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 Battle of Clontarf

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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Tue Apr 29, 2008 2:25 pm

What I find deeply intriguing is that we have so much more, and better documented, information about who died in a couple of battles in 1014, than we have about who died in an invasion of Iraq 5 years ago.
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Tue Apr 29, 2008 4:31 pm

905 wrote:
You started it with obviously.

I apologise, I don't wish for this discussion to get acrimonious.

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You want references. You dare question my notes? Clearly you are beyond reason. NjŠlssaga contains the same nonsense as the CGrG about omens and demons in the air. It has the same spin on the Christian vs. Pagan overlords. It portrays Boru as a martyr.

I'm hoping this is tongue in cheek. The nonsense about omens and demons in the air is quite common throughout Irish literature, and Norse literature as far as I know. Indeed predictory omens are quite common also in classical literature. It is to be found in Irish poetry, and it is to be found in Caithrťim Thoirdhealbhaigh. Omens were a common way of telling the reader what was to happen, before it would happen. This has no bearing on the reliability of either, or on any overlap. Likewise, Icelandic kings would have as much interest in promoting a christian king over paganism as muircheartach would have. The point I wish to make, is that they saw clontarf, not tara, as a big enough and important enough battle to make that comparison with.

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My notes indicate (I said 'probably' before and wouldn't pretend to actually know) that NjŠlssaga was written in Dublin aroumnd a hundred years after the event, at the time when Muirchertach O'Brien was Dublin's overlord.

That may be an opinion, but it falls down on facts. The language of the Njall's saga is deemed to be thirteenth century, the Ua Briain hegemony over dublin ended in the 1110s with the fall of Muircheartach. Therefore there is no time period at which they could have overlapped. It is an interesting theory, nonetheless, but not one I'd be inclined to believe for the above reason.

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On the subject of my notes, they announce that MŠel Sechnaill didn't fight in the battle, that he wisely stayed away. MS was hardly BB greatest ally and he gained the most from the battle. Boru's power was weakening so there was no need for MSto participate.

This is stated by the propoganda text Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh, but I have not come across it in any annals. I think it is likely to be a literary rouse, perhaps to denigrate the UŪ Nťill participation in the battle, and to assert the importance of the Dal gCais defence of Ireland, exactly at the time they were contending with Domnall Mac Lochlainn for the high-kingship.

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The Armagh angle isn't concrete, there is no direct link between the annals of Ulster and Armnagh's records that I know of. I know nothing about Loch Cť.

My whole position on this is based on the simple assumption that the battle that brought Dublin under Irish control for the first time was more important than the one which asserted its control over Dublin. I don't have a source but that hardly matters. History often forgets the more important events. Which massacres will be remembered of the twentieth century , the Jewish Holocaust or the larger genocides of Africa? Or which nineteenth century famines get more recognition, the Irish famine or the much larger Indian famines?

It may have been important because it showed that even in their fortress the Vikings were vulnerable. It may even have been important because it showed that the Ostmen were worthless as an independent force in Ireland (a fact borne out by their intricate alliances at Clontarf). But to say its ramifications were more important than clontarf, that a loss at tara would have been as detrimental, or as significant to altering the course of history as clontarf, is severly understating the importance of the latter. The result may not have been as fruitful, but the counterresult would have been devastating given the numbers involved.


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You have provided annals which recognise the importance of the Tara battle. You say they are biased.

I say there is potential for bias. However, even the Chronicon Scottorum recognises that Clontarf was the most important battle fought in that era.

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I say the Clontarf annals are often biased. Why do we expect annals to be objective? History has been based on vivid imagination before; you forget that the battle of Clontarf has always been overshadowed by its fictional counterpart with its bloodthirsty barbarians and plucky Irish.

