17 April 2015

The Vikings in Ireland

Here’s an excerpt from another informative article about the Vikings in medieval Ireland. To enjoy the full article and the many pictures that accompany it, click on the title link or the Read more link at the end of this excerpt. (Ed.)

Knowledge about the Vikings manoeuvres in Ireland is drawn from many sources. Apart from the Icelandic Sagas, written down in the 13th Century, there exists a rich array of old Irish annals and chronicles, of which the most widely known are: Annals of Ulster, Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters (Annála Ríoghachta Éireann), Annals of Clonmacnoise, and “The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill” (Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh). There also exists an Arabic source (Ibn Ghazal)! All these sources however have in common that they were written down at least two centuries after the events took place, and they are all coloured by the authors’ biased view of the Vikings. Recent archaeological and linguistic knowledge have however managed to render more objectiveness into the evaluation of this important period in the history of Ireland.

Érie – the green island in the west – was fortunate to escape both Roman and Anglo-Saxon occupation and colonisation, opposed to Britain in the east. However there existed plans for the invasion of Ireland by the Romans. The Romans in Britain had for a long time been exposed to raiding bands of Irish “Vikings” (Scots) all along the west coast, but their invasion plans were postponed again and again, until the Romans were forced to withdraw from Britain in 407 AD. The raiding continued after the Roman withdrawal, and eventually the Scots managed to establish a firm stronghold on the west coast of Pictland (Dalriada).

Ireland was – like many other European countries at the time – dominated by rivalling clan- and family-based petty kingdoms, which alternated in having the overlordship over the others. Foremost among these were Connaught and Ulster in the north, Leinster and Munster in the south. As time went on, two dynasties distinguished themselves, the Ui Neill dynasty in the north, and the Eóganach dynasty (Munster) in the south. At this time there were no cities or major trading centres in the country. People made a living based on crop farming and cattle breeding, and lived in small villages surrounded by defensive walls and dykes. These settlements were either situated on hilltops (hillforts), or houses clustered together on artificial islands in the lakes (crannogs).

The petty kings or chieftains were both secular and religious leaders. The largest and most important centre of all was Tara in Meath, north of today’s Dublin. Tara had for centuries been a sacred place, and served as a ceremonial arena for the inauguration of the High kings of Ireland – the Árd Rí. The ancient coronation stone – Lia Fáil – was placed here. Archaeological excavations have proved that this place had been of central importance in people’s religious beliefs and ritual practices long before the Celtic migrations took place in the 5th Century BC. From this hilltop (100 metres above sea level) it’s possible to view large areas of the Irish countryside.

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