A Brief History
On September 14, 919, a united coalition of native Irish fought an epic battle against the Dublin based Vikings that had colonized Ireland, a battle known as the Battle of Islandbridge. An indication of how real leaders used to put their own lives at stake in the interest of their realm, a stunning total of 6 Irish kings died in the battle, including their overall leader, King Niall Glúndub, the overking of Northern Uí Néill (Northwestern Ireland) and High King of Ireland. As indicated by the loss the 6 kings, the Irish lost the battle to the victorious Viking/Irish under the leadership of King Sitric Cáech. (Note: The names of the places and persons in this article are virtually unpronounceable by the author!)
The Vikings in this battle were the descendants of Imar or Ivar, possibly even the infamous Ivar Ragnarsson, known in contemporary entertainment (such as the History Channel’s Vikings) as Ivar the Boneless. These Norse invaders of Britain had a colorful and eventful time of fighting, conquering and losing to various British, Celtic, Welsh, Scots and Irish natives. The Vikings in this battle were known as Uí Ímair, which means “Dynasty of Ivar.” (Note: The tale concerning Ivar the Boneless or alternately Ivar the Legless, concerns his mother being a seeress, and the requirement that her marriage to Ragnar Lodbrok, however you want to spell his name, should wait 3 days before the marriage was consummated. Randy Ragnar refused to wait, and his son, Ivar, was thus cursed with either missing or inoperative legs.) Having previously been expelled from Ireland in 902, the persistent Vikings were back in 914, and in 917 the 2 grandsons of Ivar, Ragnall and Sitric Cáech, took fleets back to Ireland to resume their hegemony over the Irish. A series of battles between various Irish Kings and their forces against the Vikings resulted in Viking victories, setting the stage for the Battle of Islandbridge.
The Irish coalition banded together to fight against the army of Sitric Cáech. Numbering among the Irish leaders were Niall Glúndub, Áed mac Eochocáin, Máel Craibe ua Duibsinig, Máel Mithig mac Flannacain, Conchobar mac Flainn, and Cellach mac Fogartaig, all Kings of various Irish realms, under the overall leadership of Niall Glúndub mac Áedo. While the numbers of combatants on both sides are unknown, the Irish King, Niall Glúndub, is supposed to have made the stirring pre-battle announcement, “Whoever wishes for a speckled boss, and a sword of sore-inflicting wounds, and a green javelin for wounding wretches, let him go early in the morning to Áth Cliath.” The course of the battle is also unknown, though the result was undoubtedly a great victory for the Vikings and included the death of 6 of the Irish Kings, including Niall Glúndub mac Áedo. While the decisive victory helped to secure the Viking hold on the Dublin area, the war would continue with Irish resistance lessened but not destroyed.
The Battle of Islandbridge (near modern Dublin County) is a testament to the bravery of the kings and other national and local leaders back in the days of yore, before modern leaders sit in air-conditioned offices and watch wars unfold on computer screens while “lesser” men and women fight the actual battles. The days of Napoleon or Alexander the Great at the head of their armies seem to be over forever. One must wonder how quick leaders would be to wage war if they were actually expected to be in the front lines!
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For more information, please see…
Brown, Noah. Ragnar Lothbrok and a History of the Vikings: Viking Warriors including Rollo, Norsemen, Norse Mythology, Quests in America, England, France, Scotland, Ireland and Russia. CreateSpace, 2017.
Holman, Katherine. The Northern Conquest: Vikings in Britain and Ireland. Signal Books, 2017.
The featured image in this article, a chart by W. L. Tarbert showing a simplified descent of the Uí Ímair and Earls of Orkney, identification of Ragnall ua Ímair with Rognvald Eysteinsson, after Woolf (2007), is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.