The Vikings were many things to Ireland: invaders, plunderers and general mayhem-makers. They were also settlers and founders, meaning we have these guys to thank for mooring their boats at places that became some of our finest towns and cities.
The Vikings came to Ireland from Scandinavia in the late 8th Century on their famous longships, with the loose aims of raiding, trading and sourcing food to keep their populations fed during long, difficult winters. Their history here can be neatly bookended with two events — the first recorded landfall in 795 (in the raid on off the coast of Antrim), and the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, where the high king Brian Boru died during his troops’ victorious battle with Dublin-based Vikings. During this period the Vikings looted numerous monasteries (which had bronze and gold treasures, not to mention manuscripts), created trading links, battled a few Irish kings and generally caused mayhem for the locals.
One particular trail of destruction/creation (however you may see it) they left is scattered across counties Waterford, Kilkenny, Wexford and Dublin. Traces of their journey remain today, and we reckon it’s as good an itinerary as any for a tour of the southeast and east coast.
The name (Ireland’s oldest city), comes from the Norse Veðrafjǫrðr meaning ‘ram fjord’ or ‘windy fjord’. It has its very own Viking Triangle within the city’s confines with examples of architecture from a selection of centuries including , which began as a Viking fort and was strategically located at the apex of the triangular Viking settlement. Archaeologists in Waterford made an amazing discovery in 2005 when they excavated a Viking ‘longphort’ in Woodstown. This would have been built to protect the ships and army of Viking raiders as well as items of plunder, local captives and cattle. It has been described as one of the best equipped such graves from Britain or Ireland. Among the artifacts found were a 9th-century sword, Scandinavian spearhead, shield boss, axe and whetstone, and some of this shiny Viking booty can be seen in Reginald’s Tower.
It is said was left relatively unscathed during the Vikings’ reign because of the fearsome reputation of King Cerball MacDunlainge, who ruled the Ossory kingdom. This meant the Kilkenny monastery was left alone but unfortunately for , it wasn’t. In a raid in 928, Dublin Vikings massacred thousands of women, children and elderly, according to annals. Forty four skeletons have since been found.
To hear the tale properly with the dramatic backdrop of the actual cave, pay a visit to Dunmore and see the Viking treasures on display. In 1999, a Dunmore employee discovered a hoard of fine Viking items there, dating back to 940. And no, they didn’t take them home at the end of the day.
town’s name screams Viking, even if you don’t realise it. The Vikings christened it when they settled there in the late 9th-century. Ueigsfjord (pronounced ‘weissford’) means “the ford of the waterlogged island” in the Norse code we’ve come to recognise. The Vikings developed Wexford into a prosperous independent town thanks to its coastal location, until the King of Leinster reclaimed it in 1169.
is a historical wonderland that manages to squeeze 9,000 years of Ireland’s history into a walk. Plus, they’ve reconstructed a Viking house based on excavations done in the county, and on the stocks a model of a Viking ship built in Ireland around 1060 AD.
was probably the Vikings’ greatest conquest. Calling it ‘Dyflinn’, they developed the area into a busy trading port with their skilled merchants and craftspeople arriving in droves. Dubliners really had no choice but to grin and accept their skilled, but admittedly fearsome new rulers.
Nowadays we celebrate our city’s Nordic roots. is a perfect example, and great place to start to learn about Viking and medieval Dublin. The exhibitions delve into the Vikings’ plundering past and their characters, such as Olaf, the Viking coin minter, bring it all to life. Just across the street is the statuesque ; the original Viking church founded in 1028 by Dúnán, the first bishop of Dublin and Sitriuc, Norse king of Dublin.
Probably our most eccentric Viking hangover is the : a spin through Viking Dublin by land and water. The amphibious bus-boats of the tour are historic, though not quite Viking historic. The ‘DUKW’ vehicles, as they’re called served in World War II. The tour guides can be heard all over the city cracking jokes and goading passengers to roar loudly in a suitably Norse fashion at passers-by. After a rollicking run about the city, the DUKW enters the water (hence the ‘splash’ in the title) and so begins the water-based part of your tour. Hold onto your horned-hat!
When the Vikings were done making their mark on Irish history, they left, making way for the Norman era and the creation of many, many … but that’s another story altogether!
Other Viking towns and cities include , and with their own reminder of the Norse occupiers. And there is even a in Annagassan, Co. Louth.