Finding the Brian Boru Sword

March 5th, 2004 by Mike O'Brien

The replica, seen here, was made by Ted O’Brien, based on the original which has disappeared.

A sample letter to the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Republic of Ireland.
For more information about the Taoiseach, go to taoiseach.gov.ie.


Mr. Bertie Ahern T.D
Taoiseach
Department of the Taoiseach
Government Offices
Upper Merrion Street
Dublin 2,
Ireland

Dear Taoiseach,

Brian Boru’s sword is more than just an O’Brien family heirloom, it is part of the common heritage that all Irish people share, as well as being a tangible connection to the man who first united Ireland one thousand years ago.

The Garda has an Arts and Antiquities unit that could be given the task of finding the sword and seeing that it is preserved in a museum as a national treasure.

We O’Briens request your support for a government policy to recover the stolen sword of Brian Boru and to preserve and display it in a museum for all the Irish to see.

The sword of Brian Boru is a tangible link to the man who first united Ireland, and is more than a family heirloom, it is an Irish national treasure.  It is hoped that during this 1000 year anniversary period (2002-2014), the Brian Boru sword may be located.

Respectfully,

(your name)

14 Responses to “Finding the Brian Boru Sword”

  • mathghamhna Says:

    http://collectibles.about.com/od/politicalmemorabilia/ig/Heritage–Civil-War-Auction/General-Mahone-s-Sword.htm

    It takes a great sword to call a great sword.
    One Down.
    One To Go.

    Soon.

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    Paul O'Brien Reply:

    Brilliant plan mathghamhna! I presume you intend to use the sword of Major General William Mahone as a divining rod?

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  • mathghamhna Says:

    No Paul, although the poetry of my magic can not be denied! lol

    You see, Paul, the TRUE SPIRIT Of The Sword is:
    “The Sword Of The Spirit.”
    The Man through whom it is wielded.

    Let it be said that on this day, true to my promise of SOON…
    I met with and spoke with the man I was looking for.
    March 25, 2012 AD.
    My Mother’s Birthday!
    How cool is that?!

    Blessings,
    Mahoney

    Cheers!
    A Blessed Reunion.
    Well Met Indeed.

    The” hardware” WILL follow in good time, Paul.
    Thank you for your good faith and continued support.

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  • Dave Says:

    That is a 16th century Claymore and 500 years too late for Boru. It may be a replica but only of a 16th Cen Sword. See here for details http://claiomh.blogspot.com/2011/05/claymore-c1550-1600.html

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  • Mike O'Brien Says:

    I’m sorry but you obviously did not do your homework.
    The brian Boru sword is a ‘Lewing’ sword, not a claymore. The lewing sword was used for swinging and not for stabbing. The lewing sword would be used to bring down a horse and then a shorter sword or knife was used to kill the rider.

    The average claymore is 41 to 43 inches long and has a point..
    The Brian Boru sword is 66 inches long and has a rounded end. The blade alone is 46 inches long with an 18 inch handle.

    Your claymore is engraved and has a blood groove that runs the length of the sword.
    The Brian Boru does not have full length blood groove but several short grooves.

    You will also notice that the claymore has a supporting piece which extends out onto the blade.
    The Brian Boru has no supporting piece on the blade.

    Your claymore also has a wooden handle.
    The Brian Boru sword has a wire/rope wound handle.

    The replica pictured was made from an original picture taken about 1940 with the 17th Baron Inchiquin and his wife at Clontarf Castle. This sword disappeared after that. I can send you a copy of that photo if needed. I also have a replica of the same sword in my home.

    There are several armories who claim to have a Brian Boru replica for sale. Don’t be fooled. When they were asked to make a replica to the measurements required, they all declined because they said it was too big. They made smaller versions and claim them to be the correct size. They were told to change their advertising but they refused. They even threatened to sue me until I presented the correct measurements and photos to their lawyers.

