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VIKING NETWORK IRELAND

LONGPHORTS
VIKING SETTLEMENTS IN IRELAND


Longphorts.

During the 830s Viking raiders in Ireland began to establish camps where the raiding party could spend the winter. The first documented occurrence in Ireland was in 841 when Dublin and Linn D˙achaill (Annagassan, Co. Louth) were mentioned. The word longphort, first used in the Irish annals in 840, was used to describe these camps. During the first half of the tenth century the term was used to describe Scandinavian bases where ships or fleets were used. Typically they seem to have consisted of a fortified area beside a river, often where a bend in the river or the joining of a tributary provided defence on two sides. A pool in the river provided anchorage for the Viking ships.

Many of these longphorts were very temporary. Others, such as Dublin, developed to become large settlements. Bases established inland along the banks of rivers and lakes apparently did not last long. Few have been positively identified and almost none have been excavated.

Recently Eamonn P. Kelly, Keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland and others have been attempting to identify and examine sites of inland Irish longphorts. Two have recently been identified and described.

Dunrally Fort, Co. Laois.

Dunrally fort is an oval earthwork on the river Barrow in Co. Laois. It has a raised interior c. 50m across. This is enclosed by a high earthen rampart inside a wide water filled ditch and bank. In the past it was regarded as a ringfort of native construction. The authors' recent examination led them to the conclusion that this structure is the central citadel of a more massively defended structure. A huge D-shaped area is enclosed by the river Barrow and a tributary and on the other side by a ditched rampart. The whole area is 360m long and 150m wide. A pool on the river Barrow would have provided a safe anchorage for Viking ships. There was also a crossing point on the river nearby.

The tributary and the river Barrow once formed the boundaries between three small kingdoms and the Vikings may have chosen the site in order to exploit rivalries between these kingdoms.

There is an account in the Annals of the destruction of Longphort-Rothlaibh in 862 and this has been identified as Dunrally fort. It is considered that this was a longphort established by the Viking Rodolf who appears to have active in the area for about a decade. He used a base in Waterford Harbour to raid up the Barrow, Nore and Suir. His final mention in the Irish annals is the destruction of his longphort in 862. Four months later a Viking named Rodolf appeared as the leader of a group of Vikings on the river Rhine. This Rodolf was the the son of Harold, a former king of Denmark who had been expelled from Denmark in 827. Rodolf died in 873.

Athlunkard, Co. Clare.

Athlunkard is in Co. Clare on the River Shannon. The placename Athlunkard refers to a ford (ath) and a defended ship encampment (longphort). The encampment referred to in the placename is represented by earthworks opposite an island in the Shannon. Iron objects dating from the final century of the first millenium, a plough coulter, a spearhead, a spearbutt and a small ring, were found on the site. A Viking silver weight was found on the opposite riverbank.

The site is D shaped, 75m long and 30m wide, enclosed by a curved rampart. It is located on low ground where a stream runs into the Shannon. Beyond the rampart is a marsh. Inside the enclosure is an oval raised area 20m by 12.5m protected by a bank and ditch.

It is believed likely that the earthworks are the remains of the Viking earthworks founded between AD 840 and 930. Lax weir, located below the island, which preserves the Norse word for salmon is evidence for Scandinavian presence in the area. The Vikings carried out a major two year campaign along the Shannon system in the mid ninth century. A Viking base was founded on Lough Ree in 845 and soon afterwards a major settlement was established at Limerick. The Athlunkard longphort may be related to this campaign.

Sources

Eamonn P. Kelly and John Maas, Vikings on the Barrow in Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 9 No. 3 , (Autumn 1995).

Eamonn P. Kelly and Edmond O'Donovan, in Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 12 No. 4, (Winter 1998).


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