1014: Brian Boru Won, Vikings Two

Naval Reinforcements from the exhibition at Trinity College, Dublin, created by Cartoon Saloon.

Greg Denieffe writes:

Ireland is now in the decade of centenaries, which is a programme of commemorations relating to the significant events in Irish history that took place between 1912 and 1922. Arguably, a more significant commemoration took place last weekend; that of the Battle of Clontarf which took place 1,000 years ago today, on 23 April 1014.

The Battle of Clontarf was a battle between the forces of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland, and an alliance of the forces of Sigtrygg Silkbeard, king of Viking Dublin; Máel Mórda mac Murchada, the king of Leinster; and a Viking contingent led by Sigurd, Earl of Orkney; and Brodir of the Isle of Man. It lasted from sunrise to sunset, and ended in a rout of the Viking and Leinster forces. Over 10,000 people were killed in a single day and after the battle the Vikings of Dublin were reduced to a secondary power. Brian was killed in his tent after the battle.

The beauty of having a mission statement that states: This blog covers all aspects of the rich history of rowing, as a sport, culture phenomena, a life style, and a necessary element to keep your wit and stay sane, is that even the faintest link to rowing allows the HTBS elves to indulge themselves. Here’s the rub, Brian Boru may have died 800 years before rowing as we know it began to be documented (Rowing at Westminster from 1813 to 1883) but there is a link that permits your scribe to indulge himself, again!

Brian Boru Esqr. proclaim’d the winner of the Boat-race for a Cow. London. Published by Jones & Co. March 30, 1822. Courtesy of the River & Rowing Museum (Thomas E. Weil Collection).

Thanks to Thomas E. Weil, this engraving was brought to my attention at the first Rowing History Forum in England, which was held at the River & Rowing Museum in 2007. It appeared in the catalogue accompanying the 2005 exhibition Beauty and the Boats – art & artistry in early British rowing – illustrated from the Thomas E. Weil collection. Tom expressed his desire to learn more about Irish rowing (other than Brian Boru). Personally, I think he learned all he needs to know at Dublin Metropolitan Regatta in 1970, where he raced in the Yale University’s four before sampling Dublin’s finest tipple.

Yale’s lightweights with TEW at bow raced in Ireland in 1970.

The exhibition catalogue notes read:

One of a series of caricatures of Mr. Boru (the principal character in Pierce Egan’s ‘The Real Life in Ireland’ (1821), named after that country’s legendary first king), this image lampoons the practice of the time of awarding wherries to the winners of boat races. That wherries were big, heavy, and of little use to anyone but a waterman, may have inspired this satirist to suggest a cow as a prize of comparable bulk and higher utility.

Pierce Egan was born in 1772 in or around London to Irish parents. He established himself as a leading reporter of sporting events (mainly prize-fights and horse-races). He is more famous for his work Real Life in London but surprisingly, it is in his Real Life in Ireland that you will find his ‘rowing’ cartoon. This was republished in 1904 as Real Life in Ireland by a Real Paddy and a download of this version is available to purchase here.

Not a real Viking – No 2 daughter photographed at the RRM last Saturday.

As the 23 April 1014 fell on a Good Friday, the bulk of the commemorations and re-enactments took place last Friday with 40,000 people attending the Dublin event. There is a handy interactive map of the battle in The Irish Times article “How the Battle of Clontarf unfolded”. Not been able to attend the event in Dublin did not deter us from staging our own re-enactment in the River and Rowing Museum on a family visit to Henley last Saturday.

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