S03 E02 Viking Kingdom of Dublin transcript
Updated: Jul 7, 2021
Listen to the full episode of the Viking Kingdom of Dublin.
Welcome to Countries that don't exist anymore. This week we're going back to our Irish homeland to discuss the Viking Kingdom of Dublin.
Are we Irish?
Our surname is Irish and so was our great grandfather.
So not very.
A third of our listeners are American. Do you know what one of them would say if they had an Irish name and an Irish great grandfather?
I'm so Irish. I basically come from Ireland.
Where was the Viking Kingdom of Dublin?
Dublin. And the area around it. What’s now called County Dublin.
10 miles south of Dublin are the remains of a Scandinavian farmhouse, so we can safely assume that Viking influence and control went far beyond central Dublin. But when I say Kingdom of Dublin, just think “Dublin” and you’ll be in the right place.
Wait a minute. For Medieval history, that sounds far too straightforward.
I promise you that from here on in it’s about to get very unstraightforward.
Now that sounds like Medieval history.
How long did the Viking Kingdom of Dublin last
853 – 1170. That’s over 300 years – which is easily the most long lasting kingdom of all the Viking conquests!
Though by the end, the emphasis was more on the Dublin bit and a little less on the Viking bit.
Although Dublin was really built up by Vikings, you can tell that they didn’t invent the place.
And that's because Dublin’s name is Irish. The Irish already knew of a place called Dublin, which we suspect may have been a religious site which the Vikings raided and then settled.
Waterford and Wexford meanwhile were truly founded by Vikings – because they have the ford ending. Ford comes from fyord. Or inlet.
Mmm a bit different. It's certainly true that Oxford has a very narrow inlet – which is why I didn’t get into university there.
Didn’t our sister get in there really easily?
Let’s move on.
So although the name was Irish, Dublin as a city was very much founded by the Vikings.
And that’s because Medieval Ireland didn’t really do towns or cities. They were all about that agriculture.
Nextdoor England already had towns and cities, thanks to its first Roman and then Anglo-Saxon heritage.
Ireland had skipped that whole process. In fact the closest the Irish really had to proper towns were monastic settlements which, when the Vikings arrived, were springing up everywhere.
So that’s what the Vikings targeted and, we think in the case of Dublin, then stayed on to build up their own settlement - once the sacking had been ticked off the to do list.
Either way, Vikings made Dublin one of their key bases in Ireland for trading and raiding and called their fledgling settlement: Dyflin, the Norse version of Dublin.
Hey Irish person. What do you think of our new fort at Dyflinn?
We call it Dublin.
We’ll have to agree to Dyflinn. Ha ha ha. Get it?
Actually, I think you’ll find…
Look, I’m sorry… but I have a real issue with feedback.
Dublin actually means black pool, named after a body of water near where the River Liffey meets the River Poddle. Makes sense. The Vikings loved a good sheltered water feature where they could park their boats.
Why were Vikings coming to Ireland?
Most Vikings who raided and settled bits of Ireland were from the rugged West coast of Norway - partly because that’s the direction the currents flow in.
Meanwhile, most Vikings who ended up on the East coast of England were Danes.
It's all about the currents of history.
West Norway could be a fragmented, inhospitable land where farming was difficult and amassing riches was not done.
Ireland was a tempting target. It was going through a monastic golden age – meaning loads of lovely undefended monasteries absolutely chockablock with golden communion chalices and illuminated manuscripts.
Now, bookbinder, I want you to cover this bible in something that reflects its message of the virtues of poverty. How about….gooooold!
The first Vikings to sack monasteries thought that the pages of these manuscripts were piffle and burned them – keeping the richly decorated book covers. But before long, they realised that these books were very valuable to other Christians – who were real nerds about collecting first editions.
I've got this pot.
Gosh, it really is splendid. Mid 9th century. And when did it come into the family?
Oh yes. If you look carefully you can see water mark you can still see the former owner's hand attached.
So when did the Vikings come to Ireland?
The first attacks on Ireland came in 795 - 2 years after the famous attack of the monastery at Lindisfarne in North East England.
These first attacks were very hit and run.
You’d target a specific area, get as much loot and slaves as you could carry off and then go home again. But this wasn't practical or particularly safe.
The journey from Norway to Ireland took one week in good weather - usually with a pitstop in Shetland or Orkney to take on fresh supplies and load up on travel sweets.
If the weather was bad, you couldn’t sail. As an Irish scribe wrote at the time:
“The wind is rough tonight
Tossing the white-combed ocean.
I need not dread fierce Vikings
Crossing the Irish Sea.”
This was before ryhming caught on.
“The wind is rough tonight
The oceans tosses, it's waves are white.
