc, and each of them made a rough, fierce, unmerciful assault on the other. Then came three of the people of Cornabliteoc in front of him, and they made three simultaneous thrusts at Dunlang. But, it was not on them Dunlang’s desire and attention were fixed, but on Cornabliteoc; for he gave him a rough, fierce, rapid blow of a spear, by which his ardour was excited, and his spirit roused, and his active mind occupied; for its rough point passed through him, both body, and body-armour. When this was perceived by Cornabliteoc’s people, they formed a firm, compact, hard-hearted circle around him; and the thrice fifty of them that were there, turned themselves at the same time against Dunlang.

However, it is certain, that their defence procured neither respect nor mercy for their chief, for by Dunlang fell every one of them who waited to be wounded and beaten, until there remained no interposition between them; and they dealt ardent thrusts and fearful blows at each other. And this was one of the three hardest combats that took place at Cluain Tarbh, besides what Murchadh performed, of bone-breaking of heads and bodies. For his was the fierce rushing of a bull, and the scorching path of a royal champion. But to return, these brave champions nearly fell by each other; Dunlang, however, beheaded him.

We must next speak of Conaing. He faced Maelmordha, son of Murhcadh, king of Laghin, and sixteen men of the people were killed, each man of them, in front of his lord, before they themselves met, and fell by each other, viz., Conaing, king of Des-mhumha, and Maelmordha, king of Laghin.


We speak next of the men of Conacht. They advanced to the foreigners of Ath Cliath, and they attacked each other. And that was the decisive defeat that took place on the plain; for they were [almost] all killed, on both sides, there, for there escaped alive from it of the men of Conacht, one hundred only; and there escaped of the foreigners of Ath Cliath, but twenty, and it was at Dubhgall’s Bridge the last man of these was killed, viz., Arnaill Scot, and those who killed him were the household troops of Tadhg Ua Cellaigh. The full events of that battle, however, and its deeds, God alone knows; because everyone besides who could have had knowledge of it fell there on either side; and every man had sufficient to do to know his own adventures, from the greatness of his distress.


To return to Murchadh, son of Brian, the royal champion. He grasped his two valiant strong swords, viz., a sword in his right, and a sword in his left hand, for he was the last man in Erinn who had equal dexterity in striking with his right and with his left hand. He was the last man that had true valour in Erinn. It was he that pledged the word of a true champion, that he would not retreat one foot before the whole of the human race, for any reason whatsoever but this alone, that he might die of his wounds. He was the last man in Erinn who was a match for a hundred. He was the last man who killed a hundred in one day ….

He was the metaphorical Hector of all-victorious Erinn, in religion, and in valour, and in championship, in generosity, and in munificence. He was the pleasant, affable, intelligent, accomplished Samson of the Hebrews, for promoting the prosperity and freedom of his fatherland and of his race, during his own career and time. He was the second powerful Hercules, who destroyed and exterminated serpents and monsters out of Erinn; who searched the lakes, and pools, and caverns, of noble-landed Fodhla [embodiment of the warrior as part of Ireland], whom no fortress or fastness in the world could resist. He was the Lugh Lamha-fada [Lug, the sun god who turned the tide at the second battle of Mag Tured], who, like him, sprang over every obstacle, laid bare every brave head, and exterminated and expelled the foreigners and pirates out of Erinn. He was the gate of battle, and the hurdle of conflict, and the sheltering tree, and the impregnable tower, against the enemies of his fatherland and of his race during his time and during his career.

When this very great, very valiant, royal champion, and brave powerful hero saw the crushing and the repulse which the Danars and the piratical Danmarkians gave to the Dal Cais, it operated on him like death, or a permanent blemish, to see the conflict of the foreigners with them; and he was seized with a boiling, terrible anger, and an excessive elevation, and greatness of spirit and mind. A bird of valour and championship arose in him, and fluttered over his head, and on his breath. And he made an active, brave, vigorous, sudden rush at the battalion of the Danmarkians, like a violent, impetuous, furious ox, that is difficult to catch; or like a fierce, tearing, swift, all-powerful lioness, that has been roused and robbed of her whelps; or like the fierce roll of an impetuous, deluging torrent, which shatters and smashes every thing that opposes it; and he made a hero’s breach, and a soldier’s field, through the battalion of the Danmarkians.

