Early Viking Dublin

In the Irish language we have two names for Dublin. The first being An Dubh Linn, meaning

'The Black Pool', and the second being, Áth Cliath, which means the 'Ford of Hurdles'.

Although the two are often used interchangeably, the names refer to two distinct locations in the landscape of early Dublin.

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Archaeological sites around early Dublin

Dubh Linn

The name Dublin is derived from the Gaelic name, An Dubh Linn, meaning 'The Black Pool'. This 'black pool' from which Dublin takes its name, lies just south of the high ridge, now occupied by Dublin Castle and underneath what is now Dublin Castle Gardens. Here, the river Poddle once formed a large tidal pool with the river Liffey, creating an ideal natural harbour for any Vikings who may seek shelter close to the sea.

It is here that in the year 841 the Annals of Ulster record the first mention of Norwegian Vikings establishing an encampment in the area stating,

“There was a naval camp at Duiblinn from which the Laigin (Leinstermen) and the Uí Néill

were plundered, both states and churches, as far as Sliab Bladma.”


Áth Cliath

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Artist Interpretation of the Ford of Hurdles looking south towards Viking Dublin c.1000 - Artist Johnny Ryan

The other name that we have for Dublin in the Irish language is Áth Cliath.

Áth Cliath, refers to the 'Ford of Hurdles' situated north west of the Dubh Linn on the River Liffey. This ford, is a major crossing point on the river Liffey, roughly where the Father Mathew's Bridge stands today. The original ford of hurdles was likely made up of interwoven sticks that would be used as a base to cross the River Liffey at low tide. This crossing point formed a vital trade route from Tara in the north to the ancient highways of Ireland that would continue South towards Munster and West towards Connacht. Anybody that controlled this crossing point could hence control trade in this area.


And so it was here, between these two important geographic locations, that the Vikings would establish their naval base mentioned in the year 841. This naval camp would go on to establish itself as a major trading centre and later the city we know as Dublin. However, in the early years of this Viking encampment, it was far from certain that this settlement would last.


Viking Dublin - Junior Certificate History - School Tours
Irishmen Oppose the Landing of the Viking Fleets c.841 - James Ward

One of the few Viking names referred to in the Annals, is that of the Viking leader Turgesius and it is he who is often credited with establishing the encampment at Dublin over the winter of 840/41. While little is mentioned of the Viking camp in its first few years, there is a specific mention that the Vikings are still encamped at Dubh Linn. Raiding and fighting between the Vikings and the Irish continued to increase and in the year 844, the Viking leader Turgesius was captured by the High King, Mael Seachnaill Mac Mael Ruanaid and drowned in Lough Owel in Co. Westmeath. Then in the year 847, Mael Sechnaill is recorded attacking the Vikings on their own territory, saying, "The plundering of Duibhlinn by Maelseachlainn, son of Maelruanaidh, and by Tighearnach, lord of Loch Gabhar."


The Viking position in Ireland was vulnerable from the very beginning. Mael Sechnaill's attack in 847 was only the first and in 851, the Viking camp at Dublin was attacked with the arrival of another Viking faction - The Danish - 'Dark Heathens' or 'Black Foreigners'.


"The dark heathens came to Áth Cliath, made a great slaughter of the fair-haired foreigners,

and plundered the naval encampment, both people and property. The dark heathens made

a raid at Linn Duachaill (near Annagassan Co. Louth), and a great number of them were

slaughtered." - Annals of Ulster 851


Stability would come to the Vikings of Ireland with the arrival of leaders Amlaib (Olaf) and Imair (Ivar - possibly Ivar the Boneless) around 853, to whom the foreigners of Ireland submitted. Olaf and Ivar would oversee a policy of making alliances with Irish Kings which would change the power balance in Ireland thereafter, as minor kings could now challenge traditionally stronger ones for regional control.


In 861, the leader of the northern Uí Neill, Aed Finliath formed an alliance with the Vikings to attack Mael Sechnaill on his home territory of Meath. Mael Sechnaill would die later that year and power would again shift to Aed and the northern Uí Neill.


The death of Ivar in 873, would see a decline of the Viking leadership in Ireland. In 893 there is mention of “great dissension” among the Vikings of Áth Cliath with half going with Ivars sons and the other half going with Jarl Sigfrith. The power of the Vikings was so weakened that in 902 an alliance of Irish kings came together and as the Annals record “The heathens were driven from Ireland”. This would see the Vikings driven from the area of Dublin for 15 years until 917.


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If you enjoyed this piece on the Viking and Ireland, be sure to share this blog with others. If you wish to know more, Dublin School Tours offers guided walking tours of Dublin city for school groups and university groups, both national and international. If you are looking for a school tour around Viking and Medieval Dublin make an enquiry today at dublinschooltours@gmail.com or via our website at www.dublinschooltours.ie


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