Vikings don't scare me.
Crossing that *beep*uckin Irish Sea.
I know what scroll you read today
Cos I'm a Jesus lovin M.O.N.K."
In the 830s, Ireland was hit with a wave of coastal raids. Then in 837 a large fleet of ships appeared and started making serious attacks on churches, forts and settlements.
And this wasn’t just random smash and grab vandalism.
During the 9th century, it’s been calculated that two thirds of Viking raids on Ireland were linked to relationships between Vikings and Irish Kings - meaning that Vikings were often raiding the rival of an Irish King at their behest or that a King had failed to hold up their end of a bargain.
We have this myth in our heads that Vikings were unstoppable killing machines.
This certainly wasn’t true in Ireland.
In fact the Viking Turgesius, who is said to have founded Dublin, was defeated in battle by an Irish King of the Southern O’Neill dynasty in 845. And then drowned.
Which was an Irish custom at the time.
They're such good craic.
And then in 848, the Vikings of Dublin suffered four separate defeats.
Then in 849, the Irish attacked and decimated Dublin. And not long after that, we think that another group of Vikings came and conquered the first lot. So even in the early days, the Vikings’ existence in Ireland was highly precarious.
Wait. So the Vikings were so unscrupulous they were attacking themselves?
Oh yeah! All the time. When the Vikings weren't terrorizing the population, they were terrorizing each other.
We think that the first group that built a long fort were the Norwegians - who we think the Irish called the Finngail - or the fair foreigners. And they were then invaded by what the Irish called the Dubgail - the dark foreigners - who might have been Danes.
So even in the enlightened, liberal medieval world we see racial prejudice at play.
As Martin Luther Vi-king said: “Judge me not on the colour of my skin, but on the size of my battle axe.” / content of my long boat.
Between 917 and 1014 there were 25 battles between the Vikings of Dublin and the native Irish and the Irish outright won 15 of those engagements. Most famously the Battle of Tora in 980, which we’ll come to.
So what you're saying is, if you thought that the Vikings were as bulletproof as Steven Seagal in a movie that he’s written and directed and starred in and has gone straight to VHS, think again.
We all know that the Vikings were handy with an axe, but they were famously cunning and strategic too.
Remember that when they first made their raids, the Vikings were far from home and numerically at a massive disadvantage.
So they had to be smart about what they were attacking and when. For example, they knew that they were dealing with a pretty devout Christian population and this could be used to their advantage.
In 929, for example, the Vikings of Dublin targeted St Bridgit’s Shrine in Kildare on her feast day.
Not only were these pilgrims caught heavily off guard, but the gathered faithful presented a tempting target - full of would-be slaves and profitable hostages.
But why did the Vikings choose Dublin to settle?
Dublin's location was vital to its success. It had easy access to 4 of the 5 main highways across Ireland and gave them access to major river routes in land. This was partly useful for raiding but, perhaps more importantly, made Dublin a prime spot for a trade hub.
“It’s equidistant between London and Norwich. That’s the genius of its location.”
Dublin became perhaps the largest slave market in Britain and Ireland. Slaves were probably kept on nearby Dalkey Island, which was like a medieval Alcatraz.
In 871, for example, Dublin’s joint kings returned from a raid on the British Isles with 200 shiploads of English, British and Pictish slaves.
That's shiploads of slaves.
Dublin joined a great trade network that ended in Byzantium, Baghdad and beyond.
This made the Viking Kingdom of Dublin extremely rich. There were so many precious metals knocking around even within average homes, that kings of the 10th and 11th century demanded taxes from the people of Dublin to be paid in gold.
And this is supported by the number of Norse graves found in Dublin. Most Vikings were cremated. Only the very wealthy were buried with grave goods.
So far, we’ve discovered 81 Viking graves in Dublin, the most Viking graves found anywhere west of Norway. Outside of Dublin, we’ve only found 26 graves in the entire rest of Ireland. The Kingdom of Dublin was really the centre of Viking activity in Ireland.
And this is supported by evidence outside of Ireland. When Dublin's Viking elite were forced out in 902, one of them ended up in Preston near Lancashire and died leaving the biggest Viking hoard ever found in Western Europe, which included 1300 pieces of silver and 7000 foreign coins.
It was Viking Dublin that made this wealth possible.
So the Vikings were just really violent businessmen?
We have this stereotypical idea in our heads of Vikings as senseless psychopaths going on the rampage. And that’s probably because the Vikings lived in an age of violence and rampaging.
Sticking to hot burial chat, five graves that were uncovered in Dublin showed that the occupants were all male and aged between 17 and 25. And they were all pretty badly battle scarred. In one grave, the young man’s arm had been hacked off but thoughtfully laid across his chest - probably so he could open beers in Valhalla.
