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Vikg-n-Irelnd-art - 1/25/03


"Vikings in Ireland" by Mistress Gunnora Hallakarva, also known as "The Viking Answer Lady". Notes for a future article on the same subject.


NOTE: See also the files: Norse-msg, Ireland-msg, books-Norse-msg, Norse-crafts-bib, Norse-food-art, Norse-women-bib, amber-buying-art, names-Norse-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


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    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



Date: Mon, 21 Sep 1998 22:42:33 -0500

From: Gunnora Hallakarva <gunnora at bga.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Vikings in Ireland


I thought some of you might be interested in my notes for a forthcoming

"Viking Answer Lady" article on the Vikings in Ireland:


There are no unbiased historical accounts of the Vikings. The history of

the Vikings in Ireland is told by a number of sources, including The Annals

of Ulster, the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland (the Four Masters), the

Annals of Clonmacnoise, The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill, the accounts

of Ibn Ghazal in Arabic, and in sagas and stories by the Vikings

themselves.  In each of these sources, the author has held very strong

opinions about the Vikings, and that opinion influences the account

accordingly.  It is only in recent years that archaeological investigations

have been undertaken to give a less biased view of the Vikings' kingdoms in



The Irish knew the Vikings as Gaill ("Gentiles" or foreigners), Lochlann

("lakemen"), Normanni ("north-men") and Danes, regardless of where they may

have originated in Scandinavia.  At the time the Vikings first arrived in

Ireland, the land was nominally ruled over by the Ard Righ, but was in

truth a warring collection of petty kingdoms which gave lip service only to

the ceremonial overlordship of the Ui-Naill.  The North of Ireland was

ruled by the Ui-Naill family.  Meath was ruled by the Southern Ui-Naill,

while Ulster was ruled by Njall-Caille of the northern Ui-Naill.  By the

advent of the Vikings, the Ard Righ was no longer "King of Tara" except in

name, for inasmuch as he ruled, he did so from Derry, which was not even in

the kingdom of Meath where Tara stood.  The petty kings of Ireland, busy

warring among themselves and jockeying for power or a few more cattle,

ultimately were the cause of the Vikings' great successes in Ireland, and

the divisiveness of the small Irish kingdoms with their many rivalries

ensured the Celts' downfall.


The earliest record of Viking attacks in Ireland is dated 795 CE.


By the year 807, the Vikings had won a foothold upon the island of

Lindisfarne, in Rechain, Man, Iona and Inishmurray.  They had suffered some

defeats as well, in Northumbria and Glamorganshire. Suddenly, in the

lightning raids characteristic of the Northern raiders, an attack was

launched up Sligo water and all down the western coast of Ireland.

Contemporary chronicles state that the Vikings were beaten by Ulstermen in

811, burned the west coast in 812, and raided in Mayo, Connaught and Cork

harbor, as well as in the south by Killarney.


In 820 Viking fleets once more appeared on all coasts of Ireland,

plundering Cork, Beggary Island, the Wexford coast and Howth, near Dublin.

In 822 Vikings attacked Skellig Michil off the coast of Kerry and in 824

raided the religious community at Bangor (Bennchair) on the coast of Down.


By 822 CE, Viking raids became an annual occurrance along the Irish



By 825, Viking raids were no longer confined to the coastlines.  Vikings

landed in Wexford Bay, marched west to Taghmon to St. Mullins', went

northwards by boat to Leoghlin Bridge and into Ossory County, then to

Inistioge where they were finally turned back by a hosting of the Ossory

men.  The Vikings were still formidable and made their way to Waterford,

where they took ship and sailed round to the Youghall harbor and plundered

the monastary of St. Molaise.  Finally, they raided in Kilpeacon in

Limerick County to finish their depradations.  In 825 a Viking fleet also

fell upon Iona, once again wiping out its community of monks.


Between 830 and 840, large Viking fleets expanded the area of these raids,

sailing far inland along the navigable rivers. These fleets were under the

command of Norwegian jarls.


Raids continued until 831-832, when the Vikings were united under a

chieftain with vision, ambition, and luck, Thorgisl, called by the Irish

chroniclers Turgesius or Thorgeis. Snorri Sturluson in Heimskringla refers

to this Thorgisl as ruler of Dublin, and calls him a son of King Harald

Harfagra.   It is likely that Thorgisl's fleet originated from the Viking

settlements in Scotland and Man.  The fleet came to Lough Neagh and

defeated an Irish fleet of coracles, then attacked the greatest religious

establishment of Ireland, Armagh (Ard-Macha) the seat of the heir of St.



