Battle of Clontarf (2)

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900
CHAPTER XIII. (continued)

All being ready for the signal of battle, Brian himself, mounted on a richly-caparisoned charger, rode through the Irish lines, as all the records are careful to tell us, "with his sword in one hand, and a crucifix in the other, exhorting the troops to remember the momentous issues that depended upon the fortunes of that day—Religion and Country against Paganism and Bondage. It is said that on this occasion he delivered an address which moved his soldiers, now to tears, and anon to the utmost pitch of enthusiasm and resolution. And we can well imagine the effect, upon an army drawn up as they were for the onset of battle in defence of "Faith and Fatherland," of such a sight and such an appeal—their aged and venerable monarch, "his white hair floating in the wind, "riding -through their lines, with the sacred symbol of Redemption borne aloft, and adjuring them, as the chronicles tell us to "remember that on this day Christ died for us, on the Mount of Calvary." Moreover, Brian himself had given them an earnest, such perhaps as monarch had never given before, of his resolve, that with the fortunes of his country he and his sons and kinsmen all would stand or fall. He had brought "his sons and nephews there," says the historian, who might have added, and even his grandchildren, "and showed that he was prepared to let the existence of his race depend upon the issue of the day." We may be sure a circumstance so affecting as this was not lost upon Brian's soldiers. It gave force to every word of his address. He recounted, we are told, all the barbarities and the sacrileges perpetrated by the invaders in their lawless ravages on Irish soil, the shrines they had plundered, the holy relics they had profaned, the brutal cruelties they had inflicted on unarmed non-combatants—nay, on "the servants of the Altar." Then, raising the crucifix aloft, he invoked the Omnipotent God to look down upon them that day, and to strengthen their arms in a cause so just and holy.

Mr. William Kenealy (now of Kilkenny) is the author of a truly noble poem which gives with all the native vigor and force of the original, this thrilling "Address of Brian to his Army."

"Stand ye now for Erin's glory! Stand ye now for Erin's cause!
Long ye've groaned beneath the rigor of the Northmen's savage laws.
What though brothers league against us? What, though myriads be the foe?
Victory will be more honored in the myriads' overthrow.

"Proud Connacians! oft we've wrangled in our petty feuds of yore;
Now we fight against the robber Dane upon our native shore;
May our hearts unite in friendship, as our blood in one red tide,
While we crush their mail-clad legions, and annihilate their pride!
"Brave Eugenians! Erin triumphs in the sight she sees to-day—
Desmond's homesteads all deserted for the muster and the fray!
Cluan's vale and Galtees' summit send their bravest and their best—
May such hearts be theirs forever, for the Freedom of the West!

"Chiefs and Kernes of Dalcassia! Brothers of my past career,
Oft we've trodden on the pirate-flag that flaunts before us here;
You remember Inniscattery, how we bounded on the foe,
As the torrent of the mountain bursts upon the plain below!

"They have razed our proudest castles—spoiled the Temples of the Lord—
Burned to dust the sacred relics—put the Peaceful to the sword—
Desecrated all things holy—as they soon may do again,
If their power to-day we smite not—if to-day we be not men!

"On this day the God-man suffered—look upon the sacred sign—
May we conquer 'neath its shadow, as of old did Constantine!
May the heathen tribe of Odin fade before it like a dream,
And the triumph of this glorious day in our future annuals gleam!

"God of heaven, bless our banner—nerve our sinews for the strife!
Fight we now for all that's holy—for our altars, land and life—
For red vengeance on the spoiler, whom the blazing temples trace—
For the honor of our maidens and the glory of our race!

"Should I fall before the foeman, 'tis the death I seek to-day;
Should ten thousand daggers pierce me, bear my body not away,
Till this day of days be over—till the field is fought and won—
Then the holy mass be chanted, and the funeral rites be done.

