|Fig.1: Unlike Saint Patrick, Brian Boru thankfully doesn't |
have a day where it is acceptable for people dress as
ugly, hairy leprechauns.
In 951, Brian's father died, and his brother, Mathgamain, took control of the kingdom. Mathgamain was not one to constantly pay lip service to his bosses (he would not have been good in the corporate world), and decided to challenge the Eóganacht for control over Munster. Brian participated in several battles on behalf of his brother, and in 964 they were able to capture Munster's sacred capital on top of the Rock of Cashel. Several of Munster's other kings resented Mathgamain's elevated status and attacked him in order to get a better cut of the cheese themselves. The most successful was Máel Muad mac Brain from Desmond in County Kerry, who captured Mathgamain in 976 and sliced him up as if he was a half-pound of the store brand. Brian took over as the leader of his brother's forces, and got his revenge on Máel Muad at the Battle of Belach Lechta in 978. Thus Brian became the King of Munster, and challenged all who didn't respect his authorita.
The biggest threat was not his fellow Irish, but a certain group of visitors from the north: Vikings had been viking around Ireland since the early 800s. At first they merely raided her coasts, but many Vikings eventually stayed to enjoy the fabled Irish hospitality. They established settlements such as Dublin and, in Brian's neck of the woods, Limerick, which was proclaimed accordingly:
We have founded the city of Limerick,The Vikings were a mixed blessing to the Irish. On the one hand, they incorporated the island into their vast trading network of green lands (like Iceland) and ice lands (like Greenland), as well as introduced superior weaponry and technology. Of course, the Irish would use this superior weaponry and technology to kill each other more efficiently than before, but at least there wasn't as much of a mess to clean up afterwards. Often the Vikings had to be held in check, such as in 972 when Mathgamain and Máel Muad temporarily put aside their differences to prevent the Vikings from expanding and making stupid rhymes about other parts of Ireland. When Brian took over Munster, he routed a Viking force led by Limerick's King Ivar, killing the king, his sons, and his toothless dragon. This allowed Brian to earn the reputation as a Viking-slayer, convincing most of the various other Irish kingdoms in Munster to pledge loyalty to him (cause who wants to mess with a slayer of peoples who slay for a living?).
And we have settled the city real quick.
We Vikings are first-class,
So don't give us no sass,
Or guess where we'll give you a kick!
|Fig.3: Brian preferred wearing full-|
body armor less so to protect himself
from swords, but from the harmful
U-V rays that did a number on his
pasty Irish skin.
Brian reigned alongside a very popular co-ruler: peace. With a strong High King in control, the petty wars that often erupted in Ireland simmered down like rambunctious children after knocking over Grandpa's ashes. The various kingdoms began to work in cooperation with each other; roads and bridges, which many refused to build since it made invasions easier, began to crop up throughout the isle. Trade increased within and without Ireland, and Brian even sent diplomats to Britain in order to declare supremacy and collect tribute from their neighbors (though, in hindsight, maybe he shouldn't have given the British the idea for that whole thing). The biggest revitalization that took place under Brian's rule was that of religion. While the Catholic Church in Europe was characterized by a pope, a few cardinals, some bishops, a bunch of priests, and too many shrill prepubescent choir boys, the system was more unorganized in Ireland, where there were as many monasteries as there were Patricks. Brian changed this with his support of the Armagh monastery, which coincidently became the center of Irish Catholicism. Not only did this help give order to the religious fervor of the island, it also allowed Brian to extend his rule into Ulster in the north of Ireland, a region known for causing trouble as late as the 1970s. In addition, he rebuilt churches that were destroyed by Viking raiders, and put "Beware of Norseman-Eating Dog" signs all around so they would think twice about doing it again.
|Fig.4: At least it was a nice day to dismember your foes!|
|Fig.5: The pinnacle of Connery's acting career |
until his magnum opus, The League of
While Brian doesn't get much respect outside of Ireland, and what little he does is typically exaggerated (leave it to the Irish), he is still an important figure in Ireland's early history. His accomplishments led to the beginning of an Irish culture that transcended the mere interests and traditions of local clans. Indeed, his reign in the late 10th and early 11th centuries may still be the closest Ireland ever came to political unity throughout the island, much to the dismay of the 6% of the world's Irish people who actually live in the Republic of Ireland. Maybe he was a visionary who believed that an integrated Ireland could withstand any challenge that might come its way. Or maybe he was yet another ambitious, arrogant male who desired more people to rule over, and more women to possess (though with a wife named Gormflaith, what more could you possibly want?).