But while reading up for this episode, I came to the conclusion that Medieval Ireland’s history is one long post-pub punch up.
And although the Vikings probably had their fair share of psychopaths and rampaging, it’s more accurate to think of them as businessmen. Just businessmen with very few scruples or ethics. Like 80s businessmen.
Dublin was a great example of how commerce went hand-in-hand with violence in the Viking Age.
Wherever Vikings went they set up trading stations. And as often as we dig up battle axes and shields, we’re far more likely to find scales and weights - essential for the marketplace and for weighing out the vast tribute you’d make your enemy pay to leave you alone.
Raiding and trading were complementary. You’d go and loot lots of fineries and immediately sell off your ill-gotten gains.
Sounds like Viking Gum Tree.
And when the Vikings fancied your land? It was merely a hostile takeover.
And speaking of business…
The Kingdom of Dublin was the commercial heart of Ireland, which is also the reason that it created the first coinage used in Ireland in 990.
It was King Sigtryggr (Sihtric) Silkenbeard who minted the first silver pennies. Coinage had been known in Ireland before that, but up to then they’d used coins from other places - be they English, Frankish or Arabic coins.
And the reason for this wasn’t just because the Vikings were dominating so much.
You’ll be tired of winning.
In fact one theory is that Silkenbeard created the coins to pay tribute to High King Brian Boru over in County Claire.
Payment in Ireland had usually been taken in the form of cows or female slaves - which were worth three milking cows. Or £1 billion post Brexit pounds.
As we found out in our episode on Mercia, it wasn’t uncommon for Western European cultures of the time to work out the price of things in cows. It wasn’t the gold standard. It was the cow standard. No stock market, but a livestock market. No Dow Jones but Cow...Moans.
Phil: Lazy writing. Really lazy.
Famed Irish High King Brian Boru’s name literally means “the tribute taker in cows.”
But carting a load of cows or female slaves…
Are you confusing cows and female slaves, Ed?
No. I didn't mean "cows or female slaves." I meant cows. OR. Female slaves.
Better. And besides female slaves are worth loads more than cows.
From Dublin to County Claire was a massive ballache. Silver pennies were far more portable.
What was it like living in the Kingdom of Dublin?
The Kingdom of Dublin was a bit of a multicultural melting pot - as long as your definition of multicultural is Northwest European. But it’s too easy to think of the Viking Kingdom of Dublin as a bunch of Vikings imposing their ways on an Irish populace. Because if there’s one thing we know about Vikings is once they've done some conquering, they're pretty chill.
Dublin may have started off as a Scandinavian military base, but over the course of its history it became a distinctly Hiberno-Norse melting pot.
And we can see physical evidence in the archaeology. Irish craftsmen were already among the best around, and Irish styles were adopted in everyday life. Whether that’s the unmistakably Irish workmanship found in kegs, casks, tableware or cloak pins or even works of art like the exquisite 11th century book cover the Molaise Shrine. A much celebrated Irish Christian ornament produced in Viking Dublin!
A great example of the blending of styles can be found where people lived.
Typical Viking houses were often longhouses - with their high ceilings and bowsided walls.
But in Dublin, a different style quickly emerged. These were small dwellings which were 8.5 metres in length and 4.75 metres in width. Low walls with rounded corners were created using post and wattle construction.
Post and what all?
It’s where you hammer some stakes into the ground and then weave twigs and branches in between to build up the walls.
On top of these walls (but not held up by them) were large roofs covered in sod.
And then covered in thatch.
Now the reason I’m explaining the specifics of house construction is because of how many archaeologists have found. There are hundreds of them in Dublin - suggesting that these were constructed to a plan by professional housebuilders.
Rather than some kind of Viking wild west, Dublin was very much the Bovis Home housing estate of its day. And unlike the stereotypes of Medieval peasants living in mud, these houses were usually swept clean.
So actually it was even nicer than how we live today or something?
Ok, let’s not go too Our Fake History about this. Dublin itself would have been extremely smelly.
Not only were animals everywhere, but obviously the inhabitants themselves would often have to find ways of dropping the kids off at the pool. Possibly why it was known as the black pool. In the countryside, farmers could use animal and human waste to fertilise the land, but in Dublin, the height of Saniflo waste solutionising was digging a cesspit in the back garden.
And forget the luxuries of TP. If you wanted to clean your undercarriage, your best option was moss or quilted vegetable peels.
And talking of personal grooming - one of the things that archaeologists are constantly finding are combs made from the discarded antlers of local red deer - which Vikings used to comb their long hair and beards.
Not just so they could look like they’d just stepped out of a salon but also because it was an excellent way to rid yourself of lice and fleas. Which were a common problem thanks to the abundance of rats and mice.
And because of this combination of factors and its status as a port, Dublin was not irregularly hit by disease and plagues. In 951, for example, a combo of leprosy and dysentery spread in Dublin. While I won't tell you exactly what this was like, in case you're in the middle of dinner, just know that the nickname for this outbreak was "the bloody flux."
Doc Brown: Great Scot!
So, gross. It’s not like there was no effort to keep things clean, it’s just that the amount of water needed to wash clothes, body and bedding wasn’t generally available. Besides, the Vikings also brought other hygiene options with them to Dublin - like steam bathhouses.
So what else did people do while they sat around in their own filth?
Well if you were female, probably working. Whether you were weaving, cooking or fixing, life could be a grind. When it was time for leisure, board games were popular.
Like Viking Monopoly?
If you choose the top hat or the dog, you go round the board amassing wealth by hoarding property and money. If you pick the longboat piece, you just raid, steal it all and win the game.
Well, archaeologists have found a lot of chess pieces and other attack and defend game boards like Hnefatafl - which translates as boardgame of the fist. It’s a very strategic game said to be at least 600 years older than chess. Go Vikings!
But of course, the number one Viking love on those cold nights around the hearth was sharing stories and sagas.
Now my family, gather round and I’ll tell you the magical story of how I dug my first ever cesspit...
Oh and coming back to cesspits, the best example of how the Vikings adapted to their new Dublin identity was diet. Back in Norway, there was a great emphasis placed on livestock and fish. In a fertile, agricultural island this changed to a much more balanced diet.
In Ireland, fishing was far less common and meat mostly came from those all important cows. But otherwise, the Dublin diet was based on beans, cabbage, wild garlic, leeks and fruit like apples, bilberries, blackberries and sloes.
So that’s why the cesspits got so clogged up.
And to drink? Good old mead (when you get it) or unhopped ale made from barley. And the general consensus of unhopped ale made of barley? Disgusting.
Hang on, Ed. You’ve told us a lot about Dublin, but I have no idea what order things happened in or anything like that.
Yes, that’s very true. Partly, it’s because the records are so patchy at the time and, it’s quite hard to know who’s doing what and when to who. But partly it’s because the story of the Kingdom of Dublin is a series of warlords and HIgh Kings with never ending unpronounceable names being shits to each other. Sometimes we’re not even sure who’s king, since you’ll sometimes get a king around for a bit and then they pick the wrong side in a war or they get bored and bugger off to York.
So instead of all that, I’m going to tell you the stories of a few kings of Dublin and from that hopefully we can piece the history together.
Yes, or you can just give us the fullest and most rigorous account of the history of the Viking Kingdom of Dublin no matter how long it takes and how many online academic journals you have to trawl through.
Let me tell you about those few kings.
The first is Ivar. He was the first actual king of Dublin from 853, along with his brother Olaf. And by the way, Viking kings are known both by their Norse names and the names that the Irish gave them. So Olaf and Ivar are also called Amlaíb and Ímar. All clear?
Now you’re getting it!
Ivar or Imar founded the Ui Imair dynasty. And that was a line of kings that ruled Dublin for 200 years.
When Imar was king, Dublin was little more than a longphort. Basically a fortified camp from which Vikings raided and did a spot of trading. And the Irish didn’t call Imar, king of Dublin. They just called him King of the Foreigners.
Why is everybody else a foreigner except from us?
Actually the Irish would consider you a foreigner too.
The other interesting thing about Imar is that he may have also been Ivar the Boneless, famed Viking sea pirate and son of Ragnar Lothbrok.
Wow! What a story! Why didn’t you mention this at the beginning of the episode?
Because he also might not be.
The reign of Imar puts the cat amongst the pigeons in Ireland. For about 200 years, Ireland had been ruled by different factions of a powerful family, the O’Neills. There wasn’t anything like a kingdom of Ireland. Just lots of small kings being dominated by larger kings. The top of the tree was the High King - a title that was meant to rotate between the Northern and southern O’Neills. And as long as everybody knew who was in charge, you’d get something like peace on the island of Ireland…for half an hour every other Wednesday.
But with a powerful new force of Vikings in Ireland, smaller kings could enlist the help of them to take on larger kings - totally upsetting the apple cart. This created even more havoc in Medieval Ireland - which seemed to be in almost constant havoc. For example, in 859 Olaf and Ivar formed an alliance with one King Cerball (Carool) of Ossory, who was then able to challenge the southern O’Neills.
In 863, they raid some megalithic tombs in Byrne Valley which cause anger across Ireland because, although a Christian people, there was still a lot of veneration for their Pagan ancestors.
