Tuesday, November 12, 2019
RAW's romantic Irish nationalism
In many different places, Robert Anton Wilson references the Battle of Clontarf, usually depicted as an important Irish victory over Viking invaders, and that's how RAW always describes it, for example in this bit from The Widow's Son:
This was the symbol of the armies of Brian Kennedy of Borumu, who had driven the Vikings out of Ireland, and it would surely take another man like Brian Boru to drive out the accursed Saxons. Brian had started his war when he was eighteen, one year older than Seamus, in 944, and he had fought for seventy fooken years, not stopping until he was eighty-eight and the last Viking stronghold in Dublin was defeated on April 23, 1014. (From Chapter Six).
I have been recently gotten interested again in learning about the Vikings. I've watched some early episodes of the "Vikings" TV series, I recently listened to an audiobook of Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology and a couple of days ago I finished The Age of the Vikings by Anders Winroth, a well-regarded 2014 history of the Vikings which is scholarly (it was put out by the Princeton University Press) but also intended for the general reader rather then specialists. Anders Winroth is a history professor at Yale and recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant.
The treatment in The Age of the Vikings of the Battle of Clontarf was not what I expected after seeing numerous references to the battle from RAW.
Winroth writes that that battle is described in a twelfth-century work, Cogadh Gáedhel re Gallaibh "The War of the Irish Against the Foreigners," as a battle against foreign invaders described in one passage with 27 negative adjectives, such as "poisonous," "murderous," "piratical foreigners" "pagan" and so on.
Sitric, the "bad guy" in the story, the leader of the Vikings, was in fact a Christian who went on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1028 and asked the pope for an archbishop's see in Dublin. (Dublin was founded by Vikings).
Winroth writes that Irish fighters made up part of Sitric's army while Brian Boru's army included Vikings and points out that the Norse account of the battle says that Sitric won.
"What is certain is that the Irish were unable to expel Sitric from Dublin until he was finally driven out in 1036, after almost a half century of rule," Winroth writes.
Winroth also says that Sitric's expulsion "does not mark the end of Scandinavian rule over Dublin, which continued (by, among others, his nephew Ivar) until the invasion of Ireland by the Norman rulers of England in the twelfth century." (The Normans were themselves the descendants of Vikings).
Of course, everyone has their historical myths, and there are certainly revisionist accounts of the American Revolution. I am fairly certain, however, that the British actually lost.