As Scandinavia was becoming increasing over populated the Vikings found a need to discover new land and create settlements, Ireland being one of them. They had also settled in Scotland and, like Ireland, started to settle with the local population. In Scotland these people became known as The Gallowglasses and would later arrive Ireland as hired mercenaries.
The arrival of Vikings in Ireland
In 795 the first Vikings in Ireland landed on the Irish shores with their Viking ships attacking their first Irish monastery in Rathlin Island located near County Antrim. Attacks on Ireland remained very few over the next 30 – 40 years with attacks taking place approximately once a year. It is known the Irish resisted these attacks on a few occasions and in 811 seen the Ulaidh slaughter the Vikings attempting to raid Ulster. In 823 the Vikings attacked and pillaged Bangor and repeating these attacks again the next year.
Viking Settlements of Dublin, Cork & Waterford
At first the Vikings in Ireland stayed within 20 miles of the coast unsure what lay ahead inland keeping their attacks on coastal Irish monasteries and made more permanent settlements with their first “wintering over” located at Lough Neagh during 840-841. Then between 841-842 settlements were established in Dublin, named Dubhlinn, and then Cork and Waterford which was named Vadrefjord.
849-852 saw the arrival a new Viking, the Danes who were named by the Irish as the dark foreigners. The more settled Vikings in Ireland, the Norse named the fair foreigners, quickly went to battle with the Danes in the Irish Sea and Strangford Lough.
The Vikings Start Attacking Larger Towns
In 860 the Vikings of Waterford attacked the King of Israige but were slaughtered and attacks on the Vikings in Ireland increased. In 866 the settlement longphort was destroyed and the King of Northern Uí Néill managed to rid the Vikings from Ulster. Connachtmen in 887 slaughtered the Vikings of Limerick and in 892 Wexford, Waterford and St Mullins Vikings were also slaughtered.
For the next ten years the Vikings focused their attacks elsewhere in Europe but with less opportunities they returned to Ireland in 914 as much larger force with Vikings of Britain joining their attacks in Viking ships.
Ulster became vulnerable with the death of Niall Glundubh in 919 after which the Vikings raided Tír Conaill and attacked Armagh again. Over 32 ships entered Lough Foyle and in 924 they returned to Lough Erne to setup their fleets. Once again Ireland became enslaved by the over whelming power of the Vikings which would not last long.
Irish Monasteries a target for Vikings in Ireland
Irish monasteries lacked defences from Viking attacks. A new form of building was constructed known as ‘round towers’ built by stone and proved strong in defence. It had a unique feature of having only one entrance to the round tower that was at least 10ft from the ground so a ladder was needed to gain entry. Round towers can still be seen today dotted around the Irish countryside and their unique features still standing strong.
The Irish rebel against Viking invasions
Niall Glundubh’s son, Muircertach, took revenge in setting up attacks from his base, Grianan of Aileach in County Dongeal, which still stands today and is a perfect example of round forts in Ireland. Muircertach won victories over the Vikings in battles such in 926 on Strangford Lough and in Dublin in 939. He went onto the Scottish Isles with his Ulster fleet attacking Viking settlements in 941 but died in Combat in 943.
Brian Boru of Dál Cais became King of Munster and who was first to call himself High King of All Ireland after his brother was killed during battle. With the help of the Uí Néill, Brian Boru slaughtered the Vikings of Dublin and was seen as the High King in 1002.
If you cant beat them join them, just as the Vikings did
One of the main reasons the Vikings failed to take full control of the island is that they made the mistake of getting involved with Ireland’s internal affairs which seen many clans battle with each other for control of different regions. The Vikings joined forces with the clan of Leciester to defeat Brian Boru and called on forces to come to Ireland from all over the Viking Kingdom.
On Good Friday 1014 the Viking fleet arrived in Dublin bay to battle with Brian Boru. Brian’s Army consisted of his Munster army and the Limerick and Waterford Vikings, who had joined forces with Brian Boru. Although Brian was killed, at an age of 70, as he prayed in his tent for victory the Vikings were driven back to the Viking ships with many being slaughtered on the coast of Clontarf which would see Viking power in Ireland lost forever.
Although the Viking power was taken away it is well known they helped the Irish progress in terms of technology in building warships, weapons and battle tactics and also built the first towns such as Dublin, Cork and Waterford. Many Vikings still lived on in Ireland and married into Irish families which would help shape many future generations.
With the invasion of the Vikings and internal disputes the Church in Ireland was reduced and its influence abroad was dramatically smaller than previous years. Rome was quite worried that Ireland was losing touch with Christianity and the country would need reformed and disciplined yet again. Malachy of Armagh, aged 29, would be appointed Bishop of Down and Connor in the North East.
Time line of Vikings in Ireland
- 795AD – The Vikings arrive in Ireland performing small raids
- 806AD – The Vikings raid Iona Abbey killing all 68 occupants
- 832AD – 120 Viking ships arrive in Ireland’s northern and eastern coasts
- 836AD – Vikings being attacking deeper inland
- 841AD – Dubhlinn (Dublin) begins as a Viking settlement
- 856AD – The Vikings created the settlement near Cork
- 848AD – Viking army defeated in Sligo, Kildare, Cashel and Cork
- 850AD – The Vikings created the settlement of Waterford
- 851AD – Battle at Dundalk bay between Norwegian Vikings and Danish Vikings takes place
- 852AD – Armagh is destroyed by Vikings
- 869AD – King of Connaught defeats Norwegian Vikings near Drogheda
- 902AD – The Irish attack and drive the Vikings from Dublin into Wales
- 914AD – Large Viking Fleets being arriving at Waterford. Further settlements built in Limerick and Wexford
- 915AD – The Vikings attack Dublin and regain control from the Irish
- 928AD – Viking Massacre at Dunmore Cave in Kilkenny
- 976AD – Brian Boru becomes King of Munster
- 980AD – The Battle of Tara
- 999AD – Brian Boru defeats the Vikings
- 1002AD – Brian Boru becomes High King of Ireland
- 1005AD – Máel Mórda mac Murchada begins to rebel against Brian Boru
- 1014AD – Battle of Clontarf – Brian Boru & Máel Mórda mac Murchada are killed