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Monday, 24 August 2015



24 August 1103: Magnus ‘Bare Legs’, King of Norway, was killed by the Irish in a battle on this day in the north of Ireland.


King Magnus reigned as King of Norway from 1093 to his untimely death in 1103 in Ulster. Described as ambitious, his military campaigns were fought in Sweden, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and along the eastern coastline of Ireland. He was described as being very tall with bright yellow hair and bright blue eyes. His grandfather was Harald Hardrata, the Viking warrior king who died at the battle of Stamford Bridge, fighting the English in 1066, and his father was Olaf the Peaceful.

Having formed an alliance in 1102 with Muirchertach O'Brien, King of Ireland (1086 - 1119), the arrangement was formalised by the marriage of - Siguard the 12 year old son of Magnus -  to Muirchertach's 5 year old daughter, Biadmaynia. The deal was for Magnus to supply man power to O'Brien to assist him in his on going local wars, and in return Magnus was to receive cattle, to provide much needed provisions for his troops before they departed for Norway.

Having sailed his long boats in from Strangford Lough, up the river Quoile, and beaching them on Plague Island near to the present day Down Cathedral along the Ballyduggan Road, Magnus impatiently waited for the cattle to arrive on the agreed day St. Bartholomew's Day, 23rd August 1103. Evening came and no cattle had arrived, against the advice of his commander Eyvind Elbow he decided next morning to leave the safety of his ship and seek out the missing cattle, believing that O'Brien had broken his promise.

Marching along the side of the tidal marshes he came to a high hill, possible to site where Dundrum Castle now stands, looking west-wards he saw a great dust cloud, the cattle were on their way and soon he and his men would homeward bound. Perhaps in a joyous mood and letting their guard slip, suddenly 'the trees came alive,' they had been ambushed, by the 'men of Ulster.' In the ensuring battle that raged across the mud flats of the Quoile Estuary, now in total confusion, the Vikings, led by Magnus were slaughtered. Some of the Vikings made it back to their boats, leaving King Magnus and a few of his loyal guard to fight to the death. The Norse King receiving a javelin thrust through his body and then struck in the neck with an axe, he died.

However his famous sword 'Legbiter,' was retrieved and brought home to Norway, but the remains of its Loyal Master, and those of his loyal guard lie in a common grave on the marshes of Down. King Magnus Barefoot, nicknamed 'Barelegs,' had once said, "That Kings are made for honour not for long life," In his case he was right, for he was not thirty years of age when he met his end in Ireland.