"Men of Erin! men of Erin! grasp the battle-ax: and spear!
Chase these Northern wolves before you like a herd of frightened deer!
Burst their ranks, like bolts from heaven! Down, on the heathen crew,
For the glory of the Crucified, and Erin's glory too!"

Who can be astonished that, as he ceased, a shout wild, furious, and deafening, burst from the Irish lines? A cry arose from the soldiers, we are told, demanding instantly to be led against the enemy. The aged monarch now placed himself at the head of his guards, to lead the van of battle; but at this point his sons and all the attendant princes and commanders protested against his attempting, at his advanced age, to take part personally in the conflict; and eventually, after much effort, they succeeded in prevailing upon him to retire to his tent, and to. let the chief command devolve upon his eldest, son Morrogh.

"The battle," says a historian, "then commenced; 'a spirited, fierce, violent, vengeful, and furious battle; the likeness of which was not. to be found at that time,' as the old annalists quaintly describe it. It was a conflict of heroes. The chieftains engaged at every point in single combat; and the greater part of them on both sides fell. The impetuosity of the Irish was irresistible, and their battle-axes did fearful execution, every man of the ten hundred mailed warriors of Norway having been made to bite the dust, and it was against them, we are told, that the Dalcassians had been obliged to contend single-handed. The heroic Morrogh performed prodigies of valor throughout the day. Ranks of men fell before him; and, hewing his way to the Danish standard, he cut down two successive bearers of it with his battle-ax. Two Danish leaders, Carolus and Conmael, enraged at this, success, rushed on him together, but both fell in rapid succession by his sword. Twice Morrogh and some of his chiefs retired to slake their thirst and cool their hands, swollen from the violent use of the sword; and the Danes observing the vigor with which they returned to the conflict, succeeded, by a desperate effort in cutting off the brook which had refreshed them. Thus the battle raged from an early hour in the morning—innumerable deeds of valor being performed on both sides, and victory appearing still doubtful, until the third or fourth hour in the afternoon, when a fresh and desperate effort was made by the Irish, and the Danes, now almost destitute of leaders, began to waver and give way at every point. Just at this moment the Norwegian prince, Anrud, encountered Morrogh, who was unable to raise his arms from fatigue, but with the left hand he seized Anrud and hurled him to the earth, and with the other placed the point of his sword on the breast of the prostrate Northman, and leaning on it plunged it through his body. While stooping, however, for this purpose, Anrud contrived to inflict on him a mortal wound with a dagger, and Morrogh fell in the arms of victory. According to other accounts, Morrogh was in the act of stooping to relieve an enemy when he received from him his death wound. This disaster had not the effect of turning the fortune of the day, for the Danes and their allies were in a state of utter disorder, and along their whole line had commenced to fly toward the city or to their ships. They plunged into the Tolka at a time, we may conclude, when the river was swollen with the tide, so that great numbers were drowned. The body of young Turlogh was found after the battle 'at the weir of Clontarf,' with his hands entangled in the hair of a Dane whom he had grappled with in the pursuit.

"But the chief tragedy of the day remains to be related. Brodar, the pirate admiral, who commanded in the point of the Danish lines remotest from the city, seeing the rout general, was making his way through some thickets with only a few attendants, when he came upon the tent of Brian Borumha, left at that moment without his guards. The fierce Norseman rushed in and found the aged monarch at prayer before the crucifix, which he had that morning held up to the view of his troops, and attended only by his page. Yet, Brian had time to seize his arms, and died sword in hand. The Irish accounts say that the king killed Brodar, and was only overcome by numbers; but the Danish version in the Niala Saga is more probable, and in this Brodar is represented as holding up his reeking sword and crying: 'Let it be proclaimed from man to man that Brian has been slain by Brodar.' It is added, on the same authority, that the ferocious pirate was then hemmed in by Brian's returned guards and captured alive, and that he was hung from a tree, and continued to rage like a beast of prey until all his entrails were torn out—the Irish soldiers thus taking savage vengeance for the death of their king, who but for their own neglect would have been safe."[5]


[5] Haverty.