Tuesday, April 22, 2014

1014 The Battle

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You had to choose sides at the Battle of Clontarf in St. Annes Park, Raheny. The crowds were jampacked and you could not flit from place to place watching the battle from different angles.

As I was hoping to take loads of photos, the sun dictated that I remain on the Viking (Brodir and Sigurd) side of the field. So this battle report is coming to you from behind Viking lines.

While the Vikings, and the Irish, freely interacted with the crowd, posing for family photos and entertaining the children, as they wandered individually round the outer area, that all changed in the run up to the battle itself.

They were now back in camp, psyching up for the fray, and nobody, who was not one of them, was allowed within an ass's roar of them. And rightly so.

Meanwhile the storyteller had appeared on the field and, with the help of a quality Tannoy, was attempting to fill the spectators in on the complexities behind the battle they were about to witness.

For example, King Sitric of Dublin, who had recruited the Vikings Brodir and Sigurd from the Isle of Man and from Orkney to oppose Brian Boru, is the son of Brian's former wife Gormlaith and her former Viking husband Amlaíb Cuarán, and he is married to Brian's daughter Sláine. Sitric has promised his mother's hand in marriage, simultaneously but unbenowns to each other, to both Brodir and Sigurd in return for their services.

Brian Boru had come from being a minor king of the Dal Cais to the High Kingship via a mesmerising array of shifting alliances and a trail of slaughter across the country.

All the leaders on both sides where Christians, with the exception of Brodir who had tried Christianity and found it wanting. He is now credited with being an accomplished practioner of heathen magic.

You didn't learn any of that in school, at least in my day, and the poor storyteller has to pack it all into his short introduction.

Vikings leave camp

Now the Vikings emerge from their camp en route to the battlefield.

As fearsome a crowd of warriors as you are ever likely to encounter.

And not all of them men, but we'll come back to that later.

The horn adds a threatening frisson to the air. It is heard all over the battlefield and beyond.

And our two Vikings from earlier have forgotten the little girl in the white dress and are focussing exclusively on the slaughter to come.

Vikings enter the Battlefield

The Vikings have now reached the field of battle and are waiting for the call.

And they're off, with the usual whoops and shouts, and the general encouragement of the spectators.

Running apace, and spreading out, right down to the far end of the field. You will note that the organisers are prepared for any eventuality.

But hang on a minute. Where is the opposition. So far there is no sign of the Irish and the Vikings are starting to lose momentum and getting restless.

While they are waiting, a little sparring to loosen up and stay nimble. Keep an eye on this enthusiastic young lady, a force to be reckoned with later on.

Finally, Brian's army appears and you can feel the tension mounting.

And what a colourful lot they are, this Irish army, with its own quota of Vikings on board.

Brodir's brother, Ospakr, had gone over to Brian Boru's side and lined up in battle alongside Brian's army.

Charge into combat

Finally the order comes to charge and they're off.

With the young lady and her sparring partner coming up in the rear.

And it's straight into the fray. Don't forget that there are Vikings fighting on both sides and that some of the Irish have adopted Viking technology. The risks of death from "friendly fire" are just enormous.

Brian Boru's standard is carried aloft and his army appears to be breaking though the Viking lines at this point.

And this heavily mailed warrior is determined to make sure it stays that way.

The scene here is confused. In fact I don't know how anyone knew who they were supposed to be fighting given the mixtures on the field. We have a wounded man on the left.

And the young lady's wounded sparring partner is finally led from the field.

Individual Combat

Make no mistake about it. The combat up close was fierce.

Women Warriors

There were a lot of women warriors on the field in 2014, whatever about 1014. This is one of Brian's women warriors showing her mettle.

Move over Granuaile, or Queen Maeve, or whoever.

This lady was not so lucky despite a well placed boot. Probably too late or balls of iron.


And so we come to Brodir. Brodir is a strange character. The Irish version is that he fled the field of battle, came across Brian Boru in his tent, put a hatchet in his head, fled and was captured by Brian's people and subjected to the usual disembowelling routine. We have to remember that this version comes from the Cogadh and is Brian's descendants' version of the story.

Up to a point, the re-enactment went along with this. Brodir fled the field, his standard was torn down and trampled, and there was a hush on the field as the storyteller gave us the news of Brian's killing.

Nevertheless, Brian's standard stays aloft and in the Irish version his army wins out in the end.

