If your mind is anything like mine, you have wondered and imagined what important historical figures may have looked like in the flesh. Before the photograph came into play -- and even centuries before its forerunner, the Daguerrotype, came on the scene -- men and women of high status and important positions were posed for portraits by the best painters of their own days. However, when you go back far enough, you begin looking at eras where having portraits done for the sake posterity either wasn’t done, or we simply have no such portraits extant.

Today is April 23, 2014, and this is a day that marks the millennial anniversary of the epic Battle of Clontarf. 1,000 years ago on this very day, Brian Boru -- recognised as the first High King of Ireland -- led his troops into battle against the army of the King of Leinster, Máel Mórda mac Murchada. There’s plenty more about the battle itself and the after effects here within The Wild Geese community; you can check that out here.

The mind wonders about the physical appearance of a man like Brian Boru. What sort of clothing did he wear? Did he routinely wear a crown? What colour was his hair? And, surely, he had a beard? I’m not aware of any record that describes Boru’s appearance (if you know of one, let me know in the comments section below). So, any depiction of Boru is simply down to the imagination of the artist.

I thought it would be interesting to compile some of the paintings, drawings, sculptures, and the like that have been produced through the years showing artists’ concept of Ireland’s first High King. When you place a large number of these depictions together, it’s interesting to see the both the differences and similarities between the artists’ imagination of Brian Boru. Some of these are quite realistic in appearance, and others are intended to be a bit silly.  I suppose there's a bit of everything in between, as well.

I hope you enjoy this collection. If you come across any others you’d like to share, please include the image in a comment below.

Related Content:

Video: "Brian Boru's March"

Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf

The Battle of Clontarf

How the Battle of Clontarf Unfolded

Views: 1948

Tags: Brian Boru, Clontarf, History of Ireland, Visual Arts

Comment by Bit Devine on April 23, 2014 at 5:57pm

in 2011, whilst in Cobh, I became separated from my better half, his mother & neices. Having searched for them for the better part of an hour, I sat down upon a wall near where we had parked to wait their inevitable return.

An elder Cobh gentleman asked me for whom I might be waiting. I said I had lost the rest of my party and was waiting their return. He asked if it was the "Boru fellow with the big lens and camera" , an older lady and two young girls. I chuckled and said "Boru Looking" could be... and it was... so add this to the images of what he might look like... ;-)

Comment by Fran Reddy on April 24, 2014 at 12:10pm

Looks like the consensus was that before Boru was grey, his hair was red ; )

Comment by James McNamara on May 16, 2014 at 12:26am

Ryan, the story of Brian Boru, but especially his story at Clontarf is most interesting.  He was 73 years old on this Good Friday and did not lead his army into battle.  His son would likely have been the point man of this battle,  I have a great account of this event, and his death was said to have happened in his tent, not long after he learned of the death of his son during the battle.  I will try to put this account here in the near future.

BTW, I do remember seeing a magazine article online many years ago, and if I remember correctly it stated that the O'Brien clan chief had in his possession Brian's sword.  He kept it in his apartment.  It was stolen not long after this magazine article (1960).  I thought it a shame this sword was not kept in a museum and now it's lost to us except for that image.  Here is a bit on this including a plea for the return of the sword: 


Comment by Gearoid on September 26, 2017 at 2:49am

I've always been a little intrigued by this alright. I live near Killaloe where his memory will never fade. On page 110 of Newman's biography, he is described as having "a long forehead above a prominent nose - features said to be inherited by his descendents". I have no idea though why he wrote that or where he sourced it.


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