Yes we can expect a certain amount of bias, yet if we wish to be imaginative, if we wish to elevate the battle of tara beyond the importance it is allotted in the annals, then we need evidence for it. Otherwise it is a fruitless ahistorical endeavour.
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Tue Apr 29, 2008 5:04 pm

I return, laden with apologies and references. NjŠlssaga could be about Hannibal for all I know of it, I was thinking of BrjŠn saga, a lost text that is referenced in NjŠlssaga and is probably the basis for the Irish material. BrjŠn saga was certainly biased.

Now to the references.
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After MŠel Sechnaill II's defeat of ”lafr CuarŠn at the battle of Tara in 980, the Vikings were never a major threat... Clontarf was unusual for the degree of participation by Vikings from outside Ireland and for the number of casualities, not for any difference it made to the position of the Vikings within Ireland
Charles-Edwards, in Bartlett and Jeffrey's A military History of Ireland (p.45).

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The battle at Clontarf was not a struggle between the Irish and the Norse for the sovereignty of Ireland; neither was it a great national victory which broke the power of the Norse forever (long before Clontarf the Norse had become a minor political force in Irish affairs). In fact, Clontarf was part of the internal struggle for sovereignty and was essentially the revolt of the Leinstermen against the dominance of Brian, a revolt in which their Norse allies played an important but secondary role
” CorrŠin, D. 1972. Ireland Before the Normans, p.130. Italics mine.

While it seems I was wrong about the scale of Clontarf being lesser than before, I still stand by my assertion that it was less important than Tara.

Finally, I have no references but my readings have suggested that MŠel Sechnaill did indeed abandon Boru just before Clontarf, due to some dispute on the eve of the battle. Or maybe MŠel Sechnaill saw which side his bread was buttered on.
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Tue Apr 29, 2008 9:12 pm

905 wrote:
I return, laden with apologies and references. NjŠlssaga could be about Hannibal for all I know of it, I was thinking of BrjŠn saga, a lost text that is referenced in NjŠlssaga and is probably the basis for the Irish material. BrjŠn saga was certainly biased.

Now to the references.
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After MŠel Sechnaill II's defeat of ”lafr CuarŠn at the battle of Tara in 980, the Vikings were never a major threat... Clontarf was unusual for the degree of participation by Vikings from outside Ireland and for the number of casualities, not for any difference it made to the position of the Vikings within Ireland
Charles-Edwards, in Bartlett and Jeffrey's A military History of Ireland (p.45).


I can agree and disagree with this statement. What I agree with is that the actual position of the Vikings, I'll be more accurate and say hiberno-norse, was not reduced by the battle. After the battle they returned to the position that they held after Tara. There is no disagreement there. What I disagree with, however, is that the same could have been said to be true had Brian lost the battle. Therefore, the Norse weren't further reduced by the battle, the position they enjoyed had not been destroyed, but had they won, with the support of Orkney the Western Isles and Man, there would have definitely been a resurgence.

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The battle at Clontarf was not a struggle between the Irish and the Norse for the sovereignty of Ireland; neither was it a great national victory which broke the power of the Norse forever (long before Clontarf the Norse had become a minor political force in Irish affairs). In fact, Clontarf was part of the internal struggle for sovereignty and was essentially the revolt of the Leinstermen against the dominance of Brian, a revolt in which their Norse allies played an important but secondary role
” CorrŠin, D. 1972. Ireland Before the Normans, p.130. Italics mine.

While it seems I was wrong about the scale of Clontarf being lesser than before, I still stand by my assertion that it was less important than Tara.

I would say Tara is important because of what it achieved, whereas Clontarf is important because of what it prevented. If indeed the leinster allies played the primary role, I think it was more in the ratio of 4:3, and given the superior armour and weaponry of the ostmen, I think it can easily be said they formed the backbone of the force, that without them, the leinster forces would have been decimated. Given that, 3,000 mobile armoured viking warriors could have caused a lot of damage to munster had they achieved victory.


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Finally, I have no references but my readings have suggested that MŠel Sechnaill did indeed abandon Boru just before Clontarf, due to some dispute on the eve of the battle. Or maybe MŠel Sechnaill saw which side his bread was buttered on.