The Vikings concentrated their attacks during the 830's and 840's on the

Irish monastic communities. Due to the constant internecine warfare in

Ireland, the Irish utilized the monastaries as sanctuaries for high ranking

people, for wealth, and for livestock as well as ecclesiastical wealth and

ornaments.  The sancrosanct nature of the monastic communities was

respected by the warring Irish factions, but seemed to the Vikings to be

treasure houses of concentrated plunder.  The usual Viking raid was a

hit-and-run strike, designed to capture the maximum amount of valuable

goods and then flee the vicinity before the Irish could mount an effective



Communities that felt the heavy hand of Viking raiders included Iona, which

had to be abandoned in the 830's and 840's, Skellig Michael, and even large

communities such as Kildare.  Kildare, even though it was the capital of

Leinster, was plundered no less than 15 times by the Viking forces between

836 and 1000.  Armagh, the prime ecclesiastical center of Ireland was

plundered eleven times.  Settlements near the established Viking camps were

almost certainly extorted for "protection money" by the Vikings.


From 833-840, other Norse fleets continued to ravage the coastlines, and

joined up with Thorgisl's army. One of these was under the command of a

chieftain named Saxulf, who was eventually slain by the Irish.   Thorgisl

took the great monastary at Clonmacnoise, where his queen Ota, a gydhja or

priestess, gave prohpecies from the high altar. Eventually Thorgisl

conquered all of Leth Chuinn, the northern half of Ireland, which he ruled

from Dublinn.  Many Viking settlements were established during this period,

including Viksfjordr (Wexford), Waterford, all of the northern third of

Kerry, Skellig, Heystone, Bolus Head, Smerwick, Limerick, and Dublinn.

Three major Viking kingdoms in Ireland were established during this period,

at Dublin, at Limerick, and at Waterford.


In 841 CE, the Vikings established winter camps in Ireland.  These camps

served as areas to regroup and resupply before the next raiding season.

These camps are mentioned in the annals as being in Dublin bu the River

Liffey, in Waterford by the River Barrow, in Limerick by the River Shannon,

and in Anagassan by the River Boyne.  Later camps were established at

Wexford and Cork.


Eventually the Irish began fighting back, and the Viking hold on their

winter camps became endangered by Irish defenders.  It is possible that

further problems in holding the camps arose due to the presence and

aggression of a rival fleet of Vikings from Denmark.


In 845, King Malachai I (Maelsechlain) of the Meath Ui Naill managed to

somehow capture Thorgisl, and had the Norse king of Dublin drowned in Loch

Owel.  This proved a serious reverse for the Northmen, who apparently did

not have a strong leader or asurred succession.  Malachai became the Ard

Righ, and built a fleet which had several successes over the Vikings.


In 847, Cearbhall, King of Ossory, defeated and slew 1200 Vikings.  This

was followed by Malachai and his champion Tighernach, lord of Loch Gabar,

attacking and capturing the Norse stronghold of Dublin in 849.


In 850 C.E., Irish annals say that internecine fighting began between two

tribes of Vikings in Ireland: the Daunitar or Danes on one side, and the

Lochlannar (usually interpreted as Norwegians), under the rule of King

Gur Rognvaldsson (Barthi Guthmundsson, Origin of the Icelanders, 14).

It is thought that Gur was one of the newphews of the Danish King HErek

Gurarson mentioned by Prudentius (Origin of the Icelanders, 14).

Scholars interpret these records as indicating that some portions of Norway

at least were under Danish rule at this time (Origin of the Icelanders,

15).  After three years of fighting the Daunitar gained the upper hand.


The fortunes of the Vikings fluctuated back and forth, however the Viking

kingdoms of Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford survived and thrived.  Around

851, the three Viking kingdoms after some internecine warfare agreed to be

ruled by an over-king, who may have been called Ard-Righ and whose role

certainly was patterned after that of the Irish Ard-Righdomna.  The first

of the "Kings of all the Northmen in Ireland" was Olaf the White, a

relative of the Norse kings of the Scottish ISlands and the Hebrides, and

remotely related to certain prominent Icelanders.  Olaf's brother Ivar

ruled over Limerick.


In 853 CE, a Viking leader named fr Gurarson seized control of the

remaining Viking camps in Ireland.  Irish sources say that fr was the

"son of the king of Lochlann" -- possibly Rogaland in southwestern Norway.

