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Trinity College Dublin

'Emperor of the Irish': Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf (1014)

Brian Boru (c 941–1014) was the first king who could truly claim to rule the entire island of Ireland. He was declared Emperor of the Irish in the historic Book of Armagh during his own lifetime, and he has retained a hold on the popular imagination as Ireland’s greatest king.

Brian lived a century after the era of devastating Viking raids on Ireland, yet he is generally celebrated as the Vikings’ chief opponent. His final battle, at Clontarf in 1014, is remembered as a pivotal moment in Irish history. It is frequently depicted as the culmination of a national struggle against Viking invaders, even though Irishmen fought on both sides.

The General History of Ireland
Dermot O’Connor
Dublin, 1723

Although dating over 700 years after his death, this imaginative engraving is the earliest known portrait of Brian Boru. He is depicted in armour of a later age, and is surrounded by symbols of kingship, such as his five-pointed crown, which did not become associated with Ireland until the 16th century.

Do Fhlaithesaib ocus Amseraib Hérend iar Creitim
On the Reigns and Times of Ireland after the Faith

Book of Leinster
12th century
TCD MS 1339 p 26

All the supposed rulers of Ireland between the 5th and 12th centuries are listed in this text. The large B in the top-left corner begins the record of Brian’s twelve-year reign as king of Ireland.

In the same column, the reigns of Brian’s grandson and great-grandson are also recorded: Tairdelbach (with large green-infilled initial T), and his son, Muirchertach (with large red-infilled initial M).

Brian Boru Token
TCD MS OBJ/2013/3

Toward the end of the 18th century the royal mint largely ceased to mint copper coins, and many private merchants and businesses struck their own copper tokens to make up for the shortfall in coinage.

Tokens were also used to advertise manufacturers’ businesses and some were produced specifically to be sold to collectors.