Provide me with them. I still think this may be due just to a reference in the Cogadh.
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Wed Apr 30, 2008 12:42 pm

Riadach wrote:
I would say Tara is important because of what it achieved, whereas Clontarf is important because of what it prevented. If indeed the leinster allies played the primary role, I think it was more in the ratio of 4:3, and given the superior armour and weaponry of the ostmen, I think it can easily be said they formed the backbone of the force, that without them, the leinster forces would have been decimated. Given that, 3,000 mobile armoured viking warriors could have caused a lot of damage to munster had they achieved victory.


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Finally, I have no references but my readings have suggested that MŠel Sechnaill did indeed abandon Boru just before Clontarf, due to some dispute on the eve of the battle. Or maybe MŠel Sechnaill saw which side his bread was buttered on.


Provide me with them. I still think this may be due just to a reference in the Cogadh.

I'm glad you see the relevance of Tara. I would still have to disagree with the consequences you predict had the Leinstermen and the Norse won the battle. The distinguishing feature of the battle mentioned in one of my references, was the high number of casualties on both sides. Winning the battle didn't do Brian's side any favours, they were weakened by their losses and Brians sons couldn't mantain what their father had built. Is there any reason to believe that the Norse would have fared any better? They were hardly unified and centralised themselves and they would have suffered heavy losses even if they had won. Then they would have had to deal with Leinster, who this battle indirectly helped to prominence and MŠel Sechnaill, who I'm sure stayed out of the battle. I'll look up the refernces on that but only as a special favour to you (and because of this new burden of proof rule).
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Wed Apr 30, 2008 1:48 pm

905 wrote:


I'm glad you see the relevance of Tara. I would still have to disagree with the consequences you predict had the Leinstermen and the Norse won the battle. The distinguishing feature of the battle mentioned in one of my references, was the high number of casualties on both sides. Winning the battle didn't do Brian's side any favours, they were weakened by their losses and Brians sons couldn't mantain what their father had built. Is there any reason to believe that the Norse would have fared any better?

Isn't that the point? That brian's armies had driven them to defeat so they could not? Had they won a resounding victory, let's say, had the routed and chased down Brian's army, as frequently happens in battles, they would have had the weight of numbers on their side. But Brian's victory, albeit pyrrhic, prevented this from happening.


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They were hardly unified and centralised themselves and they would have suffered heavy losses even if they had won. Then they would have had to deal with Leinster, who this battle indirectly helped to prominence and MŠel Sechnaill, who I'm sure stayed out of the battle.

It is also possible that MŠel Sechnaill and leinster kings would, with shadenfreude, sit back and watch munster being torn apart, and the ostmen re-establish themselves in the various Norse towns, in punishment for the usurption of the high-kingships, as well as the kingship of Munster.

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I'll look up the refernces on that but only as a special favour to you (and because of this new burden of proof rule).
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Wed Apr 30, 2008 1:54 pm

We're dealing with what if's, which is always a bit tricky. But assuming that they had achieved the same degree of victory as Boru, then that would still have meant their army was severly depleted and not fit for a spate of invading.

MŠel Sechnaill had his sights on Munster, I can't see him standing back from this prime opportunity to achieve what rival beat him to: control of the whole island.
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Wed Apr 30, 2008 2:01 pm

905 wrote:
We're dealing with what if's, which is always a bit tricky. But assuming that they had achieved the same degree of victory as Boru, then that would still have meant their army was severly depleted and not fit for a spate of invading.

Not necessarily. Had they had an overwhelming victory, which was possible, such as the case of the battle of hastings, then they may have been strong enough to mount invasions and attacks.


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MŠel Sechnaill had his sights on Munster, I can't see him standing back from this prime opportunity to achieve what rival beat him to: control of the whole island.

