April 2009

It Could Be Worse

Author:  Craig Hysell

Ahh, springtime in the States. Our house begins to renew itself. Perspective feels a little warmer, smells a little better, looks a little prettier. The literal rejuvenation of the earth refreshes the ephemeral spirit in all of us, and the idea of what’s possible somehow seems easier to believe in… and then our allergies flare up, our eyes itch and our noses fill with goo.
Life is full of bubbles and busts, ups and downs, here’s and there’s. One day you’re living the dream; the next day a naked guy shows up at your door asking for loose change and holding a tattered box of Girl Scout cookies he’s trying to sell for 20 dollars. It happens. But what we must never lose sight of is this: With every good comes some bad, and with every bad comes some good. (Naked guy selling cookies: bad. Amusing story to tell your friends: good.) More than any other virtue in life, perspective teaches us that time and patience are the benefactors of understanding. It’s true. Things could always be worse. Until that day when your time runs out…

The Battle of Clontarf
In the relatively brief period of human history, some seriously bad things have happened on Good Friday. So many that one might wonder if “Good Friday” is one of those ironic nicknames you get in life like Slim if you’re large, Smiley if you’re a jerk or Sex Machine if you’re, well, not one.
On Good Friday a pretty hip dude who didn’t mind kicking the party up a notch by turning water into wine and talked of nothing but peace and harmony, was brutally beaten, tortured and nailed to a cross at the tender age of 33ish. Practically two millennia later, Abraham Lincoln was shot in the head on the grounds that he was a tyrant. And on April 23, 1014, the Irish invaded Viking-held Dublin. It was a tumultuous Pyrrhic victory for the winner.
By 1014, Brian Boru, the Irish king with the cool-sounding name, wanted to finally solidify his kingdom. The only problem was, the Vikings held Northern Ireland. The Viking king, Sitric Silkenbeard, had an even cooler-sounding name and had turned places like Dublin, Cork and Wexford into lucrative centers of international trade. Not only did Boru want to be the only king in Ireland with a cool name, he wanted to unite his kingdom and grab control of the commerce. At age 88, Boru’s 38-year unification campaign would fulfill its destiny on the field of Clontarf that April day.
Each army had about 7,500 men—men who killed their enemies by getting within arm’s length of one another and hacking each other to death with swords and battle axes. There was also the option of running your enemy through with a spear or disemboweling him with daggers. The two armies stood across from each other and created a shield wall—standing shoulder to shoulder, holding their shields so that they overlap one another in order to create a defensive wall. The object was simple: cave in the wall. The Vikings were led by a renowned warrior named Brodir. The Irish were led by various members of Boru’s family.
The brutal battle raged all day. Things got medieval. Because that’s how things went in those days. Boru’s grandson was knocked unconscious, fell in a river and drowned. It was claimed he took three Vikings down with him. Brodir was bested by the Irish king’s brother but ran from the battlefield before he could be killed. Boru’s son, Murchad, age 63 at the time, charged the field on horseback with a sword in each hand. Murchad and his forces broke the Viking’s resistance. As the routed soldiers retreated to their ships, Murchad went toe-to-toe with a Viking named Ebric. Murchad stabbed the man three times, and as Ebric fell, he pulled out a dagger and slashed open Murchad’s belly. (These guys make NFL players look like they belong on Golden Girls re-runs.) Both men’s wounds were mortal.
During their retreat, the Vikings became trapped on a bridge and were cut down by the Irish. Those who escaped found their boats sucked out by an unusually high tide. They drowned in their armor as they swam for their lives. (That which was supposed to protect them wound up killing them. Damn you, timeless irony! You’re everywhere!) As he ran from the battlefield, Brodir came across the Irish king praying in his tent alone. He caved Boru’s head in with his axe. It’s said that later, an Irish warrior named Wolf the Quarrelsome (these names are so awesome…) caught up with Brodir, nailed one end of his intestines to a tree, and drug the Viking around it until his entrails wound around the trunk.
Out of the 15,000 men fighting that day, 10,000 of them were killed in the worst ways imaginable. Death is not quick when your limbs are hacked off, you’re disemboweled or run through with a spiky stick. And although the Irish won, Boru lost not only his life, but a good portion of his family. His dream of a unified Ireland never materialized either, reminding us all to keep our battle axes in our war chests for as long as possible. Life’s so much better when we remember to stop and smell the flowers. No matter what day it is. Or time of year.
Now, where’s the Benadryl and that naked guy with the cookies?

*Story was taken from How The Barbarian Invasions Shaped The Modern World, by Thomas J. Craughwell. Get it and get medieval…

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