Danish Invasion of Ireland

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900


ABOUT this time the Danish power all over Europe had made considerable advances. In France it had fastened itself upon Normandy, and in England it had once more become victorious, the Danish prince, Sweyne, having been proclaimed king of England in 1013, though it was not until the time of his successor, Canute, that the Danish line were undisputed monarchs of England. All these triumphs made them turn their attention the more earnestly to Ireland, which they so often and so desperately yet so vainly, sought to win. At length the Danes of this country—holding several of the large seaport cities, but yielding tribute to the Irish monarch—seem to have been roused to the design of rallying all the might of the Scanian race for one gigantic and supreme effort to conquer the kingdom: for it was a reflection hard for northmen to endure, that they who had conquered England almost as often as they tried, who had now placed a Danish sovereign on the English throne, and had established a Danish dukedom of Normandy in. France, had never yet been able to bring this dearly coveted western isle into subjection, and had never once given a monarch to its line of kings. Coincidently with the victories of Sweyne in England, several Danish expeditions appeared upon the Irish coast: now at Cork in the south, now at Lough Foyle in the north; but these were promptly met and repelled by the vigor of the Ard-Ri, or of the local princes. These forays, however, though serious and dangerous enough, were but the prelude to the forthcoming grand assault, or as it has been aptly styled, "the last field-day of Christianity and Paganism on Irish soil."

"A taunt thrown out over a game of chess at Kincora is said to have hastened this memorable day. Maelmurra, prince of Leinster, playing or advising on the game, made or recommended a false move, upon which Morrogh, son of Brian, observed it was no wonder his friends the Danes (to whom he owed his elevation) were beaten at Glenmana, if he gave them advice like that. Maelmurra, highly incensed by the allusion—all the more severe for its bitter truth—arose, ordered his horse, and rode away in haste. Brian, when he heard it, dispatched a messenger after the indignant guest, begging him to return; but Maelmurra was not to be pacified, and refused. We next hear of him as concerting with certain Danish agents, always open to such negotiations, those measures which led to the great invasion of the year 1014, in which the whole Scanian race, from Anglesea and Man, north to Norway, bore an active share.

"These agents passing over to England and Man, among the Scottish isles, and even to the Baltic, followed up the design of an invasion on a gigantic scale. Suibne, earl of Man, entered warmly into this conspiracy, and sent 'the war-arrow' through all those 'out-islands' which obeyed him as lord. A yet more formidable potentate, Sigurd, of the Orkneys, next joined the league. He was the fourteenth earl of Orkney, of Norse origin, and his power was at this period a balance to that of his nearest neighbor, the king of Scots. He had ruled since the year 996, not only over the Orkneys, Shetland, and Northern Hebrides, but the coasts of Caithness and Sutherland, and even Ross and Moray rendered him homage and tribute. Eight years before the battle of Clontarf, Malcom the Second of Scotland had been fain to purchase his alliance by giving him his daughter in marriage, and the kings of Denmark and Norway treated with him on equal terms. The hundred inhabited isles which lie between Yell and Man—isles which after their conversion contained 'three hundred churches and chapels'—sent in their contingents, to swell the following of the renowned Earl Sigurd. As his fleet bore southward from Kirkwall, it swept the subject coast of Scotland, and gathered from every lough its galleys and its fighting-men. The rendezvous was the Isle of Man, where Suibne had placed his own forces, under the command of Brodar, or Broderick, a famous leader against the Britons of Wales and Cornwall. In conjunction with Sigurd, the Manxmen sailed over to Ireland, where they were joined, in the Liffey, by Earl Canuteson, prince of Denmark, at the head of fourteen hundred champions clad in armor. Sitric of Dublin stood, or affected to stand, neutral in these preparations, but Malemurra of Leinster had mustered all the forces he could command for such an expedition."[1]

Here was a mighty thunder-storm gathering over and around Ireland! Never before was an effort of such magnitude made for the conquest of the island. Never before had the Danish power so palpably put forth its utmost strength, and never hitherto had it put forth such strength in vain. This was the supreme moment for Ireland to show what she could do when united in self-defence against a foreign invader. Here were the unconquered Northmen, the scourge and terror of Europe, the conquerors of Britain, Normandy, Anglesea, Orkney, and Man, now concentrating the might of their whole race, from fiord and haven, from the Orkneys to the Scilly Isles, to burst in an overwhelming billow upon Ireland! If before a far less formidable assault England went down, dare Ireland hope now to meet and withstand this tremendous shock? In truth, it seemed a hard chance. It was a trial-hour for the men of Erin. And gloriously did they meet it! Never for an instant were they daunted by the tidings of the extensive and mighty preparations going forward; for the news filled Europe, and a hundred harbors in Norway, Denmark, France, England, and the Channel Isles resounded day and night with the bustle preparatory for the coming war. Brian was fully equal to the emergency. He resolved to meet force by force, combination by combination, preparation by preparation; to defy the foe, and let them see "what Irishmen could do." His efforts were nobly seconded by the zeal of all the tributary princes (with barely a few exceptions), but most nobly of all by the deposed Malachy, whose conduct upon this occasion alone would entitle him to a proud place in the annals of Ireland. In one of the preliminary expeditions of the Danes a few years previously, he detected more quickly that Brian the seriousness of the work going forward; he sent word hurriedly to Kincora that the Danes, who had landed near Dublin, were marching inward, and entreated of Brian to hasten to check them promptly. The Ard-Ri, however, was at that time absolutely incredulous that anything more serious than a paltry foray was designed; and he refused, it is said, to lend any assistance to the local prince. But Malachy had a truer conception of the gravity of the case. He himself marched to meet the invaders, and in a battle which ensued, routed them, losing, however, in the hour of victory, his son Flann. This engagement awakened Brian to a sense of the danger at hand. He quickly dispatched an auxiliary force, under his son Morrogh to Malachy's aid; but the Danes, driven into their walled city of Dublin by Malachy, did not venture out; and so the Dalcassian force returned southward, devastating the territory of the traitor, Maelmurra, of Leinster, whose perfidy was now openly proclaimed.


[1] M'Gee.