Here come the Vikings! Making a saga out of a crisis

Primary History Article

By Alison Gove-Humphries, Paul Bracey and Darius Jackson

Please note: this article pre-dates the 2014 National Curriculum and some content may be outdated.

What are your first impressions when you think of Alfred the Great? Perhaps it's the story of the heroic individual being humbled by burning the cakes or for those of a certain age, it may be the image of David Hemmings saving England from the Vikings (Alfred the Great, MGM, 1969). Either way, Alfred the Great has been a key figure in the national narrative while Brian Boru does not get a mention. What are your first impressions when you hear the name "Brian Boru"?

Whether you have heard of him or not may well reflect your own cultural background.1 The teachers who trialled this unit were very comfortable in their knowledge of Alfred but were concerned they knew nothing about Brian at all. One teacher used the internet to familiarise himself with the story. In popularist accounts within Ireland he has a comparable stature to Alfred. Born in 841, Brian was the first Munster chieftain to become High King. His side defeated his Irish opponents and the Vikings in Dublin at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 and Brian lost his life in this battle at the age of 73. Perceptions of both these historical characters have been subject to revision by historians. However, we would argue that it is virtually impossible to find reference to Boru in any textbooks related to the history of Britain. We feel that this raises issues in the way that children build up their map of the past through the curriculum if it does not go beyond Anglocentric norms.

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