Ecumenical service to mark the occasion of the Battle of Clontarf, Saint John the Baptist Church, Dublin

23 Apr 2014

We are gathered in a multi-faith context of prayer, as people committed to fostering peace and reconciliation.  The occasion is the millennial anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf, April 23rd 1014, in which the High King of Ireland through battle rather than descent, referred to in the Book of Armagh as the ‘Emperor of the Irish’, was victorious, despite being beheaded by the fleeing Brodar.  Neither the battle not the excruciating death of Broder, wrapping him around a tree with his own entrails, could be described as a ‘Master Class’ in conflict resolution:  They were tough times, brutal warfare and not for the faint-hearted.

A huge victory at a time when our neighbour, King Ethelred of England, had fallen into the hands of the Danes.  Over half of the population of Dublin at the time died in the Battle of Clontarf.  Yet it was a landmark victory, securing the High Kingship of Ireland and putting the foreign invaders to flight.

What was Brian praying for when slain in prayer on Good Friday, April 23rd, 1014?  How does God hear prayers in war times?  Was Brian’s prayer answered in his death; the impaling of his 15 year old grandson; the blood soaked battle field, and crimson sea at Clontarf?  How was God feeling looking on as all those ‘created in his own image and likeness’ butchering each other on the memorial day of his Son’s crucifixion.  A thousand years on, little had changed.  Again a further 1000 years on, 2 World Wars; the Holocaust; the 20th Anniversary of Rwanda genocide.  This week we remember the 1916 children.  God took a huge risk giving us free will.  Yet it is the only way it can be.  The paths of conflict resolution, the way of peace and reconciliation are in our hands.  There will be no “dividing of the Red Sea” or “infliction of plagues” –  except the ones we inflict on each other.  God does not operate ‘Direct Rule’ – it is indirect.  It is through the hearts and minds of those made in his image and likeness, all of us are tasked with being custodians and developers of this Universe, all of us as equal members of the human family.  ‘For you have only one Father who is God and you are all brothers and sisters’ Mt 23:8.  It is we who make war or peace.

This is a gathering in commitment to fostering and promoting peace and reconciliation.  1014 was long before the divisions of the Reformation.  A fixing of our compass earnestly in the direction of Christian Unity is within our gift, with God’s Word leading us in truth and trust with a faith that can move mountains, why not?  A common mindset is the key.  Never doing separately what can be done together is a helpful mantra.  It is only when I look back to growing up in Celbridge in the 40s, 50s and 60s that I can see how close we are to coming back together.  The journey ahead, like all long journeys, is taken a step at a time.  Journeys end – ‘your house or mine’ is in God’s hands.

This commemoration of the Battle of Clontarf nudges us to reflect on the centre of gravity of peace.  In this year’s message for World Day of Peace, Pope Francis highlighted fraternity as an essential human quality for peace.  It is the foundation and first pathway to peace.  Seeing each other as sisters and brothers of God’s family, enables us to see with a ‘fraternal optic’.  In the Bible we are descendents of common parents.  Cain, through jealousy, disregards the call to fraternity.  Similar disregarding of fraternity, whether through desires for power, greed, unbridled individualism, or whatever, are still alive in 2014.  To focus on fraternity, the first reading invites us ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob…. that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths…  let us walk in the light of the Lord’. (Is 2:2-5).  Cain retorted to God when asked where Abel was, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’  Fraternity implies that we are ‘all our sister’s and brother’s keeper’.  This is family language where the ill, the weakest, the stray, get more time, and no one believes it’s unfair, because their needs at the time are greater.

Taking the fraternity language out into wider society does not always travel well.  As it is, lost sight of inequalities develop and unspoken attitudes like ‘it is good enough for them’ become currency.  Tags like ‘loser’; ‘low life’, ‘scum’, are affixed to people.

Disdain replaces respect and fraternity.  I asked a young child at Confirmation ‘What gift would you like’, he replied, ‘Respect’ because I don’t respect anyone and I don’t like that about myself’. He had wisdom and insight beyond his years.

Fraternity with respect, without judging people, is the framework for mind and heart of anyone on the journey towards peace.

In the reading from Roman’s there is the encouraging exhortation:  ‘If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all’ (Romans 12:18)

By extending our peripheral vision of life with a fraternity sense, grooved with respect, the pathways of peace will become more travelled.

Pope John Paul reaffirmed, ‘Peace is an indivisible good.  Either it is good for all or good for none’.

The brutality of the Battle of Clontarf has occasioned us with the opportunity to reflect on peaceful resolution to conflict and remembering we are sisters and brothers regardless of differences.  Peace be with you.  


May I thank Reverend Lesley Robinson, Rector of Saint John the Baptist for inviting me as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s representative to give the address at today’s gathering in prayer. 

Bishop Eamonn Walsh is Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin