The year 2014 heralded the 1000th anniversary of the death at the Battle of Clontarf of the Irish High-king Brian Boru. As this battle, in which the Irish were victorious, marked the end of the centuries-long threat of Viking domination, Brian became a national icon. Indeed, he can be described as one of the best-known and most influential figures in Irish history.
His career path from the chieftaincy of a North Munster family, subsequently named O’Briens (Uí Bhriain) after him, reached an initial high-point with his accession as King of Munster at the ancient royal seat of Cashel. It was only after he had achieved this honour that he set his eyes on further advancement by working towards his final goal: to become High-king of Ireland.
Intent on having his newly achieved standing acknowledged by the premier Irish church of Armagh, he famously presented gold (generally acknowledged ever since the story of the Adoration of the Magi as a symbol of kingship) to the altar of St Patrick. Furthermore, he had his name entered in the Book of Armagh as Brian imperator Scotorum [Brian, emperor of the Irish].
During 2014, a number of commemorations were held around Ireland, among them a conference at Cashel on 25-27 April. As opposed to other sites connected with Brian Boru, such as Clontarf, the royal Munster seat of kingship survives as a magnificent and much-visited site. Indeed, Cashel has recently been nominated, together with other royal sites for World Heritage status.
The Cashel conference will focus on the concept of kingship, especially as interpreted in Christian terms by Brian, his forebears and successors. The Rock of Cashel attests to the efforts of Munster kings, including Brian’s direct descendents, to show-case their royal aspirations by the provision of architecturally unique buildings, some of them known through excavation, but most of them still visible in situ. Also, in order to identify possible influences from abroad, royal sites and rituals of coronation, both in Scandinavia and Imperial Germany, will be examined.
Fortuitously, 2014 also marked the 1200th anniversary of the death of Charlemagne (Karl der Grosse), first German Holy Roman Emperor, who is often described as pater Europae. Together with his successors, Charlemagne may have provided a role model for Brian Boru and an inspiration for the extensive literature posthumously written in honour of one of Ireland’s greatest kings.