It is testified by his enemies after him, viz., the historians of the foreigners, and of the Laighin, that there fell fifty by his right hand, and fifty by his left, in that onset; and he never repeated a blow to any one, but only the one blow, and neither shield nor mail-coat was proof to resist any of those blows, or prevent its cutting the body, the skull, or the bone of every one of them. Thrice, now, passed he through the battalion in that manner. He was followed, too, by the great, impetuous, irresistible, matchless, phalanx of the Clann Luighdech, and the fine, lively, valiant, brave, fierce champions, of his own household, namely, seven score sons of kings that were in his household; and the man of smallest patrimony amongst them was lord of a townland. These followed him sharply, quickly, and lightly, so that they touched each other foot to foot, and head to head, and body to body, behind him in every place that they came to. And it appeared to the people of Ath Cliath, who were watching them from their battlements, that not more numerous would be the sheaves floating over a great company reaping a field of oats; even though two or three battalions were working at it, than the hair flying with the wind from them, cut away by heavy gleaming axes, and by bright flaming swords. Whereupon the son of Amhlaibh, who was on the battlements of his watch tower, watching them, said, “Well do the foreigners reap the field,” said he, “many is the sheaf they let go from them.” “It will be at the end of the day that will be seen,” said Brian’s daughter, namely, the wife of [the son of] Amhlaibh.


However, now, they continued in battle array, and fighting from sunrise to evening. This is the same length of time as that which the tide takes to go, and to flood, and to fill. For it was at the full tide the foreigners came out to fight the battle in the morning, and the tide had come to the same place again at the close of the day, when the foreigners were defeated; and the tide had carried away their ships from them, so that they had not at the last any place to fly to, but into the sea; after the mail-coated foreigners had been all killed by the Dal Cais. An awful rout was made of the foreigners, and of the Laighin, so that they fled simultaneously; and they shouted their cries for mercy, and whoops of rout, and retreat, and running; but they could only fly to the sea, because they had no other place to retreat to, seeing they were cut off between it and the head of Dubhgall’s Bridge; and they were cut off between it and the wood on the other side. They retreated therefore to the sea, like a herd of cows in heat, from sun, and from gadflies, and from insects; and they were pursued closely, rapidly, and lightly; and the foreigners were drowned in great numbers in the sea, and they lay in heaps and in hundreds, confounded, after parting with their bodily senses and understandings, under the powerful, stout, belabouring; and under the tremendous, hard-hearted pressure, with which the Dal Cais, and the men of Conacht, and as many as were also there of the nobles of Erinn, pursued them.

It was then that Tordhelbhach, the son of Murchadh, son of Brian, went after the foreigners into the sea, when the rushing tide wave struck him a blow against the weir of Cluain-Tarbh [Clontarf] and so was he drowned, with a foreigner under him, and a foreigner in his right hand, and a foreigner in his left, and a stake of the weir through him. There was not of his age a person of greater generosity or munificence than he in Erinn; and there was not a more promising heir of the kingdom. For he inherited the munificence of his father, and the royal dignity of his grandfather; and he had not completed more than fifteen years at that time. He was also one of the three men who had killed most on that day.

Then it was that Brian’s daughter, namely, the wife of Amhlaibh’s son said, “It appears to me,” said she, “that the foreigners have gained their inheritance.” “What meanest thou, O woman?” said Amhlaibh’s son. “The foreigners are going into the sea, their natural inheritance,” said she; “I wonder is it heat that is upon them; but they tarry not to be milked, if it is.” The son of Amhlaibh became angered and he gave her a blow.


To return, however, to Murchadh, son of Brian. When he had passed through the battalions of the foreigners, accompanied by the champions of the Dál Cais, as we have said before, there was a party of soldiers of the foreigners still before him, who had not rushed into the sea as yet, who retained their senses and their memories, and who preferred enduring any amount of suffering rather than be drowned. It was then that Murchadh perceived Siucraid [Earl of Orkney], son of Lotar, Earl of Insi Ore, in the midst of the battalion of the Dál Cais, slaughtering and mutilating them; and his fury among them was that of a robber upon a plain; and neither pointed nor any kind of edged weapon could harm him; and there was no strength that yielded not, nor thickness that became not thin. Then Murchadh made a violent rush at him, and dealt him a fierce, powerful, crushing blow from the valiant, death-dealing, active right hand, in the direction of his neck, and the fastenings of the foreign hateful helmet that was on his head, so that he cut the buttons, and the fastenings, and the clasps, and the buckles that were fastening the helmet; and he brought the sword of the graceful left hand to hew and maim him after the helmet had fallen backwards from him; and he cut his neck, and felled that brave hero with two tremendous, well-aimed blows, in that manner.

