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