1014 - 2014
The title of tonight's (14/4/2014) talk was "That Field of Glory - Historical and Antiquarian Perspectives of the Battle of Clontarf".
But before the talk, we heard the newly composed "March for Brian Boru" by Pete St. John. We had been promised this two talks ago, but for one reason or another it didn't materialise. So tonight was the night and we were treated to a stirring march and ballad, introduced by the composer in person.
The talk turned out to be very interesting and neatly complemented those that went before it.
Colm Lennon looked at how the Battle of Clontarf, and the events around it, had been portrayed down the years. Previous talks had made us aware that the actual site of the battle had been disputed and that the details with which we were all familiar came from a piece of propaganda put out by Brian's descendants some hundred years after the actual event itself.
However the whole thing got a lot trickier when you added in other sources including those from the Vikings themselves. You began to wonder about the scale of the battle and it's significance and even who had actually won it. Dublin, for example, which was supposed to have been the prize, remained under Viking rule for many years later. So while it may not have been an outright victory for Brian's side, it did seem to stem the tide of Viking conquest, particularly when viewed against the background of what was happening in Britain at the time.
Reference was made to the many artistic representations of the personalities involved and of the battle itself. One member of the audience commented on the presence of Spanish Galleons in the bay in the Frazer picture.
And then there was Brian's Well on Castle Avenue, very convenient, and the bones dug up at Conquer Hill which turned out to be those of animals. So, at the end of the day, the conclusion was, if we can't say just where the battle actually occurred, we might as well settle for Clontarf, even if this location was first mentioned only in much later sources.
A fascinating aspect of the talk was tracing how the various "nationalist" movements, starting as early as the Norman "invasion", adopted interpretations of the battle, and of the forces involved, to suit their own needs. So, over the years, the tale has been hijacked, evolving from a piece of family PR to the holy legend I learned in school, where St. Brian Boru defeated the Danes who had shamelessly raped our women and plundered our monasteries. The complexity of the real story is only now emerging into public consciousness and it is staggering to those of us brought up on the simplistic version. Had I had any inkling of all this stuff, I might not have given up history after the Inter Cert.
I suppose this is an appropriate place to refer to a few wider matters.
There are whacks of things related to Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf going on all over the place this year and particularly over the Easter Weekend. The Battle of Clontarf Festival is on in St. Anne's Park, Raheny, on 19/20 April, and promises to be the mother of a jamboree, including a massive re-enactment of the battle.
TCD have just launched a new website which must be one of the best there is anywhere. It combines authoritative material with beautiful presentation along with links to sources and to a hugely entertaining and innovative use of Twitter, which brings you, day by day, through the run up to the battle and the battle itself as seen through the eyes of the characters involved.
Colm Lennon has a book coming out, which not only deals with these aspects of Clontarf, but also examines the wider evolution of the area.
Link to other 1014 related posts, including two other talks in the series.