Guide Aylmer & Barnewall of Meath (The Gentry & Aristocracy of Meath Book 1)

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The Vikings, Ospak and Brodir, were lying off Man, and to them Sitric next addressed himself in person. He had the coat of mail on which no steel would bite.

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He was both tall and strong, and had such long [Pg 27] locks that he tucked them under his belt. His hair was black. Ospak, who had leanings towards Christianity, refused to attack Brian; indeed, he went over to him, and, according to Norse accounts, was baptized.

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An immense force was, however, gradually collected, and Scandinavian contingents are mentioned from Northumbria, under two Earls, from Norway, from Orkney and Shetland, Skye and Lewis, from Cantire, Argyle, and Galloway. Welshmen from Pembrokeshire and Cornwall, Frenchmen, that is in all probability French Normans, under Karl and Ebric, and some Flemings under a knight are also spoken of. Romans even are mentioned, but this may be mere magniloquence. He may have had the numerical superiority, for Sigurd told his mother, the wise woman, that he expected to be outnumbered seven to one.

The eve of the battle of Clontarf was signalised, according to the annalists, by various supernatural occurrences. A messenger from St. Senanus appeared to the king, and prophesied his death as the penalty due for violating the sanctuary on Scattery Island thirty-seven years before. The interests and prejudices of monastic chroniclers may account for this story, but it is not so easy to explain the firm belief in pagan deities, in fairies, in demons, and in satyrs shown by two independent historians.

It is evident that the oracles of heathenism were not supposed to have been dumb more than years after the death of Patrick, and after that of Columba. Nor was there any lack of marvels on the Danish side. And the answer ran, that if the fight were on Good Friday, King Brian would fall but win the day; but if they fought before, they would all fall that were against him. The battle was fought upon the fateful Friday, and Brian refused to take part in it because the day was holy. He remained in the rear protected by a ring of soldiers with their shields locked together.

Sigurd fell, and Sitric had to retire before Ospak. Hrafn the red flew to a river into which the devils wished to drag him, but a spoken spell dispersed them.


Sigurd being already dead, Gormflaith lost all chance of a royal husband, and it is only further recorded of her that she died sixteen years later. The popular delusion that the battle of Clontarf caused the expulsion of the Danes from Ireland must be pretty well dissipated by this time. Sitric remained with reserves within the fortress, and thus saved his kingdom; nor do the annalists cease to make frequent mention of the foreigners. But the defeat was great, and may have had considerable in [Pg 29] fluence in deciding those who were already hovering between Woden and Jesus.

Fourteen years after Clontarf we find Sitric going to Rome, and his son Olaf was killed in England when attempting the same pilgrimage. These facts lend some countenance to the legend that Sitric founded Christ Church in ; for the Roman court well knew how to impress the rude northern warriors, and to profit in various ways by their simple faith. Without actually amalgamating, the Danes seem to have drawn gradually closer to the native Irish.

A royal heir of Ulster received the name of Ragnal less than half a century after Clontarf, and in a bishop seems to have been temporarily appointed at Dublin by the joint election of Irish and Danes. But quarrels were frequent even after the Danes had become fully Christianised; and when the men of Munster invaded Fingal in , they burned the church of Lusk when it was full of people and treasures. Nor did fresh invasions quite cease, for Magnus, King of Norway, made two expeditions to Ireland, in the latter of which, in , he lost his life.

The separate history of the Irish Ostmen was drawing to a close, even at the date of the Anglo-Norman invasion; but they have left indelible traces upon the map of Ireland and on the traditional lore of her people.

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Giraldus informs us that the Scandinavians who settled at Dublin, Waterford, and Limerick, came under pretence of peaceful trading. The Irish, he says, were prevented by their innate sloth from going down to the sea in ships, but were ready to welcome those who would trade for them, and thus allowed the fierce strangers to get a strong footing. However this may be, it is certain that the Irish are deficient in maritime enterprise, and equally certain that the Northmen had a constant eye to trade as well as to war and plunder.

Unerring instinct pointed out the best stations, and on the sites thus chosen the chief cities of Ireland were reared. The [Pg 30] Kaupmannaeyjar or merchant isles, probably those now called the Copelands, may have been a rendezvous for passing vessels.

