Under the power of this national feeling the Irish learned from the Danes not
only the new trade, but they learned also the new sea warfare, and understood
their lesson so well that they were soon able
to drive back the armies and fleets of the Danes, and to become themselves the
leaders of Danish and norse troops in battle. It was around 950 A.D. that the
Irish won their first famous naval victory.
Cellachan, king of Cashel, had been taken prisoner by the Norse, and was carried
to Citric's ship at Dundalk. An army was sent from Munster across Ireland to
rescue him. They demanded to have back their king. 'Give honour to Cellachan
in the presence
of the men of Munster!' commanded Sitric in his wrath. 'Let him even be bound
to the mast! For he shall not be without pain in honour of them!' 'I give you
my word' said Cellachan, as he was lifted up, ' that it is a greater sorrow
to me not to be able to protect Cashel for you, than to be in great torture'.
'It is a place of watching where I am,' he cried, high lifted above them all.
'I see what your champions do not see, since I am at
the mast of the ship.' 'Are these your ships that are coming now?' said he.
For on the far horizon rose the masts of his fleet of Munster sailing into Dundalk
harbour, six score of them, the full muster of the
ships gathered from every sea port between Cork and Galway...
When the Irish
captains looked on their king bound and fettered to the mast, their aspect
became troubled, their colour changed, and their lips
grew pale. From his place of agony Cellachan watched the onset of his sailors,
and heard the rattle of swords and javelins filling the air like the sound that
arises from the seashore full of stones trodden by herds
of cattle and racing horses... He saw his people, defended only by their 'strong
enclosures of linen cloth to protect bodies and necks and noble heads,' as they
dashed themselves into the Norse ships among the mail-clad
warriors; he watched the heroic Failbe springing on the deck of Sitric's battle-ship,
and with a high and deer-like leap mount on the mast, his right-hand sword
swinging against the crowding enemy, while with the sword
in his mighty left hand he cut the ropes that bound king Cellachan.
In the moment
of his king's salvation Failbe fell dead. As the Norsemen struck off his head
and set it upon the prow of the ship, Failbe's foster-brother, mad for revenge,
with an eager falcon-like leap sprang into the warship, and since no weapon
could pierce the armour of the Norse king, he fixed his white
hands in the bosom of Sitric's coat of mail and dragged him down
into the water, so that they together reached the gravel and the sand of the
sea and rested there. After six hours battle the remnant of the Scandinavian
fleet put out to sea, and says the old saga they carried
neither King not Chieftain with them.
After that battle came other triumphs... The spirit of independence rose high,
and victorious warriors established again the rule of the Irish in their
Alice Stopford Green. The Old Irish World. pp. 90-92.