Mael sechnaill didn't see munster as fearann claidhimh, no king would have. What he would have wished for is a king weak enough that they had to kowtow to his authority, provide him with tribute and soldiers, and weak enough to do his will. This would be more possible under a king that needed his assistance to fight off the danes, than one who didn't. It's the old trick of always supporting the weaker candidate, as they rely on you much more.
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Wed Apr 30, 2008 8:07 pm

riadach wrote:
905 wrote:
We're dealing with what if's, which is always a bit tricky. But assuming that they had achieved the same degree of victory as Boru, then that would still have meant their army was severly depleted and not fit for a spate of invading.

Not necessarily. Had they had an overwhelming victory, which was possible, such as the case of the battle of hastings, then they may have been strong enough to mount invasions and attacks.

'Not neccessarily'. You see the problem of what if's. Ultimately all this is academic, though entertaining.

I have a reference for MŠel Sechnaill stayig out of the Clontarf battle.
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Brian originally had the support of MŠel Sechnaill and the forces of Meath. However, on the eve of the conflict a violent dispute arose and Mael Sechnaill led his forces home
” CorrŠin, Ireland Before the Normans, p.129.

Just because the propaganda says MŠel Sechnaill stayed out of the battle that doesn't mean it wasn't true. They also said BB won the battle, the lying swine.
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Thu May 01, 2008 2:50 am

905 wrote:


'Not neccessarily'. You see the problem of what if's. Ultimately all this is academic, though entertaining.

Indeed it is. That is the question. How else do we assess the importance of historic events, if we do not speculate the consequences of them not happening.


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I have a reference for MŠel Sechnaill stayig out of the Clontarf battle.
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Brian originally had the support of MŠel Sechnaill and the forces of Meath. However, on the eve of the conflict a violent dispute arose and Mael Sechnaill led his forces home
” CorrŠin, Ireland Before the Normans, p.129.

Just because the propaganda says MŠel Sechnaill stayed out of the battle that doesn't mean it wasn't true. They also said BB won the battle, the lying swine.

Not it doesn't. But the annals seem to be in agreement about his participation. However, where did ” CorrŠin get his source from? He could easily be basing it on the Cogadh.
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Thu May 01, 2008 1:00 pm

Well, we're back to ogam stones Riadach, neither of us can say for definite that we're right, though I suppose we feel the bulk of evidence is on our side. Funny how Munster always crops up.

I don't know what ” CorrŠin's source is, and now that you mention it, the other source I had (Charles-Edwards) referenced ” CorrŠin and may well have got his info there. But ” CorrŠin isn't the most faithful to the Cogad text. I'll see if I can get more references, but ” CorrŠin is well-respected i this particular field.

For what it's worth (and it's worth loads) my notes say he didn't fight.
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Thu May 01, 2008 1:34 pm

905 wrote:
Well, we're back to ogam stones Riadach, neither of us can say for definite that we're right, though I suppose we feel the bulk of evidence is on our side. Funny how Munster always crops up.

I could list comparisons for instance. For example the size of Canute's army when he overtook england two years later. It was 10,000. Now if he could conquer all of England with 10,000, imagine the siginificance of Brian defeating an army of 7,000.


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I don't know what ” CorrŠin's source is, and now that you mention it, the other source I had (Charles-Edwards) referenced ” CorrŠin and may well have got his info there. But ” CorrŠin isn't the most faithful to the Cogad text. I'll see if I can get more references, but ” CorrŠin is well-respected i this particular field.

For what it's worth (and it's worth loads) my notes say he didn't fight.

No he is not. However, given that I have not come across a source, other than the Cogadh, that states he abstained from fighting, it sort of indicates that it is only to be found there. Remember, this began because you questioned the accuracy of the annals because they did not mention maelsechnaill's departure. I however, would question the accuracy of the cogadh, as many have done, because it did.
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Thu May 01, 2008 4:06 pm

I wouldn't be happy with that comparison, England had its own grand history of Danish conquests which may have affected things.

The MŠel Sechnaill material to me is an interesting aside, I don't care one way or another. I wasn't trying to discredit the annals, at least not on a conscious level. I just thought I'd mention the ” Corrain argument as you seemed sure he was there.

