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