Exploring Dublin’s Viking history
Dublin: an Irish city with Viking roots
Thor A. Larsen
According to recorded history, Viking raiders first landed on the coast of Ireland in the end of the eighth century. These early raids were likely launched from Southwest Norway. Ireland, with some valued goods and farm people for possible enslaving, as well as no measurable resident warriors, made a very desirable target.
In the early ninth century, a different set of Vikings arrived in Ireland with the intention of settling there. Along the river Liffey, the first Viking, or Ostmen settlement was secured and named “Duflin,” which of course became Dublin. The initial settlement consisted of sixty long ships.
Except for a short period between 902 and 911, the Vikings ruled Dublin for almost 300 years until defeated by the Irish High King Brian Boru and his army at the battle of Clontarf in 1014. However, the impact of the Vikings on Dublin has remained until today. There was a “representative laws” system established and a “Thing mote” built, which was a raised mound 40 feet high and 240 feet in circumference where the Vikings would assemble and make laws similarly like the “Thing” (governing assembly) in Iceland. The Thing mote stood adjacent to the Dublin Castle until 1685. The Dublin castle is located about a thousand feet up a modest hill from the banks of the Liffey River.
Not far from the Thing mote, in 1038, the “Christian” Vikings established the original Christ Church Cathedral by building the first wooden church. In 1240 a more permanent cathedral was built, and rebuilt in the 1870s. In the basement of the Christ Church one can still see the original stone foundations of the original Christ Church.
To get an excellent appreciation of the way the Vikings lived in Dublin during these three hundred years, one must visit an interactive museum across the street from Christ Church Cathedral called “Dublin,” where the visitor can “Meet the Vikings face to face.” This museum provides buildings and realistic settings for Viking streets, the slave market, encampments, and more.
The magnificent National Museum of Ireland also contains a number of fine Viking items, including swords, coins, and jewelry. Many of these items were uncovered in the 1970s at the early settlement on the bank of the Liffey. According to the museum, the Vikings established new trade routes leading to a marked increase of silver into the Irish economy. Scandinavian design styles such as “Ringerike” found their way into local jewelry and special decorations.
When visiting this museum, I was amazed of the number of books in the bookstore on Vikings, both for adults and children.
Speaking of books, the most impressive sight was the halls of the “Old Library” of Trinity College. Aside from the thousands of old books from floor to ceiling, there was a very large poster commemorating the great sea battle at Clontarf between the Vikings and Irish High King Brian Boru, when the Irish reclaimed Dublin from the Vikings. I would expect that this phenomenal library has more old books on the Vikings than possibly anywhere else in the world.
Well, after this somewhat serious tour of the key Viking sights and artifacts, it is time for the traveler to have some local food and, of course, the key local beverage, Guinness.
After fortifying ourselves thusly, we signed up to take a tour on a most unique and exciting tour around the main sights of Dublin called “Viking Splash Tours.” On the Splash Tour, you ride in a World War II amphibious vehicle and Viking guides provide an incredibly lively, informative, and entertaining tour of key Dublin sights. The guides provide you with Viking helmets and you join in singing as this strange vehicle travels through the streets of Dublin and into the Liffey River. There are a number of these Splash Tour Vehicles traveling through Dublin at the same time, and as you walk the streets you will hear the “Viking” tourists scream and holler as they share in the Viking culture of Dublin.
We only had two and a half days for Dublin but could easily have needed another five days to absorb the beauty, charm, and rich history of this magnificent Viking city.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 14, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.