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Celebrating Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf

The National Museum of Ireland has joined with Trinity College Library Dublin to mark the 1000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf with two exhibitions.

Minister Jimmy Deenihan with children

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan T.D. will open both exhibitions at the Long Room, Trinity College today [Wednesday, April 9th].

Commenting on the significance of both exhibitions, Minister Deenihan said:

"To understand Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf you need to look at both archaeology and history, at the written documentation as well as the surviving artefacts.

Trinity College Dublin and the National Museum of Ireland are preeminent national institutions holding, between them, most of the critical manuscripts and artefacts for this period.

The combination of these two exhibitions will provide us with a fully rounded picture of the evidence for the battle itself, what led up to it and what resulted from it”.

Clontarf is probably the best-known battle in Irish history, but also one of the least understood. Popular perception sees the battle as a great victory in which the Christian king of Ireland, Brian Boru, defeated the pagan Vikings and drove them out of Ireland.

But is this correct? Brian Boru’s pyrrhic victory over a large Viking-Leinster alliance has been subject to interpretation, reinterpretation, representation and misrepresentation, almost since echoes of the last sword blow faded. Both exhibitions aim to challenge received popular opinion on Brian, the battle and its aftermath.

Medieval Ireland was a land of many kings, but only one was ever acclaimed as emperor: Brian Boru. Brian’s place in popular affection as Ireland’s greatest king is intimately connected with his death at the Battle of Clontarf, on Good Friday 1014.

Clontarf 1014 Exhibition at the Museum

Children with Viking objects

The exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology, Kildare St, entitled Clontarf 1014: Brian Boru and the Battle for Dublin will run until the end of 2014. It draws on the Museum’s unparalleled collection of archaeological material from Viking Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland, augmented by selected material borrowed from other institutions.

The exhibition focuses on Brian Boru and the battle of Clontarf but also the wider context of the Vikings and their contribution to economic and cultural life in Ireland is explored, both in the new exhibition and in the Museum’s existing Viking Ireland gallery.

Viking and Irish weapons, typical of those used in the battle, feature alongside hoards of precious silver objects and church treasures. A number of important new discoveries from this period are displayed for the first time. The central role of Dublin in the events surrounding the battle is a major theme, but more recent artefacts also bring the story of Brian and Clontarf into modern times. Popular perceptions (and misperceptions) about Clontarf are examined and their origins are explained.

Brian Boru Exhibition at TCD

The exhibition at Trinity College Library, entitled Emperor of the Irish: Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf, 1014Links to external website, places the historic Brian in his true context, while highlighting the development of his legend. Between April and October this year, visitors to Trinity College Library’s Long Room can explore Brian’s life, and afterlife, through a collection of exhibits, which date from his own era up to the 21st century.

The principal exhibit is the famous 9th-century Book of Armagh, which will be displayed alongside the Book of Kells. The Book of Armagh is the only surviving item that is known for certain to have been in Brian’s presence; it contains an inscription detailing an agreement in 1005 between Brian and the church of Armagh, hailing him as Emperor of the Irish. A further 40 items (including medieval manuscripts and metalwork) will illuminate aspects of Brian’s life and legend. Among these are such treasures as the 12th-century Book of Leinster, the Annals of Ulster and the Brian Boru Harp.

The exhibitionLinks to external website is enlivened by a series of exciting graphic interpretations of the major events in Brian’s life story. This artistic tour-de-force has been created by Cartoon SaloonLinks to external website (producers of the Academy Award-nominated film The Secret of Kells.)

Both exhibitions are supported by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Conference at TCD

In addition to the exhibitions, Trinity College Dublin is hosting a major international conference on April 11th-12th. Entitled Clontarf 1014-2014,Links to external website the 16th Medieval Dublin Symposium organised by Trinity’s Department of History in partnership with Dublin City Council will bring together for the first time all the world’s leading authorities on the subject. The conference aims to establish the truth of what really happened at Clontarf for a twenty-first century audience, to re-evaluate the role of Brian Boru in the light of the latest cutting-edge research, and to bring recent investigations of the subject of the high-kingship of Ireland and of the role of the Vikings in medieval Ireland into the realm of public discourse.

Events at the Museum

The Minister Jimmy Deenihan with Museum staff

The National Museum of Ireland has also arranged a full programme of events to accompany the exhibition for audiences of all ages. In addition to family events, highlights include a concert ‘The melodies and myths of the Vikings and Gaels’ on Saturday, 19th April and a day-long seminar on Saturday, 24th May in which international guest speakers will join with Irish experts to discuss recent archaeological discoveries which offer new perspectives on life in the Viking world. Both events are sponsored by the Embassy of Denmark in Ireland.

Viking Videos

Additionally, as part of the Millennium commemorations, a set of eight short films about Viking Age Ireland have been created by the National Museum.

The films have an average duration of 5 minutes and were designed as educational resource. They explain what we can tell about Viking and Hiberno-Norse culture from looking at artefacts which have been discovered in Ireland. Some of these will be on display in the Museum’s new Clontarf 1014 – Brian Boru and the Battle for Dublin exhibition.

The set of films will be available for the public and teachers to download via the Museum website and also on YouTubeLinks to external website from Wednesday 9th April.

Further Information

Clontarf 1014 logo

The joint exhibition launch will take place on Wednesday 9th April at 5.30pm in The Long Room, Old Library, Trinity College Dublin

Media queries for Trinity College Library Dublin exhibition contact College Press Officer, Caoimhe Ní Lochlainn, tel: 8962310\ 087-9958014,

Media queries for National Museum of Ireland exhibition contact Marketing Executive, Maureen Gaule, tel: 6486429/0879031690,

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