A terrifying new power came racing across the seas from the north. At first they were raiders – then traders and settlers. You can still find traces of the Vikings in Ireland – but you’ll need to know where to look…

Discover the story of the Vikings in Ireland's Ancient East.

Discover the story of the Vikings in Ireland's Ancient East.
One stormy night more than a millennium ago, an Irish monk scribbled a few lines of poetry in the margin of the manuscript he was working on.
“Is acher ingáith innocht … fufuasna faircggae findḟolt … ni ágor réimm mora minn … dondláechraid lainn oua lothlind.” Tonight, he wrote, bitter is the wind, it tosses the ocean’s white hair, so I fear not the fierce warriors of Norway, coursing the Irish sea.

For this new power was horrifying. Vikings hurtling across the northern seas from Norwegian fjords came in search of land and wealth.
Top: Recreation of Viking Settlement in National Heritage Park. Bottom Left: Reconstruction of Viking encampment. Bottom Right: Viking settlement in the National Heritage Park.
And the island of Ireland offered rich pickings.
The coasts were accessible. The interior – with its navigable rivers and lakes – was porous. The many monasteries held gold. The people were unprepared for modern 9th-century warfare.

To the seafaring Scandinavians, Ireland’s East and South coasts were brilliantly placed for European trade. As the years turned to decades and then centuries the raiders became traders, and founded powerful port cities. Not just Dublin, but Cork and Limerick, Vadrarfjord, Vaesafjord and Vikinglo – Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow.
Left: Cloth of Gold Vestments at Medieval Museum. Middle: Viking artefacts. Right: Kite brooch at Reginald's Tower
They settled. They formed alliances. They integrated. They intermarried.
Today there’s evidence of the Viking age across Ireland’s Ancient East – but you need to know where (and how) to look. From the street patterns of the Viking ports, with their keysers or narrow paths leading to the quays, one pack horse wide. To the distinctive 10th-century round towers dotting the landscape – the defensive system developed by the monasteries during those turbulent times.
Look deeper.
Down in the chambers of Dunmore Cave, County Kilkenny, excavated skeletons and a 10th-century hoard have revealed Viking ravages and riches. While the lovely woods of Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains have a special significance: tree-ring analysis has proved a Viking ship excavated in Denmark’s Roskilde Fjord was made from these Irish oaks.
Viking Ship (Image via Spar Key)
Viking Ship (Image via Spar Key)

So, will DNA analysis now finally prove the old saying that the Vikings brought red hair and freckles to Ireland?