Depiction of Brian Boru from 1723
Week One: Chapter One “Murder at Twilight” (pg. 11-14 Hilaritas edition)By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
Brian Boru’s history is said to have been similar to what Robert Anton Wilson writes in his opening chapter but, as is the nature of such matters, there are various disagreements and quibbles about whose perspective we’re examining the matter from. The Brian Caeneddi of Borumu, slayer of Vikings, that we are introduced to seems to be derived from a 12th century manuscript Cogadh Gaedhil re Gallaibh or The War of the Irish with the Foreigners, whose title conveniently explains its contents and which was authored by one of Brian’s many grandsons to puff up his Grandfather’s legend. I also have a suspicion that this is the version of Brian Boru we meet in Finnegans Wake’s Yesodic territories.
This legend of Brian Boru ignores the more likely possibility that the Battle of Clontarf was primarily an internal conflict -- Brian’s rise to power had made him many enemies -- with minor foreign involvement. Consider this: by the time Brian was alive most of the cities in Ireland had been built by the Norse and Danish invaders. RAW and other writers point out that Dublin was itself built by the Danes. The Danish and Norse people in Ireland had been there for roughly two hundred years by the time of Brian Caeneddi’s nativity and should probably be considered Norse-Gaels. Some accounts say that it is likely Brian himself had Norse ancestry. Brian was also the first “High King” of Ireland to really try to put the title to work which pissed off a lot of the other Kings- both Irish and Norse.
Boru, whose title incidentally seems to mean “Lord of cattle-tributes,” had to contend with various disagreements during his time changing his title from King of Munster into King of Ireland. Disagreements between the Kings of Leinster and Dublin were particularly quarrelsome and led to violence. Máel Mórda, King of Leinster, and Sigtrygg Silkbeard, Norse King of Dublin, were made to swear vassalage to Brian after their failed rebellion and he married Gormlaith, who was the sister of Mael Mórda and the mother of Sigtrygg. Gormlaith was one of his many wives.
Like Lady Macbeth, Gormlaith has not been viewed kindly by history. Both the Irish Cogadh Gaedhil re Gallaibh and the Icelandic Njal’s Saga, which was possibly authored by Snorri Sturulsen, portray Gormlaith as a manipulative, resentful, and power-hungry woman. The Irish author points towards her anger at her brother’s vassalage to Brian being her source of ire while the Icelandic account discusses some sort of divorce. Either way, both accounts paint Gormlaith as the driving factor that led Leinster and Dublin to rise up once more against Boru.
If Boru was an early Sinn Feiner it makes almost poetic sense that he would have problems with Ulster. Some accounts say that the Ulstermen, who had given him such a hard time before he declared Armagh as the center of the Church of Ireland, added their forces to Leinster and Dublin’s rebellion. However, it seems that one minor Ulster king sent troops to oppose Boru.
Whether it was, as Njal’s Saga claims, at Gormlaith’s urging or on his own accord, Sigtrygg was the one who involved Norsemen from outside of Ireland. However, the Danes/Norsemen who Sigtrygg turned to for support were relatively close peoples from Orkney and the Isle of Man. And from Man came two brothers: Brodir (Brodar) and Ospak. While Sturulsen might not have much to say about Brodar in his Heimskringla, a history of the Norse Kings which discusses Brian Boru, Njal’s Saga paints Brodar and Ospak as key players in the drama that surrounded Clontarf. Firstly, their story is made interesting as Ospak and Brodar are offered Gormlaith’s hand in marriage and the High King title if they come to the aid of Dublin- Ospak, a heathen, cannot bring himself to oppose a “King so honorable” and departs to fight alongside Boru. Brodar, who had become a Christian and then committed apostasy to practice sorcery (great life choice, I must say), was tempted towards Dublin and Leinster. On Good Friday, the brothers found themselves on diagonally opposite sides of the field.
According to Njal’s Saga, it was Brodar’s sorcery that decided the battle should take place on Good Friday, although the Christian Kings were reluctant to fight on a High Feast Day. The Saga also records plenty of fantastic portents against the Norsemen such as swarms of ravens and ghostly attacks. It’s full of shit but also a lot of fun.
The battle was said to have lasted an entire day. It is debated whether the 64 year old High King actually participated in the battle or if his son led his forces while he observed the proceedings from his tent. It is thus also debated whether Brodar met Brian on the field of battle or was directed to his tent by a traitorous Irishman where he killed the High King during his prayers. It is not debated that Brodar shortly met his own end after slaying Brian Caeneddi of Borumu; Njal’s Saga records that one of Brian’s men, the colorfully named Wolf the Quarrelsome, opened Brodar’s stomach and marched him around a tree, winding and pulling his entrails about the trunk.
Gruoch ingen Boite, one of the characters in Hollingshed’s Chronicles from which Shakespeare sourced much of the “historical” information of his plays, was just that: a character. Very little is known about her life aside from that she was the wife of the historical Macbeth and mothered a son who would become King of the Scots.
One of Brian’s other descendants, mentioned in the penultimate paragraph, was also a Great King who had his head forcibly opened, thus curtailing his reign- albeit the later assassination occurred on November 22nd, not April 23rd. I’m sure the lineage of split skulls was not lost on RAW.
Lesson: maybe just be content being a senator or a regular King.
So, The Earth Will Shake began with an assassination occurring before Sigismundo’s eyes, The Widow’s Son began with four men conspiring to assassinate Sigismundo, and Nature’s God begins with the historic assassination of Brian Boru. So, that leaves us an assassination in the immediate present, an hypothetical assassination for the future, and an assassination in the, even to 18th century readers, distant past. Just can’t shake it. And it doesn’t look like things are going to be any more civil next week as we have an appointment for “Rape Before Lunch.” Gird your loins for a very unpleasant chapter that makes Lady Babcock into a fiercer Mary Wollstonecraft.
From Eric: “Well, Brian Boru makes think of the Brian Boru harp. It appears on the cap of Guinness bottles. I have always associated that harp with Spock’s Vulcan harp, so
"Live long and prosper.”