Ari the Learned later says in Dslendingabk that this fr was his

ancestor on the "sword-side" and claims for fr descent from the Swedish

Yngling kings of Uppsala, saying that fr is the son of Ingjald. fr

ended the annual raids, instead hiring his fleets to the highest bidder as

mercenary forces.  Irish sources say that fr united the forces of the

Daunitar and Lochlannar. This proved lucrative, since during this period

Ireland was divided into three or four kingdoms, and these kingdoms were

always at war.  Only during rare, short truces did fr's fleet find

itself unemployed, and then they turned again to random raids to support

themselves.  fr was to rule successfully over the Viking forces in

Ireland for eighteen years.


In 857 CE, =CDvarr the Boneless, son of Ragnarr Lo=F0brokk, became co-regent of

Dublin, sharing the rule with =D3lafr.  This joint rulership continued until

873 CE.  The sons and grandsons of =CDvarr meanwhile established themselves

in Britain as the rulers of Viking Jorvik (modern York).


The Norse rule of Ireland was certainly not an unenlightened period of

barbarism.  The Norse were, before all else, traders and merchants.  It has

been commented on that the graves of wealthy or even noble Vikings often

contains a trader's scales as well as the more martial accoutrements of the

Viking chieftain. It was around the year 1000 that the Vikings introduced

the first native coinage into Ireland.


In 870 Olaf the White was recalled to Norway.  Ivar took over rule of both

Dublin and Limerick.  The Norse in Ireland began fighting among themselves,

the curse of those who live in Ireland, and on 901, the Irish managed to

capture Dublin from the Vikings.


In 871 C.E., the Irish chroniclers tell us that King Gu=F0r=F6=F0 Rognvaldsson,

father of =D3lafr Gu=F0r=F6=F0arson, ruler of the Irish Vikings, sent a message to

his son in Dublin, asking him to return home to help put down a rebellion

which had broken out against him.  Ari the Learned puts the Battle of the

Hafrsfjord in either 871 or 872 C.E., and some scholars think it is likely

that King Harald Harfagra fought that battle against Gu=F0r=F6=F0 Rognvaldsson

and his son =D3lafr Gu=F0r=F6=F0arson.  The Battle of Hafrsfjord therefore marks

the end of Danish rule in Norway during this era (Origin of the Icelanders,

15).  Later Danish kings such as King Harald Gormsson, his son Svein

Haraldsson called Frokbeard, and his grandson Canute Sveinsson the Powerful

all lay claim to overlordship in Norway, perhaps based upon the prior reign

of King Gu=F0r=F6=F0.


In 902 CE, the Vikings were temporarily expelled from Ireland.  It is

thought that this was due to a truce between the various warring Irish

kingdoms.  The Norsemen found occupation for their warriors in England and

in France.


By 914 CE, new Viking fleets had come to occupy the old Viking winter camps

in Ireland. The grandsons of =CDvarr the Boneless led these new Viking

forces, and between their hoildings in Jorvik and Ireland, came to control

all of the Irish Sea.  Unfortunately for the Viking forces, the

Dublin-Jorvik kingdom never achieved political stability, due to the

constant pressure of warfare with its neighbors.  The Viking leadership was

never successful in establishing amicable relations with their neighboring



In 927 CE, Godfred was driven from Jorvik by the Anglo-Saxon king AEthelstan.

Falling back on his Irish possessions in Dublin, Godfred was able to

regroup and eventually to recapture Jorvik by 939 CE, holding it until 952.


By the 940's, Viking power in the Irish camps was broken, and the Irish

Vikings forced again to serve as mercenaries in the eternal Irish

internecine fighting.  The Viking camps at Strangford, Carlingford Loughs,

and Anagassan came under permanent Irish control during this period.


By 968 CE, the Viking camp at Limerick had come under Irish control.


In 980 CE, the rulers of Dublin were forced to recognize the overkingship

of the Irish king of Meath.


The end of the Viking rule in Ireland came with the reign of Ard-Righ Brian

Boru.  The last Norse rulers of Dublin were Sigtrygg and his son Olaf Curan

(Olaf Shoe).  Under Olaf, Norwegian influence reached its peak.  An Irish

chronicle says, "There was a Norse king in every province, a Norse chief in

every clan, a Norse abbot in every church, a Norse sherrif in every

village, a Norse warrior in every home."   Olaf eventually converted to

Christianity, dying as a monk in 981 in the monastary at Iona.


