- Title - Former Queen of Ireland
- Likes - Marrying kings
- Dislikes - Ex-husbands
The consort of kings, mother of future rulers, and possibly the power behind the throne.
The Battle of Clontarf is often told in simplistic terms as Irish Christians repelling Viking pagan invaders, but the truth is much more complex than that. No-one personifies this complexity more so than Gormlaith ingen Murchada.
Key participants in the Battle of Clontarf included Gormlaith’s two ex-husbands and a son on the ‘Irish’ side; and another son, a brother, and two potential suitors on the ‘Norse’ side, as well as numerous other family connections.
Daughter of a King of Leinster, her mother may have been a slave or servant in the King’s household. At fifteen Gormlaith married Olaf Cuaran, an ally of her father, and many decades her senior.
Olaf was then one of the most influential Viking rulers in the Irish sea region, with command over York, Northumbria, Dublin and beyond. Gormlaith’s son with Olaf – Sitric, known as Silkbeard – became the great Norse King of Dublin.
After Olaf’s death, Gormlaith continued to court or be courted by the most powerful men in the territories, marrying both Mael Sechnaill Mac Domhnaill and Brian Boru, though the exact dates and order of these marriages is not known.
Much more about Gormlaith remains obscure. Over 1,000 years fact and legend have become impossibly tangled. Sovereignty figure, woman scorned, trophy wife or skilled manipulator, the real Gormlaith is hard to pin down.
Sources disagree about the extent of her involvement in the events of 1014, some blaming her for everything, painting her as a femme fatale in classic mode, with others writing her out of the accounts altogether.
In our Twitter retelling of the story of 1014, the fascinating web of connections around Gormlaith helps us to illuminate the human relationships, ambitions and rivalries that led to the most famous battle in Irish history.