I assumed from the begining that MŠel Sechnaill stayed away from the battle, due to my notes and the fact that it made sense. That is why I was surprised to see MS mentioning him at the battle, especially as I thought they were pro-Boru and therefore likely to omit him like the Cogad.

I don't know where ” CorrŠin got his basis for MŠel Sechnaill staying away from Clontarf. He's not great on sources. Lets not just assume though, that his source was the Cogad. You seem to have good access to sources, can you track down exactly what the Cogad said on the matter? If it tallies with what ” CorrŠin says about violent disputes on the eve of the battle then I suppose that was his source.
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Fri May 02, 2008 12:31 pm

905 wrote:
I wouldn't be happy with that comparison, England had its own grand history of Danish conquests which may have affected things.

Well, it's not the only place it is an unequal comparison. However, various common factors remain. For a start one has a weakened and divided kingdom, various bases and sympathetic populations from which one could mount attacks and expand. Indeed, I think Munster would have been much more vulnerable given it's size and weakness and internal divisions, than a united Kingdom like England was. If the comparison is unfair, it's unfair in my favour.

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The MŠel Sechnaill material to me is an interesting aside, I don't care one way or another. I wasn't trying to discredit the annals, at least not on a conscious level. I just thought I'd mention the ” Corrain argument as you seemed sure he was there.

Well I'm not. I'm merely trying to establish that fact since you brought it up. The two sources I have seen which state he was not there, are the Leabhar Oiris and the Cogad. Ulster and Clonmacnoise say he was there, though clonmacnoise states that he cared not, for obvious reasons, whether the battle was one or lost. (This is listed under the year 1007 for some reason, but a very large account is given for it). O'Donovan goes into detail in this in AFM, and I don't think further evidence has been produced since the 1850s to prove or deny that version of events. Cťitinn seems to have reckoned that Maelsechlnaill sent troops, but did not attend in person, which may account for the disparity between the sources, however he would have drawn on the sources, such as the cogadh available to him, and tried to reconcile the disparity. It is of course, only munster-based propaganda sources (I'm under the impression now that Leabhar Oiris is a much later source because of language issues. I think, and it's bibliography confirms, that it is Early Modern Irish, much later than the cogadh even) have it that Maelseachlainn nor his forces did not attend at all.

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I assumed from the begining that MŠel Sechnaill stayed away from the battle, due to my notes and the fact that it made sense. That is why I was surprised to see MS mentioning him at the battle, especially as I thought they were pro-Boru and therefore likely to omit him like the Cogad.

Well either two things can be drawn from that conclusion then. Either number one, they weren't as pro-Borķ as we have assumed, or secondly, that the version of events was a much later concoction. I'm inclined to believe it was the latter, trying to downplay UŪ Nťill involvement in a Dalcassian victory.

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I don't know where ” CorrŠin got his basis for MŠel Sechnaill staying away from Clontarf. He's not great on sources. Lets not just assume though, that his source was the Cogad. You seem to have good access to sources, can you track down exactly what the Cogad said on the matter? If it tallies with what ” CorrŠin says about violent disputes on the eve of the battle then I suppose that was his source.

I believe it is. I'm currently reading the cogadh (if taking five notes on each page is considered anything like functional reading), so I would kind of like to wait till the end until I find out, just so I don't spoil the ending :-)
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Sat May 03, 2008 1:31 pm

Fascinating discussion here folks.

Question:

I've read a good bit on Clontarf but the Leabhar Oiris I have not heard of before - is there an alternative name for that source?

As for MŠel Sechnaill's role or otherwise in the battle it should be borne in mind that he was a weakened force through fighting the Norsemen and the Laigin in 1013 - indeed one of the reasons Brian came up to Dublin that year and again in 1014 was to take the pressure off him.

Of course MŠel Sechnaill would have been none too enamoured with his reduced role in the kingship pecking order since 1002 so it's quite possible that he did not want to risk all in a battle with the Vikings and their allies from which Brian would gain the most.

