The Vikings first raided Ireland in 795 AD, attacking an island monastery on the east coast, possibly Rathlin or Lambay island.
The raids were random and sporadic for a while, then intensified around 820 AD. The Vikings were expert at exploiting waterways ; by 830 they were navigating the Shannon, and had plundered Clonmacnoise. The monasteries had gold and silver, and so were targets for the Vikings. The monasteries were often attacked also by their own countrymen.
Over the next 200 years, the Vikings made many raids. The Irish chieftans were disorganised and continually squabbled over kingships and power ; without a united front, they were no match for the foreigners.
The first wave of Viking raiders were probably from Norway. Known as the Fingall (fair foreigners), they may have introduced blonde features into the Irish gene-pool. The later Vikings were Danes, darker in feature, and known as Dubhgaill (dark foreigners)
The Vikings were skilled traders. Gradually, the emphasis of their visits shifted – from terror, massacre, destruction and pillage – to trading – to the establishment of trade centres – to assimilation into the native population. Many of our cities and towns started life as a Viking trade centre – Waterford, Wexford, Dublin, Limerick, Arklow, Wicklow, Leixlip. With Dublin as centre, the Vikings set up a European trade network, bringing in skills and influences that we still use today. Gradually the “Viking” name, with its terror connotations, was replaced by “Norse” and then “Hiberno-Norse”.
The first ever Irish coins were minted in Dublin in 997 AD, under the instructions of the Scandinavian king of Dublin, Sigtryggr Silkenbeard (989-1036).
Surnames like McManus (son of Manus) and McAuliffe (son of Olaf) are common here today, clearly derived from the Viking names.
In 1030, the Norse king of Dublin initiated the construction of Christchurch.
An exact replica of a Viking warship sailed from Denmark in August 2007, to become the focus of a Viking exhibition at the National Museum, Collins Barracks. The replica was named Havhingsten fra Glendalough (The Sea Stallion of Glendalough).
The original was built in Dublin in 1042, and the timbers came from Glendalough. It was the 2nd-largest Viking longship ever found. It had ended its life being deliberately scuttled to block the Roskilde Fjord in Denmark.
Clarke, Howard & Johnson, Ruth : The Vikings in Ireland and beyond : before and after the Battle of Clontarf.
Cunliffe, Barry : Britain Begins, Oxford University Press.
de Paor, Maire & Liam (1958) Early Christian Ireland, Thames and Hudson, London.