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VIKING NETWORK IRELAND

VIKING CEMETERIES AT KILMAINHAM AND ISLANDBRIDGE, DUBLIN


Viking burials were first recognised at Kilmainham, Dublin, in 1836 and further finds were made in 1842-48 and 1861 when a railway line and railway station were being constructed, in 1866 during gravel quarrying and in 1933-34 during the making of the World War 1 memorial park.

There were two distinct cemeteries, one at the early Christian monastic site of Cell Maignenn (Kilmainham) and the other about 800m west at Islandbridge. In both cases it appears that the Viking burials were inserted into older native cemeteries where the burial rite was east-west inhumation without grave goods.

There was a minimum of 17 pagan Viking burials with grave goods at Kilmainham, 15 male and 2 female. There were also many Christian burials without grave goods. At Islandbridge there was also a minimum of 19 pagan Viking burials, 17 male and 2 female. Islandbridge was located beside an ancient fording point on the river.

The grave goods included many weapons, swords, spear heads, shield bosses, axeheads and knives but also farming implements - shears and sickles, smithing tools - tongs and pincers and commerce items - weighing scales and weights. Spindle whorls and needle cases indicated garment making.

Viking Sword

A sword from the Viking cemetery at Kilmainham.

There have been other finds in the area whose exact location is not known and they indicate at least 20 other pagan Viking burials, 16 male, 4 female. All the artefacts recovered have been dated to the second half of the ninth century making them of the same date as the Viking longphort established at Dublin in 841 and which continued until the Vikings were driven out in 902.

The two cemeteries were located on a 2km long gravel ridge between the rivers Camac and Liffey already containing a monastery, which probably had a defensive wall. The fording place nearby would have been a suitable beaching place for boats and so would have been an ideal site for a longphort. Vikings are known to have often taken over existing monastic settlements as over-wintering camps and this may be what happened here. It was also common for Vikings to bury their dead in existing Christian cemeteries.

It has been suggested that this ford was the original Áth Cliath (ford of the hurdles). It was just beyond the head of the tide. The point usually identified as Áth Cliath two km downriver was c.300m wide with mud flats on each side. Two references, 841 and 842 are to a longphort at Dubhlinn but subsequent references are to Áth Cliath. This includes the expulsion of the Vikings in 902.

The cemeteries seem to indicate that a settled community of Vikings were living in the Islandbridge - Kilmainham area on the monastic site for a period in the ninth century. It is also possible of course that at the same time another Viking longphort also existed further downstream at Duiblinn.


Sources

Elizabeth O'Brien, "The Location and Context of Viking Burials at Kilmainham and Islandbridge, Dublin" in H.B. Clarke, M. Ní Mhaonaigh and R. Ó Floinn (eds), Ireland and Scandinavia in the Early Viking Age (Dublin, 1998).

Elizabeth O'Brien, A tale of two cemeteries in Archaeology Ireland, Vol 9 No 3, Autumn 1995 (The Viking Issue).


Updated July 2000 by the Viking Network
IRISH CO-ORDINATOR Michael Farry.
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