Then came the heroic, valiant, noble, renowned warrior, the son of Ebric, son of the king of Lochlann, into the bosom and centre of the Dál Cais, and it was the clear stage of a warrior, and the breach of a hero was opened for him wherever he went; and he trampled to a litter one end of the battalion, dealing in all directions fierce, barbarous strokes, and victorious irresistible blows. Murchadh perceived this, and it was a heartache to him, and he turned obliquely upon the battalions of the mailed-men, and killed fifteen foreigners on his right, and fifteen on his left, who were mail-clad, until he reached [the son of] Elbric [Ebric], the son of the king of Lochlainn [Lochlann], for he was the head of valour and bravery of the army of Lochlainn, and of all the foreigners also. And they fought a stout, furious, bloody, crimson combat, and a fierce, vehement, rough, boisterous, implacable battle. And the sword of Murchadh at that time was inlaid with ornament, and the inlaying that was in it melted with the excessive heat of the striking, and the burning sword cleft his hand, tearing the fork of his fist. He perceived that, and cast the sword from him, and he laid hold of the top of the foreigner’s head, and pulled his coat of mail over his head forward, and they then fought a wrestling combat.

Then Murchadh put the foreigner down under him, by the force of wrestling, and then he caught the foreigner’s own sword and thrust it into the ribs of the foreigner’s breast, until it reached the ground through him, three times. The foreigner then drew his knife, and with it gave Murchadh such a cut, that the whole of his entrails were cut out, and they fell to the ground before him. Then did shiverings and faintings descend on Murchadh, and he had not power to move, so that they fell by each other there, the foreigner and Murchadh. But at the same time Murchadh cut off the foreigner’s head. And Murchadh did not die that night, nor until sunrise the next day; until he had received absolution, and communion, and penance, and until he had taken the Body of Christ, and until he had made his confession and his will.


Let us speak now of the adventures of Brian, son of Cenneidigh, during this time. When the forces met in combat, his cushion was spread under him, and he opened his psalter; and he began to clasp his hands and to pray after the battle had commenced; and there was no one with him but his own attendant, whose name was Latean. Brian said to the attendant, watch thou the battles and the combats, whilst I sing the psalms. He sang fifty psalms, and fifty prayers, and fifty paternosters, and he asked the attendant after that what the condition of the battalions was. The attendant answered and said, “Mixed and closely confounded are the battalions, and each of them has come within the grasp of the other; and not louder in my ears would be the echoes of blows from Tomar’s Wood, if seven battalions were cutting it down, than are the resounding blows upon heads, and bones, and skulls, on both sides.” Then he asked what was the condition of Murchadh’s standard; and the attendant said—“It is standing, and many of the banners of the Dál Cais are around it; and many heads are falling around it, and a multitude of trophies, and spoils, with heads of the foreigners are along with it.” That is good news, indeed, said Brian.

His cushion was readjusted under him, and he sang the psalms, and the prayers, and the paters, in the same manner as before. And he asked of the attendant, again, what the condition of the battalions was; and the attendant answered and said—“There is not living on earth one who could distinguish one of them from the other. For, the greater part of the hosts at either side are fallen, and those who are alive are so covered with spatterings of the crimson blood, head, body, and vesture, that a father could not know his son from any other of them, so confounded are they.”

He then asked what was the condition of Murchadh’s standard. The attendant said that it was far from him, and that it passed through the battalions, westwards, and was still standing. Brian said, “The men of Erinn shall be well while that standard remains standing, because their courage and valour shall remain in them all, as long as they can see that standard.”

His cushion was readjusted under Brian, and he sang fifty psalms, and fifty prayers, and fifty paters; and the fighting continued all that time. He asked then of the attendant, in what state were the forces? The attendant answered—“They appear to me the same as if Tomar’s Wood was on fire, and the seven battalions had been cutting away its underwood [and its young shoots], for a month, leaving its stately trees and its immense oaks standing. In such manner are the armies on either side, after the greater part of them have fallen, leaving a few brave men and gallant heroes only standing. Their further condition is, they are wounded, and pierced through, and dismembered; and they are disorganized all round like the grindings of a mill turning the wrong way, and the foreigners are now defeated, and Murchadh’s standard has fallen.”