    Mike

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    Dave Reply:

    Hi Mike,
    Thanks for your reply. Fair enough ‘lewing’ sword it is. I am more than happy to be corrected on such things. I’ve not seen other lewings with this furniture but there you go. There is a lot of nonsense on-line about the Boru Sword, most of it coming from the same sources. This makes research difficult. I have pitched my argument better elsewhere on this site I believe so must have dropped my main point on this thread, forgive me. I’m not arguing that anyone has made replicas or based upon versions of the ‘Clontarf Castle sword’. I offered that blogs image to show that the form and fashion was similar. My main point is the furniture of that sword is not in keeping with the early 11th Century and this sword type is from a lot later on. ‘Lewing’ may be a term used to describe a given sword with a given function but does not describe the furniture, which, by its fashion, can date a sword or it’s construction/make-up. The Clontarf Castle sword has obviously been associated with Brian by someone at some point, likely to fit the stories or indeed some peoples expectations.
    If you have similar examples from the archeological record from an 11th century context I’d love to see them. I contend that this sword is not from Boru’s era.

    Regards,
    Dave.

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    Dave Reply:

    Slight edit, dropped a line> *’lewing’…does not describe it’s construction/make-up.

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  • James O'Neill O'Brien Says:

    Thank you Mike!

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  • Dave Says:

    I would like to add, At the same time I do agree that this family heirloom should be found, if that is possible, and it is still a valid piece in that context.

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  • James O'Neill O'Brien Says:

    We’ve narrowed the list of suspects in the theft of the Brian Boru Sword to either MI-6 or some drunk university students!

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  • Christophe Says:

    One wonders why this sword still claimed to be the sword of Brian Boru when that is clearly impossible? There is not one single serious academic paper on Irish swords that thinks this sword is from the 10thC. It has been proven conclusively that it is a form of Scottish claymore. Now before anyone leaps in an says, “yes, but there’s a rivet on this one that isn’t on another one from Scotland” please understand that the manufacture of swords was not on homogenous or standardised – swords produced in particular armouries were different from those made down the road, that was the reality of pre-industrial scale arms manufacture. Also, surprisingly enough, because many swords were made for a particular client, they could be tailor made, customised to suit their personal tastes and the prevailing fashion of the times meaning there was a great deal of variation between individual examples.

    In the article “Sixteenth Century Swords Found in Ireland” Hayes-McCoy demonstrates that the blade in question was probably manufactured in Germany due the ‘running wolf’ makers mark on the blade which was a ‘trademark’ of the workshops in Passau and later Solingen. It was not uncommon for blank unmounted blades to be imported from the continent to be made up into complete swords at a local level, allowing for local cultural difference, tastes, etc. to be expressed. Hayes-McCoy suggests that the sword was a German manufactured blade, mounted in Scotland and transported to Ireland with one of the various groups of Scottish mercenaries. There were a number of other marks on the blade which are all attributable to Spanish and Italian sword makers with Hayes-McCoy suggesting that the German smiths ‘borrowed’ the makers marks from the others to improve the credentials of the sword.

    There are no extant two handed swords from any 10thC northern European culture. Indeed two handed swords do not appear in the historical record until at least the early 15thC.

    The term “lewing sword” does not appear on any other site aside from this one (or those that reference this site) and does not seem to relate to any known sword typology.

    No sword has a ‘blood groove’. This is a complete misunderstanding of sword manufacture and construction. The ‘grooves’ in swords are actually called fullers and were designed to reduce the overall weight of the blade by removing steel from the centre but at the same time not reducing its overall strength. In some cases fullers were used for decoration with three or more narrow fullers replacing one large central one.

    Hayes-McCoy also points out that the handle of turned wood was a later addition and that the pommel was probably bronze plated and possibly also the crossguard.

    These swords were not used for thrusting, they were used for large sweeping strokes and as such it would be very rare that the point came into play. Scottish and European two handers were designed to depend upon momentum and reach. Whether the sword has a rounded or pointed tip is irrelevant to the overall typology of these weapons.

    Interestingly looking at the source of the original attribution of the sword to Brian Boru it seems pretty fragile as evidence. Again, from Hayes-McCoy:
    “This is the sword which was ascribed to no less a person than Brian Boru at least as long ago as the beginning of the last century. It was then in Rostellan Castle, Co. Cork, the seat of the Marquess of Thomond. A gatekeeper at the castle told Crofton Croker of it about 1820, saying that it had belonged to “my lord’s ancestor, King of all Munster “?he might have said of all Ireland? and adding that Brian Boru’s “fowling piece” was preserved with it.

    So there we have it, not only was the 16thC sword attributed to Brian Boru but also there was a musket the great king was also meant to have owned. If that’s the case then I wonder why Brian didn’t just blow Brodir away?

    All in all it is next to impossible that the sword in question has any connection with Brian Boru or the 10thC. That said, it is sad that the sword has gone missing as it appears to have been a fine example of a sword carried by a galloglaich in the service of one of the Irish lords of the 16thC.

    [Reply]

    Joshua O'Brien Reply:

    Christoper,

    I definately agree. After years of painstaking research of my own. Plus being a traditional european martial artist, and my own understanding of Celtic Warfare of that century, i.e. sword, shield, spear and axe. It is IMPOSSIBLE for the sword depicted in the original photo to have been of the 9th or 10th century. In fact, swords that large were only in usage for a limited amount of time in Europe, about 100 years or so around the 15th century.

    I have to admit. At first, I vied for the sword to be real. But I would be fooling myself if I denied the mountain of evidence to the contrary. The fact is that metal of that age was VERY brittle. That is the biggest reason why swords rarely became longer than 30 inches. Swords were rare anyhow. The swords that were made were not flexeable either, coming in contact with a wooden sheild would likely break a sword of that time period.

    The MOST LIKELY candidate for a kings sword for the 8th to 9th century, and what I am convinced Brian would have had access to and used, would be an Ulfberht(+ULFBERH+T). If you don’t know anything about swords, this is the holy grail of european swords. Ulfberht was a sword “brand” in the viking culture that was made from a quality of steel not seen again until the industrial revolution, no exaggeration.

    Importantly, this was a viking sword technology. More importantly is that at the Battle of Clontarf, over a 1000 of Brians’ allies were Dublin Vikings. Viking settlement was already an assimulated part of irish culture by this battle. The “vikings” they were fighting off were Danish.

    What is REALLY interesting is that recently an Ulfbert was found in Ballinderry 36 miles away from Clonintarf dating from the same time period as the battle of Clontarf, making the arguement even stronger in favor of the sword being Ulfberht.

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    Christopher Lee Reply:

    Joshua,
    Agree with everything you have said! I also practiced German longsword until a ruptured disc stopped me (wasn’t related to injury during practice). Like yourself, I have read extensively on early gaelic warfare and military history. Also, I would say that the Ballinderry sword is my favorite viking era sword, if only i could afford a nice repro. But yes, Boru would have had a top line viking style sword such as the Ballinderry or any of the other types found at Kilmainham. No doubt you are aware, but for other readers, the book ‘Swords of the Viking Age’ by Brian Peirce contains wonderful pictures of many of the 10thC swords found in Ireland.

    I also took exception to the proposal to put a 16thC Scottish mercenary sword in the hand of the godawful statue of Boru that was suggested. It is almost insulting to the idea of Irish nationalism to put a sword in the hand of an Irish king which is the quintessential Scottish claymore. Yes, scottish mercenaries did fight for the irish kings, but they also fought for the english against the irish, and were used by the irish kings against each other in the disunity that allowed the conquest of Ireland. So the claymore is hardly a good symbol of Irish national spirit.

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  • Joshua O'Brien Says:

    Good to hear that! I’m sorry to hear about your back. It is a very vigorous sport for sure (sword fighting). It gives you a great deal of respect for the people who had to do it for a living.

    What I would like to do is have someone do some real research on what he might have had,its likely he is buried with it. Western civilization at the time saw swords as battlefield tools less than a heredetary item. With all the movies and anime from Japan, I think the world perception of weapons in the old world was very respectful and pious for its weapons. Quite the contrary, swords were purposefully distroyed at the end of battles and buried with the owner so in the next life the enemy couldn’t use his weapon against you a second time after you die!!!

    Traditional weaponry at the time involved 2 axes (one for throwing), spear, sword (if owned), and shield. None of the chivalrous ‘he-man’ sword swingning like in Braveheart (also full of make believe).

    Warfare at the time would have involved a wall of shields, like the phalanx, overlapped with the group moving together. King Brian would have put himself in great danger by swinging his sword around carelessly, and as you’ve probably experienced, it is VERY taxing on the body to swing a sword for a few minutes, none the less an hour or half the day! Again, bunk.

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