succession to the throne should alternate between the two lines, as in the case of the Hy Neill. This, however, is perhaps a fiction of later poets who wished to give lustre to the ancestry of Brian Boruma, as very few of the Dalcais princes appear in the list of the kings of Cashel. The Dalcassians play no prominent part in history until, in the middle of the 10th century, they were ruled by Kennedy (Cennétig), son of Lorcan, king of Thomond (d. 954), by whom their power was greatly extended. He left two sons, Mathgamain (Mahon) and Brian, called Brian Boruma, probably from a village near Killaloe. About the year 920 a Viking named Tomrair, son of Elgi, had seized the lower Shannon and established himself in Limerick, from which point constant incursions were made into all parts of Munster. After a period of guerrilla warfare in the woods of Thomond, Mathgamain concluded a truce with the foreigners, in which Brian refused to join. Thereupon Mathgamain crossed the Shannon and gained possession of the kingdom of Cashel, as Dunchad, the representative of the older line, had just died. Receiving the support of several of the native tribes, he felt himself in a position to attack the settlements of the foreigners in Munster. This aroused the ruler of Limerick, Ivar, who determined to carry the war into Thomond. He was supported by Maelmuad, king of Desmond, and Donoban, king of Hy Fidgeinte, and Hy Cairpri. Their army was met by Mathgamain at Sulchoit near Tipperary, where the Norsemen were defeated with great slaughter (968). This decisive victory gave the Dalcais Limerick, which they sacked and burnt, and Mathgamain then took hostages of all the chiefs of Munster. Ivar escaped to Britain, but returned after a year and entrenched himself at Inis Cathaig (Scattery Island in the lower Shannon). A conspiracy was formed between Ivar and his son Dubcenn and the two Munster chieftains Donoban and Maelmuad. Donoban was married to the daughter of a Scandinavian king of Waterford, and his own daughter was married to Ivar of Waterford. In 976 Inis Cathaig was attacked and plundered by the Dalcais and the garrison, including Ivar and Dubcenn, slain. Shortly before this Mathgamain had been murdered by Donoban, and Brian thus became king of Thomond, whilst Maelmuad succeeded to Cashel. In 977 Brian made a sudden and rapid inroad into Donoban’s territory, captured his fortress and slew the prince himself with a vast number of his followers. Maelmuad, the other conspirator, met with a like fate at Belach Lechta in Barnaderg (near Ballyorgan). After this battle Brian was acknowledged king of all Munster (978). After reducing the Dési, who were in alliance with the Northmen of Waterford and Limerick, in 984 he subdued Ossory and took hostages from the kings of East and West Leinster. In this manner he became virtually king of Leth Moga.
This rapid rise of the Dalcassian leader was bound to bring him into conflict with the ardrí. Already in 982 Maelsechlainn had invaded Thomond and uprooted the venerable tree under which the Dalcais rulers were inaugurated. After the battle of Tara he had placed his half-brother Gluniarind, son of Amlaib Cuarán, in Dublin. This prince was murdered in 989 and was succeeded by Sigtrygg Silkiskeggi, son of Amlaib and Gormflaith, sister of Maelmorda, king of Leinster. In the same year Maelsechlainn took Dublin and imposed an annual tribute on the city. During these years there were frequent trials of strength between the ardrí and the king of Munster. In 992 Brian invaded Meath, and four years later Maelsechlainn defeated Brian in Munster. In 998 Brian ascended the Shannon with a large force, intending to attack Connaught, and Maelsechlainn, who received no support from the northern Hy Neill, came to terms with him. All hostages held by the over-king from the Northmen and Irish of Leth Moga were to be given up to Brian, which was a virtual surrender of all his rights over the southern half of Ireland; while Brian on his part recognized Maelsechlainn as sole king of Leth Cuinn. In 1000 Leinster revolted against Brian and entered into an alliance with the king of Dublin. Brian advanced towards the city, halting at a place called Glen Mama near Dunlavin (Co. Wicklow). He was attacked by the allied forces, who were repulsed with great slaughter. Maelmorda, king of Leinster, was taken prisoner, and Sigtrygg