Brian Boru - Celtic Warrior & Last High King of Ireland


Brian Boru - The very name conjures up images of the flame haired warrior, sword and shield in hand, ambitious and determined, bravery personified as he sets out to do battle in his quest for glory. To be the true Ard Ri (High King) of Ireland. His life story reads like that of a mythical fairytale, but is in fact very much real, and his colossal achievements will forever be honoured in Irish legend.

Brian Mac Cennetig

Brian Mac Cennetig (son of Cennetig) was born in 940 AD in what is presently known as the county of Clare, in the southern province of Munster. It was a turbulent time in Ireland’s history, with the country gripped in the stranglehold of the invading Vikings (Norsemen). Upon their father’s death it was Mahon, Brian’s elder brother, who succeeded him as the leader of the Dal Cais tribe, and it was he who set about seeking a truce with the Norsemen, and their treacherous leader Ivar.

Brian Boru

Brian Boru - the last true Ard Ri (High King) of Ireland.

Brian however, resented this, and along with a small tribe set off for the hills of Munster to undertake a guerrilla style war with the enemy. After many unlikely victories his reputation grew in tandem with his tactical expertise. Young volunteers from across the province flocked to join his underground army. Mahon renounced his truce with Ivar, and the brothers unified once again to historically drive the Vikings from the Shannon basin area, a crucial victory. They went on to take the entire province of Munster and when Mahon was murdered ten years later, incidentally by the returning Ivar, Brian was the natural successor to the throne of Munster.

Brian’s ambition did not end there however, and he continued north to ravage Connaught, Meath and Dublin. Malachy the second, of the previously unchallenged leaders of Ireland, the northern based Ui Neill clan, was becoming increasing alarmed at the rise of Brian Boru and having decided he could not defeat him in battle, conceded the entire southern half of the country to his command in 998, effectively creating a North/South divide, a theme which tragically haunts Ireland in it’s present day.


Much to Malachy’s dislike, Brian’s support and strength continued to grow, eventually prompting him to peacefully give up control of his lands in 1002. Brian had succeeded in becoming the first, and indeed the last, true Ard Ri of Ireland. He took to his responsibilities with customary zest, touring the island to collect tributes in order to finance the rebuilding of ruined churches and monuments, replacing books and sacred artefacts, essentially reviving faith in what was a crumbling Gaelic existence.

Battle of Clontarf

The famous Battle of Clontarf oil painting by Hugh Frazer in 1826

His reign was to be short lived however, and in 1013 his many enemies united under Maelmordha, King of Leinster, allied with support from places such as Iceland and France. On Good Friday, 1014 the great Battle of Clontarf took place. The Viking military forces were heavily defeated and driven from the land.

A retreating Viking soldier callously murdered Brian Boru, too old at this stage to take part in the battle, while the Ard Ri rested in his tent. Malachy of the Ui Neill clan subsequently reclaimed the High Kingship only to die shortly after. Although a Viking population remained in Ireland, their military agenda had been quashed; Boru’s lasting legacy, and they proceeded to integrate into Irish society for what would become a peaceful period in Irish history.

Guinness Brand

Today, Brian’s name lives on in the Irish history curriculum, in the names of our Gaelic football and hurling clubs, even of Irish pubs worldwide, and one of his trademarks, the Brian Boru harp, has become an integral part of the international Guinness brand.

Guinness Logo

The Brian Boru harp has become an integral part of the international Guinness brand.

Did You Know?

Brian was married at least twice and had six sons and three daughters. Often he married them off to nobility from other clans to strengthen the bond.

Back to Celtic History