We’re not sure whether this was a massive PR mistake, but IVar makes a tactical withdrawal and pops off to Northern England to carve out a Northern Kingdom with the help of the Great Heathen Army who are streamrollering that part of the world at the time. This is a classic Viking move. If things are looking a bit iffy in one place, pack up your longboat and try your luck elsewhere.
And in their absence, Gaelic Kings were able to campaign successfully against the Vikings in Ireland.
And although Ivar finally returns to Dublin in 871 and Olaf disappears off to Scandinvaia, their influence is long since over and Ivar dies in 873. The rule of the first king was surprisingly stable under the circumstances, but this stability thing doesn't catch on.
During this period, there’s a distinct lack of strategy and leadership. There are raids and wars and kings of Dublin getting bumped off left, right and centre
Dublin has as many as 8 kings in the 30 years between 873 and 902.
By the end of the 890s, local Gaelic leaders have had quite enough of their rowdy neighbours and an alliance of Leinster Kings drive the Vikings out of Dublin.
So wait. No more Viking Kingdom of Dublin?
You see, not really. Dublin doesn’t just cease to exist. Yes, its Viking leaders are turfed out - but by this time Dublin is established, and profitable and the local population are both Viking and Gaelic and there’s no useful way to tell them apart.
And just to make the point again. This isn’t a bunch of Irish Kings saying, “Good. We’ve finally expelled these Viking bastards and now we will have a united kingdom of Ireland and Dublin shall be it’s capital.”
The effect of the Vikings on Alfred the Great was to make him want to build an English nation, but there wasn’t a mirror image in Ireland. As soon as the Irish Kings kicked the Vikings out, they went back to their favourite pastime - kicking the snot out of each other. In fact they went into such a violent and costly period of snot kicking that it allowed the Vikings to sneak in through a side door and come back into Ireland in 914.
When the O’Neill King Niall Glúndub attacked the Vikings of Waterford in 917, he was surprised to find a one-eyed Viking called Sihtric attacking him in the rear. Which almost no one likes.
This allowed the Vikings to reoccupy Dublin in 917, and the kingdom picked up where it left off. Sihtric ua Ímair, grandson of the great Imar, became king and certainly established local power by thumping and killing a confederation of Irish kings led by Niall Glundub at the Battle of Islandbridge in 919. By the way, NIall Glundub was known as Niall of the Nine hostages.
Niall. Are you looking forward to your holiday?
I am. But I feel like that in the panic of leaving there’s something I’ve forgotten to do.
That’s nonsense Niall. We did everything. We locked the door, we cancelled the milk delivery and I’ve made sure we brought all of your hostages. All eight of them.
Although Sitric seems like this all-conquering hero, he explains why the Viking Kingdom of Dublin didn’t develop much beyond Dublin. Almost as soon as he took power, he nipped off to England to go campaigning there and added the more powerful and prestigious Kingdom of York to his Monopoly properties - as well as inheriting the Kingdom of Northumbria from his brother. So conquering Ireland didn't seem top of his to do list.
Nowadays you can’t mention Dublin without thinking of Ireland. But for the Vikings, it wasn't the case. For them, Dublin was more attached to York or the Shetland Islands or Kaupang in Norway.
It was part of the Viking world.
But that’s not to say that there wouldn’t have been interest in carving out a larger Viking Kingdom in Ireland. After all, the Vikings had done something similar in England.
It's just the Dublin Vikings never seemed strong enough and the Gaelic Kings never quite weak enough, and with all these other possessions to fight over - attention was too fragmented.
So when Sitric left Ireland in 921, his brother Godfrey became King of Dublin. And Godfrey seemed more interested in getting the other Vikings of Ireland to pay tribute to him rather than trying to dominate the island of Ireland. He was still thinking like a Viking.
That said, by this time it'd actually become very hard to be a Viking. Gone were the days where you could go on raids and bugger off with your spoils back to Scandinavia.
All across Western Europe, the Vikings were under attack.
Once a “loot as much as you can carry home” breakfast buffet, West Francia was out of bounds. One Viking King, Rollo, had been given lands in the north of France - had rebranded himself as Robert Duke of Normandy - and now the poacher had turned gamekeeper. To steal a phrase from the very good Irish History Podcast.
Available wherever you blah di blah blah.
Meanwhile in England, Vikings were on the defensive as King Edward and his sister Aethelflead went Viking hunting, which you'll know about if you've listened to our episode on Mercia.
You know what I'm going to say.
And then in 937, the Viking collective (which included the Vikings of Dublin under the then King Anlaf, along with their Scottish and Strathclyde allies) were utterly smashed by the English at the Battle of Brunanburh.
