April 2014

Ireland Celebrates the Battle of Clontarf’s Millennium

Battle of Clontarf Festival LaunchBattle of Clontarf Festival Launch

Battle of Clontarf Festival Launch
Dublin’s Lord Mayor Oisín Quinn (center) and a group of men dressed as Vikings helped launch the Battle of Clontarf Festival in Dublin’s city center on April 1.

Can you imagine celebrating an event in your country’s history that happened 1,000 years ago? On April 23, 2014, the Republic of Ireland commemorated the Battle of Clontarf, which happened in the year 1014. That’s more than 750 years before the United States declared its independence from Britain! The Battle of Clontarf took place in what is now the city of Dublin. It is one of the most important battles in Irish history. Many events happened in Ireland throughout April to celebrate the battle’s millennium, or 1,000-year anniversary.

The Battle of Clontarf was fought between two rival Irish kings—Brian Boru, king of Munster, and Máel Mórdha, king of Leinster. Munster was a kingdom in the south of Ireland. The kingdom of Leinster was located in the east. Brian Boru’s goal was to rule as high king over all of Ireland. To do this, he had to unite all of the Irish kingdoms under one king.

King Brian and King Máel both had large armies made up of men from their homelands. Máel also had about 3,000 Viking warriors fighting on his side. The Vikings were people who came from an area in northern Europe that is today the countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Arriving in Ireland more than 200 years earlier, they had led raids along the coast and built settlements there.

King Brian and his army defeated King Máel’s forces in the Battle of Clontarf. However, just as the fighting was nearly finished, a Viking warrior killed King Brian in a surprise attack. Still, King Brian’s victory in the battle was an important turning point in Irish history. He had crushed the military might of the Vikings in Ireland. A time of peace eventually followed in which the Vikings lived in harmony with the Irish people. Many of the remaining Vikings worked as traders and married Irish women. Over time, they were accepted into Irish society.

Battle reenactments, festivals, historical tours, and even a family reunion took place to commemorate the Battle of Clontarf and the death of Brian Boru. Many people with the last name O’Brien can trace their ancestry back to Brian Boru, who started the O’Brien dynasty. In the Irish language, the name O’Brien means “a descendant of Brian.” Thousands of people with the O’Brien family name attended a reunion at Dublin’s Clontarf Castle on April 25.

The histories of Ireland and the United States are strongly connected. According to the U.S. Census, more than one out of every ten Americans claims Irish ancestry. Commemorating the Battle of Clontarf is important to many people throughout the world who celebrate their Irish heritage.

Image credit: ©Brendan Donnelly/Demotix/Corbis

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Question 1
In what year did the Battle of Clontarf take place?

Question 2
Which famous Irish king was killed during the Battle of Clontarf?

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