The Second Phase of Viking Ireland

Viking Integration with the Native Irish Clans

At the beginning of the 10th century, Viking interest in Ireland was renewed and what is known as the second phase of Viking attacks on Ireland began. These were more intense and came from Britain as well as Scandinavia. Various battles ensued with more deaths and usurpations. In an attack on Dublin in 919 they repelled an Irish attack, overcoming the forces of the High King, Niall Glúndubh. The High King himself was killed along with twelve other chieftains, in a battle where the Phoenix Park is now situated. In the period which followed the Vikings were concentrating on trying to establish their power in York, the seat of the large Viking kingdom in Northern England. Their presence however remained strong in their coastal setlements in Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Limerick.

By the 11th century, much social and cultural integration had occurred between the Norse and the Gaels. Intermarriage was common, relationships based on trade established and customs shared. Like the Irish, the newcomers were farmers whose diet consisted of native vegetables, dairy products and game, fowl and beef. Unlike the Irish, the Vikings consumed a lot of seafood, which they preserved in salt. These well-travelled seafarers also introduced chicken to the Irish diet which they had discovered in China! 

The languages spoken here were Old Norse and Middle Irish. The people now referred to as Norse-Gaels would have negotiated a linguistic path between these two tongues and borrowed from each other. Religious practices included Norse paganism, Celtic Christianity and Roman Catholicism. We know from archaeological finds that trade reached as far as the Middle and Far East. The Vikings are credited with forcing the Gaelic chieftains to emerge from their ancient and insular system of rule but their resistance meant that Irish society was turbulent, and battles were frequent. Irish kingship was linked to the sanctity of the Christian Church, an idea that was spread by Irish scholars to the continent. The pagan Vikings had no time for this notion or the Gaelic rituals of war, and so the arrival of the Vikings challenged both the political and social systems and beliefs.

The threat of Viking power to the island as a whole had by now decreased due to assimilation and southern Irish clans uniting and strengthening in power. The Viking settlements had strengthened around their longphort settlements. Viking armies worked as mercenaries for warring tribes and they had become a significant part of the turbulent Irish landscape. A movement in Munster had been gathering and growing in order to challenge the Viking stronghold in Dublin, which was supporting a number of Leinster revolts. Led by the High King Brian Boru, the Munster armies and theirn O'Neill allies were eventually successful at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. The battle ended with victory for Brian Boru (Bryan Boru) and signalled the end of any Viking threat to the High Kingship. But Brian Boru died at the battle (possibly murdered by a Viking leader from the Isle of Man) and this event has entered legend and raised Brian Boru, the valiant leader of a united Ireland quashing foreign rebellion, to mythic status.