fled for protection to Ailech. The victor gave proof at once that he was not only a clever general but also a skilful diplomatist. Maelmorda was restored to his kingdom, Sigtrygg received Brian’s daughter in marriage, whilst Brian took to himself the Dublin king’s mother, the notorious Gormflaith, who had already been divorced by Maelsechlainn. After thus establishing peace and consolidating his power, Brian returned to his residence Cenn Corad and matured his plan of obtaining the high-kingship for himself. When everything was ready he entered Mag Breg with an army consisting of his own troops, those of Ossory, his South Connaught vassals and the Norsemen of Munster. The king of Dublin also sent a small force to his assistance. Maelsechlainn, taken by surprise and feeling himself unequal to the contest, endeavoured to gain time. An armistice was concluded, during which he was to decide whether he would give Brian hostages (i.e. abdicate) or not. He applied to the northern Hy Neill to come to his assistance, and even offered to abdicate in favour of the chief of the Cinél Eogain, but the latter refused unless Maelsechlainn undertook to cede to them half the territory of his own tribe, the Cland Colmáin. The attempt to unite the whole of the Eremonian against the Eberian race and preserve a dynasty that had ruled Ireland for 600 years, having failed, Maelsechlainn submitted to Brian, and without any formal act of cession the latter became ardrí. During a reign of twelve years (1002-1014) he is said to have effected much improvement in the country by the erection and repair of churches and schools, and the construction of bridges, causeways, roads and fortresses. We are also told that he administered rigid and impartial justice and dispensed royal hospitality. As he was liberal to the bards, they did not forget his merits.
Towards the end of Brian’s reign a conspiracy was entered into between Maelmorda, king of Leinster, and his nephew Sigtrygg of Dublin. The ultimate cause of this movement was an insult offered by Murchad, Brian’s son, to the king of Leinster, who was egged on by his sister Gormflaith. Sigtrygg secured promises of assistance from Sigurd, earl of Orkney, and Brodir of Man. In the spring of 1014 Maelmorda and Sigtrygg had collected a considerable army in Dublin, consisting of contingents from all the Scandinavian settlements in the west in addition to Maelmorda’s own Leinster forces, the whole being commanded by Sigurd, earl of Orkney. This powerful prince, whose mother was a daughter of Cerball of Ossory (d. 887), appears to have aimed at the supreme command of all the Scandinavian settlements of the west, and in the course of a few years conquered the kingdom of the Isles, Sutherland, Ross, Moray and Argyll. To meet such formidable opponents, Brian, now an old man unable to lead in person, mustered all the forces of Munster and Connaught, and was joined by Maelsechlainn in command of the forces of Meath. The northern Hy Neill and the Ulaid took no part in the struggle. Brian advanced into the plain of Fingall, north of Dublin, where a council of war was held. The longest account of the battle that followed occurs in a source very partial to Brian and the deeds of Munstermen, in which Maelsechlainn is accused of treachery, and of holding his troops in reserve. The battle, generally known as the battle of Clontarf, though the chief fighting took place close to Dublin, about the small river Tolka, was fought on Good Friday 1014. After a stout and protracted resistance the Norse forces were routed. Maelsechlainn with his Meathmen came down on the fugitives as they tried to cross the bridge leading to Dublin or to reach their ships. On both sides the slaughter was terrible, and most of the leaders lost their lives. Brian himself perished along with his son Murchad and Maelmorda. This great struggle finally disposed of the possibility of Scandinavian supremacy in Ireland, but in spite of this it can only be regarded as a national misfortune. The power of the kingdom of Dublin had been already broken by the defeat of Amlaib Cuarán at Tara in 980, and the main result of the battle of Clontarf was to weaken the central power and to throw the
- On the name see K. Meyer Erin, iv. pp. 71-73.
- Donaban, the son of this Ivar of Waterford, is the ancestor of the O’Donavans, Donoban that of the O’Donovans.