5 Things to know about Viking Ireland

Did you know that the History Channel’s hit show Vikings is actually filmed in Ireland? While it might seem strange that the story of the great Ragnar Lothbrok is filmed on the Emerald Isle,
we do have a lot of history with the Vikings, so let’s find out a little more about Ireland’s Viking past. Want to see some of the filming locations with your own eyes? Get yourself on a day trip to Glendalough and County Wicklow!


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1. Round Towers in Viking Ireland

From Glendalough to Monasterboice, Ireland has hundreds of these impressive towers. When the Vikings began their raids on Ireland, they found easy pickings in the early Catholic settlements, especially along the coast and on the islands. One of the earliest Viking raids was on Lambay Island just off the coast of what’s now Dublin. Ireland at the time didn’t have one overall ruler but was made up of different clans and kingdoms so there was no unified response to the Viking raids. Instead, each monastery had to defend itself, and since monks aren’t known for their fighting skills, they decided to make these tall round towers with the doors high up to hide in when the Vikings arrived. They hid in there with their books and other treasures like gold plated chalices. Sometimes the Vikings would try to smoke out the monks, but the fact that so many of these towers still stand today shows how well they were built!


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2. Viking Ireland Towns

At first, the Vikings were only interested in raiding and then fleeing back to Scandinavia, but the journey back was tough and slow. Groups of raiders became short-term conquerors when they decided to set up shop during the winter months and wait until the sea became calmer in the summer. They looked for natural harbours where rivers met the sea, the most famous being where the River Liffey met the Irish sea, the Vikings discovered a large cove that had incredibly dark water. This area was known as “Dubh Linn”, meaning Black Pool, and this is where they set up adefensive wall. The Vikings called this area Dyflinn, which eventually morphed into the name “Dublin” that we use today. Other Viking towns include Wexford, Waterford, Limerick and Cork. These are still some of the biggest towns in Ireland to this day! If you want to visit the original site of Dubh Linn, you can go into Dublin Castle and see the Dubh Linn Gardens, which are built over where the Black Pool once was!



3. Viking-Irish names

The Vikings weren’t big into surnames, in that they didn’t use them at all! It must’ve been a nightmare for the postman at the time. However in Ireland, surnames were incredibly important and is something you can still see to this day; if someone is called“O’Reilly” that means “Of the Reilly’s” or “Mac/McMahon” meaning “Son of McMahon”. When the Vikings arrived in Ireland, the Irish called them Dubhgaill (dark foreigner) or Finngaill (light foreigner), and it is thought that the Vikings adopted these as names. The Irish names Doyle and McDowell may be descendants of Vikings who the Irish called Dubhgaill, and there is a region of Dublin known as Fingal, which may indicate the area controlled by the Finngaill Vikings. Names may have also come from the Viking adoption of Irish customs, with MacAuliffe potentially coming from ‘Son of Olaf’, and MacManus, ‘Son of Magnus’


4. Battle of Clontarf defeated the Vikings… sort of.

When the Vikings came to Ireland it was a pretty disjointed society. Kings came and went, alliances were formed only to be broken later. It was basically a small version of Game of Thrones, with the Uí Neill’s of Ulster basically the Lannisters seeing as they were recognised by most kings as the King of Tara, and therefore Ireland. This all changed when Brian Boru, who came from a small rather unimportant family in Munster, led a rebellion against the Uí Neill’s and became recognised as The High King of Ireland. This lead to Brian Boru defeating the main Viking force in Clontarf just outside Dublin, and the end of the Viking age in Ireland. The Vikings had been in Ireland for so long at that stage that the Vikings that were left just became part of Irish society.



5. Viking-Gaelic Revival

Even though Brian Boru defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf, he was killed while praying in his tent, and this left Ireland without a High King and almost back where it started. This eventually led to the Norman invasion and eventually to British rule. The Normans had no time for art and their arrival plunged Ireland into a cultural abyss. Ireland went through a time of cultural revival in the late 1800s, and in the revived “Gaelic” art, it’s interesting to see several Viking infusions included in the art. The Celtic knot now had magical animals such as dragons mixed in as well as precious stones and materials that had been brought into Ireland by Viking traders. What this shows is that Viking culture in Ireland had almost become indistinguishable from Gaelic culture, much like how Irish people became so mixed in with Vikings that they became one people. So if you’re Irish or have Irish heritage, it’s possible that you have a little Viking in you!


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There is so much of Viking Ireland to see around the country. Make sure you don’t miss out on this important part of Ireland’s history by joining our day trip to Glendalough
and County Wicklow where you will see some of the filming locations for Vikings as well as an actual round tower and monastic settlement from the period. It’s not to be missed on a holiday to Ireland. Reserve your space today!