Brian Boru and the Young Irelanders

The Young Irelanders were a nineteenth century group of intellectuals involved in the Nationalist movement seeking Irish independence.  The group encouraged the study of Irish history and the Irish language.

Thomas Davis was a Young Irelander and poet, and his depiction of Brian Boru as a pious, Catholic and nationalist leader in his poem 'The Battle of Clontarf' has very little to do with the actual, historical Brian, and much more to do with Davis' own political views.


Davis published many poems that drew on history to provide heroic Irish figures: he glorified Irish leaders like Eoghan Ruadh O'Neill (d.1649) and noble families such as the Fitzgeralds and O'Briens. A selection of his poetry and prose is available on CELT.

Davis published 'The Battle of Clontarf' in The Nation, a nationalist newspaper of which he was a founder, in 1843. The excerpt below contains the last 6 stanzas of the poem.

The Battle of Clontarf

A blood-stained cross he [Brian] raised on high,
Then drew his glittering brand:
Then shouts of vengeance rent the sky,
On all the heathen band.

‘Twas on this day he died for you –
For him with life we’ll part-
May country, creed, and children too,
To vengeance nerve each heart.’

Then rose the war-shout, wild and high,
And many a breast was riven;
They fought to vanquish or to die-
No mercy sought nor given.

Now, ruthless plund’rer, do your best,
You’ve roused the lion’s ire-
You’ve dared to rob the eagle’s nest,
E’en now his eyes flash fire.

‘Tis o’er-and Denmark’s men in mail
Have closed their mortal term-
Nor hosts, nor valour, aught avail
‘Gainst patriots linked and firm.

Who would be worthy of such sires<
Or win in freedom’s fight,
Should quench dark discord’s baleful fires
In union there is might!

(First published in The Nation, June 24th 1843).

Did you know?  Brian Boru also appeared in the visual propaganda for the nineteenth-century nationalist movement in Ireland, like this 'Sunburst of Ireland' poster:


© National Library of Ireland






Thomas Davis, The Nation, June 24th 1843.

John Molony, 'Thomas Osbourne Davis' in Dictionary of Irish Biography