Today, it’s Good Friday 2015. This day one thousand and one years ago, is said to be a turning point in Irish history, because Brian Boru, the first High King of all Ireland, kicked the Viking invaders out during a terrible battle on the Irish East Coast, just above Dublin. He lost his life on that day, but just after he had defeated the Vikings.
Last September at the Mountshannon Traditional Festival, the theme for the song writing competition was Brian Boru and since I was challenged the year before to give it another try, I did my best to write a song, although I knew nothing about Brian Boru at that time. In Holland this famous Irish King is nowhere in any of our history books. Although I had already collected hundreds of Irish folk songs, I never found one about Brian Boru, so I had to start from scratch.
When looking into the subject of Brian Boru, I decided to buy two books. One of them was a children’s book, written by Morgan Llywelyn, and that suited me most, since English isn’t my mother tongue and I’m always short of time. But the books alone wouldn’t do it, because I needed to know the exact pronunciation of the old Irish names. For that purpose, I was delighted to find Fin Dwyer’s Irish History Podcasts on http://irishhistorypodcast.ie. His great way of story telling helped me perfectly through this extensive subject.
So after a while I started to write the song by telling who Brian Boru was, where he was born and what made him a famous king. After the first four verses it took some weeks before I had an idea how to finish the song, even long doubting whether to finish it at all. You must know, I have many unfinished songs.
Then the idea came to me to shift the focus from Brian Boru to his third wife, Gormflaith, sister of Máel Mórda of Leinster. Just try to find out yourself how to pronounce those names. Thanks for that, Fin! There’s not much known about her, but that gave me the opportunity to imagine that she played a key role in the events that lead to the catastrophic Battle Of Clontarf, on Good Friday 1014.
Hope you like it!
Thanks to Martin Ryan and Frank Callery for reviewing the lyrics and giving me some invaluable input.
- Brave and bold, young and old, listen to what I sing
A thousand years ago, you know, there was an Irish King
They say he was Dalcassian from the east of Clare
Tis only a song, so maybe I’m wrong, because I wasn’t there
- But from the books, well that’s how it looks, he was a mighty man
He brought some years of peace, so please, let’s praise him while we can
We lift our voices in rejoice for the battles he has won
He fought and died and sacrificed the life of his own dear son
- He spent his youth, now this is the truth, in the town of Killaloe
From the banks of the Shannon he first saw his enemy, plundering as they go
He raged and swore and knew for sure he’s going to have them pay
He learned to survive and strove all his life to gain all Ireland sway
- The monks that raised him were amazed by his bright and restless mind
His look was sharp and he played the harp, he sure was one of a kind
With song and fight he came to unite, brought the Irish tribes together
Amid Lough Derg he built a church on the ground of Inis Cealtra
- Now, you’re no fool, you went to school, so this isn’t new to you
This Viking fighting High King’s name is, yes … Brian Boru!
But let me sing you one more thing, to most of you not known
That Brian’s wife, the third in his life, felt pretty much alone
- The sun did shine and as a sign of submission to the King
The Dublin Norse sent many a horse and boat with precious things
And up the river the Danes delivered hogsheads of wine and more
Those riches for him were stacked to the brim of Brian’s secret store
- The Princess of Leinster, not much of a spinster, to her the kings were in thrall
The mother of Dublin embittered for the drubbing of Sigtrygg her son above all
This Silken-beard man had a wicked plan to challenge Brian Boru
Which led to a fight where thousands died, indescribable but true
- Now Brian’s third wife she did survive and she was one of the few
Who knew of the store I mentioned before while no one else had a clue
She hid in the house built by her spouse on top of this mighty store
She dressed in deep mourning, but the wine it was pouring, and she never was sober no more
- The day she died she had by her side two pipes of Danish red wine
Her soul coming out was wandering about and couldn’t keep in a straight line
Nor heaven nor hell it was able to tell the difference between up and down
So they say till today her soul is astray, a haunting the drunks of this town!