Viking Logo



Lesson Five.

The Vikings Settle in Ireland.

This map of Ireland shows the monastic settlements which were raided by the Vikings as well as showing Viking settlements

The years between 795 and 840 were particularly difficult for Irish monks, especially for Irish monks, especially for those who lived on small offshore islands. The first Viking raid took place on Lambay Island off the coast of Dublin in 795. After that, a message travelled throughout the Viking world - Irish monasteries have great treasures and monks do not fight back. Monastic settlements were attacked at Inishmurray, Inishbofin and Sceilg Mhicil. Sailing inland along Irish rivers, the raiders attacked Glendalough, Kildare and Kells. As the raids increased, the Vikings began to plunder towns and settlements in the Irish countryside as well.

Soon a number of Viking raiding parties began to spend the winter months in Ireland. They quickly realised that Irish winters were much milder than those of their northern homes. Looking at the green Irish countryside, they saw that farming and animal rearing would not be nearly as difficult here.

Returning home in the spring, they gathered their families, their animals and their tools and set sail once again, this time to settle in a new and less harsh land. Viking towns were soon established at Dublin, Waterford, Wicklow, Cork and Limerick.

Models of houses in Viking Dublin.

These "people from the North" - the Norse as they were called - had a great influence on the Irish. Norse men and women began to marry Irish men and women. The Norse introduced the use of money to Ireland, along with words like margadh (market) and pingin (penny).

The Battle of Clontarf: 1014.

Brian Boru became king of Dal Cais, a small area in north Munster, in 976. He was an ambitious man and soon all of Munster was in his power. King after king surrendered to Brian until finally only Malachy, the king of Tara, remained. By 1005, Brian had defeated Malachy and was at last Ireland's first High King, the "Emperor of the Irish".

Through his many battles, Brian had made a great number of enemies, especially Mael Morda, king of Leinster, and Sitric, the Viking king of Dublin. Brian had forced them to give hostages and to pay a tribute (fine), and these proud warriors did not like this treatment. Together they plotted their revenge.

When Brian's spies heard of this they brought the news to their leader. With a powerful army, Brian attacked Dublin on Christmas Day in 1013, but he was unable to take Sitric's well protected town. Even so, Sitric and Mael Morda realised they needed help. Mael Morda tried to get other Irish kings to fight with him, but they were afraid to go against Brian. Sitric was more successful. He convinced the Viking leaders of the Orkneys and the Isle of Man to come to Ireland the following spring.

On Good Friday in the year 1014, Brian and his Munstermen faced their enemies by the sea at Clontarf north of Dublin. By now, Brian was a very old man, so he gave the battle orders to his son and returned to his tent to pray. Slowly but surely the Munstermen pushed back their enemies. Many were forced to flee into the sea and were drowned as they tried to reach their ships.

As the defeated Norse warriors ran for their lives, one of them noticed a grey-haired man. It was Brian Boru. Raising his battle axe, the soldier killed the old king.

After the Battle of Clontarf, many Vikings settled down to become successful merchants and traders. Even though they had been defeated, they still had great respect for a warrior like Brian Boru.
One Viking saga had this to say about him:

    Brian fell but saved his kingdom
    This Brian was the best of kings.

Think and Discuss.

  1. Tell how Brian Boru became "Emperor of the Irish".
  2. Brian Boru was Ireland's first High King. What does the title which he gave himself tell you about Brian?
  3. Why were Sitric and Mael Morda Brian's greatest enemies?.
  4. Why do you think Brian made his enemies give him hostages and tribute?
  5. Why do you think other Irish kings were not eager to fight against Brian?
  6. Why might the Vikings of Orkney and the Isle of Man have agreed to help?
  7. Describe the Battle of Clontark and say why it was so important.
  8. What do the Viking sagas say about Brian Boru?
  9. What does this tell us about Brian Boru?

For You to Do.

If radio reporting had been possible at the Battle of Clontarf, how might a Viking reporter have dealt with the story?

Several people in your class could be "interviewed for a "documentary" on what happened.

Lesson One: The Vikings.
Lesson Two: Viking Raids - Looking at the Sagas.
Lesson Five: Vikings Longships.
Lesson Four: A Viking Settlement.
Lesson Plan Page.
Updated January 2001 by the Viking Network
Irish Co-ordinator Michael Farry.