However, there is another version, where Brodir comes back onto the field and single handedly hacks God knows how many of his opponents to death.

Leaving the field

Finally, exhausted survivors leave the field of battle. And exhausted they must have been. The combat, while avoiding human injury, was really fierce. You could hear the broadswords hitting the shields and one axe actually went through a shield and when the axeman pulled back the axe the shield was attached.

It really was a magnificent event and the re-enactors, from virtually all over the world, put everything they had into each of the four performances (two each on the Saturday and Sunday). In addition, they were great in their off the battlefield contact with spectators, posing for family photos and playing up to the children. It was all a truly millennium worthy performance.

And full marks also have to go to the Fingal Living History Society for five years hard graft to bring this about, and to Dublin City Council who, among other things, made this magnificent venue available.

To this day we don't know who actually won the Battle of Clontarf, nor do we know exactly where it was fought. But no matter. It was a truly great weekend.

Páirc an Áir

This is the battlefield minutes after the last combatant had left it. What a tidy lot of combatants they were. No wonder they never found any bones.

Link to other 1014 related posts.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

1014 Round the Field

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In my previous 1014 post, I turned up at the battlefield on the eve of the battle. There was a certain amount to be seen and I could check out the lay of the land.

But everything was quite different when it came to the day of the battle (re-enactment) itself.

For one thing, there was an enormous crowd and it was much slower getting round the area. Then you had to decide how to play the day. Long before the battle commenced the crowds were 4-5 deep all the way around the battlefield. As I was hoping to take photos I needed to be in the front row somewhere, preferably with the sun a bit behind me. So, having missed out the first re-enactment I decided to do the tour around the field and see what was happening. Then I would go to the battlefield an hour before the next battle was due to start, and book myself a standing place in the front row. This post, then, is the tour around the field and the next one will deal with the battle itself.

This is the other end of the ship in the previous post. Really scary stuff. They did stick up in the air, though, and were a help in navigating your way around the perimeter of the field where you could easily lose your bearings in the crowd.

A good place to start is an introduction to the history of the battle: who's who, where's where, and how it all came about. This is a brief introduction with the aid of a map of the battlefield and the deployment of forces.

This man from the Montague Heritage Centre is a coin maker. One hard belt of his hammer on the die and you have a coin.

This local Viking, who, you might remember, almost killed me in a previous post, is selling replica coins and other Viking memorabilia.

There's even a Viking way of chopping wood. Mind you, it looks like the way we do it ourselves but there is no point in disillusioning this enthusiastic chopper.

The Vikings also made nails and you could buy a load of the genuine articles to build a longboat or crucify an opponent.

This young lady is from the Viking centre in York, and she was in charge of a model of a Viking tent which consisted of a sitting room, where she is standing and an actual bedroom with a wooden bed out of picture to the left. On the right are some local youths who have taken over the stable and are making her a little nervous.

With a bit of luck, you might learn to play Brian Boru's harp before the battle, though I gather you'd want to have let your fingernails grow for a few months beforehand.

Then there was the falconry area with some beautiful birds. Trevor Roche, who runs Dublin Falconry, says it is an ancient art, and to prove it he gave us some very impressive demonstrations on the battlefield in the hour before the troops arrived on the scene.

In the course of the demonstration he brought a young spectator onto the field and trained him to accept the bird on his arm.

He also had the young lad run along pulling a dummy mouse on a piece of string and the bird swooped down and got its claws firmly stuck in. So firmly, in fact, that Trevor could then pull the mouse, with the bird in tow, right around the perimeter of the battlefield.

Then we stumbled on these Vikings' camp. They are clearly not yet ready to take to the field.

These Vikings are clearly not ready for battle either. They are just keeping the passage clear for their fellow warriors to access the battlefield when the time comes. Meanwhile the guy on the left, who is actually a Swede, is bantering with the crowd, and in particular with the little girl in white, whom you can see on the right behind the shield.

He first tried to persuade her that Vikings have actual horns on their head and their helmets have two holes to let them protrude. She wasn't buying that as she was the proud possessor herself of a viking helmet, horns and all, which he is temporarily sporting in this picture. You can tell from the bad fit that it's not his own.

Finally, before we move on to the battle in the next post, the old man on the right is the storyteller who will be recounting the battle over the PA as it takes place. His presentation is authoritative and amusing and he is seen here collecting last minute gossip from some Viking civilians.

Link to other 1014 related posts.

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