In 980 The Norse suffered a heavy defeat at Tara under the leadership of

Brian Boru (Boroimhe).  Brian Boru became Ard Righ of all Ireland, forcing

the petty kings to acknowledge his rule.  Eventually even the Norse came

under the Ard Righ's rule, for by 1000 Brian was king even of Dublin.


In 989 CE, Sigtryggr Silkiskegg ("silkbeard") became ruler of the Vikings

in Dublin.  Sigtryggr's rule lasted from 989-993, and from 995-1042.

SIgtryggr chafed under the King of Meath, and repeatedly during his reign

attempted to throw off the yoke of Meath by allying with the King of

Leinster.  Meath managed to overcome Siggtryggr's attempts to break free,

and Dublin was forced to pay tribute to Meath in 995, 998, and 1000. =20


It is thought that Sigtryggr was the engineer of the alliance between the

King of Leinster and ___, Jarl of Orkney in 1014, which led to the Battle

of Clontarf.


In 1012 the Irish King of Leinster decided to rebel against Brian Boru, and

hired the aid of the son of Olaf Curan, Siggtrygg Silken-beard, the current

Norse ruler of Dublin.  Siggtrygg, fearing Brian Boru's military might,

recruited the aid of Sigurd Digri.  On April 23, 1014, the forces of Brian

Boru met those of Siggtrygg.  Brian Boru and Sigurd Digri dies in the

fight.  Siggtrygg survived, and Dublin was untouched by the battle.  Thus

Siggtrygg ruled in Dublin for many years after, eventually becoming the

first king in Ireland to mint his own coins.  Siggtrygg eventually became a

Christian., and like his father ended his life as a monk in the monstary at

Iona.  Though the Norse continued to live and rule in Dublin, Limericak,

and Waterford, they steadily became more Irish and less connected to



Despite the best efforts of Siggtryggr, Dublin remained a minor political

power.  However, Dublin grew steadily in importance as a mercantile center.

Dublin was especially well-known for its market in luxury goods, and the

profits accruing to the ruler of Dublin from its markets made the town an

attractive prize for many rulers.  Despite losing its importance as a

political power, Dublin continued to maintain its mercenary fleet, hiring

the fleet to the irish, Scots, Welsh, and even Normans, all the way up

until the dissolution of the fleet at the time of the Norman Conquest.


By 1035, the Viking camp at Waterford had come under Irish control.


In 1052, a son of the King of Leinster was named Regent in Dublin.


Irish rule of Dublin was interrupted from 1078 to 1094, when the Norse King

of Man and the Isles (the Hebrides) added Dublin to his holdings.


After 1094, however, Dublin remained firmly in control of the Irish kings.



Alfred P. Smyth.  Scandinavian York and Dublin I: The History and

Archaeology of Two Related Viking Kingdoms.  Dublin: Templekieran. 1975.


Alfred P. Smyth.  Scandinavian York and Dublin II: The History and

Archaeology of Two Related Viking Kingdoms.  New Jersey: Humanities Press

and Dublin: Templekieran. 1979.


Alfred P. Smyth.  Scandinavian Kings in the British Isles, 850-880.

Oxford: Oxford Univ Press. 1977.


Donnchadh O Corrain.  "High-Kings, Vikings and Other Kings." Irish

Historical Studies 21 (1979), pp. 283-323.


Patrick Wallace.  "The Archaeology of Viking Dublin."  In: The Comparative

History of Urban Origins in Non-Roman Europe: Ireland, Wales, Denmark,

Germany, Poland and Russia from the Ninth to the Thirteenth Century.  Ed.

Helen B. Clarke et al.  Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 1985.  pp.



Francoise Henry.  Irish Art During the Viking Invasions (800-1020 AD)

Ithaca: Cornell Univ Press.  1967.


W.E.D. Allen, The Poet and the Spae-Wife: an Attempt to Reconstruct

Al-Ghazal's Embassy to the Vikings."  Dublin: Allen Figgis & Co. 1960.


C.F. Keary.  The Vikings in Western Christendom, AD 789-AD 888.  1891.

Millwood, NY: Kraus Reprint Co. 1975.


Johannes Brondsted.  The Vikings.  New York: Penguin. 1965.  ISBN

0-14-020459-8 (I have this one, and it has much useful historical and

archaeological info.)


Gwyn Jones.  A History of the Vikings.  2nd ed.  Oxford: Oxford Univ.

Press. 1984.


Gunnora Hallakarva



<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
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Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org