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The Vikings In Ireland

One of the most dramatic events in our history was the arrival of the Vikings in Ireland.

Who Were They, And What Was Their Impact?

To some, the latter part of my question may seem controversial. Down through the centuries we have become used to the popular image of heathen barbarians descending from the North ravaging civilised Christian countries like Ireland.

Artist impression of a Viking longship by Colm Sweeney.

A Viking 'Longship'. The Vikings used the same boat design whether they were building smaller river boats or larger ones for the ocean.

The image of a bloodthirsty savage looting and pillaging his way through Irish monasteries wearing his horned helmet has become the stereotype.

The horned helmet though has no actual basis in historical fact. Surprised? There has only been one Viking helmet ever found intact, and that one had no no horns.

The Vikings-Raiders and Traders

Of course the Vikings did raid, murder and burn monasteries, but it is also true that before during and after the Viking period, more monasteries were plundered and more clerics were killed by native Irish Kings than by the Norsemen.

It is also true that some Irish monasteries even went to war with each other. It would, however, be taking revisionism a step too far to suggest (as some recent historians have done), that the Irish treasures uncovered  in Scandinavia were peacefully traded by Irish monks. The Vikings were indeed violent raiders.

Over time, they became settlers and traders founding towns like Limerick, Cork, Waterford, and of course, Dublin, which became a major hub of Viking  trade and commerce. Once they were settled here they became more vulnerable to attack by Irish kings, who eventually came to view them as trading partners and valuable sources of tribute, when successfully besieged, rather than foreign invaders to be expelled.

The Vikings Arrive

The first recorded raid of the Vikings in Ireland took place in 795 AD on Rathlin Island. The Vikings went from there.

The first attacks were essentially hit and run affairs carried out by small independent bands of free-booters.

The impact was as ferocious as it was sudden and unexpected. The Vikings would arrive in their ‘Longships’ targeting Monastic sites around the Irish coast.

The promise of beautifully crafted ecclesiastical goods such as chalices, crosiers and book-shrines crafted from gold and silver decorated with precious stones proved irresistible for them.

Read More About The Vikings In Ireland:

Find out how the Vikings settled in Ireland, and about Dublin, a Viking town and Viking contributions to Irish culture.

Monasteries were a great place also for stocking up on supplies to feed their warriors. Monasteries had everything they needed, livestock, grain, even cheese, wine and fish.

The first wave of invaders came exclusively from Norway at a time when natural resources in Scandinavia were under pressure.

Those first Vikings in Ireland were farmers that sowed their crops back at home in Norway, then took off for a summer of looting, and returned, laden with treasure, in time for the harvest.

The Vikings preferred silver to gold. Their currency was silver, either in coinage, or simply as ‘hacksilver’, items hacked into pieces. They would test the silver for its’ quality by bending it, the softer it was, the better the quality. Many bent silver coins have been found.

We hope you enjoyed our Irish history article on the Vikings in Ireland! If you like what we do, please kindly let the world know about us. Use the social functions provided on this website at the top left and at the very bottom of the page. it will only take a few seconds of your time. Much appreciated!

Regards and best wishes from Susanna and Colm.

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