And things weren’t getting much easier for the Vikings of Dublin. After raiding the monastery of Kilkullen in 938, those pesky Northern O’Neills popped down and sacked Dublin. Just to rub their noses in it. They subsequently took Dublin king Blaicaire (Bleeker) as a hostage. Dublin was then sacked again in 944. Low ebb.
“Sometimes it’s hard to be a Viking,
When people you've attacked won't let you be.
Just cos you robbed em, they seem to have a problem.
And want back all their property.
Stand by your axe..."
The last Dublin King to play a major part in the British Isles was Olafr Kvaran, aka Amlaíb Cuarán, son of Sihtric.
He ruled Dublin twice. Once for two years from 945-947 and the second time from 952-980. Incidentally, he was also King of York twice, but for a lot less time. Another interesting thing about Olafr is that his mother was probably a West Saxon princess.
That’s what happens when people went to war with other people in the Medieval period. If you don’t have your head hacked off, you might very well end up married to the daughter of your enemy.
“So, how did you guys meet?”
“Well, he set my castle on fire. Didn’t you darling?”
“Ha ha… We laugh about it now though.”
Olafr was probably the first real Hiberno-Norse king - meaning he thought of himself as both Irish and a Viking.
The Cuaran bit of his name means sandal - which is probably a reference to the fact that he was crowned by a sandal being placed on his foot - which was standard for Gaelic Kings.
Another thing that marks a break from his Viking past is that he was Dublin’s first Christian King.
And that doesn’t mean he was devout. He just means that he was baptised at some point - which is just good diplomacy when you’re surrounded by Christian kingdoms.
After a pretty rocky patch for the Kingdom of Dublin, things get a lot more stable and settled under Olafr’s second rule. Not only does he reign for 28 years but Dublin starts to be called a dun - a fortress or a stronghold. It’s rebuilt on a grander scale with defensive embankments dug up in Dublin which have been dated to the 950s.
And 951 is quite the watershed, since the Vikings of Dublin go on their last major raid - relieving Kells of their cows, horses, gold, silver and people. But don’t feel too sorry for Kells. From at least the 930s, various Irish Kings have been leading similar raids on the Viking Kingdom of Dublin.
And again these raids were politically motivated, usually requested by one of the Irish kings against another. This isn't a case of heathens on the rampage.
What happens under Olafr is an end to old Viking ways. Raiding drops off and Dublin grows in prosperity.
Dublin's wealth is really all about its urban economy. In the late 10th century urban habitation seems to have intensified and this is when we get those coin hoards being buried.
Dublin had evolved from a trading settlement into a proper town.
Under Olafr, Dublin goes from being a Viking kingdom that occasionally interferes in Irish business to an integral part of Irish power politics. So much so that Olafr even tries to make a play for the High Kingship.
In 980, he gathers the last great Viking army (which included Vikings from the Scottish Isles and the Isle of Mann) and met the current High King Mael Schaenaill at the Battle of Tara, the place where High Kings are crowned. And after fierce fighting, Olafr was…
Massively defeated. And he was chased back to Dublin and forced to abdicate. He was then sent to live out the rest of days at the monastery of Iona.
The very same monastery that his grandfather had sacked and destroyed. AWKWARD!
This also meant the end of Dublin as an independent power. From now on it had Irish line managers.
The victorious Mael Schechnsil put his own man, Gluneering on the throne of Dublin.
Gluneering probably wasn't super popular because in 989 he was murdered. Mael Schaechsl wasn't delighted with this so he put Dublin to siege.
After 20 days (and with only brine to drink) Dublin surrendered.
DON’T THROW AWAY THE BRINE MOE SIMPSONS QUOTE
Once a few of the right heads rolled, Mael Schaechsl left the profitable place unmolested except for an annual tax of an ounce of gold on every household. Mael Schechnsil also confiscated two symbols of Viking power: the sword of Carlis
*Lighting* the sword of Carlis
and Tomar's collar.
*Lightning* Tomar's collar.
It was his way of saying:
Ray Winston: "I'm the daddy now."
And by doing this, Mael Schechnsil wanted to underline that Dublin was a second division power in Ireland. Not some all powerful Viking base.
At this point in Irish history, the Gaelic kings of Ireland are about to go to war (yes, again) over who’s going to be High King. The North is basically under control of Mael Schacnail and the South under Brian Boru. An 11th hour truce is hammered out with the understanding that Dublin is to come under the control of Brian Boru. Dublin decides it definitely isn’t into this and rebels again, and is defeated again and is under siege again - this time by Brian Boru. Brian captures the city, sacks it and then gathers up Dublin’s warriors to fight for him. They jump on horses, ride north and are smashed in battle. AGAIN.
