View Full Version : The Vikings in Ireland

Wednesday, November 9th, 2005, 12:20 PM
The First Raids

At the end of the eighth century the first Viking raiders appeared in Irish waters. These raiders came exclusively from Norway. The first recorded raid was in 795 on Rathlin Island off the coast of Antrim where the church was burned. On the west coast the monasteries on Inismurray and Inisbofin were plundered possibly by the same raiders. The Scottish island of Iona was also attacked in the same year.

For the first four decades, 795-c.836, the raids followed a clear pattern of hit-and -run affairs by small, probably independent, free-booters. Attacks were usually on coastal targets no Viking raid is recorded for areas further inland than about twenty miles. These attacks were difficult to defend but the Vikings were sometimes defeated. In 811 a raiding party was slaughtered by the Ulaid and the following year raiding parties were defeated by the men of Umall and the king of Eóganacht Locha Léin. By 823 the Vikings had raided around all the coast and in 824 the island monastery of Sceilg, off the Kerry coast, was attacked. The monastic city of Armagh was attacked three times in 832.

In the first quarter century of Viking attacks only twenty-six plunderings by Vikings are recorded in the Irish Annals. During the same time eighty-seven raids by the Irish themselves are recorded. An average of one Viking raid a year can have caused no great disorder or distress in Irish society. Attacks on Irish monasteries were common before the Viking Age. The burning of churches also was an integral part of Irish warfare. Wars and battles between monasteries also occurred in Ireland before the coming of the Vikings. Irish monasteries had become wealthy and politically important with considerable populations. The Vikings attacked the monasteries because they were rich in land, stock and provisions. They also took valuable objects but this was not their primary concern.

Intensified Raids and Settlements

From c. 830 Viking raids became more intense in Ireland. In 832 for instance, there were extensive plunderings in the lands of the Cianachta who lived near the sea in Louth. In 836 the Vikings attacked the land of the Uí Néill of southern Brega and attacked the lands of Connacht. In 837 a fleet of sixty ships appeared on the Boyne and a similar fleet on the Liffey. Soon afterwards Vikings made their way up the Shannon and the Erne and put a fleet on Lough Neagh.

The Vikings wintered for the first time on Lough Neagh in 840-41. In 841 they established a longphort at Annagassan in Louth and at Dublin and used these bases for attacks on the south and west. They wintered for the first time at Dublin in 841-842 and in 842 another large fleet arrived. Also in this year there is the first reference to co-operation between Vikings and the Irish though this may have occurred previously. A fleet was based on Lough Ree and the Shannon and built a fortified position on the shores of Lough Ree from where they ravaged the surrounding countryside in 844. Máel Seachnaill, overking of the Uí Néill attacked the Vikings, captured a leader called Turgesius and drowned him in Lough Owel in Westmeath.

From now on Irish kings began to fiercely fight back against the Vikings. Because they now had fixed settlements or fortified positions they were vulnerable to attack. Máel Seachnaill routed a Viking force near Skreen, County Meath and killed 700 of them. At Castledermot, in Kildare, the joint armies of the kings of Munster and Leinster defeated a large force of Vikings. The newly founded Viking settlement at Cork was destroyed and in 849 the Norse territory of Dublin was ravaged by Máel Seachnaill. The Vikings were now a factor in the internal politics of Ireland and were accepted as such. Norse-Irish alliances became commonplace.

During the years 849-852 new Vikings, probably from Denmark, arrived in the Irish Sea area and many battles took place between the new arrivals and the more established Vikings. In 853 Olaf the White arrived in Dublin and with Ivar, another Viking, assumed sovereignity of the Viking settlement there. Along the Irish coast were other Viking settlements. Vikings at Waterford attacked the King of Osraige but were slaughtered in 860. There was a longphort settlement at Youghal which was destroyed in 866. In 887 the Limerick Vikings were slaughtered by Connachtmen and in 892 the Vikings of Waterford, Wexford and St. Mullins were defeated.

Ivar, joint king of Dublin died in 873 and there were struggles and division in Dublin for the next two decades. In 902 the kings of Brega and of Leinster combined again the Norse of Dublin and defeated them, destroyed their settlement and expelled them from Ireland. By his time extensive cultural assimilation had taken place between the Irish and the Norse. Olaf, king of Dublin in the middle of the ninth century was married to the daughter of Áed Finnliath, king of the northern Uí Néill. The Hiberno-Norse also had gradually become christianised. The annals in recording the death of Ivar in 872 said that "he rested in Christ".

The Second Phase of Viking Attacks on Ireland

By the first decades of the tenth century opportunities for Vikings in Britain and the Europe were limited. It is not surprising that they chose to attack Ireland again. From 914 large fleets again began to attack Ireland, these Vikings came from those already settled elsewhere in Britain. Munster was ravaged widely in 915 and the king of Tara was defeated when he went to the aid of the Munstermen. The king of Leinster was killed in a battle with Vikings under the leadership of Sitric at Leixlip. The king of Tara was killed in a combined Irish attack on the Norse of Dublin in 919. For the next two decades the Norse kings of Dublin were also trying to establish their power in York. Their activities in Ireland gradually became more confined to Dublin and its immediate hinterland. The Irish began to counter attack with growing success. Dublin was burned by the king of Tara in 936 and was sacked in 944. Its power had declined considerably by the second half of the tenth century.

The Wars of the Great Dynasties

One of the great leaders of this period was Brian Boru of Dál Cais in County Clare. He had defeated the Vikings of Munster. His great rival was Máel Sechnaill 2, King of Tara who had defeated the Norse of Dublin in 980. Brian at times made alliances with Norse as in 984 when the Norse of Waterford attacked Leinster by sea while he attacked by land. In 977 an agreement was made between Brian and Máel Sechnaill that the former would be king of the southern part of Ireland while the latter would be king of the northern part. In 998 the two kings co-operated in an attack on the Norse of Dublin.

The next year the Dublin Norse allied with the Leinstermen revolted and were defeated by Brian. He spent January and February 1000 in Dublin, plundering the city and destroying its fortress. He expelled Sitric, king of Norse Dublin who could find refuge nowhere else in Ireland. He returned, gave hostages to Brian and was restored. Brian now claimed the kingship of the whole island and Máel Sechnaill submitted.

In 1012 Leinster revolted against Brian and the Norse of Dublin assisted them. Brian and Máel Sechnaill together attacked Leinster and blockaded the city of Dublin from September to Christmas before returning home. Knowing that the attack would be renewed the Norse set about getting help from allies. Sitric, king of Dublin visited Sigurd, earl of the Orkneys who agreed to be in Dublin on Palm Sunday 1014. Sitric then went to the Isle of Man and persuaded two Viking leaders Brodar and Ospak to support him.

Brian and Máel Sechnaill marched to Dublin but a dispute arose between them and Máel Sechnaill took no part in the battle. Battle was joined at Clontarf on Good Friday 1014 and after a long battle Brian's forces were victorious. Brian himself was killed. Sigurd and Brodar were also killed though Sitric who remained inside the town during the battle survived.

In subsequent traditions, both Irish and Norse, Clontarf became a heroic battle of saga and story-telling. Fearsome portents and visions were said to have been seen by both sides on the eve of the battle. A fairy woman appeared to Brian's followers and foretold disaster. Saint Senan appeared to Brian's followers the night before the battle demanding compensation for an attack by Brian on a monastery years before. In the Isle of Man there were ghostly assaults on Brodar's ships and ravens with iron beaks and claws attacked his followers. Evil portents were seen throughout the Norse world even in Iceland. Everyone wished his ancestors to have participated in the great battle.

While the battle of Clontarf was not a simple Irish against Norse battle it did signal the end of the power of Norse Dublin and the effective end of the Viking Age in Ireland.

(References to Irish Counties in the above are of course to modern counties.)

Source (http://www.ncte.ie/viking/vikage.htm)

Wednesday, November 9th, 2005, 12:23 PM

During the 830s Viking raiders in Ireland began to establish camps where the raiding party could spend the winter. The first documented occurrence in Ireland was in 841 when Dublin and Linn Dúachaill (Annagassan, Co. Louth) were mentioned. The word longphort, first used in the Irish annals in 840, was used to describe these camps. During the first half of the tenth century the term was used to describe Scandinavian bases where ships or fleets were used. Typically they seem to have consisted of a fortified area beside a river, often where a bend in the river or the joining of a tributary provided defence on two sides. A pool in the river provided anchorage for the Viking ships.

Many of these longphorts were very temporary. Others, such as Dublin, developed to become large settlements. Bases established inland along the banks of rivers and lakes apparently did not last long. Few have been positively identified and almost none have been excavated.

Recently Eamonn P. Kelly, Keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland and others have been attempting to identify and examine sites of inland Irish longphorts. Two have recently been identified and described.

Dunrally Fort, Co. Laois.

Dunrally fort is an oval earthwork on the river Barrow in Co. Laois. It has a raised interior c. 50m across. This is enclosed by a high earthen rampart inside a wide water filled ditch and bank. In the past it was regarded as a ringfort of native construction. The authors' recent examination led them to the conclusion that this structure is the central citadel of a more massively defended structure. A huge D-shaped area is enclosed by the river Barrow and a tributary and on the other side by a ditched rampart. The whole area is 360m long and 150m wide. A pool on the river Barrow would have provided a safe anchorage for Viking ships. There was also a crossing point on the river nearby.

The tributary and the river Barrow once formed the boundaries between three small kingdoms and the Vikings may have chosen the site in order to exploit rivalries between these kingdoms.

There is an account in the Annals of the destruction of Longphort-Rothlaibh in 862 and this has been identified as Dunrally fort. It is considered that this was a longphort established by the Viking Rodolf who appears to have active in the area for about a decade. He used a base in Waterford Harbour to raid up the Barrow, Nore and Suir. His final mention in the Irish annals is the destruction of his longphort in 862. Four months later a Viking named Rodolf appeared as the leader of a group of Vikings on the river Rhine. This Rodolf was the the son of Harold, a former king of Denmark who had been expelled from Denmark in 827. Rodolf died in 873.

Athlunkard, Co. Clare.

Athlunkard is in Co. Clare on the River Shannon. The placename Athlunkard refers to a ford (ath) and a defended ship encampment (longphort). The encampment referred to in the placename is represented by earthworks opposite an island in the Shannon. Iron objects dating from the final century of the first millenium, a plough coulter, a spearhead, a spearbutt and a small ring, were found on the site. A Viking silver weight was found on the opposite riverbank.

The site is D shaped, 75m long and 30m wide, enclosed by a curved rampart. It is located on low ground where a stream runs into the Shannon. Beyond the rampart is a marsh. Inside the enclosure is an oval raised area 20m by 12.5m protected by a bank and ditch.

It is believed likely that the earthworks are the remains of the Viking earthworks founded between AD 840 and 930. Lax weir, located below the island, which preserves the Norse word for salmon is evidence for Scandinavian presence in the area. The Vikings carried out a major two year campaign along the Shannon system in the mid ninth century. A Viking base was founded on Lough Ree in 845 and soon afterwards a major settlement was established at Limerick. The Athlunkard longphort may be related to this campaign.

Source (http://www.ncte.ie/viking/phorts.htm)

Friday, December 15th, 2006, 12:02 AM
As Scandinavia was becoming increasing over populated the Vikings found a need to discover new land and create settlements with Ireland being one of them. The Vikings heard of the riches that Irish monasteries held and knew only too well that Ireland was a prime location for the Viking people.

In 795 the first Vikings in Ireland landed on the Irish shores with their Viking ships attacking their first monastery in Rathlin Island located near County Antrim. Attacks on Ireland remained very few over the next 30 – 40 years with attacks taking place approximately once a year. It is known the Irish resisted these attacks on a few occasions and in 811 seen the Ulaidh slaughter Vikings attempting to raid Ulster. In 823 the Vikings attacked and pillaged Bangor and repeating these attacks again the next year.

At first the Vikings in Ireland stayed within 20 miles of the coast unsure what lay ahead inland keeping their attacks on coastal monasteries and made more permanent settlements with their first “wintering over” located at Lough Neagh during 840-841. Then between 841-842 settlements were established in Dublin, named Dubhlinn, and then Cork and Waterford which was named Vadrefjord.

849-852 saw the arrival a new Viking, the Danes who were named by the Irish as the dark foreigners. The more settled Vikings in Ireland, the Norse named the fair foreigners, quickly went to battle with the Danes in the Irish Sea and Strangford Lough.

In 860 the Vikings of Waterford attacked the King of Israige but were slaughtered and attacks on the Vikings in Ireland increased. In 866 the settlement longphort was destroyed and the King of Northern Uí Néill managed to rid the Vikings from Ulster. Connachtmen in 887 slaughtered the Vikings of Limerick and in 892 Wexford, Waterford and St Mullins Vikings were also slaughtered.

For the next ten years the Vikings focused their attacks elsewhere in Europe but with less opportunities they returned to Ireland in 914 as much larger force with Vikings of Britain joining their attacks in Viking ships.

Ulster became vulnerable with the death of Niall Glundubh in 919 after which the Vikings raided Tír Conaill and attacked Armagh again. Over 32 ships entered Lough Foyle and in 924 they returned to Lough Erne to setup their fleets. Once again Ireland became enslaved by the over whelming power of the Vikings which would not last long.

Irish monks realized their monasteries lacked defenses from Viking attacks and a new form of building was constructed known as ‘round towers’. These round towers in Ireland were built by stone and proved strong in defense with a unique feature of having only one entrance to the round tower that was at least 10ft from the ground so a ladder was needed to gain entry. Not only did these round towers save lots of Irish monks from slavery or even death they also saved lots of relics belonging the Irish monasteries. Round towers can still be seen today dotted around the Irish countryside and their unique features still standing strong.

Niall Glundubh's son, Muircertach, took revenge in setting up attacks from his base, Grianan of Aileach in County Dongeal, which still stands today and is a perfect example of round forts in Ireland. Muircertach won victories over the Vikings in battles such in 926 on Strangford Lough and in Dublin in 939. He went onto the Scottish Isles with his Ulster fleet attacking Viking settlements in 941 but died in Combat in 943.

Brian Boru of Dál Cais became King of Munster and who was first to call himself High King of All Ireland after his brother was killed during battle. With the help of the Uí Néill, Brian Boru slaughtered the Vikings of Dublin and was seen as the High King in 1002.

One of the main reasons the "Vikings in Ireland" failed to take full control of the island is that they made the mistake of getting involved with Irelands internal affairs which seen many clans battle with each other for control of different regions. The Vikings joined forces with the clan of Leciester to defeat Brian Boru and called on forces to come to Ireland from all over the Viking Kingdom.

On Good Friday 1014 the Viking fleet arrived in Dublin bay to battle with Brian Boru. Brian’s Army consisted of his Munster army and the Limerick and Waterford Vikings, who had joined forces with Brian Boru. Although Brian was killed, at an age of 70, as he prayed in his tent for victory the Vikings were driven back to the Viking ships with many being slaughtered on the coast of Clontarf which would see Viking power in Ireland lost forever.

Although the Viking power was taken away it is well known they helped the Irish progress in terms of technology in building warships, weapons and battle tactics and also built the first towns such as Dublin, Cork and Waterford. Many Vikings still lived on in Ireland and married into Irish families which would help shape many future generations.

With the invasion of the Vikings in Ireland and internal disputes the Church in Ireland was reduced and its influence abroad was dramatically smaller than previous years. Rome was quite worried that Ireland was losing touch with Christianity and the country would need reformed and disciplined yet again. Malachy of Armagh, aged 29, would be appointed Bishop of Down and Connor in the North East.

Friday, April 25th, 2008, 07:28 AM
Almost a thousand years after the Vikings settled in Ireland there are still a few remains of Scandinavian heritage to be seen in the island, from the many Norse artifacts exhibited in museums across the country to the ruins of monastery towers built to shelter the monks and their wealth from the pillaging and killing of the Vikings.

Glendalough monastery is a good example of a typical Irish monastery built during the Middle Ages. Among its many habitational buildings stands out a circular, solid stone-built high tower. The tower has no doors at the ground level but very high up in the structure, so the only possible way to get in and out was throwing a rope ladder from above. A sentry was constantly on guard on the top of the tower, which was well stocked with food supplies, valuable manuscripts and treasures from the monastery. In the case of a Viking attack, the sentry could warn the monks well in advance to take shelter into the tower. Once in there, they just had to wait safely until the Vikings decided to leave the place.

During the Viking Age, Ireland was a Christian society divided into many different autonomous kingdoms which were often quarrelling against each other. The Vikings took advantage of this situation during their first summer expeditions to Ireland, where they came to plunder the poorly defended and wealthy Irish monasteries.

Soon contingents of Norwegian Vikings arrived from the Hebrides isles of Scotland and the Isle of Man, settling down with little oposition from Irish tribes and creating prosperous trading ports such as Dubh Linn (Dublin) or Westfjord (Wexford). Many Vikings also sailed upstream the Irish rivers creating small inland settlements and farms.

With the exception of the plundering of monasteries, that first wave of Scandinavian invaders seemed not to have had a great impact on day-to-day Irish life and culture. Several years later a group of Danish Vikings arrived from neighbouring England and tried to gain control of Ireland, however the Norwegians ultimately managed to keep hold of their Irish territories. Danes and Norwegians had many differences leading to constant rivalry, so much that the Irish called the Danes dubh-gall (dark foreigners) and the Norwegians finn-gall (fair foreigners).

There were many intermarriages between native Irish and Scandinavians, for many Irish kings established family links with the invaders as a way of gaining warpower against their enemy chieftains. During the Viking Age in Ireland the Irish fought against the Vikings almost as often as the Vikings fought against other Vikings, or even as often as mixed alliances of Irish and Vikings fought against other similar mixed alliances.

Dublin, a Viking city

In 840 AD an army of 10,000 men lead by Norwegian prince Thorgils attacked the monastery of Armagh -formerly known as the religious capital of Ireland- and conquered most of the Emerald isle. Years later those Vikings founded a city on the banks of the river Liffey which would be called Dubh Linn (the black pool) by the Irish. The settlement, which was the origin of the city of Dublin, was heavily fortified to defend the city from other Viking attacks.

Dubh Linn or Dublin became a prosperous city with a very busy port, where ships brought wine, salt and silk to Ireland, and exported Irish wheat, wool, tin and silver. The city was ruled alternatively by Norwegians and Danes until the Irish took over the city from the Scandinavians in 980 AD.

The Vikings marked the boundaries of their Dublin territories with a pillar stone known as the Steine. The Steine is believed to have stood until the 17th century not far from the place near where the present Hawkins and Townsend streets now meet. A reproduction of the Steine was erected in 1986 near Dublin's Trinity College.

Irish king Brian Boru and the Vikings

Irish and Vikings fought each other for years with no clear victors until the reign of Irish king Brian Boru. Brian knew very well the Vikings, for they had attacked his village and killed his father when he was a young boy. He was educated in monasteries, became the king of Munster at an early age, and after many battles on which he often called on the help of Scandinavian mercenaries, he unified Ireland and obtained the title of Ard Rí (the Supreme Chief).

