War Paint (Part 6): Battle of Clontarf

Part 6 in a 10 part series.

The Battle of Clontarf took place on April 23rd, 1014. It was fought between the forces of Brian Boru, Ireland’s greatest figure of the Middle Ages, and a rival king in rebellion, Máel Mórda. Máel Mórda’s side was aided by the Dublin Vikings, long a power in the area, while Boru had various other kings in support. The battle resulted in a rout of Mórda’s forces, the eventual diminishing of Viking influence in Ireland and, perhaps most importantly, the death of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland.

Ireland was a very fractured place at this time. There were numerous Kings and endless clan politics dominated life. Mórda had risen up a few years earlier, but a tentative peace had been agreed upon. He began enlisting the aid of numerous clans who would like to see Boru deposed. He also enlisted the aid of Sigtrygg Silkbeard and the Dublin Vikings, who then called in help from Orkney and the Isle of Man. The battle would go back and forth over the course of the day, Good Friday. Brian’s forces eventually got the upper hand and the Vikings fled. Their retreat was cut off and nearly all of the Viking leadership was killed in the process.

Brain Boru sculpture outside Chapel Royal outside Dublin Castle. Photo by  Marshallhenrie, via Wikimedia Commons.

Brain Boru sculpture outside Chapel Royal outside Dublin Castle. Photo by Marshallhenrie, via Wikimedia Commons.

It was a Pyrrhic victory, as Brian also met his end, oddly enough by fleeing Vikings. They spotted him in his tent and ambushed him and the few men accompanying him. This, combined with the demise of the Vikings, left a power vacuum in Ireland, and years of fighting would ensue.

The painting was painted in 1826 by Hugh Frazer. Frazer was born in 1795 and is more well-known for his landscapes. I could find little information on him and not one image. In lieu of a portrait of the artist, I’ve included a sculpted Brian Boru head.

You’ll notice the battle takes place in 1014, a featured year here at Yesterday Unhinged. There will be more to come on the Battle of Clontarf and its fallout when the 1000th anniversary of its occurrence is upon us in a few months time.

The painting hangs at the Isaacs Art Center in Hawaii.

To view other entries into the War Paint Series, follow the link.

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4 thoughts on “War Paint (Part 6): Battle of Clontarf

  1. Jenny says:

    Gosh, that is a horrible painting. But that doesn’t take away anything from your great idea of using paintings of battles as a focus point. I think maybe there is a reason why battle paintings tend to be bad aesthetically even if not as reminders of the actual events.

    • You’re right, the paintings from this series that are most aesthetically pleasing are the ones of skirmishes, or in Goya’s case, post-battle executions.

      Glad you like the idea and are enjoying the series.

  2. jarretr says:

    I know so little about this very early period in the history of the British Isles, especially Ireland. It’s a fascinating period. Thanks for covering it!

    • I don’t know if you listen to podcasts but there’s one called Irish History Podcast that goes into detail on all the pre-Norman Irish history. Plus the host has a great accent.

      Celtic Ireland is fascinating and the struggles and power plays to be High King, as well as fend off the Vikings is the stuff of movies.

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