Viking Logo

VIKING NETWORK IRELAND

A HISTORY
OF VIKING DUBLIN


Dublin in the ninth century:

The period 837-873 was a period of Viking penetration and Irish reaction. This phase began dramatically with two large fleets of Norsemen in 837 on the Boyne and Liffey. Each fleet was said to have comprised three score ships. Their leader may have been the chieftan Saxolb who was killed later that year in Ireland. There was no unified response from the Irish and soon afterwards two naval encampments were established by the Vikings, at Annagassan, Co. Louth and at Dublin (Duiblinn).

The Dublin longphort was apparently established at the tidal pool in the River Poddle. Later references after 843 are to a settlement at Áth Cliath and this is presumably another site though close. There was an island, Usher's Island, in the river close by and this may have been the site of Duiblinn. Islands were often used by Vikings as settlements. There is little evidence that the site was at Kilmainham.

Habitation and inhumation appears to have been scattered along the banks of the Liffey and its tributaries.

After 850 kings of Dublin begin to be mentioned. Amláib (Olaf the White) arrived in Dublin in 853 and ruled jointly with Ímar (Norse Ívarr inn beinlausi "Ivar the Boneless"). Amhláib was a Norwegian but Imar may have been a Dane. They brought back an enormous number of captives from northern Britain in 871. Ímar is mentioned as king of all the foreigners in Ireland at his death in 873. By then Amhláib appears to have returned to Norway. For the remainder of the century the kingship of Dublin was unstable and there appears to have been much dissention.

The longphort of Áth Cliath was captured in 902. By then it could not be called a "town". It appears that Dublin was the only Viking trading place in Ireland during the latter half of the ninth century.

Dublin in the tenth century:

Sitriuc Cáech, one of the grandsons of Ímar reoccupied Áth Cliath in 917. No indication that this was a new site. The king of Tara, Niall Glúndubh, attacked the settlement in 919 but was defeated in a battle at Islandbridge. Sitriuc Cáech in 920 left Dublin and made himself king of York. Presumably he took some of the Vikings of Dublin with him

In 921 Sitriuc's brother (or cousin) Gothfrith reoccupied Áth Cliath and attacked the Armagh area. He led an expedition to Limerick in 924 where Vikings had two years earlier established a settlement. In 927 Sitriuc Cáech died in York and Gothfrith left Dublin and unsuccessfully bid for control of York. He returned to Dublin two years later. He died in 934 and was succeeded by his son Amláibh.

Amláibh plundered the monastery of Clonmacnoise in 936 and the king of Tara, Donnchad Donn mac Flainn replied by burning Áth Cliath. King Amláibh and his warriors left Dublin and he died in England in 941. The word "dún" (stronghold) is used of the settlement at Dublin for the first time in 944. This may mark a significant development.

Amlaíb Cúarán became king of Dublin 945 having been king of the York Danes 941-3. He had become a Christian while in York. He still led raids on monasteries, sometimes with Irish chieftains as allies. In 947 the Vikings were defeated at Slane, Co. Meath while operating in support of the king of Tara.

King Amlaíb left for England in 946 to try to take advantage of the unsettled political situation there. Gothfrith son of Sitruic became leader in his stead and led a great raiding expedition in 951 which was the last such major raid. The booty included cattle, horses, gold, silver, and a large supply of slaves for the slave market. It is suggested that it was at this time that the Vikings of Dublin were changing their economic and political behaviour - towards urbanisation.

In 953 Amlaíb Cúarán returned from York and took up the kingship of Dublin. York's independence would soon be ended and Dublin was growing. York was no longer a close ally and the new strategy was to build up Dublin like York. There was political stability for a whole generation as Dublin remained allied with Leinstermen.

The Irish Sea trading economy was becoming currency based and Dublin began to mint its own coins. The place of mintage of this Hiberno-Norse currency is given as DIFLIN and there are many variants including Dyflinn. By 997 the people of Dublin had marked the position of their first landfall by the erection of the Long Stone, a tall megalith.

In 980 Amláibh Cúarán (Norse Óláfr kváran) and his allies were defeated at Tara, and the king abdicated and retired to Iona. The new king of Tara captured Viking Dublin and released large numbers of hostages. Between 936 and 1015 Dublin had been attacked and usually captured by the Irish on at least thirteen occasions.

Dublin starts to sound like and look like a town in the middle decades of the tenth century. Amlaíb Cúarán was the last king of Dublin to attempt to obtain control of York. He married a member of a Kildare Irish family and may have spoken Irish. His defeat marked the end of Viking Dublin, his principal achievement was the creation of the Hiberno-Norse town of Dublin.

In 989 Máel Seachnaill 2, king of Tara, levied a gold tax on the householders of Dublin. 997 Ireland partitioned between Brian Bórama and Máel Seachnaill 2, Dublin fell under the influence of Brian. The Dublin Norse part in the battle of Clontarf was their last attempt at asserting their independence.


Sources

Patrick F Wallace `Dublin in the Viking Age' in Michael Ryan (ed), The illustrated archaeology of Ireland (Dublin 1991).

Howard B. Clarke, "The bloodied eagle: the Vikings and the development of Dublin, 841-1014", The Irish Sword, 18 (1990-2).

A.P. Smyth, Scandinavian Kings in the British Isles 850-880 (Oxford, 1977)

Howard B. Clarke, Proto-towns and Towns in Ireland and Britain in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries in H.B. Clarke, M. Ní Mhaonaigh and R. Ó Floinn (eds), Ireland and Scandinavia in the Early Viking Age (Dublin, 1998).

Liam De Paor, The Viking towns of Ireland, Viking Congress, 7.


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

Home Return to Viking Age in Ireland Page