Dublin (Irish: Baile Átha Cliath) is the largest city of Ireland with its population of 1345000, and also the capital. Now, we cannot get around the Vikings when visiting Dublin. Nope, we just can’t do it! These pesky Scandinavian pirates were everywhere!
In 795 AD the Vikings descended upon Ireland after crossing the seas in their longships. Who knows, maybe some of the ships from the Viking Ship Museum has been anchored along the beautiful coast of Ireland? The Scandinavian pirates – as they were – attacked monasteries and isolated settlements, burning, looting and pillaging in search of gold and treasure. They killed many locals, and took captive others to sell as slaves. For nearly 35 years they launched assaults all around the coast of Ireland, and as if that wasn’t enough, around the year 830AD, these smaller raids were replaced by vast assault fleets of 50 ships or more. The fleets appeared at the mouths of Ireland’s great rivers, the shallow draft of their elegant ships allowed them to row into the interior, sacking the great monasteries.
Within a decade, these invaders began to build permanent bases on the island in fortified harbors, called longphorts, allowing them to protect their ships and ride out the dangerous winterstorms that made sailing risky. Over time, the longphorts became places of trade and commerce, and the first true towns in Ireland. Soon goods from all over Europe made their way into Viking towns like Dublin.
By the end of the tenth century, Viking powers were on the wane. In 1014 a large Viking army was defeated at the battle of Clontarf, an event often used to mark the end of the Viking era in Ireland. The true Irish legacy of the Vikings was their establishment of the great coastal towns that would grow to be major cities, but it is their image as vicious raiders from the sea that has captured the popular imagination.
Ireland now reverted to a state of near constant warfare between the various territorial kings. Into this power struggle came the infamous Diarmait Mac Murchada, who were driven out of Ireland by his rivals, one whose wife Diarmait had kidnapped (and returned unharmed) 15 years earlier. In a decision that would have drastic consequences for the future of the island, Diarmait sought aid from Henry II, King of England. Henry was busy fighting in Aquitaine, France, and had no men to spare, so he authorized Diarmait to recruit allies among his Anglo-Norman nobility. That was a bad move! Over the next few years, Diarmait and his Norman allies invaded Ireland in waves. And what do you know, the Normans were also descendants of the fierce Vikings. (Told you – they were everywhere!)
After Diarmaits death in 1171, via a joint allied, the control of Ireland now lay with Henry II. It would be seven centuries before control of Ireland was even partially recovered. How the Irish regained control of their own country will be covered in a later post. So check back for more!
While you wait for my next post from Ireland, check out these prevous posts: