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Ireland during the period 800–1169 is characterised by Viking raids and their subsequent settlement. The Vikings established ports at Dublin, Arklow, Wexford, Waterford, Cork and Limerick, which became the first large towns in Ireland.


Culture and society

Early Viking raids

The round tower at Glendalough. Many such towers were built during this period and served as both bell towers and places of refuge during attack.

The first recorded Viking raid in Irish history occurred in 795 when Vikings from Norway looted the island of Lambay. The annals name the site of this attack as Rechru, a name that could mean either modern Lambay Island or Rathlin,[1] located off the Dublin coast. These early Viking raids were generally small in scale and quick.

These early raids interrupted the golden age of Christian Irish culture starting the beginning of two hundred years of intermittent warfare, with waves of Viking raiders plundering monasteries and towns throughout Ireland. Most of the early raiders came from the fjords of western Norway. They are believed to have sailed first to Shetland, then south to Orkney. The Vikings would have then sailed down the Atlantic coast of Scotland, and then over to Ireland. During these early raids the Vikings also traveled to the west coast of Ireland to the Skellig Islands located off the coast of County Kerry. The early raids on Ireland seem to have been aristocratic free enterprise, and named leaders appear in the Irish annals: Saxolb (Soxulfr) in 837, Turges (Þurgestr) in 845, Agonn (Hákon) in 847.[2]

The anonymous poem Is acher in gaíth in-nocht... concerns the raids of the ninth-century.

Viking settlement in Ireland

Ireland and England were both being raided by Vikings in the early 840s. The Vikings were beginning to establish settlements along the Irish coasts at this time and began to spend the winter months there. Vikings started settlements in Waterford, Wexford, Limerick, Cork, Arklow, and Dublin. The archaeological evidence found in Kilmainham, on the western side of Dublin city, is proof of the Viking settlements during this time period in Ireland. Written accounts from this time (early to mid 840s) show that the Vikings were moving further inland to attack (often using rivers such as the Shannon) and then retreating to their coastal headquarters.

Map showing the Viking settlements in Ireland

Thorgest (in Latin Turgesius) was the first Viking to attempt an Irish kingdom. He sailed up the Shannon and the River Bann to Armagh in 839 where he forged a realm spanning Ulster, Connacht and Meath which lasted from 839 to 845. In 845, he was captured and drowned in Lough Owen by Máel Sechnaill mac Maíl Ruanaid, King of Mide.

In 848, Máel Sechnaill, now High king, defeated a Norse army at Sciath Nechtain. Arguing that his fight was allied with the Christian fight against pagans, he requested aid from the Frankish emperor Charles the Bald, but to no avail.

In 852, the Vikings Ivar Beinlaus and Olaf the White landed in Dublin Bay and established a fortress, on which the city of Dublin now stands. Olaf the White was the son of a Norwegian king and made himself the king of Dublin. This moment is considered by some to be the date for the founding of Dublin, however by 902 the settlement, along with all other Viking settlements in Ireland, had been abandoned. In 853 the Vikings established themselves at Waterford.

Sometime in the ninth century the Norse established a fortified settlement near the mouth of the River Avoca at Inber Dea, now known as Arklow, Co. Wicklow. The name "Arklow" is derived from the Scandinavian name Arnkell or Arnketill with the word Ló, meaning "low-lying meadow." Arklow was occupied by at least 836 when the Annals of Ulster record the attack of the heathens of Inber Dea on Kildare.

A new and more intensive period of settlement in Ireland began in 914.[3] In this year Waterford was re-occupied, and would become Ireland's first city. Waterford was established by the Viking Regnall, after whom Reginald's Tower, Ireland's oldest civic urban building, was built and named. Waterford is the only Irish city to retain its Viking derived name, meaning Ram fjord or Windy fjord, having originally been called Cuan na Gréine, Harbour of the Sun, by the Irish. Between 915 and 922, Cork, Dublin, Wexford and Limerick were established. Significant excavations in Dublin and Waterford in the 20th century has unearthed much of the Viking heritage of those cities. The Battle of Confey also took place at this time near Leixlip, a Viking settlement.

The Vikings founded many other coastal towns, and after several generations a group of mixed Irish and Norse ethnic background arose (the so-called Gall-Gaels, Gall then being the Irish word for "foreigners" - the Norse). This Norse influence is reflected in the Norse-derived names of many contemporary Irish kings (e.g. Magnus, Lochlann or Sitric), and DNA evidence in some residents of these coastal cities to this day. A genetics paper in 2006 by Dr Brian McEvoy found that most men with Irish-Viking surnames carried typically Irish genes. This suggests that Viking settlements may have had a Scandinavian élite but with most of the inhabitants being locals, refugees or outlaws.[4] The Dublin Vikings built large ships from local timber, one of which was found at Roskilde in Denmark.

Decline of Viking power

The descendants of Ivar Beinlaus established a long dynasty based in Dublin, and from this base succeeded in dominating much of the isle. This rule was ultimately broken by the joint efforts of Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill, King of Meath, and Brian Boru (c. 941- 1014) By the late tenth century, Brian Boru, the scion of a relatively obscure tribe from the midwestern part of the island, the Dál gCais, had gained enough influence through political maneuvering and conquest to claim the title of ard righ (high king). Boru and his allies defeated a combined Viking/native army at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Though Boru himself did not survive the battle, the Vikings ceased to be a major power in Ireland and were gradually assimilated into the native populace.

Boru's descendants failed to maintain a unified throne, and regional squabbling over territory led indirectly to invasion of the Normans under Strongbow in 1169.

Although the Irish were largely free from foreign invasion for 150 years, interdynastic warfare continued to drain their energies and resources. In 1150, Christian Malone, Abbot of Clonmacnoise, wrote a famous book entitled "Chronicum Scotorum". It is a chronology of Ireland from the Flood to the twelfth century.

See also


  1. ^ Ó CorráinThe Vikings&Ireland, p. 9 pdf
  2. ^ Ó Corráin - The Vikings in Scotland and Ireland in the ninth century
  3. ^ Viking Longphorts in Ireland
  4. ^ 2006 genetics paper

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