Brian Boru’s March

Brian Boru’s March, played on the harp by Lesley MacLeod, takes us back 1000 years to a battle which left its mark on northern history – and is featured in several ways in the 2014 Festival programme. At Clontarf, outside Dublin, on Good Friday 1014 Earl Sigurd of Orkney with his raven banner faced the army of the Irish high king Brian Boru, and was defeated.

The story of the battle is told in our online magazine Frontiers, and how the Norse king of Dublin and the Irish king of Leinster rose against King Brian and brought in the Orkney earl to assist them.

The Isle of Man Post Office this year issued a special set of commemorative stamps designed by the artist Victor Ambrus, illustrator for the Time Team as well as, remarkably, several hundred books.

In the Festival this year we will look at some unusual aspects of the battle – how, for instance, a 19th-century Irish scientist made tidal calculations for the River Liffey’s shore to verify one of the details of the battle from an old Irish chronicler: how it began at sunrise, with a high tide coinciding.

We will also hear how a vision of a web of fate surrounding the battle sheds light on ancient pictures of the world – and some modern ones as well.

We will hear about the structure of Icelandic sagas, and how they highlight chains of cause and effect, and we will have readings from the greatest saga of them all, Njals saga, which includes eye-witness accounts of Clontarf, in a concert in St Magnus Cathedral with music from a selection of northern composers.

We will also investigate if it could be possible, through steadily advancing DNA techniques, to trace back Orcadian lineages of today as far as saga times and the days of Earl Sigurd himself.