Have you watched the series “Vikings?” Have you thought about exploring Viking history in Ireland?
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The popular series was filmed entirely in Ireland.
It was based on the life of Ragnar Lothbrok, a Norse Viking hero who conducted many raids in France and England.
In the show, Ragnar becomes a successful Scandinavian king and later on, in the series, it follows the fortunes of his sons, as well, particularly their adventures in England, Scandinavia, and the Mediterranean countries.
The History of the Vikings in Ireland
The Vikings, who originated from what is now Denmark and Norway, are central to the history of Ireland, landing on Ireland’s shores in 795 AD.
They were known to be superb seamen, traders, and statesmen who played a decisive role in shaping Europe.
At the time, Ireland was ruled by several Gaelic clans.
Monasteries were plentiful across the country and were a major target of Viking plundering.
After several decades of raiding different parts of the country, the Vikings established fortified encampments around Ireland.
It wasn’t long before they were making real inroads in Irish society.
By 841, they had already established a permanent home in Dublin, developing a living settlement on the banks of the River Liffey.
Up until then, towns and cities didn’t really exist anywhere in Ireland.
Communities were largely centered around monasteries.
After their successful conquest of Dublin, the Vikings went on to establish Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, and Wicklow.
The Vikings never conquered the North of Ireland because it was ruled by the powerful O’Neill clan, and they didn’t make much of a dent in the West of Ireland, either.
Exploring Viking history in Ireland can first be done in Dublin, Ireland’s capital city.
At least two Viking settlements were uncovered in the city. They include one at Wood Quay and the other at Christ Church Cathedral, which was once a Celtic Christian church.
Wood Quay was perhaps the greatest find of Viking memorabilia in Dublin.
Artifacts like coins, pottery, leatherwork, and swords were found. Many of those are now part of an exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland and at the popular Viking attraction, Dublinia.
The non-profit heritage center is chock full of interesting exhibits and artifacts to see.
There are three themed exhibitions. They include “Viking Dublin,” “Medieval Dublin” and “History Hunters.”
At Dublinia, you’ll get the chance to try on some Viking clothing, visit a replica of a Viking house, learn about the Viking alphabet, and much more.
The heritage center focuses on medieval Dublin as well, including the customs of the time, the food that was eaten, and the games that were played, among other interesting nuggets of history.
Adult admission is €15; seniors and students with a valid ID, €13.50; children ages 3-12, €7.50; and a family of four, €25. Children under 3 admitted for free.
Christ Church Cathedral
Close to Dublinia is Christ Church Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in Dublin and yet another way of exploring Viking history in Ireland.
It is also the city’s original Viking church, founded by Dúnán, the first bishop of Dublin, and Sitriuc, the Norse king of Dublin.
Beneath the cathedral is the medieval crypt, the largest in Ireland and believed to be the earliest surviving structure in Dublin. You’ll also discover priceless silver in the crypt as well as the mummified cat and the rat display, and Ireland’s first copy of the Magna Carta.
The church was considered an important pilgrimage site at one time and contains important relics, including a piece from the crib of Jesus.
While the town of Wicklow came under the influence of the Vikings, there is little evidence to show it.
Because the Vikings went after monasteries and the valuables that were held there, the Glendalough Monastic Site, which is located about 12 miles from Wicklow town, was a prime target.
Glendalough is an early monastic settlement founded in the sixth century by St. Kevin, a true man of nature.
Around 1042, oak timber from Glendalough was used to build the second-longest Viking longship ever recorded (about 98 feet).
A modern replica of the ship was built in Denmark and is on display at the Viking Ship Museum.
Glendalough is a deeply spiritual and tranquil place that is worth a visit.
By the 9th century, it had equaled Clonmacnoise in its importance as a chief monastic site.
The Vikings ransacked the monastery at least four times between 775 and 1071. In 1398, English forces almost destroyed it. It survived for a time, but by the 17th century, it was in total ruin.
Thousands of students came to Glendalough to study and to pray during its heyday.
About 90 miles from Dublin, Wexford offered the Vikings the perfect place to settle. Its navigable River Slaney and surrounding fertile land were attractive to the Norsemen.
Its original Viking name was “Waesfjord,” meaning “harbor of mudflats.”
For about 300 years, it existed as a Viking town, owing dues to the Irish kings of Leinster.
In 1169, however, it was besieged by Dermot MacMurrough, the king of Leinster at the time, and his Norman ally Robert Fitzstephen. The Vikings fought a bloody battle but lost. The Bishop of Ferns persuaded them to accept a settlement with Dermot.
In 1988, artifacts from the period were discovered on Bride Street, when workers carrying out exploratory work on the foundation for a new building.
They found leatherwork, pottery, bones, and shells believed to have been from the Viking era.
The Irish National Heritage Park
Exploring Viking history in the area is best done at The Irish National Heritage Park, located outside the town.
It offers a number of tours and walking trails.
The Heritage Trail, which contains 16 archaeological and historical reconstructions, will give you an insight into the rich Viking history that Wexford is known for.
Artifacts from other periods of Irish history are also on display.
You’ll see full-scale reconstructions of ancient houses, such as crannogs, as well as forts and tombs and an early Christian monastery.
Ireland’s ancient crannogs were structures often built on lakes that accommodated large families. You’ll see an interesting reconstruction of a crannog in the heritage park.
The circular house, measuring 12 meters (39 feet) across with a massive thatched conical roof, would have comfortably accommodated up to 100 people.
While Dublin is the capital of Ireland, Waterford is the country’s oldest city.
The name Waterford is said to be taken from the Viking name “Vedrarfjordr.”
Many American tourists associate the city with the famous Waterford Crystal, but there’s much more to it than that.
The Vikings discovered in Waterford a place that was perfect for settlement.
The city has a natural harbor, being wide and sheltered during extreme weather, making it ideal for the seafaring people to conduct trade and shipping.
It is also close to the southwest of England and mainland Europe.
The Viking colony that was created in 917 AD was triangular in shape, which is why the main tourist attraction in Waterford today is called The Viking Triangle.
It is in this area that you will find some fantastic museums that tell the story of Waterford through the ages.
They include the Medieval Museum, the Bishop’s Palace, the French Church, a former Franciscan friary founded in the 13th century, and Reginald’s Tower, collectively known as the “Waterford Treasures.”
Of the three museums mentioned above, Reginald’s Tower is the one most relevant as you continue exploring Viking history in Ireland.
The tower that you see today, made of stone, was built on the remains of a wooden tower built by the Vikings. Historians believe that its name is taken from Ragnall mac Gillemaire, a Hiberno-Norse ruler of the city.
It is considered the oldest civic building in Ireland, which protected the city against invaders. It is named after Reginald, who led the huge fleet of Viking longships into Waterford Harbor.
Over the years, the tower has served as an arsenal, a prison, and a mint.
The tower houses a number of fascinating artifacts, including decorated weights, used by the Vikings for trading before coins were created, a Viking sword, and a kite brooch made of silver and decorated with sumptuous gold foil and amethyst-colored glass studs.
You might want to know, also, about the tower’s interesting staircase.
Its 56 steps, known as the “stumble steps,” were built into the wall of the tower and were deliberately designed to be of different heights and widths, making it difficult for attackers to climb.
It is also oriented to the right, which made it impossible for right-handed attackers to swing their swords as they moved upward.
Don’t forget to take a look at the Viking longboat situated outside the museum.
The tower museum is open year-round. From January through early March, it is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. From late March through mid-December, it is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The average length of a visit is one hour.
The Medieval Museum
The Medieval Museum details Waterford’s Medieval history and includes some magnificent artifacts. They include the 15th-century cloth-of-gold church vestments made of silk that were woven in Florence and embroidered in Bruges around 1460.
They are one of the great religious treasures of medieval Europe.
