THE LAST GREAT HIGH KING OF IRELAND
The line between Irish Legend and Irish Myth has often been blurred, especially as the retelling of heroic deeds
has been passed on through the many generations by word of mouth.
Brian Boru was no legend. Although his life deeds were legendary. He was very much a real man
and was in fact the last great High King of Ireland and perhaps the greatest military leader the country has ever
Brian Boru was born Brian Mac Cennétig. He mother was sister to the mother of Conor, the King of Connaught.
His brother, Mahon, had become King of Munster in 951, upon the death of their father, Cennétig. Together they
fought against the invading Norsemen, who had imposed taxes in Munster. This struggle eventually led to the murder
of Mahon in 975 by the Ostermen (Norse). Brian avenged his brother's death by killing the King of the Ostermen of
Limerick, King Ímar.
From this point onwards Brian held Munster as his own, including the pivotal trade-centre of Limerick. He
marched into Connaught and Leinster and joined forces with Mael Sechnaill II in 997. Together they divided Ireland
The Norse settlers in Dublin especially ranged against Brian but were defeated at Glen Máma where the King of
Leinster was captured. The King of Dublin, Sitric Silkenbeard, was soon defeated as well.
In 1002 Brian demanded, of his comrade Mael Sechnaill, that he recognize him as King of Ireland. Mael agreed,
partially because many of his own people viewed Brian as a hero who had restored Ireland to greatness after the
Viking invasions. The rule of the UíNéill's was thus at an end as a non-O'Neill was proclaimed as King. The
O'Neill's had been rulers for over 600 years in Ireland until then.
He earned his name as 'Brian of the Tributes' (Brian Boru) by collecting tributes from the minor rulers of
Ireland and used the monies raised to restore monasteries and libraries that had been destroyed during the
The Norsemen were not done yet however, and once more waged
war on Brian Boru and his followers at Clontarf in Dublin in 1014. The King of Connaught, Tadhg O'Conor refused to
ally with Brian against the Ostermen although Uí Fiachrach Aidne and Uí Maine did join with him.
Despite the lack of backing from the men of Connaught, the Munstermen won the day but lost Brian Boru in the
battle. This battle was a major turning point as it finally subjugated the Norse presence in Ireland who were
henceforth considered subordinate to the Kingship's of Ireland. Their military threat had been ended and they
retreated to the urban centres of Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, Wexford, and Cork. They eventually became completely
hibernicized and integrated into Gaelic culture (the remnants of the Celtic Culture).
After his death and the death of one of his sons, his remaining sons, Tadg and Donnchad, were unable to assume
the kingship which was assumed by Mael Sechnaill. He died in 1022 after which the role of High King of
Ireland became more of a position in name only, rather than that of a powerful ruler.
Perhaps the best that should be said of Brian Boru therefore, is that he was the last great High King
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