The Site of the Battle of Clontarf

Site of the Battle of Clontarf, Dublin

Clontarf is today a suburb of Dublin but one thousand years ago was known as Cluan Tairbh, or the Plain of the Bull, due to the rumbling of the sea that could be heard in this coastal village.

The famous Battle of Clontarf took place on Good Friday, 1014. Recorded as “the battle of the fishing weir of Clontarf” the exact site is thought to be at the weir near the mouth of the River Tolka where Ballybough Bridge now sits and extended to Glasnevin. Today much of the site lies beneath many north Dublin suburbs. In 1014 battle preparations would have gone on during Holy Week and scores of Viking ships came ashore at Clontarf Strand or Howth. It is also here that thousands of men lost their lives.

Once the Vikings had beached their boats and honed their weapons they joined the King of Leinster Mael Mordha in his challenge to Brian Boru, High King of Ireland to meet on the plain at Moynealta, the ancient name for the area. This battle had been brewing for months following several provocative raids by Leinster and his ally King Sigtrygg of Dublin, challenging the High Kingship of Brian Boru. Brian and his army had waited outside the city anticipating battle on the plains at Kilmainham in autumn 1013 but returned home by Christmas.

By the following spring however both sides had amassed huge armies and the date was selected, itself a challenge to the Christianity of Brian and his troops. The Danes had recently succeeded in claiming the throne of England and perhaps sought to do the same in Ireland where they had lived for 300 years. Many Danes arrived with their families, hoping to settle in this new colony.

Brian Boru and his troops waited near Tomar’s Wood north of the river and included three cohorts. The first was Brian’s clan, the Dalcassians, the second the Desmond tribes from Cork and Kerry, and the third were tribes from Connaught. Some Norse loyal to Brian and fearful of Danish sovereignty fought on this side also. Brians four sons and his grandson, Turlough, aged fifteen, fought also. Donough another son had gone to Leinster to distract proceedings.

Facing Brian and his armies were the Danes, Mael Mordha and the Leinster forces and other contingents from Norway, the Orkneys and the Isle of Man. It was said these numbered about 21,000 men.

The battle took place north of the mouth of the River Tolka which reached the sea and we know that Brian and his troops advanced to Tomars Wood, the scene of savage fighting. Once Brian gained the upper hand the rebels were forced to retreat and had to cross the river at high tide where many of them drowned. The young Turlough’s body was found at the weir, his hands entangled in the hair of an enemy Dane.

Despite the victory for Brian Boru he suffered a treacherous death at the hands of an enemy Viking, Brodar, the sorcerer-king from the Isle of Man. Brians body was taken that evening to Swords Abbey on its way for burial in Armagh.

Nearby Attractions

The North Bull Island Nature Reserve in Clontarf is a haven of wildlife and is home to a number of protected birds species and some native Irish mammals. There is an interpretive centre here also.

Dollymount Strand, a blue flag beach on the north of the island, is popular with swimmers, kite surfers and walkers. 

St. Annes's Park, another leisure amenity in the area, is one of the largest parks in Dublin. Originally the estate of the famous Guinness family, the park has a magnificent rose garden and has many sporting facilities for tennis and football players. The River Naniken (Abha na gCian) recalls the origins of the land as the home of the Cianachta clan.