Arabic coins, of which more than 20, pieces from more than 1, different dies are preserved at Stockholm, have been found in Ireland, and the Irish Northmen certainly had a coinage of their own, when the native princes had none. Pieces have been found which were struck by, or at least for, a Scandinavian king of Dublin as early as the ninth century, and all coins minted in Ireland up to the Anglo-Norman invasion were perhaps of similar origin.

Many such pieces have been found in the Isle of Man, and some as far off as Denmark. The Irish annalists constantly dwell on the superiority of Norse arms and armour as a reason for their success in war. Nor was this costly harness worn only by the Scandinavian leaders, for they are said to have had 1, coats of mail in that one battle. The turgid verbosity of these writers makes it doubtful whether the Danes used poisoned arrows, but no such thing is mentioned in the Saga.

The flotillas which Brian maintained on inland waters, and the sea-going vessels which attended his army in the North, were all manned by Danes, and a mercantile marine has in every age been the best nursery of naval power.

The analogy might easily be carried further, and Dublin and Waterford might be represented as standing between the Anglo-Normans and Celts of Ireland, as Massilia stood between the Romans and Celts of [Pg 31] Gaul. It is at all events clear that the Scandinavians built the first cities and coined the first money in Ireland.

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He lived to be eighty, yet none of his work lasted. Brian was indeed doubly a usurper, in wresting Munster from the race of Eoghan, and in wresting Ireland from the race of Nial, in whom royalty had been vested for centuries. With all his ceaseless exertions he was little more than a levier of black mail, who left intact the internal government of weaker princes. Borumha, or the tribute-taker, if that be really the meaning of the term, describes his position with sufficient accuracy. When he died Donnchadh, or Donogh, his son by Gormflaith, became head of his tribe, and claimed the succession to the Irish monarchy.

The Eugenians repudiated his claim, alleging that their turn, which had been wrongfully passed over, had now come to reign in Munster. Not satisfied with this, their two principal chiefs fell out among themselves. More than years elapsed between the battle of Clontarf and the landing of the first Anglo-Norman, and they were years of almost constant war and confusion. Had Ireland been left to herself a prince might in time have arisen strong enough to establish such a monarchy as Brian failed to found. The Danes had ceased to be a seriously disturbing influence, but there is no evidence that any such process of consolidation was going on, and a feudal system, which had lost none of its vigour, was at last confronted with a tribal system which had lost none of its inherent weakness.

It is impossible to fix the exact date when Christianity began to make head against the Irish Ostmen. When St. Anschar obtained from the Swedes a place for his God in [Pg 32] the northern pantheon, and when Guthrum and his officers submitted to baptism in Wessex, a foundation had been laid for a general Scandinavian conversion. Irish anchorites spent some time in Iceland about , and when Ingulf and Lief landed in they found that Irish priests had lately been there, and had left behind them books, bells, and croziers.

Five years later, in , Christianity was established by law in Iceland.

Removed as she was from English or Roman influences, Ireland remained a stronghold of paganism after the Danes of England had been generally converted; and the Irish being on the whole weaker in war, were scarcely in a position to prove that Woden and Thor had nothing to say for themselves.

Olaf Cuaran was baptized in England. It is clear that the Irish Danes remained generally pagan throughout the tenth century, and that the confederacy which failed at Clontarf had to a great extent been formed against Christianity. The story of Ospak and Brodir shows that some of the fiercest Danes were beginning to waver, the question at issue being the relative power of two deities, rather than the relative merit of two systems.

After Clontarf Woden seems to have been looked upon as beaten.

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He had been tried and found wanting, like Baal on Mount Carmel, and the defeated party went over to the stronger side. The connection of the Dublin Danes with their brethren in England had long been very close, and it was to Canterbury and Rome rather than to Armagh that they naturally turned. Sitric and Canute were perhaps in the Eternal City together; their visit was at least almost simultaneous, and we cannot doubt that every means were taken to prejudice the powerful neophyte against the pretensions of St.

A tradition which may be true, but which is not supported by contemporary evidence, makes Sitric the joint founder. Lanfranc also wrote to Tirlogh, who had acquired the supreme kingship, like his father, Brian Borumha. It is not unlikely that the curious poem which represents St. Patrick as blessing Dublin and its Danish inhabitants, and cursing the Hy Neill, was forged at this time, partly in the Munster interest and partly to prove that Dublin was not subject to Armagh.

In his letters Lanfranc insists much upon Catholic unity. According to modern ideas, the heaviest of the charges which he brings against the Irish Church is the levity with which they regarded the marriage tie. It appears that men even exchanged wives.