It’s stories like this that make the ins and outs of power politics not worth covering. Suffice to say that the king of the time Sigtryggr Silkenbeard fled in time to avoid capture, but he’ll be back to cause more trouble.
Sigtryggr is an interesting guy. His gigantic reign somehow lasted from 989-1036 - despite the fact that he had an incredible talent for picking the wrong side in practically every battle going. He was half Norse and half Irish and probably spoke both languages.
He established Dublin's first Christian diocese and bequeathed land in Dublin to build a church. While on a pilgrimage to Rome, he also talked the Pope into letting Dublin have its own archbishop, which was quite the power play. He was the guy we mentioned earlier who started minting coins.
His kingship only ended in 1036 after he fell foul of other Norse Kings and he was exiled.
In 1014, he fought in the famous Battle of Clontarf against Brian Boru and lost.
That said, the Battle of Clontarf was a hugely pyricch victory in that Brian died as did his heir to the throne. His forces were so weakened that they didn’t have the manpower or will to go and sack a largely undefended Dublin.
The short term winner of all this was Mael Schnacknall who went onto be High King. The short term loser was Dublin, which was torched. Dublin then went into recession. Which burning your city to the ground will tend to do.
But Viking Dublin depended wholly on trade and their biggest source of trade, over the seas in England, was going through an almighty civil war between King Athelred and challenger to the throne, Cnut.
And then Mael Schocknal died.
Oh well. Good news for Dublin then?
This of course led to lots of kings jockeying for position as High King and a problem for the Viking Kingdom of Dublin.
And although it took a big knock, it was still the most powerful city in Ireland and it recovered. In 1029, for example, Sihtric’s son Amlaib was kidnapped, but Sihtric was still able to stump up the ransom of 1200 cows, 120 horses, 60 ounces of gold and 60 ounces of silver. Which was a total fortune at that time.
And Dublin watched from its walls as armies came seeking to conquer or to gain alliance. So while the VKD wasn’t ever going to be a dominant power. It could still be a kingmaker. But the way that the Irish chose their kings, would you really want to be?
Skipping forward about 40 years, we can go straight to 1052 when Gaelic King Diarmait Mac Mael na MBo (Wikipedia YouTube) took control of Dublin. This allowed him to dominate Ireland. Dublin was now an important place to rule to legitimise claims to be High King of Ireland. Sons were sent to govern Dublin to gain experience.
But why are you skipping forward?
Because what reading about Irish history taught me is that Irish kings suuuure love to have wars over who’s best and the history of Gaelic Ireland is less Game of Thrones and more Eastenders.
So, now I own the car lot, the caff and the Vic.
You’re forgetting one thing thing….the title deeds to the business are in my name. Also, I’m sleeping with your wife.
I’ve lost everything. And now I’m sleeping rough and have a drugs habit.
Join us tomorrow when Phil develops a crack habit and loses everything. And Ian owns everything.
And that’s pretty much the feuding kings of Ireland.
The Kingdom of Dublin had traditional sway over the Vikings of Isle of Mann and King Diarmait extended his control to there too.
Dublin was a famous city in the British Isles and many exiles sought refuge there, including a future King of Wales and, in 1051, Harold Godwinson who then became King of England in 1066, beating King of Norway Harald Hadrade - who had many recruits from Viking Dublin including Godrid Harolson grandnephew of Sihtric Silkenbeard.
Harold Godwinson then was famously killed at the Battle of Hastings. Also in 1066. And of course the winner of that encounter was Duke William and his Normans. And We’ll hear again about the Normans very soon.
After the battle, two sons and a cousin of Harold Godwinson plotted with Diarmuid about retaking England. In 1068, an army landed in the southwest and initially defeated a Norman army. After laying waste to Devon and Cornwall, the Godwinsons returned to the Kingdom of Dublin and Diarmuid fitted them out with 64 ships for another campaign in the summer of 1069. But this time they were beaten.
Nevertheless, this showed the power of Dublin in the affairs of the Irish and British isles. It also had another unintended consequence - putting the Normans attention squarely onto Dublin.
Spoilers: You don’t want to do that.
Apparently William the Conqueror intended to extend the franchise to Ireland. During the 12th century, Pope Adrian (the only English Pope) had decreed that the English taking over Ireland was totally fine with God.
In 1101, the Lord of Pembroke had revolted against Henry I of England with Irish help. When this revolt failed, the Pembrokes lost their titles and were replaced with the de Clares. The same family who would spearhead the invasion of Ireland about 70 years later.
That happened when the Galic kings of Ireland were...
Phil: Happily at peace with each other?
No, in the midst of another raging war. Diarmaid McMurra (King of Leinster) had bitten off more than he could chew when he decided to take on everybody and pretty much lost. He then went off to seek assistance from Henry II, who was at a monarch’s conference in France.