“That is sad news,” said Brian; “on my word,” said he, “the honour and valour of Erinn fell when that standard fell; and Erinn has fallen now, indeed; and never shall there appear henceforth a champion comparable to or like to that champion. And what avails it me to survive this, or that I should obtain the sovereignty of the world, after the fall of Murchadh, and Conaing, and the other nobles of the Dál Cais, in like manner.” “Woe is me,” said the attendant, “if thou wouldst take my advice, thou wouldst mount thy horse, and we would go the camp, and remain there amongst the servants; and every one who escapes this battle will come unto us, and around us will they all rally. Besides, the battalions are now mixed together in confusion; and a party of the foreigners have rejected the idea of retreating to the sea; and we know not who may approach us where we now are.”

“Oh God! thou boy,” said Brian, “retreat becomes us not, and I myself know that I shall not leave this place alive; and what would it profit me if I did. For, Aibhell, of Craig Liath [goddess who was Brian’s protector], came to me last night,” said he, “and she told me that I should be killed this day; and she said to me that the first of my sons I should see this day would be he who should succeed me in the sovereignty; and that is Donnchadh [his youngest son, who was fighting in Leinster], and go thou, Laidean,” said he, “and take these steeds with thee, and receive my blessing; and carry out my will after me, viz., my body and my soul to God and to Saint Patrick, and that I am to be carried to Ard-macha,; and my blessing to Donnchadh, for discharging my last bequests after me, viz., twelve score cows to be given to the Comharba of Patrick, and the Society of Ard-macha; and its own proper dues to Cill da Lua, and the churches of Mumhain; and he knows that I have not wealth of gold or silver, but he is to pay them in return for my blessing, and for his succeeding me. Go this night to Sord, and desire them to come to-morrow, early, for my body, and to convey it from thence to Damhliag, of Cianan; and then let them carry it to Lughmhagh; and let Maelmuire Mac Eochadha, the Comharba of Patrick, and the Society of Ard-macha come to meet me at Lughmhagh.”


While they were engaged in this conversation the attendant perceived a party of the foreigners approaching them. The Earl Brodar was there, and two warriors along with him. “There are people coming towards us here,” said the attendant. “Woe is me, what manner of people are they?” said Brian. “A blue stark naked people,” said the attendant. “Alas!” said Brian, “they are the foreigners of the armour, and it is not to do good to thee they come.” While he was saying this, he arose and stepped off the cushion, and unsheathed his sword. Brodar passed him by and noticed him not. One of the three who were there, and who had been in Brian’s service, said—“Cing, Cing,” said he, “this is the king.” “No, no, but Priest, Priest,” said Brodar, “it is not he,” says he, “but a noble priest.” “By no means,” said the soldier, “that is the great king, Brian.” Brodar then turned round, and appeared with a bright, gleaming, trusty battle-axe in his hand, with the handle set in the middle of it. When Brian saw him he gazed at him, and gave him a stroke with his sword, and cut off his left leg at the knee, and his right leg at the foot. The foreigner dealt Brian a stroke which cleft his head utterly; and Brian killed the second man that was with Brodar, and they fell both mutually by each other ….

However, that illustrious, all-victorious king, fell by the foreigners, in the eighty-eighth year of his age, and in the thirty-eighth year of his reign, in Mumhain; and in his twelfth year in the chief sovereignty of Erinn. In short, Erinn fell by the death of Brian; and the predictions came to pass, and the prophecies were fulfilled to Erinn, according to the saints and the righteous ones, as Berchan said—

The noble and the plebeian fell
    Foot to foot.
    The Gaill and the Gaedhil will be the worse of it;
    Blood-red shall be their conflicts.
Evil shall be to Erinn from it.
    Blood-red shall be their conflicts;
    Thence to the judgment day;
    Worse shall they be every day.
There shall not be a pure church or city;
    There shall not be a fortress or royal Rath;
    A green wood, nor plain, nor good,
    But all shall degenerate into lawlessness.

Two-thirds of the dignity and valour of the champions of Erinn fled on hearing this news. Two-thirds of the purity and devotion of the clerics of Erinn vanished at that news. Their modesty and chastity departed from the women of Erinn at the same news, as Bec Mac De said:

The cows of the world shall be without the bull,
    Modesty shall be wanting to young women;
    Every territory shall be without mansions, for a time.
    No king shall receive his tribute.

Two-thirds of their milk also departed from quadrupeds at that news.


Moreover, there were killed in that battle together the greater part of the men of valour of the Gaill and the Gaedhil, of all the west of Europe. There was killed there, Brodar, son of Osli, Earl of Caer Ebroc, and along with him were killed a thousand plundering Danars, both Saxons and Lochlanns. There was killed there Sitriuc, the son of Ladar, Earl of Innsi Ore. There were killed there two thousand of the foreigners of Ath Cliath, with Dubhghall, son of Amhlaibh, and with Gilla Ciarain, son of Gluniarann, and with Donnchadh O’hEruilbh, and with Amhlaibh, son of Laghman, and with Ernal Scot.

