Friday, 25 March 2016

End of an era: The battle of Clontarf

What better way to celebrate Good Friday than to re-fight the Battle of Clontarf, fought on Good Friday 1014. Our game was fought with 6 players and using Hail Caesar rules. The game was a well-planned custom scenario, which acted as a climactic ending to our Saga campaign.

Objectives and deployment

The battle pit the Norse-Irish controlling Dublin and their Viking allies against a combined Irish host led by the high king Brian Boru. The Northmen had just landed and had their backs to the sea, so were more on the defensive than the Irish. The Irishmen outnumbered the Vikings, and their objective was to destroy as many Viking units as possible, set their ships on fire (by moving into contact) and capture the bridge leading to Dublin. An additional objective was the aged Brian Boru himself, whom the Vikings sought to kill. The deployment and objectives can be seen in the diagram below.

Deployment, which is not strictly historical.

Viking commanders ponder their strategy. Picture by monsieur Mannonen

Mercenary Vikings fighting for the Irish

Viking nudists

Manx Viking and Dublin Viking detachments

Brian Boru, high king of Ireland, oversees the battle

Dal Cais and Munster Irish detachments

Battlelines at dawn


At first light, the two great hosts marched against each other. The Irish army, by far the larger of the two, was an impressive sight to behold. No less formidable were the Vikings, many of whom were clad in mail and were in all respects an intimidating sight. Soon a champion, Thorfinn the hairy chested, of whom a hundred songs had been sung, strode out from the Viking ranks. Thorfinn challenged any man who dared to fight him in single combat. A dark-haired warrior of Munster met the call, and soon the two champions squared off against each other. The Irish warrior was fast, skilled and confident. However, this was no match for the much larger and stronger Northman. A parry, then another and finally a bash from the Viking's shield sent the Irishman reeling. The son of Munster fell, but he did not get up. Thorfinn's shield came crashing down, and the duel was over. The Viking line erupted in a deafening cacophony of bellowing and swords bashing on shields. This would be a good day!

Champions square off

Opening moves

After the usual taunts and duels had been dealt with, the Irish started their advance. There was either treachery or cravenness afoot, as the Irish battle line failed to advance together. The Connacht detachment was eager for a fight and quickly closed with the Manx Vikings to their front. The Dal Cais detachment advanced more cautiously and the boys from Munster retreated (a blunder)!

The Vikings advanced in better order along the whole line. Heavy fighting broke out between the Manx Vikings and Connacht Irish on the left. The Irish got a bloody nose, losing a unit of skirmishers and taking heavy losses and disorder to several other units. While this was going on, the Orkney Vikings on the right advanced on the Viking mercenaries in Irish service and sent them reeling back.

Disorder in the Irish lines

Battle commences on the left flank

The shieldwalls close

On turn 2, the Irish disorder continued. This time it was the Dal Cais detachment in the centre which blundered and made a rapid retreat. The fighting on the left escalated and now both the Connacht Irish and Manx Vikings were fully engaged in a clash between two shieldwalls. The Dublin Vikings in the centre advanced eagerly, ready to outflank the Connacht detachment and win the left flank. The Orkney Vikings on the right routed the last of the mercenary Vikings and advanced into good positions from which to threaten the right flank of the Irish. Things were looking really good for the Vikings!

Turn 2: more chaos (or treachery?) in the Irish lines, as their central detachment makes a rapid retreat

Orkney Vikings prepare to assault the left flank of the Irish line

The Irish strike back

Facing disaster, the Irish finally managed to get their act together and remember that they were men, not sheep. The Dal Cais and Munster detachments charged forward with terrible warcries. The Vikings were caught off-guard and were cut down like wheat. The Orkney Vikings on the right fought badly and took appalling losses. In the centre, the Dublin Vikings had advanced too carelessly and were charged in the flank. The light units meant to guard the flank quickly crumpled, after which the Dal Cais detachment started to roll-up the Dublin Vikings' line. On the left, the Manx Vikings had the upper hand, but the Connacht Irish were putting up a tremendous fight (rolling mostly sixes, the lucky gits).

Irish turn 3

The Viking centre (Dublin Vikings) are outflanked while the fight on the left drags on

Orkney Vikings on the right are beaten back and outflanked in turn

All is lost!

As the sun reached its zenith, the Vikings' position deteriorated quickly from "worrying" to "desperate". The Vikings' centre collapsed remarkably quickly, and soon the Dublin Vikings were fleeing the field. On the right, the Orkney Vikings took further heavy losses, but got in a few punches at the Munster Irish as well. A few units of archers from the Orkney detachment tried to stall the rampaging Dal Cais by charging them in the rear. This resulted in the death of Murehad, the leader of the Dal Cais, but otherwise had little impact.

A glimmer of hope arrived on the left, as the Manx Vikings slew Tadgh Mór, leader of the Connacht detachment and drove off several of the Irish units. However, this was too little and too late. The Dal Cais Irish charged the flank of the Manx Vikings, which tied them down and allowed the Connacht to recover, then charge the Manx Vikings in the other flank. Surrounded and spent, the Vikings could offer little resistance and were hacked down together with Brodir of Man, their leader.

The survivors fled the field. Many drowned in the river Tolka or were cut down by the pursuing Irish. Although a number of the fugitives managed to escape with their ships or break through to Dublin, there was no question about it, this had been a decisive victory for the Irish!

The desperate melee goes on

Outnumbered and surrounded, the Manx Vikings are cut down (after they have driven off the two Irish units on the left)


Although no stranger to the horrors of war, Brian Boru could not hold back his tears. Assisted by his bodyguard, the venerable high king had left his tent, where he had spent the day in prayer, to survey the field of glory in all its gory detail. The heaps of dead foes suggested that this had been a great victory. Yet the king's heart was heavy, for the victory had cost him the life of his son Murchad and grandson Toirdelbach. Many other great chieftains and noble warriors had also been cut down.

Brian Boru was now the indisputable high king of Ireland, but who would follow him? The 70-year old king had other sons, but none whose position was as secure as Murchad's had been. With so many magnates dead, alliances would have to be re-forged. Which of his sons should follow him? Could his position be secured before the high king's time would run out? With these thoughts and a heavy heart, Brian Boru wandered on amidst the dead and dying.


  1. Of course historically both Brian and Murcadh died, but great report all the same; strangely though, you have no mention of Brodir of Man, Sigurd the Stout of Orkney, or Sitric Silkbeard, the Viking King of Dublin.....

    1. In our game, all three of the Viking commanders were slain (Brodir, Sigtrygg and Sigurd). The Manx and Dublin detachments were cut down to the last man and the Orkney Vikings only had some 20% of their force remaining at the end of the game. It was a bloodbath!

    2. Another report of the game at my mates blog: