Produced by: Donal Lunny
Arranged by: Maurice Lennon & Donal Lunny
Recording Engineer: Seamus Brett
Mix Engineer: Tim Martin
Recorded at: Beechpark Studios & Silverstream Studios
Mixed at: Totally Wired
Mastered at: Mid-Atlantic Digital
Design: Creative A.D.
Maurice Lennon - Fiddle & Vocals
Donal Lunny - Bouzouki, Bodhran, Guitar, Keyboards &
Anthony Drennan - Lead Guitar
Seamus Brett - Keyboards & Programming
Máirtín O'Connor - Accordion
Noel Eccles - Percussion
Greg Boland - Programming
Tony Molloy - Bass Guitar
Helen Davies - Metal Strung Harp
Brian Lennon - Flute & Whistles
Mick O'Brien - Uilleann Pipes & Whistles
Mikey Smith - Uilleann Pipes & Whistles
Guest Vocalist - Sean Keane
1) Brian's Theme:
Brian Bóru was born in Ireland in 941. Tribal warfare was a
way of life, but the arrival of the Vikings from Scandinavia
had added a new element. They pillaged monasteries and sold
Irish children abroad as slaves. The Vikings established trading
ports around the coast, building cities where none had been
before. Although the Irish fought the Vikings, some individual
tribes made trade arrangements with them. Some even united with
the foreigners to fight other Irish tribes.
Brian's Theme captures the diverse elements of a century in
turmoil. It also comprises musical conversations between a man
and his family, his land, his Maker. Musicians from throughout
Ireland, north and south, weave their individual talents into
the portrait of one triumphant soul. The driving energy which
would characterise the High King of Ireland is counterbalanced
by a dreaming spirituality. A thread of dark melody reflects
life as a struggle, yet an irrepressible joy lies just beneath
the surface, rising again and again. The music sets the stage
for an epic life
2) The Burning of Boruma: Boruma (Béal Bóru) is an Iron-Age
ringfort on the west bank of the Shannon above present-day Killaloe.
In the tenth century it was home to a tribal king called Cenneide
(Kennedy) and his twelve sons, princes of the Dalcassian tribe.
Cattle had made the Dal gCais wealthy by the standards of the
time. Behind the timber palisades of their stronghold they thought
When Viking longboats came up the Shannon River to plunder Boruma,
Brian witnessed the destruction of his home and many of his
family at the hands of the Northmen. Another child might have
cowered in terror. Brian, the youngest son of that huge family,
reacted with anger. The music captures the determination of
a young boy who will not accept destruction as defeat. In the
dancing, skittering flames, Brian sees his destiny. As soon
as he is old enough, he will rebuild Boruma. Beyond that, he
will rebuild Viking-ravaged Ireland.
3) Gathering the Dal gCais: (pronounced 'Dal Cash') As
soon as he was old enough to take up the sword, young Brian
set out to build an army to drive the foreigners from Ireland.
At first his followers were nothing more than a handful of outlaws;
wild young men with no training and no discipline. He summoned
them to his side from throughout Munster, the southern province
of Ireland, offering nothing more than a chance to fight and
perhaps die for freedom.
Until that time Irish warfare had consisted of a wild, reckless
charge and savage hand-to-hand combat. Brian Bóru changed that.
He was no ignorant country boy, but a prince who had been educated
in the great monastic schools of his time; schools which made
Ireland famous for her scholars. Brian had read of Caesar and
Charlemagne and Alfred the Great and studied their military
tactics. Day after day was devoted to drilling and weapons practice
until Brian felt his men were ready. When the time came to fight,
he was determined to win.
The music lets us take part in the martial rhythms of a young
army preparing for war. We hear the swing of the sword, the
thrust of the javelin - and the deadly slice through the air
of the Viking axe, an innovation Brian introduces to the Irish.
4) Mystical Powers: In tenth century Ireland the Christian
religion was firmly established. Yet the ancient magic lingered.
The Old Religion of the mystical Druids was still very much
alive. Occasionally its wild heart came breaking through, reminding
the Irish of the magic to be found in woods and streams, mountains
On the cusp between paganism and Christianity, Brian Bóru partook
of both. In order to gain political support he placed twenty
ounces of gold on the Church altar at Armagh. But he also prayed,
in the silence of his soul, to the ancient spirits. They could
confer powers beyond the ability of priest and bishop. Like
the Druids, Brian saw Ireland as a woman: eternally youthful
and beautiful, an immortal bride to be wooed and won. In this
music we see her in all her radiance, peeping from a leafy glade,
watching the young man who has given her his heart
5) Lá Ollamh: (pronounced 'Law Ullive') With the help
of Brian and his outlaw army, Brian's older brother Mahon defeated
the local Vikings and brought the Dalcassian tribe to power
in the province of Munster. Mahon became king of the province,
which he ruled from the Rock of Cashel. Brian served devotedly
as commander of his forces.
Ireland had many facets. One of these was her justly celebrated
craftsmanship. Irish rivers and mountains glinted with gold,
and Irish goldsmiths were considered the finest in Europe. Even
the smallest monastery possessed a fortune in jewel-encrusted
chalices, gold crosses, and items of precious metal. This great
wealth had been what first lured the Vikings to Ireland.
In the music we hear Brian visiting the market below the great
Rock. Market Day is always exciting. People move from stall
to stall, buying and selling, quarrelling over price, admiring
the skill of the artisans. Brian pauses to watch a master goldsmith,
or ollamh, at work. The hammer of the smith - whether working
in gold, silver, copper, or iron - is as rhythmic as the beating
of Ireland's heart. It speaks of a people of great culture and
6) Saint Patrick's Cross: Mahon was murdered by a conspiracy
between the Vikings of Limerick and an envious Irish tribal
king. Brian set out to avenge his brother's death. Although
still only in his twenties, he defeated a huge combined army
at Sulcoit, establishing his own supremacy in Munster.
The ceremony which inaugurated Brian as king of the province
was approached with great reverence. A large crowd gathered
on the Rock of Cashel.
At the foot of the Cross of Saint Patrick, Brian knelt and prayed.
Saint Patrick had encouraged the New Religion in Ireland. Brian
Bóru meant to encourage a new Ireland: one where every man and
woman could live without fear. Being king of Munster was only
the first step. When the gold circlet and the staff of kingship
are bestowed upon Brian, the music lets us share his feelings.
Although he is still grieving for his brother, his heart is
full of gratitude for God's kindness that has brought him to
this time and place. Beyond the Rock, the green land waits for
7) Stone of Destiny: Long years of planning,
fighting, and clever statesmanship culminated in triumph in
1002. At Tara, Brian Bóru was inaugurated as Árd Rí: High King
of Ireland. This made him the king of all the kings, and gave
him the power to build a nation.
At the moment of kingship Brian stepped upon a great grey stone
called the Lia Fáil, the Stone of Destiny. The stone had been
brought to Ireland thousands of years earlier by the Tuatha
de Danann, the Magic People. It possessed the unique ability
to recognise a true king, and would shriek aloud when one mounted
it. Brian Bóru was the last High King for whom the Lia Fáil
As the music tells us, the ceremony on Tara represents more
than kingship. Although it is attended by priests and bishops,
something older is taking place. According to the ancient Druid
tradition this is the ritual marriage of the king to the land;
of Brian to Ireland, the immortal bride he has wooed all his
8) Aisling: Brian Bóru had married Ireland. She was his
dream, his vision, or aisling, and for twelve years he cared
for her with all the wisdom at his command. They were years
of unprecedented prosperity. Schools were built, monasteries
restored, roads repaired, looted treasures brought back to Irish
shores. The annalists tell us Brian also kept the land free
of crime during that period; a miracle of kingship. But it could
In 1014 a disaffected Irish tribe revolted against his authority
and joined with a fresh wave of invading Vikings. Their aim
was to overthrow Brian and plunder Ireland anew. By now Brian
was an old man in his seventy-third year. He was far from weak,
however. In the preceding year he actually had killed a man
in single combat. He determined to gather his armies and march
across Ireland to confront this latest challenge.
