When the Vikings arrived in Ireland they were the first influx of new people to the island since the Celts arrival during the Iron Age Period. For over 8 centuries Ireland was left untouched from external attacks unlike neighbouring Britain who faced conquests from the Romans and Germanic people.
The first Vikings to arrive in Ireland were from Scandinavia who were out to discover new lands and create settlements. They had also settled in Scotland and, like Ireland, they began to settle within the local population. In Scotland these people became known as The Gallowglasses who would later arrive Ireland as hired mercenaries.
The arrival of Vikings in Ireland
The first attack by the Vikings in Ireland was recorded to have happened in 795AD by Irish monks in the Annals of Ulster
The burning of Rechru by the heathens, and Scí was overwhelmed and laid waste.
It is believed Rechru was referring to an attack on the monastery at Rathlin island which is located on the north eastern coast of Ireland. For the next 30 – 40 years Viking attacks on Ireland remained low with only one or two attacks each year. The Irish natives resisted such Viking attacks on a few occasions and in 811 the Ulaidh slaughtered the Vikings attempting to raid Ulster but in 823 the Vikings returned to attack and pillage Bangor, they repeated such attacks the following year.
Viking Settlements in Ireland
At first the Vikings in Ireland stayed within 20 miles of the coast unsure what lay ahead inland so they kept their attacks along the coast targeting Irish monasteries. They made more permanent settlements with their first “wintering over” located at Lough Neagh during 840 AD and 841 AD. The following year Viking settlements were established in Dublin (named Dubhlinn), Cork and Waterford (named Vadrefjord).
Between 849-852 AD saw the arrival of 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 new arrivals the fair foreigners and before long they both battled in the Irish Sea and Strangford Lough.
Viking attacks on Irish towns
In 860 AD the Vikings of Waterford attacked the King of Israige but were slaughtered and attacks against the Vikings in Ireland increased. 6 years later the settlement longphort was destroyed and the King of Northern Uí Néill managed to rid the Vikings from Ulster. In 887AD the Connacht men slaughtered the Vikings of Limerick and by 892 AD Vikings in Wexford, Waterford and St Mullins 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 AD but with a much larger force than before, Vikings of Britain also joined the attacks by sailing across the Irish Sea in their Viking ships.
After the death of Niall Glundubh in 919 AD Ulster became vulnerable with the Viking raiding Tír Conaill and Armagh. 5 years later in 924 AD over 32 ships entered Lough Foyle and the Vikings returned to Lough Erne setting up their fleets. Once again Ireland became enslaved by the over whelming power of the Vikings but would not last very long.
Irish Monasteries a target for Vikings in Ireland
Irish monasteries lacked defences from Viking attacks even though they had faced attacks from the Irish previous to the arrival of the Vikings. 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 AD on Strangford Lough and in Dublin in 939 AD. He went onto the Scottish Isles with his Ulster fleet attacking Viking settlements in 941 but died in Combat in 943 AD.
Brian Boru of Dál Cais became King of Munster and called himself the 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 recognised 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 arrived in Ireland and performed small raids
- 806AD – The Vikings raided Iona Abbey, all 68 occupants were killed
- 832AD – 120 Viking ships arrived in Ireland’s north eastern coasts
- 836AD – The Vikings began to attack deeper inland
- 841AD – Dubhlinn (Dublin) was created as a Viking settlement
- 856AD – The Vikings created a settlement near Cork
- 848AD – The Viking army are defeated in Sligo, Kildare, Cashel and Cork
- 850AD – The Vikings created the settlement of Waterford
- 851AD – Battle at Dundalk bay between Norse and Danish Vikings takes place
- 852AD – Armagh is destroyed by Vikings
- 869AD – King of Connaught defeated the Norwegian Vikings near Drogheda
- 902AD – The Irish attacked and drove the Vikings from Dublin into Wales
- 914AD – Large Viking Fleets arrived at Waterford. Settlements in Limerick and Wexford were built
- 915AD – The Vikings attacked Dublin and regained 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
First published on June 8, 2010 and last modified on July 30, 2017.