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How the story of Brian Boru led to Conan visiting Ennis, Ireland!

Conan O'Brien visiting Ennis, Ireland

You already know Ireland: it’s a country of smiles, laughter and people swingin’ and dancin’ to sing-songs where the traditional Irish instruments being strummed hold just as much character as the people dancing to their harmonies. There are a lot of odd stereotypes of Irish people but that one, at least, holds true. Yes, I have stamped my foot and clamped as an old man danced around a pint shyly standing on the floor and it was one of the best nights of my life. Ireland promises peace to all who step foot on her land. We have never called for war or attacked any other nation, evil or not. Even while our people continue to struggle in our British-occupied northern counties, harrowed by the corruption of people not our own, we continue to breed positivity throughout the world. That being said, fighting was a natural part of the Middle Ages and Ireland was no different. In this Ireland, we had kings and royal families, Vikings and barbarians. People fought for survival, sure, but love too. For land and property and of course, family and religion. Please forgive me for this but, if you must, you can make a Game of Thrones comparison. Hahaha yes, Jon Snow you know nothing lol great show! Great show! Gotta go now byeee

There are heroes and figures of history known throughout the world. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Braveheart of course… Joan of Arc, Cleopatra and Marc Antony to name a few. I’m taking it upon myself to use this blog to shed light on some of Ireland’s historical figures, where I’ll often write about people I believe should be in the public conscience as much as these protagonists of giant Hollywood films. Perhaps if Ireland had a bigger stake in Hollywood you’d already know them. That’s no matter — I’m happy to tell you I’ll only be writing in the classic writing style known as just straight-up, no frills about it PROPOGANDA. This is Irish propoganda. And if you’re even two thirds Irish then I hope you’re just as happy to admonish in old photo of Brian Boru

Hmm, where to start where to start… How about the the epicentre of culture and craic (propoganda), County Clare? One of Ireland’s best-known medieval figures, Brian Boru, was from County Clare. He was a High King of Ireland who fought to unify the country when the providences were split into kingdoms. You can’t walk around Ennis without meeting one of his descendants, the many O’Briens. There are so many families with the O’Brien name that you’d be surprised the county isn’t a hedonistic paradise. Brian’s kids must have been busy folk! Fair play Brian. That tall, lanky red-head talk show host you all love in America? Conan… O’Brien, isn’t it? He’s another descendant. Check out the video of Conan in Ireland – he made a trip to Ennis, County Clare too! (Skip to 2.44) Maybe Mr. Gleeson from Ollie’s Tours will give Conan an Ennis walking tour on his return travel.

Conan O'Brien visiting Ennis, Ireland

Conan O'Brien wearing a suit and tie

Joking aside, Brian was a war hero recognised by all the kings of Ireland by his death, whose descendants continued to be powerful figures for each generation. Brian Boru began his life in royalty as he was born to Cennetig, a king who controlled part of County Clare. This royal birth was humble compared to the rest of the family’s life. The family’s rule was extended to the other counties as Mathgamain succeeded his father and became king of Munster. However, Brian’s future as a historical figure remembered in a tourism blog post wouldn’t begin until the year 976 when he succeeded his older brother Mathgamain as king of Munster. His first act as king? To avenge his brother’s death by killing the Norse ruler of Limerick and his sons. The next? Defeating his many rivals for the throne and amassing an army with which he’d attack the invading Norse. In 999 he sacked Dublin and removed the Norse ruler Sihtric Silkbeard from the throne before restoring him as king as his underling. Having made an alliance with Ireland’s high king at the time, Mael Sechnaill of Meath, Brian dominated the south while Mael dictated the North. Unfortunately, we don’t have records of the next stage of his life but I’m confident that Mael Sechnaill bequeathing his power and ruling to Brian was a sight to behold. Mael had been abandoned by his northern kinsmen and perhaps he surrendered to spare the inevitable bloodshed Brian would bring. Moving to subdue the Ulstermen army in the north, Brian would fight for a good decade to become the supreme leader in Ireland having united the kingdoms and counties for the first time.

Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever. Having seen his mother and daughter become wives to this high king, Siltric Silkbeard united an army of Norsemen from Dublin, Ilse of Man and the Herbrides with the Leinstermen (from the Kingdom of Leinster) and attacked Brian’s ally Mael Sechnaill. Now an old man, Brian fought these armies for a year before a decisive battle was had. The Battle of Contarf is an instrumental moment in Irish history. Imagine Vikings, Norse armies and the armies of Dublin and Leinster being the underdogs in a fight, preparing to battle for an entire day against Brian Boru’s army that had united the country. Brian’s army fought ferociously for an entire day as they attempted to repel this army. The sun and moon illuminated the battle as swords, shields and axes clanged against each other already stained with blood. It’s most believed that Brian was too old to fight, and died in a tent. But I’m going to tell you that the supreme leader, High King of Ireland, this admonished monarch fought to his last on the battlefield, sword-in-hand with the iron taste of blood in his mouth. Either way, Brian was slain with a battle-axe and his life ended there, beside his men on this blood-soaked field. His body was taken to Armagh, then Ireland’s religious capital, where he was laid to rest.

a statue of Brian Boru

Ireland’s history is a mournful one. The 20th century saw so many people dying in the fight for independence. There’s such a high Irish population in New York and Boston because that’s where boats of people escaping Britain’s occupation of Ireland during The Great Famine had landed. But there’s so much more of Ireland’s history to tell. Sometimes, it’s nice to read about high kings battling with swords and shields. So put the sci-fi and fantasy books away and take a trip to Ennis, Ireland. Ollie would love show you around Brian’s home.


Written By Kieran Cunnane