Saturday 4th October 2014

Somerled & the Battle of Renfrew Conference

Image Copyright Denis Rixon.  Used with Permission

Image Copyright Denis Rixson. Used with Permission

Somerled and the Battle of Renfrew Conference, run by Renfrewshire Local History Forum, took place in Renfrew Town Hall on the 4th of October, 2014. This excellent conference commemorated the Battle of Renfrew which took place 850 years ago in 1164.

An old poem written in Latin tells how Somerled with a huge fleet of 150 ships sailed up the Clyde, opposed by only a small force of locals. This small force employed the devious and ingenious strategy of setting fire to vegetation to create a moving, smoking barrier which forced the invading enemy to retreat through the water back to their ships. Many were slaughtered before reaching the safety of their ships. The invading force was soundly defeated and Somerled himself was slain in the battle. A highlight of the conference was Alan Steel’s dramatic rendering of this old poem.

Derek Alexander, a member of the Forum and Archaeologist for the National Trust of Scotland, very ably chaired the conference. Professor Ted Cowan was the main speaker. Denis Rixson gave a most interesting and informative talk on medieval shipping in the Hebrides and David Caldwell gave an excellent presentation on Somerled and his place in the history of the Isles. Two of our Forum members, Alan Steel and Derek Alexander, gave most informative talks on the battle and its archaeology.

Ted Cowan, addressing the audience

Ted Cowan, addressing the audience


Denis Rixson. Derek Alexander. Alan Steel and David Caldwell

Denis Rixson. Derek Alexander. Alan Steel and
David Caldwell

An additional item was an excellent performance by a team from the Renfrewshire Youth Music Initiative, led by Morag Currie. The group composed an original piece of music based on 12th century plainchant, rhythms and texts. It was a really professional piece with a terrific Scottish atmosphere rendered by fiddles and harp, and a great battle sequence with riffs, beatbox and, would you believe, a battle horn. This innovative musical item, unusual in a history conference, was extremely well received by the audience.

Renfrewshire Youth Music Initiative, led by Morag Currie

Renfrewshire Youth Music Initiative, led by Morag Currie

The conference was sponsored by Renfrewshire Council, and received exceptional support from Renfrew Councillor Bill Brown who joined Forum members in a search for the site of the battle field.

Pointing the Way

Pointing the Way

In all the conference was a huge success – with excellent speakers, the innovative musical item and an audience of one hundred and twenty attendees. It certainly put Renfrew on the map.

For further pictures and videos of the Conference, go to Gallery