History Of Vikings Invading Ireland

The Invasion of Vikings

The Vikings first invaded Ireland in the 8th century, raiding a monastery on Rathlin Island on the north east coast. The Viking conquest in Ireland would last for over 200 years, until the arrival of the Anglo-Normans.

The first Vikings to arrive in Ireland

From mid-400 AD Ireland had gone through a lot of changes. The monastic movement arrived and started the expansion of settlements all over the island.

With no major towns in Ireland at the time their larger Irish monasteries became central hubs and places of importance. They became renowned across Europe for their excellence in education, attracting people from all over. The also became an attraction for the invading Vikings.

The first group of Vikings to invade Ireland were referred to as the fair foreigners and were most likely from Scandinavia. They had also settled in Scotland and would later became known as The Gallowglasses, fierce mercenary warriors.

The first Viking raid in Ireland was recorded in the historical manuscripts of the Annals of the Four Masters in 795 AD.

The burning of Rechru by the heathens, and Scí was overwhelmed and laid waste.

At first, the Vikings would perform small hit and run raids against coastal targets such as Rechru, a monastery on Rathlin Island. By 820 their attacks intensified in a second wave of raids. The Viking warriors were larger in numbers, better organized, an better armed. They moved further in-land along river-ways attacking monastic settlements they came across. They also took many captives shipping them off to trade as slaves.

Viking Settlements in Ireland

he Norsemen who arrived in Ireland built wintering camps, known as longphorts (derived from the Irish words boat & fort), a ship port. Rather than travel on the seas during winter these longphorts allowed the Vikings to settle for longer. They used their longphorts as a base allowing them to perform further in-land raids.

Although longphorts were mainly built to only last a single winter, some of them became major settlements. The Viking settlement in Dublin, Dyflinn, founded in 841 AD became a major trade port for slaves who were captured during raids. Excavations during the 1970’s discovered over 100 homes and thousands of daily household objects.

The Norse expanded into nearby areas establishing the Norse Kingdom of Dublin. Other longphorts in Ireland included Annagassan, Cork, Limerick, Cork, and Waterford.

The second invasion of Vikings

As the Findgaill (fair foreigners) continued their new life in Ireland another wave of Vikings arrived in 851 AD. These new Vikings were different to the previous invaders, so much so, the Irish called them the Dubgaill (Dark foreigners). Used to refer to rival groups of Vikings, the meaning of fair & dark foreigner is often debated.

The Dubgaill arrived in an expedition of 140 ships and traveled into Dublin. Their arrival was recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters:

The dark heathens came to Áth Cliath, made a great slaughter of the fair-haired foreigners, and plundered the naval encampment, both people and property. The dark heathens made a raid at Linn Duachaill, and a great number of them were slaughtered.

The Dubgaill were likely Danes, arriving in Ireland to drive out the Findgaill and claim authority over Ireland. They claimed Kingship of Dublin establishing alliance with other Irish Kings but at the same time making enemies.

Forcing the Vikings out of Ireland

By 902 two Gaelic kings, mac Muirecáin the King of Leinster and Máel Findia mac Flannacáin King of Brega launched an attack on the Dublin Viking settlement.

Ímar, the Viking King of Dublin, fled Ireland along with his followers who were half dead and abandoned most of their ships. The Norse families, who were trades people, remained in Dublin.

It wouldn’t be long until the Viking warriors returned to Ireland with a greater force.

Time line of Vikings in Ireland

  • 795AD – The Vikings first arrived in Ireland
  • 806AD – Raid on Iona Abbey left all 68 occupants dead
  • 832AD – 120 Viking ships arrived in Ireland’s north eastern coasts
  • 836AD – Vikings began to attack deeper inland
  • 841AD – The Viking settlement of Dyflinn is founded
  • 856AD – The Vikings created a settlement near Cork
  • 848AD – The Vikings 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
  • 852AD – Armagh is destroyed
  • 869AD – King of Connaught defeated the Norwegian Vikings
  • 902AD – The Irish attacked and drove the Vikings from Dublin
  • 914AD – Large Viking Fleets arrived at Waterford. Settlements in Limerick and Wexford were built
  • 915AD – The Vikings attacked Dublin and regained control
  • 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

Last updated February 20, 2019.

About the Author

Pádraig Mac Donnchadha
Pádraig is a fluent Irish speaker with a passion for history, traditional music, and story telling.