This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Monday, April 23, 2012

April 23 -- Feast of Blessed Brian Boru

Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig
Brian Boru, son of Kennedy, is identified in some of the hagiographic sources as Bryan Boroimha O'Kennedy.  I'm guessing it means the same thing, but it's a roadblock in tracking him down.

I read that he was the first king of united Ireland.  Then I read that the Ui Neill dynasty had been claiming the high kingship of Ireland for about six hundred years before Brian staked his claim.

I read that he drove the Vikings from Ireland.  Then I read that the Danes who settled in Ireland had been assimilating for a couple hundred years before Brian's reign.  The Vikings might have invaded, but they never conquered the island, so they could not be overthrown or driven from it.  In fact, Brian's home territory of Munster had many Hiberno-Norse settlements in it; Brian's army is believed to have benefited from the superior weapons and ships introduced by the Norse.
57 Center Street, Portland Maine

So why does this guy have one of Portland's finest pubs named after him?  And why is he considered a beatus?  The answer has two parts.

Where are these places you're talking about?
First, he subdued a neighboring kingdom, forcing the High King of the Ui Neill dynasty named Máel Sechnaill to acknowledge his sovereignty.  That made him High King in the south.  However, the Ui Neill of the north attacked Brian's new kingdom of Leinster; worse,  the Hiberno-Norse Kingdom of Dublin allied with Brian's enemies.  In AD 999, their armies met at the Battle of Glen Mama; after fierce fighting, Brian's army prevailed.  More eager for security than revenge, Brian restored the defeated king of Dublin, Sigtrygg Silkbeard. Sigtrygg was even given one of Brian's daughters in marriage, and Brian married Sigtrygg's mom, the former wife of the northern high king, Máel Sechnaill.  And you thought Showtime's The Tudors was a steamy little soap opera.

Brian chose to go on the offensive against his wife's ex-husband.   Invading Meath in 1002, he defeated Mael Sechneill and forced him to acknowledge that he, Brian, was the new High King of Ireland.

King Mael Sechniall of Meath
Second, in order to be more than a nominal high king, Brian wedded his own centralization of power to the centralization of Church authority.  He made a generous donation to the monastery at Armagh, and then proclaimed it the religious capital of Ireland and instructed all other monasteries to deposit their treasure there.  If the vision of a united, Catholic Ireland was first imagined by Brian Boru, how could he not be at least a beatus, if not a full saint?

Epilogue:  Brian didn't hold the High Kingship very long.  Mael Morda, king of Leinster, enlisted a horde of Danes from the Isle of Man and the Orkney Islands, and raised an insurrection.  Brian and his sons (and their army) met the rebel force on Good Friday (April 23, 1014), at Clontarf, just north of Dublin.  It was a Pyrrhic victory for the High King.   He won the battle but lost his life, leaving his old rival Mael Sechniall to reclaim the high kingship.  Ireland slid back into its balkanized condition of perpetual border wars.  But, for one brief shining moment...

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