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Battle of Belach Mugna (908 AD)
Cormac vs. the Vikings

By Tim Donovan

All across Europe in the early ninth and tenth century the chronicles proclaim the great deeds of the warrior-churchmen and their battles against the menace of the pagan Northmen. With Charlemagne as the ultimate example the Abbot and Archbishop Cormac Mac Cuilenain, also king of the province of Munster, took to the field of battle. Cormac was renowned as a scholar and scribe, being fluent in not only his own native Gaelic but also Welsh, Old Norse, Anglo Saxon, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. He composed the very first comparative vernacular dictionary in any language in Europe, the Sanas Cormaic, and was proclaimed to be the most learned man of all who came or shall come of the men of Erin forever

He should have remained a scholar. In 908 he went to war against the Vikings and he and his army were ruthlessly crushed. Most likely trying to imitate the hero of the day, Charlemagne, Cormac rode into battle but his horse slipped on the blood soaked ground, he was thrown and broke his neck. The enemy then swarmed around him, thrust their spears into him, and finally cut off his head.

His son from a marriage before he became religious, Murtough, was to become, unlike his father, a renowned warrior. For twenty five years he incessantly fights to avenge his father's cruel death. The chronicles record that he recruited 1000 picked warriors, clad in leather, who fought all across Ireland and then crossed the sea to assault Norse settlements in the Hebrides and northern Scotland. His luck finally runs out in 943 and he is killed in an unrecorded battle against the Norse.

The Historic Battle and Scenario

Very little is known of this battle including the identity of the enemy. All that I could find was the outcome and grisly death of Cormac. I have used this to my advantage to portray this as the early attempts of the Irish, before widely adopting better armor and Viking mercenaries, in defeating their better armed and armored foe. I have modified the earlier Scots-Irish army list with the Nobles discarding the chariots in favor of attempting to ride into battle. However the small horses, lack of armor, stirrups, and framed saddles ensures that they could never make much of a dent in a Viking shieldwall. They have a slim chance of rupturing the shieldwall if they dismount and attack as tightly packed warband, as it would seem his son did successfully, while the lack of armor and archaic weapons of the common warriors gives them a chance only in rough terrain.

The Irish

  • Big Battle DBA -- 2 LH or Wb (Generals), 4 LH or Wb (Nobles), 12 Ax (Bonnachts), 4 Ps (Kern)

  • Standard DBA -- 1 LH or Wb (General), 2 LH or Wb (Nobles), 6 Ax (Bonnachts), 3 Ps (Kern)

For Cormac's battles do not allow the General to fight dismounted, while any scenario with his son the dismounted option is preferred.

Vikings or Norse-Irish

  • Big Battle DBA -- 2 Bd or 1 Bd and 1 Wb or Ax (Generals), 12 Bd (Hird), 2 Wb (Berserks), 2 Bw or Ps, plus Irish ally: 6 Ax (Bonnachts), 2 Ps (Kern), or 8 Bd

  • Standard DBA -- 1 Bd (General), 6 Bd (Hird), 1 Wb (Berserks), 1 Bw or Ps, and Irish ally: 2 Ax (Bonnachts), 1 Ps (Kern) or 3 Bd

The enemy of Cormac is variously recorded as either Vikings or Irish. I simply give the players the option of fielding a true Viking raiding army or as was typical of the divided nature of Ireland, realm, Vikings aided by a rival Irish clan.

Terrain & Deployment

My standard DBA rules are the defender places 3 compulsory pieces of terrain and then an additional 0-3 (2-5 in BB DBA) optional terrain pieces. After the defender places the compulsory and optional terrain the attacker chooses the edge to invade from . The defender now deploys his camp and half of his command followed by the attacker. The defender finishes deployment followed by the attacker, then dice for the initiative, high score has the option of moving first or second.

Command and Control

Standard or for BB DBA simply divide the army into two separate commands of 10-14 elements and roll one pip die for each command with no exchanging or lending of pips allowed.

Victory Conditions

Standard, 4 or 8 elements destroyed, with generals and camps counting as 2 elements lost.

Background Resources

Historical Atlas of the Vikings, John Haywood, 1995, Penguin
Arthur and the Anglo Saxon Wars. David Nicolle, 1984 Osprey (#154)
Cambridge Illustrated Atlas of Warfare: Middle Ages, Hooper & Bennet, 1996
Conquest of England, Eric Linklater, 1966, Doubleday & Company
Early Medieval Ireland, Daibhi Oi Croinin, 1995, Longman History of Ireland
The Fury of the Northmen, John Marsden, 1993, St. Martinís Press
History of the Vikings, Gwyn Jones, 1968, Oxford
Irish Battles, Hayes-McCoy, 1969, Barnes & Nobles
Kings and Vikings, P.H. Sawyer, 1994, Barnes & Nobles
Lion Of Ireland, Morgan LLywellyn, 1981, Tor
Medieval Historical Battles 732 to 1485, Peter Sides, 1993, Gosling
Medieval Ireland, Michael Richter, 1995, St. Martinís press
Medieval Warfare Sourcebook, David Nicolle, 1995, Arms and Armour
Neglected Heroes, Terry Gore, 1995, Praeger
Njals Saga, Magnus Magnusson translated by Hermann Palson, 1960, Penguin
Stern Sudden Thunder Motion, Guy Halsall, Miniature Wargames 1986
The Viking art of War, Paddy Griffith, 1995, Greenhill Books

Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome, Phil Barker
Armies of the Dark Ages, Ian Heath,
Army Lists, Book Two, 55bc -1000 AD (for WRG Rules)
DBM Army Lists, Book 3 : 476 AD to 1071 Ad

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Last Update: March 18, 2000

My thanks to Tim Donovan for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.