‘The War Hollow’

The War Hollow – an area in the East Strand sand hills now part of Royal Portrush Golf Course – was allegedly the scene of a battle between raiding Norsemen and local Irish tribes in the 12th century.

There is plenty of detail of the battle, including a long epic poem, but here is a brief outline of the encounter.

In 1093 Magnus, the newly crowned King of Norway, set off on an expedition which took him to the Orkneys, Hebrides and Western Isles of Scotland. The holy isle of Iona was sacked, many of the monks being put to death.

Around 1103 – some accounts say it was the spring, others give the exact date of 24th August – Magnus’s longships anchored in the shelter of the Skerry Islands and men were put ashore to seize cattle.

Dunluce Castle was captured and the chieftain there made to promise to deliver 300 cattle within three days. The Norsemen then marched inland in search of plunder.

However, a great fire was lit on the summit of a hill to the south-east of Dunluce, summoning the fighting men of North Dalriada, and by the third day an army had been assembled around Dunluce.

The Norsemen, meanwhile, had taken a great deal of booty and cattle from beyond the Bann and were bringing them to the seashore, apparently with great difficulty, the surrounding countryside being covered with woods and bogs in those days.

Reaching solid ground the raiders observed to the east a black moving mass which they assumed was the cattle they had had been promised, but it was in fact an army of Irish tribesmen. As they arrived at a small plain opposite to where their ships lay, they were ambushed from behind the sand hills.

Magnus had come ashore to meet his returning warriors and in the course of the battle he was beheaded. His body was taken back to his ship by the defeated Norsemen and eventually returned to Iona where Magnus was buried.

Incidentally, he was known as Magnus Barefoot, due to his adopting the Gaelic dress of the Irish and Scots: a short tunic, which left the lower legs bare. It is said to have been many years before the Norsemen again ventured to this part of Ireland.

There is also a tale that three bullock skins full of silver stolen by the Norsemen is buried somewhere near the scene of the battle, its location being marked by ancient stones, most of which are long disappeared.

Photo: Dunluce Castle, Co Antrim

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