The Viking Age in Ireland

The Vikings in Ireland - 9th to 11th Century

From the end of the 8th century the Vikings conducted extensive raids in Ireland and founded the cities of Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Wexford and Waterford. The Vikings pillaged monasteries on the west and east coast of Ireland from 795. Arriving in small mobile groups they were primarily interested in looting the monastic settlements which were thriving communities of craftsmanship and learning and produced many valuable artefacts. 

Gradually by 830 they began to build longphorts, or naval settlements, on the coast, from which they were able to extend their reach and move inland to claim land as their spoils. In 841 a longphort was built in Dublin that became on of the most significant trading centres in Europe, placed as it was on a vital corridor to Europe and beyond. The navigable Irish rivers made it easy for the invaders to travel inland and branch off to surrounding areas.

These Norse invaders eventually settled down and lived in their strongholds alongside the Irish clans. They intermarried also, and allied themselves with Irish chieftains as mercenaries and so gradually became part of the unfolding fate of the island up until the 12th century, when the Normans arrived in Ireland.

Scandinavian culture was reflected in the literature, crafts, decorative styles and even food in Ireland. The English language contains words we can credit to the Vikings, like ransack and window. The Vikings traded in the market centre in Dublin, one of the largest in Europe at the time. Excavated material from here reveals materials from England, Persia, Byzantium and Asia. Dublin grew rapidly and spread beyond the city walls. Visitors to museums in Norway and Sweden will also discover many Irish artefacts, like jewellery or weaponry that were discovered in the graves of Viking warriors!

The Viking Legacy in Ireland

They did not always recieve the credit they deserved, depicted often as they were as violent and savage warriors. This possibly happened because the writers of the time (some one or two hundred years later) needed to justify the rulers legitimacy to the throne, for example, the descendants of Brian Boru in the 11th and 12th centuries, and it was considered neccessary to portray the Irish as vanquishers of an unwelcome enemy.

The reality, as these pages hopefully show, was not so clear-cut and as the eventual establishment of several city settlements in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Wexford by the Vikings coincided with the decline of the unusual structures of Irish Kingship, which ultimately did not always ensure the election of one overall ruler, we cannot ignore their influence. They minted money in Dubliln and developped the methods and routes of trade. A particular languuage evolved that was used by the inhabitants of the Norse-Gael settlements. Were they the first to introduce trousers to the largely tunic-wearing Ireland? Did they introduce chicken to the Irish diet? How did the Irish and the Norseman communicate? What is left of their Viking tongue in our national language? We will try to answer these questions on these pages!

Ireland in the 12th Century

It is known that the political unrest continued for the next one hundred and fifty years. Also, reforms of the Christian church in Ireland by England and Europe introduced dioceses under a more centralised rule in monastic Armagh.

Rory O’Connor of Connaught, the last High King of this period had conquered Munster. Next, he faced and fought an alliance of the Uí Neill dynasty and Leinster, under Diarmuid Mac Murchada and eventually forced the latter to leave Ireland. Mac Murchada went to France for help to Henry II, the Angevin King of England and his support came in the form of several Norman excursions to Ireland which would change the face of this island for ever.

The first Normans landed in Wexford and Waterford which were by now Norse-Gaelic towns invariably under the control of Gaelic Chieftains, and this century was characterised by a new power struggle between the Gaelic Kings who rules their territories from fortresses and crannógs, their integrated Viking allies based mainly in the coastal towns and the Norman settlers who built their towers andcastles on any land they managed to claim.

Viking age, brian Boru

The End of the Viking Age In Ireland

While this battle was not a simple Irish against Norse battle it signalled the beginning of end of the Viking Age in Ireland. The Vikings never obtained dominion over the island of Ireland like in Saxon England. Rather they ruled over any lands won in battle, mainly in the coastal regions. Likewise the Irish never sought to pay in money for peace and fought fiercely and repeatedly in defence of themselves and their property. 

Gradually, once the Vikings were permitted to occupy their settlements in Dublin, Cork, Wexford, Waterford and Limerick, they changed from being pirates to merchants who farmed and kept well-trained armies. As they allied with various kingdoms they became indispensable to the the ongoing struggle for leadership between Leinster and Munster whose seats were Tara and Cashel respectively, as well as the on-giong power struggle for High Kingship in Ireland. In the next one hundred and fifty years unrest continued in the on-going struggle for power in Ireland until the arrival of the Normans in 1171.

The Arrival of the Vikings in Ireland

The Arrival of the Vikings in Ireland

The beginning of the Viking Age in Ireland is traditionally marked by the ominous days in 795, when Scandinavian invaders ran the prows of their longships onto the beaches of Lambay Island off the coast of Dublin, where the monastery of St Colmcille was plundered, and Rathlin Island off the coast of Co. Antrim, where the church was burned. On the west coast the monasteries on Inismurray and Inisbofin were also plundered, and in the same year the island of Iona was attacked. The sight of these heavily armed marauders, dressed in animal furs and horned helmets must have struck fear and dread into the hearts of the islanders, who were mostly monks and farmers at this time. more

The Second Phase of Viking Ireland

The Second Phase of Viking Ireland

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 more