Most probably though he did not want to offer battle and Brian and Murchad did rather than he just cynically stood aside alltogether. IIRc there seem to be indications that his men did join in once the tide had turned - history BTW is studded with such examples where allies have held back on the day of battle - thereis nothing peculiarly Irish about this.

None too surprising then that if that is what actually happened that the Cogadh would truthfully report it as so and downplay UŪ Nťill involvement in a Dalcassian victory and brag about their own!

I'm currently reading the cogadh (if taking five notes on each page is considered anything like functional reading), so I would kind of like to wait till the end until I find out, just so I don't spoil the ending :-)

Brilliant! - Please keep us posted - I had a look at it in the Gilbert Library last year and took a few notes but it was beyond a few hours labour to really tackle it.
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Sat May 03, 2008 2:58 pm

I think Clonmacnoise's version is probably closer to the truth then, that he did join the battle but did not care whether his side one or lost so did not commit his men at crucial moments.

As for the cogadh, it really is a very interesting read and is due a reprint (if not a retranslation, as although Todd's is an excellent work, his lack of resources means he made some clangers). The Irish, just like in the Caithrťim ChellachŠin Chaisil, seem to recognise their difficulties were their easily-routed troops, but also the best way to defeat the shield wall was by flanking and surrounding the enemy. They also employed the shield wall themselves. One also gets an idea of the structure of Irish military society as well as the use of mercenaries, meic rŪgh(king's sons) and military vassalage and feudalisation of Irish society (The Irish seem to use the hands in hands approach when becoming a vassal just like on the continent, this is also found in Acallam na Senůrach, where Finn is depicted as a mercenary leader/head of household). This isn't really the topic of my thesis, but I may include it anyway.

As for the leabhar Oiris, that is the only name I have ever known it by.

You can find it in print here.

Editions in print
R. I. Best, The Leabhar Oiris, …riu 1 (1904) 74-112.
Eoin MacNeill, Cath Cluan Tairbh, Gaelic Journal 7 (1896) 8-11, 41-44, 55-57; and Cian mac Maolmhuaidh, ibid. 67-71. This is a different text. The annals preceding and following the battle of Clontarf are omitted and there are some episodes not in this text of Leabhar Oiris. Some episodes are close to Dublin, Trinity College Library, MS 1289 (alias H. 1. 15, alias "The Psalter of Cashel" (mentioned above).

Sources, comment on the text, and secondary literature.
Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville, Essai d'un catalogue de la littťrature ťpique d'Irlande (Paris 1883) 60 (a listing of some of the MSS in which this text and related materials occur).
Colm ” Lochlainn, Poets on the battle of Clontarf, …igse 3 (1941-42) 208-18, 4 (1943-44) 33-47.

The edition used in the celt electronic edition.
R.I. Best, The Leabhar Oiris in …riu. volume 1 (1904) PAGES 74-112


However, there is an online source here http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/G100029/index.html

How is your early Modern irish?


Last edited by riadach on Sun May 04, 2008 12:50 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Sat May 03, 2008 3:46 pm

A very interesting discussion Riadach. Would you like to split it and give it an informative thread title? You could copy the first post into it at the top, perhaps?
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Sat May 03, 2008 6:15 pm

This is the exact kind of discussion that is missing on other forums...
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Tue May 06, 2008 4:44 pm

So what happened at the end Riadach? Did the Cogad's depiction of MŠel Sechnaill's diplomatic illness match that of ” CorrŠin's?
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Tue May 06, 2008 7:56 pm

Have yet to read that bit yet. It's slow progress with the note-taking.
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PostSubject: Re: Battle of Clontarf   Wed May 14, 2008 9:34 pm

Finally finished it. I must say the battle scenes were amazing, particularly Murchad's single combat in which he died fighting. The Cogadh claims, that Maelseachlainn was indeed present on the day, but did not take part in the fighting. It states he made an agreement with the enemy, that he would not take part in the fighting, and had a ditch dug in front of his battalion so they would know not to attack them. It even claims to have a battle-report by Maelsechlainn.
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