Ireland’s Viking past: 10 facts you didn’t know about Viking Ireland

By Trinidad Ricke Zegers

Ireland’s Viking history is a recent discovery; during a build some 25 years ago in Dublin, diggers unearthed vast quantities of Viking relics, which are now in the National Museum in Dublin. Even though we don’t know for sure if the well-known Ragnar touched the Irish coasts, the Vikings started raiding Ireland form 795 AD, continuing for two centuries before Brian Boru defeated them. They began to establish permanent ship bases along the Irish coast from which they could plunder and trade. Names such as Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork and our dear Limerick became trading centers for Ireland’s goods (including people). Here are some facts about Viking Ireland you should know to get excited about coming here to study!

  1. The Vikings created Ireland’s first city:

Waterford was the first naval base established by the Viking in 914 AD, making it Ireland’s oldest city. Also, the Viking founded the city of Dublin. They invaded the surrounding territory in the 9th century and referred to it as Dyflin in Norse, derived from the Irish Dubh Linn (black pool). During their reign, the city became the most important in Ireland and a hub for western Viking expansion and trade.  

  1. The top 5 places in Ireland raided by Vikings:

It is believed Vikings arrived on the shores of Ireland by the late 8th century and repeatedly invaded during the 9th to 11th centuries. They deeply influenced Ireland and all the places they raided, shaping Ireland’s largest cities. Among the most important places they raided are:

  1. Glendalough, Wicklow
  2. Ferns, Wexford
  3. Dunmore Cave, Kilkenny
  4. Rathlin Island, Antrim
  5. Waterford
  1. The Irish language has strong Norse influences:

The Vikings deeply shaped Ireland as they were the first to install cities and towns. Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow, Youghal, and Arklow all have Viking origins. Place names echo with Nordic sounds and corruptions of “fjord” (e.g. Waterford, Wexford). Both the Irish and English language are enriched with Norse words, such as “ancaire” (anchor) which stems from the Norse “akkeri” and “ponginn” (penny) which comes from “penninger”.

  1. They built Ireland’s most famous cathedral:

Christ Church Cathedral, a must visit in Dublin today, was built by Silkbeard, the Norse King of Dublin around 1030. Dúnán the first bishop of Dublin, and Sitriuc (Silkbeard) founded it and it was probably subject to the archbishop of Canterbury.

  1. Viking DNA is very common in Ireland – just look at all the red hair:

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin believe that the Viking invasion of Ireland may have strongly influence the genetic break-up of the country. Some researchers also believe the red-haired gene is Norwegian by origin and might have been brought to Ireland by the Vikings. So, you know, that explains it! Also, it’s important to say that some of the most common Irish surnames have Viking origins. Doyle (son of the dark foreigner), MacAuliffe (Son of Olaf) and MacManus (son of Manus) all originate from Viking warriors who settled in Ireland and married the native Irish.

  1. The Vikings established Ireland’s first trade routes:

The Viking created and established the first trading routes between Ireland, Scandinavia and England. They used Dublin as their main base, and traded with the rest of Europe, bringing in new influences every day and establishing connections that still last until today. They traded all over Europe, buying goods and material such as silver, silk, spices, wine, jewellery, glass and pottery. They, in turn, sold honey, tin, wool, wood, iron, fur, leather, fish, selling and buying slaves at every stop.

  1. They weren’t that bad, or were they?:

We have a pretty damning image of shouting, bloodthirsty, axed-armed men who killed anything in their path, when we think about Vikings. It’s said that this hatred stems from the writings of the clerics who were the first in line to be attacked by the “pagans” and “heathens” (and the ones to record what was happening). It’s said that this more than unseemly experiences biased the clerics against the Vikings and gave them an unfair image of mass-scale destruction and spilling of blood. Moreover, during this period, the Irish themselves plundered more churches and attacked more monasteries than the Vikings, and presumably with the same amount of force. Let’s not forget though that the Vikings introduced the slave market and kept capturing slaves for a couple of hundred years and trading with them all over Europe.

  1. They influenced Ireland in a political, economic, and cultural way: 

Even though they didn’t end up staying or had huge geographical impacts over Ireland, the Irish did learn a lot from the Vikings in their 200 year stay. Warfare, weapons, tactics, commercial ports, shipbuilding, seafaring, were all based on the Nordic influence. Also, let’s not forget that the Vikings pushed Ireland into the trading world by establishing the key trading routes with the British Isles and Europe. The most tangible impact can be seen through language and art. Scandinavian styles are visible in Irish metalwork and stone crosses, and names and terms relating to Viking activities merged into the Irish language. The Vikings were civilized, made jewellery, worked glass and minted coins, and these influences can be seen in Irish art.

  1. You’ll find Viking bits all over Ireland:

The Vikings are a big part of what Ireland is today, and you’ll definitely get to explore and walk in their footsteps when you come to study here! Among the most notable remnants of the Viking Age here in Ireland, are the tall towers that loom over the Irish landscape and National Parks, built by monks to provide refuge from the raiders. Places like Glendalough, Cashel and Kilmacduagh will let you appreciate the measures people took to avoid coming face-to-face with our dear friends.  

  1. Vikings, the show was filmed in Ireland!

Yes, I know! The show we all love wasn’t filmed in the snow-capped mountains of Norway, but right here in Ireland! Filming locations include:

  • Lough Tay, County Wicklow – Kattegat
  • Blessington Lakes, County Wicklow
  • Luggula Estate, County Wicklow
  • Powerscourt Waterfall, County Wicklow
  • Nuns Beach, County Kerry

Information and Images gathered from the sites below!


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