Other exhibits include the Great Parchment Book of Waterford, an original document that records what medieval life was like in the city. The museum also houses a ceremonial sword and two maces gifted to the city by King Edward IV in 1462.
On the lower floors, you can join costumed performers/tour guides who will take you on a tour of the museum’s two medieval chambers, the 13th-century Choristers’ Hall and the 15th-century Mayor’s Wine Vault.
The museum is open year-round. Check the website for opening times and admission.
The Bishop’s Palace, a Georgian mansion dating from 1741, details the city’s history from 1700 through 1970.
Waterford’s 3D Virtual Experience
If you really want to get into the Viking mood as you're exploring Viking history in Ireland, check out “King of the Vikings,” a 3D virtual reality attraction.
The show’s creators promise to “bring you up close and personal with the Viking warlords who founded Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city!”
You’ll discover the attraction next to Reginald’s Tower. It is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Each
virtual reality tour is 30 minutes.
Much of Cork’s Viking origins began with a monastic settlement founded in the 7th century by St. Finbarr. Like other monasteries across Ireland, the settlement attracted Viking raiders and in 820, Corkonians experienced their first encounter with the Norsemen.
The small Viking community that lived in Cork, close to the monastery, existed peacefully with the native Irish. The city’s leading clergy and aristocracy benefited from the presence of the Vikings by purchasing French wine, English salt, and other goods from the Norsemen in exchange for the hides of animals.
Today, there’s little evidence of Cork’s Viking past, unless you know where to look.
According to Kieran McCarthy, a local government councilor who runs the Cork Heritage blog, there were at least three main areas of Viking settlement in the city.
They included Barrack Street, South Main Street, the location of the Beamish and Crawford Brewery, Hanover Street, and Bishop Lucey Park, as well as the area around John Street in the Lower Blackpool section of the city.
Other walking tours of the city include the Cork City Tour, a hop-on-hop-off open-top bus tour that is good for 24 hours.
The tour stops at the English Market, the St. Patrick’s Street shopping area, the Victorian Quarter, City Hall, the Shandon Cathedral, the Cork City Gaol (Jail), University College Cork (UCC), and St. Finbarr’s Cathedral.
Adult tickets are €15, seniors and students are €13, children (ages 6-15) €5, and a family of 4 is €35. Tickets can be booked in advance online.
If you want to get a more in-depth glimpse of Cork’s history, visit the Cork Public Museum. Exhibits tell the story of Cork from the Stone Age right up to the present day.
Admission is free.
The museum is open on weekdays year-round from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 2:15 to 5 p.m.
From April through September only, it is open on weekends (until 4 p.m. on a Saturday and from 3 to 5 p.m. on Sundays).
Like other Viking cities across Ireland, a nearby monastery was the attraction for Viking raiders in 812 who arrived in Limerick.
After burning Mungret Abbey, the Vikings were forced to flee.
Permanent settlement in what is now modern-day Limerick did not happen until 922 in an area known as King’s Island. That year, a Viking prince led raids on Limerick along the River Shannon pillaging several monastic settlements.
A rivalry between the Dublin Viking community and the Limerick Vikings ensued two years later, with the Dublin group winning in 937.
Brian Boru finally destroyed the Vikings’ power in Limerick by winning the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.
A number of Viking-related artifacts have been found around Limerick, just as they have in other Viking cities across Ireland.
They included a kite brooch, a silver penny dating from 1035, a Viking strap, and much more, all found during work on the Limerick main drainage scheme in the late 1990s.
The Hunt Museum
You can discover more about Limerick’s history while you're exploring the Viking history of Ireland at the Hunt Museum, which houses some of the finest collections of the Bronze Age, Iron Age, medieval, and modern art collections outside of Dublin.
As an aside, the museum houses what is supposed to be one of 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas for his betrayal of Christ.
Admission for an adult is €10 and for a child, it is €7.50. Under 18s are admitted for free.
The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m.
Visits on Sundays are free, and you can get two for the price of one every Monday.
Do you have an interest in exploring Viking history when you get to Ireland? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.