There were killed there, too, Oitir the black, and Grisin, and Luiminin, and Siogradh, the four leaders of the foreigners, and the four commanders of fleets. There fell there, too, Carlus, and Ciarlus, the two sons of the king of Lochlainn, and Goistilin Gall, and Amond, son of Duibhghin, the two kings of Port Lairge, and Simond, son of Turgeis, and Sefraid, son of Suinin, and Bernard, son of Suainin; and Eoin, the Baron, and Rickard, the two sons of the Inghen Ruaidh; and Oisill, and Raghnall, the two sons of Imhar, grandson of Imhar. It was the natural right of Brian that these should fall with him, for it was by Mathgamhain, and by Brian, in defence of their country and inheritance, that all the fathers of these were slain.

The son of Amhlaibh himself, king of Ath Cliath, went not into the battle on that day, and that was the reason why he was not killed, for no foreigner of any rank appeared in it who left it alive; and Ath Cliath would have been attacked on that day also, were it not for the son of Amhlaibh and the party he had with him. There fell there also Maelmordha, son of Murchadh, king of Laighin, and Brogarban, son of Conchobhar, king of Ui-Failghe and Domhnall, son of Ferghal, king of Fortuaith Laighen; and Dunlaing, son of Tuathal, king of Life, received a wound of which he died, and two thousand of the Lagenians along with them, and eleven hundred of the Ui-Ceinnselaigh. In a word, six hundred and three score hundreds was the total loss of the enemy’s side in this battle ….

There fell there Murhcadh, son of Brian, and Toirrdhelbhach, his son. There fell there Conaing, son of Donnchuan, son of Cenneidigh, the son of Brian’s brother, the wealthiest royal heir of Erinn. There fell there Eochaidh, son of Dunadhach, and Cuduiligh, son of Cenneidigh, and Niall O’Cuinn, the three rear-guards of Brian, and the greater part of the Dal Cais along with them. There fell there Domhnall, son of Diarmaid, king of Corco-Bhaiscinn; and Mothla, son of Faelan, king of the Desii; and the son of Anmchaidh, king of Ua Liathain; and Gebennach, son of Dubhagan, king of Fera-Muighe; and Dubhdabhorrenn, son of Domhnall, and Loingsech, son of Dunlaing, and Scannlan, son of Cathal, king of the Eoghanacht of Loch Lein; and Baedan, son of Muirchertach, king of Ciarraighe Luachra; and Maelruanaidh Ua hEidhin, king of Aidhne; and Tadhg Ua Cellaigh, king of Ui Maine; and Domhnall, son of Eimhin, and sixteen hundred of the nobles of Erinn along with them.


When all these nobles were killed on both sides, and after the foreigners were defeated, all the men of Mumhain collected to one place; and they stationed themselves and encamped on the Green of Ath Cliath. And each sought for his friends and his acquaintances; and they remained two days and nights awaiting the return of Donnchadh, son of Brian; and he arrived with a great prey at the hour of vespers on the night of Easter Sunday; for it was on the Friday before Easter the battle was fought, viz., the ninth of the kalends of May; and little Easter was in the summer of that year.

Brian was met, as he had directed; and he was taken to Ard-Macha, and Murchadh along with him; and Donnchadh paid in full their bequests, and fulfilled Brian’s will after him as he had himself directed.

Donnchadh brought with him a spoil of eight-and-twenty oxen, and they were all slaughtered on the Green of Ath Cliath; and the foreigners who were in Ath Cliath threatened to come out to give battle to Donnchadh and to such of the Dal Cais as were alive there, because it was great pain to them to have their cows killed in their presence. And a message came out from the son of Amhlaibh telling them to take an ox for every twenty, and to leave all the oxen behind except that number. Donnchadh said, “We have not been hitherto in the pay of the son of Imar, nor shall we be so in future; for it appears to us that our hostility to each other is now greater than ever;” and such of the oxen as were yet alive were then slaughtered in the sight of the foreigners of Ath Cliath; but the foreigners declined the battle from fear of Donnchadh and the Dal Cais.

On the next day they went to the field of battle and buried every one of their people that they were able to recognise, there; and they made sledges and biers for those of them who were alive although wounded; and they carried thirty of the nobles who were killed there to their territorial churches, wherever they were situated all over Erinn.

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