Battle of Clontarf




*ending down, Aedh prods one of the peat bricks with an iron poker, then he lays another brick on top. "That should keep us while I tell this tale," he murmurs as he sits back in his chair...silent for a while before he begins again. "Of course you know about the Battle of Clontarf, one of the most famous battles in Irish history. ‘Tis said that's when the Irish put to rest any Norse schemes of overrunning the country. I feel that's a bit overblown, thanks to the Munster scribes, nevertheless it was a major battle. I want to tell you how it all started."

The children, as usual, all collect on the floor before Aedh. Eva cradles a box of tissues; she’s still recovering from a cold. They say not a word, and the seanchai begins.

"Maelmordha, a member of the Dunlaing Clan which resided north of Hy Kinsella, was king of Leinster in AD 1014. In years past he and the Norse of Dublin had fought against the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru, but been defeated at Glen Mama. At the conclusion of this battle, Maelmordha (much to his embarrassment) was found high up in a yew tree, hiding from his enemies. After that defeat Maelmordha submitted to Brian and paid the required annual tribute. This year, the tribute he was bringing to Kincora, the royal residence of Brian Boru in Munster, was three giant trees from the forests of Leinster which Brian would use as masts in his fleet."

The children ask few questions, perhaps not wanting to break the storytellers magic, but Aedh can see that Enna is bursting with a thought. Aedh pauses and nods to Enna, then picks up the warm pint by his side.

"How big were these giant trees? I don’t see any around here that could be used as a ships mast."

"There you’re right lad, today you’d be hard pressed to find any trees as fine as the ones Maelmordha brought to Brian so long ago. But remember, this was almost 1000 years ago...much has changed in Ireland since those days. Why, this whole area around Ferns was called the "dubhtir" meaning black country. It was a forest considered nearly impenetrable so thick was it, now it’s all farmland." Aedh sips slowly on his Guinness, then places the glass down on the table beside him. "So you’re right Enna, today three trees like those would be a king’s ransom rather than just a tribute, but so it is."

Leaning forward towards the children, Aedh continues. "The road the Leinstermen were traveling on crossed a large hill and they were having great difficulty carrying the trees up, especially since it was Spring and the track very muddy, so Maelmordha hopped off his horse to help. With great effort, the trees were finally carried up and over the hill, but this exertion had caused a silver button to pop off Maelmordha’s silk cloak, the cloak Brian had given him as a gift. Who would have thought a single button could have meant the death of thousands of Irish and Danes?"

"Why did it, Aedh?" whispers Eva in a croaking voice.

The old man pushes some of his white locks across his forehead as he chuckles, "Well now little one, that’s what I’m getting to. You see, upon reaching Kincora, Maelmordha found his sister, Gormlaith in her room. But let me first tell you about this Gormlaith. She was married to Brian, though for neither of them was this their first marriage. Divorce and remarriage was very common in ancient Ireland and not at all frowned upon as it is now a days. Anyway, Maelmordha handed his sister, Gormlaith, the cloak from which the silver button had fallen off, and asked her to sew the button back on. Immediately she threw the cloak into the fire and said, "Our father would never have accepted this from Brian. You accept your servitude with this!" Pride was very important to the Irish nobility, all the Irish actually, and any wound to a person’s pride was as dangerous as a physical wound. Maelmordha stormed out of the room and down to the main hall where Brian's eldest son, Murrough, was playing a game of chess with his cousin, Conoing. In an effort to forget his sister’s painful remark, he tried to become engrossed in the game."

Leaning back, Aedh picks up his glass again and drinks deeply, allowing the children to construct the scene in their minds. When he sees their attention begin to waver, he continues. "At one point in the game, Murrough was in a difficult position, so Maelmordha suggested a move. Murrough followed this advice which lost him the game. Now, keep in mind that Murrough had a very short temper and that Conoing was not a good winner...he would gloat over this victory for days. Therefore, Murrough lashed out at Maelmordha by remarking, ‘That was like the advice you gave the Danes, which lost them Glen Mama.’"

Maelmordha, instantly furious, replied, "I will give them advice now and they shall not be defeated." Murrough shot back, "Then you had better find a yew tree you can climb into." Maelmordha glared at Murrough, then turned and stormed out of the room. Gathering his men, he left Kincora immediately and returned to Leinster where he and the Danes made plans for a great battle. A powerful fleet from England, Norway, and the Islands collected at Dublin on April 18, 1014...12,000 men. The men of Leinster numbered 9,000. The Battle of Clontarf was to follow that day and would end in the death of Maelmordha with a victory for Brian Boru--or at least his survivors."

The silence lasts only briefly, then Enna remarks, "I’m not really sure what happened in the Battle of Clontarf. Could you tell me, Aedh?"

"Aye I could, but so can Donal," Aedh favors Donal with a slight wink, then continues sipping comfortably from his drink

"I cannot tell it like you though," replies the dark, quiet boy.

"Perhaps not, perhaps not...but you will. Of that I know."

Trying to conceal his smile, Donal stares down at the floor. It is his mother who turns their attention from him. This tall dark-haired woman in her early thirties bustles in to the room and asks, "Now, can I coerce you into a meal. ‘Tis nothing special but a hearty stew which you could be using judging by the shape of you."

"Well you know I’d love to stay for your cooking, Mor, but I must be going. As to my shape, I’m so fat on the inside that it makes my ribs stick out." Eva smiles up at Aedh, though she’s heard the remark many times before, and with her small hand she pokes him in the side.

"You’re not fat," she remarks.

Aedh drains his glass and stands. "But I must be off. My regards to the husband, Mor."

As Aedh strides towards the door, Mor says, "My husbands beginning to wonder, what with you leaving all the time before he comes home and me here at home."

Stopping in mid-stride, Aedh turns towards her and flashes a smile, "Ahh, and he’d have reason to worry if I was a might younger..." He gently closes the door behind him.


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