Finding Henry picking through the sandwich buffet, McMurra asked for help and was told no - but that he could solicit help from other vassals. To make a long story short, McMurra went to Wales and found Norman nobles who were generally down and out and desperate and promised them fabulous wealth and loads of land in Ireland if they’d help him take back his kingdom. Which they did.
After much conquest, the Normans rocked up to Dublin - which they rather fancied due to its huge reputation as a trade hub. It had 1km of pretty decent walls by this time.
Diarmaid was ok with this as apparently Dubliners had killed his father in a battle in the 1150s and then buried him with a dead dog - which McMurra couldn’t seem to get over.
He sounds like a dog with a bone...which they buried with his father.
Exactly. The King of Dublin at that time was the last but best named king of Dublin, one Askel McTurkel.
King of Dublin, Askel McTurkel
King of Dublin, Askel McTurkel
King of Dublin, Askel McTurkel
He’s King of Dublin, McTurkel power!
McTurkel asked High King Rory O’Connor for assistance - who obliged and led many Gaelic armies from Ulster and Breifne to fight shoulder to shoulder with the Hiberno-Norse of Dublin. It was almost like Irish of all different colours were squaring up to defeat the Normans.
In fact Diarmaid McMurra tried to intervene and, via the Archbishop of Dublin Lawrence O’Toole, Diarmaid agreed to allow McTurkel to stay on as king as long as he submitted to Diarmaid.
Unfortunately, the Normans weren't going along with this agreement. And they were damned if they were going to pass up land and plunder so they attacked Dublin (whose occupants thought that a truce had been worked out) and Dublin was conquered by Norman Lord, Milo de Cogin.
Askel McTurkel fled to the Kingdom of the Isles but later returned with the King of the Isles John the Mad and his beserkers. They went into battle against Milo de Cogin and his forces and things were going well until 30 Norman cavalry were sent round the back of the Viking shield wall and smashed into them.
McTurkel was captured and Milo de Cogin was happy to ransom him - partly because McTurkel was worth a few quid but mainly he wanted to show the Dubliners what a decent Norman he was. Unfortunately, McTurkel overplayed his hand, mocked de Cogin and promised that he’d return with a massive army to retake his kingdom.
As a result, McTurkel was publicly beheaded.
King of Dublin, Askel McTurkel
King of Dublin, Askel McTurkel
King of Dublin, Askel McTurkel
Then he ran his mouth off , Mcheadless turkel!
Now, this isn’t quite the end of it. High King Rory O’Connor actually returned with a mighty army and fleet and was all set to recapture Dublin and get rid of these Normans once and for all when he...heard that there was a rebellion elsewhere in his lands so prioritised that.
He probably thought: “Yes, these Anglo-Normans are a problem, but I don’t see them being a real long term threat.”
And with that he opened up Irish to hundreds of years of misery.
With these constant wars, it sounds like most Irish people had already suffered hundreds of years of misery.
Yeah, but no one minds the smell of their own farts.
And with that we say goodbye to the kingdom of Dublin because although powerful Norman lords get to rule it, no one gets to call themselves a king because the King of England doesn't like having other kings reporting to him.
So that was definitely the end of the Viking Kingdom of Dublin, right?
Yes. But the Viking Kingdom of Dublin lived on in its people, who retained their Hiberno-Norse heritage for generations to come. It lived on in its house building, that retained its distinctive Hiberno-Norse stylings. And it lived on in the fact that the Viking's most powerful town in Ireland became the Norman English's most powerful town in Ireland which became Ireland's most powerful city, and, eventually, its capital.
You High King
You Nordic cow thief.
You set up in Dublin, put gold in your teeth.
You knacker, you fecker
You Gaelic home wrecker
You've pissed off the Normans
And they'll be bring us grief.
The boys of Sihtric Silverbeard
Still raid in Galway Bay
And the Viking Kingdom of Dublin
Won't go away."
That was a lot of craic
I told you we were Irish.
Coming soon from Countries That Don't Exist Anymore studios, 15 golden sprayed CDs in a tatty boxset for only way too much money.
An overpriced collection of your favourites about the Viking Kingdom of Dublin, including...
"In Dublin's fair city
Where the latrines smell so shitty
I first set my eyes on a Viking longboat…"
And let's not forget…
"Oh Viking boys, the Liffey boatpark's calling.
From Sven to Sven, Olaf, Brian Boru and Steve."
And the international smash hit from the Threewitch'd:
(cest la vie)
"Say you will, say you won't
Say you'll invade in your boat
Eric the Blue, come to me
Via the sea."
And the forgettable…