King Brian Boru fought the Vikings for over 40 years until he finally took the city of Dublin from the Vikings. He allowed the Scandinavians to stay in Ireland and, moreover, he married his own daughter to Sygtrigg Silkenbeard, the last Viking king of Dublin, and also married himself to Geormalaith, the Irish mother of Sygtrigg. During Brian's reign, peace and law were respected by both Vikings and Irish chieftains. Roads and bridges were built and those monasteries attacked by the Vikings were repaired.

Years later Brian was betrayed by the Vikings and by a number of Irish chieftains. War started all over again and Sygtrigg Silkenbeard asked for help to fellow Vikings in the Orkney islands (http://forums.skadi.net/redirector.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.scan dinavica.com%2Fshet-ork.htm) and in the Isle of Man. On the other side, Brian Boru counted with the help of most of the Irish chieftains and also with several groups of Viking mercenaries.

In 1014 AD Brian Boru defeated the Scandinavians in the battle of Clontarf, north of Dublin. King Brian, who was over 70 years old, died after the battle but Clontarf meant the end of the Viking Age in Ireland. Many of those Irish Vikings decided to stay in Ireland, losing their Nordic identity as they progressively integrated into Irish culture, speaking the Irish language and adopting Ireland's Christian religion.

Source: http://www.scandinavica.com/culture/history/ireland.htm (http://forums.skadi.net/redirector.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.scan dinavica.com%2Fculture%2Fhistory%2Firela nd.htm)

Friday, April 25th, 2008, 07:51 PM
Great article, I want very much to visit Ireland some day. They have a pub in Dublin that is older than the USA;) There was a nice documentary about Dublin here the other day, it was made by the history channel and called Cities of the Underworld: Viking Underground. It focused on the underworld of tombs, tunnels and crypts there.

Friday, April 25th, 2008, 10:39 PM
There was a nice documentary about Dublin here the other day, it was made by the history channel and called Cities of the Underworld: Viking Underground. It focused on the underworld of tombs, tunnels and crypts there.
What have those things to do with the vikings? (Not a rhetorical question or anything, I actually wonder.)

Sunday, April 27th, 2008, 06:57 AM
What have those things to do with the vikings? (Not a rhetorical question or anything, I actually wonder.)
Well the vikings established a longphort (shore fortress) in Dublin in 841, and some of the crypts were made by people living around the area to protect themselves and/or their valuables. There are also old watertunnels that the vikings or their descendants built that still exists under the city.

The Horned God
Monday, May 5th, 2008, 05:34 AM
I want very much to visit Ireland some day.

A fine aspiration :). After spending maybe a day or two in Dublin, I'd recommend hiring a camper van with a sat nav, (that way you'll get off the main roads and see the "real" Ireland). The nice scenery is mostly on the west coast. In a week you could probably cover most of the country.

Thursday, May 8th, 2008, 03:29 AM
Cool site. :) One of my favorite eras in history to read and learn about.

Thursday, May 15th, 2008, 11:27 AM

One of the Vikings' most important trading centres has been discovered in Ireland.

The settlement at Woodstown in County Waterford is estimated to be about 1,200 years old.

It was discovered during archaeological excavations for a road by-pass for Waterford city, which was founded by the Vikings.

The Irish government said the settlement was one of the most important early Viking age trading centres discovered in the country.

Its working group, which includes archaeologists from Ireland's museum and monuments service, said it was of international significance and showed the community was wealthy and sought to remain at Woodstown permanently.

Almost 6,000 artefacts and a Viking chieftain's grave have been discovered at the site, which was established by the year 860. The grave contains a sword, shield and silver mark.

The working group report said the discoveries of silver and lead weights showed it was "apparent that Woodstown falls firmly into the Scandinavian tradition."

"There can be little doubt that many, if not all of the settlement's occupants were either Scandinavian, or had strong insular Scandinavian associations," it said.

"The Woodstown site provides a rare opportunity to study a Scandinavian settlement of this period outside Scandinavia itself."

Friday, June 6th, 2008, 07:05 AM
Here's a map that shows some early Viking bases and raids in Ireland.