Brian Boru was born near Killaloe, in present-day County Clare, Ireland. He came from the family of Dal Cais, which ruled over a small principality of the same name.His father died in A.D. 951, and Brian and his older broth¬ er Mathgamain began a strug¬ gle against the Danes who held Limerick. For a time,
Brian and only 15 men were completely on their own, liv¬ ing as guerrilla warriors with no home base. However, the brothers gathered their forces and defeated the Danes at the Battle of Sulcot (a.d. 967).Mathgamain became king of Munster.
Brian was catapulted to greater responsibil¬ ity when his brother was seized and murdered in A.D. 976. Brian defeated the Danes at the Battle of Belach Lechta and defeated the men of Desmond. Crowned king of Munster,Brian was in a position to challenge the high king, Mael Sechnaill II.
During the next decade, the two kings sent raids against each others’ lands. Brian had 300 boats built on the River Shannon (a.d. 984). He and his men sailed up to Loch Ree and ravaged much of the territory of Meath. Each side attacked the other many times, and in A.D. 997, Brian and the high king agreed to meet on the shore of Loch Ree. They divided Ireland between them, with Brian assuming control of the southern half of the island.
Both the Danes and many native Irish resisted his rule. Brian routed the Danes of Dublin and the Leinstermen at the Battle of Glen Mama (a.d. 999). As the new millenni¬ um approached, he saw his chance to become truly the “high king.” In 1002, he replaced Mael Sechnaill as high king, ending a family dynasty that had endured for 200 years.
Brian consciously sought to imitate the kingly ways of Alfred the Great (see no. 21) and Otto the Great (see no. 22). He made a progression through the island and subdued Ulster in 1005. Brian’s very success brought more foes against him; the Irish were unused to having a king who truly exercised the pre¬ rogatives of his title. The men of Leinster and Dublin revolted against him in 1014; they received promises of assistance from the Danes on the Isle of Man and the Orkney Islands.
One of the greatest battles in Ireland’s his¬ tory was fought on Good Friday, April 23, 1014. Brian, who was 73 years old, remained in his tent, praying, while his soldiers fought the Battle of Clontarf outside of Dublin. His son, Murchad, led the Irish in the battle. Brian’s troops won the day, killing some 6,000 of the Leinstermen and their allies, but Brian was himself killed in the last moments of the battle by Brodir, chief of the Manx Vikings. Brian’s son was also killed, so the Irish victory led to further confusion of leadership.