First, however, he must gather the mystical forces which helped
him to power in the first place. Brian will be fighting for
more than the land. The music tells us he will be fighting for
his pride, for his sons and their sons, for his dream of Irish
freedom. Ireland has given him the will to survive and endure.
Now he must ask her one more favour. Stay awake for me, Ireland!
he implores. I have paid the price of victory. Be with me to
the end and give me this one last triumph.
9) Brian Bóru's March: One of the oldest known pieces
of Irish music, this famous march represents Brian and his army
making their way across Ireland to confront the invaders at
Clontarf. As a prelude to battle it is dark, determined, strong
music; music with the insistent beat of thousands of marching
men. They beat the drum and played the pipes as they went, to
keep up their spirits and summon allies to the cause. This is
the ultimate battle music. Although the raven of Death beats
its wings in the background, the invincible spirit of Life refuses
to admit the possibility of defeat.
10) Tree of Sorrows: There was no defeat. At the Battle
of Clontarf, Brian gave the Irish the greatest military victory
they would ever have. But at a terrible price.
Brian's sons refused to let him fight in the battle. He was
too valuable to Ireland. They insisted that he observe from
a safe place while they carried out his commands. Throughout
the long, bloodsoaked day of Good Friday, 1014, Brian Bóru watched
from the high ground of Tomar's Wood while waves of invaders
came ashore from the Viking ships in Dublin Bay. He saw his
men beat them back, step by step. His sons and his grandson
were in the forefront of the battle, their banners brilliant
in the sunlight.
As twilight fell, the screams of battle gave way to the moans
of the dead and dying. All of the enemy leaders were slain.
Tragically, among the Irish dead was Murrough, the eldest son
of Brian Bóru; the man he had trained to succeed him in the
kingship. Without Murrough Brian's long-range plans for Ireland
could never come to fruition.
In the music we hear Brian leave the royal tent and walk to
a huge oak tree nearby. He places his palms against the tree
in the way of the Druids, speaking to the ancient spirit within.
His head is bowed with sorrow. He stands there listening to
the rustling leaves, the soughing of the rising wind from the
sea. Gradually comfort seeps into him. The tree was old before
he was born and its descendants will grow in Ireland long after
Brian Bóru is dead. Life contains within itself the seeds of
11) My Reign Is Over: With the death of his son Murrough,
the dynasty Brian Bóru had sought to establish died too. His
other sons lacked their father's genius and would not be able
to hold together what Brian had won. That evening in Tomar's
Wood Brian was aware of this. His dream ended there. He had
done his best and crowned his life with an incomparable triumph.
The Northmen were defeated once and for all; no great fleet
would set sail from Scandinavia again to plunder the green island.
A different destiny would await Ireland. But Brian would not
be there to shape it. The prescience of the Druids was deep
in his bones. In the dying light of the dying day, he could
see the future. The time had come for him to go away. As the
wheel of time turns, everyone goes away.
The final track contains his farewell to Ireland. In it he sums
up his achievements with a mixture of pride and regret. So much
done, so much still to do. So much he would love to have told
those who will come after him. But he will not have the chance.
He can only hurl his unconquerable spirit into the darkness
ahead, urging them to get on with it. Brian Bóru's reign is
© Morgan Llywelyn, 2001
12) Epilogue - Extracts from Kincora - a poem written
by Brian's personal Bard, MacLiag, shortly after his death.
Translated by James Clarence Mangan ©
Special thanks to, Morgan Llywelyn, Finbar
Furey, James Delaney, Greg Boland, Eamon McElholm and Charlie
McGettigan for their help. To my parents Pat and Ben for their
encouragement. To my children Sally, Shane, Ailbhe & April.
To my best friend Sandra. And last but not least - The secret
seven, - Ciara, Shane & Alan, Damilola, Sarah, James and Megan.
Cover Illustrations courtesy of National Library
Inside Photo's (Shield & Sword) courtesy of National Museum