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Summary of the Viking Raids in Ireland

Info: 5106 words (20 pages) Essay
Published: 19th Dec 2017 in History

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Burying items of personal, social or economical value in hoards was not only exclusive to the Viking era, indeed hoards have been found dating back to the hunter gatherer period during the Mesolithic and Paleoindian era. [1] By analysing Viking hoards it is possible to glimpse into the wide ranging grasp of the Viking economy and into the minting process and silver metallurgy of the world at the time. Silver was used as the principal means of exchange throughout the Viking world . Silver hoards in Ireland are crucial evidence for trade, status and lifestyle of the Vikings and the Irish, and the relationship both societies had with one another due to the many finds. In order to fully understand the implications the Viking settlement had on Ireland and the subsequent relationship which was built between the two communities; a brief summary of events leading to the burial of hoards in Ireland is required to draw any possible links between the two. However it is tempting and sometimes unwise to assume a link between the deposition of particular hoards with specific historical events as some may have been deposited for purely local or family reasons. What is certain is that a vast majority of hoards were buried for safe keeping, which is proven by the fact that the majority of coin hoards found coincided with the defeat of the Vikings at Tara in 980AD. Gold hoards found in Hare Island and silver hoards found in Lough Ree (which a Viking fleet from Limerick dominated during the 920’s and 930’s) also show a connection between occupation of land by Vikings and the subsequent burial of hoards. [2] 

Nevertheless all plausible circumstances must be researched in order to come to a conclusion or at least a range of possibilities concerning the purpose of a specific hoard. This essay will concentrate on case studies of specific hoards after a brief summary of Viking settlement in Ireland.

Chapter I: Brief Summary of Viking raids and subsequent occupation in Ireland

The first recorded Viking raid in Ireland took place in 795 AD in Rathlin. Thereafter Viking attacks continued in the form of costal raiding. After a series of raids in the north the Vikings moved westward where there were multiple monasteries in 807AD, of which some were raided. For the first time annals begin to report violence (although no battles) between the Vikings and the Irish. After a break there began attacks once again by the Vikings on the south coast of Ireland in 821AD along with further raids in the north-east in 823AD. From 825AD the annals report severe attacks along the east coast of Ireland on churches and local costal kingdoms. There was also significant engagement with local Irish kings and with this the first Viking Age in Ireland had begun. [3] 

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In 832AD a Viking fleet once again invaded Irelands northern and eastern coasts. During the 830’s raids, the Vikings began to push deeper into Ireland. In 838AD a small Viking fleet entered the river Liffey. The Vikings set up a base there called a Longphort which eventually became Dublin. Dublin became the most important and wealthiest centre in Viking Ireland. It is no coincidence that the majority of silver hoards were found in the Dublin area which had a wealth unequalled in the west of Ireland and indeed the majority of the Viking world. [4] Silver which was used throughout the Viking world as the main material of exchange has been found in large quantities in Ireland, over a hundred and thirty silver hoards to be precise. A hundred and twenty of these were found in Dublin dating from the 9th until the 11th century.

The Vikings were able to branch off into different areas in the country by sailing through the river Liffey. The Vikings then began to build trading centres that developed into towns and cities around the Irish coast from the middle of the 9th century. It was in these places that the first coins in Ireland were minted as well as trading goods and slaves. Economic links were established with the wider Viking world for example the town of Jorvik (York) in England, across Europe and the Near East. After 840AD, Vikings had several bases in strategic locations throughout Ireland. In 902 the Vikings were temporarily expelled from Dublin due to an Irish alliance, however they soon returned. The Viking rulers of Dublin became involved with the political conflicts between Irish kingdoms which reached its pinnacle when in 1014 the Vikings of Dublin allied with Leinster in their battle for supremacy against Munster. The Vikings and Leinstermen were defeated in the Battle of Clontarf which is seen as the end of Viking power in Ireland. However Vikings still played an active role in Irish life until the Anglo Norman invasion of 1169. [5] 

The earliest raids which occurred up to the second decade of the 9th century are said to have been undertaken from the Vikings from south-west Norway. The more violent attacks which occurred in 821AD and later were conducted by a larger and more organized force. There would have been logistical problems bringing large fleets from Norway and therefore a theory is that the invaders came from nearby, namely the Viking settlements in the Northern and

Western Isles of Scotland. [6] These large scale raids led to the occupation of the Irish east midlands.

Full term occupation in Ireland can generally said have begun with exploratory raids, then heavy plundering and slaving in order to break the resistance of the Irish population and then finally occupation and the establishment of a regional kingdom. Vikings in Ireland adopted a different strategy of colonising Ireland namely economically. From the mid 9th century Vikings became very involved in politics by siding with Irish kings against other Irish kings. In the early decades of 10th century, Vikings realized they could not conquer through force and started founding trade centres instead such as the aforementioned Dublin which became important for Irish sea affairs and commercial centre of international importance.

The raids and consequent settlements by Vikings in the east of Ireland were particularly intense due to the Viking Kings of Scotland in the middle of the 9th century having previously exercised authority over the Vikings and their settlements in Ireland (though not over all as annals report activities of Viking adventures with no commitments to Scottish Viking royalty). Whereas the Norwegian raids of the north and the west Ireland were conducted by small, mobile Viking groups, by 830AD Viking raiders consisted of large fleets of ships which led to permanent bases being established on the coasts by 840AD. Dublin was to be the most significant of these settlements long term.

Chapter II: The debates surrounding Viking hoards in Ireland

Viking hoards in Ireland can be defined in three categories, coinless hoards, mixed hoards and coin hoards. Using silver in form of coinage did not happen until the late Anglo-Saxon economy of the Viking Age and so the worth of silver was measured in weight and therefore was acceptable in other forms which some hoards represent by including a mixture of cut up fragments of ingots and/or ornaments and later on, coins. [7] Silver started appearing in Ireland from 850AD in the form of coins and ingots which correlates with the beginning of Viking settlement in Ireland.

Single Viking age silver finds in Ireland also appear which raises the question of what the purpose of burying silver hoards was. The threat of Viking raids would be sufficient for the burial of hoards in order to protect the wealth which could be later, but was not, reclaimed. This is a plausible explanation however there are other possible reasons why hoards were buried and then not recovered. One theory is that pagans in the Viking Age believed that the deceased would need riches in the afterlife which were the treasures he had buried whilst still alive. However this story was written long after the Christianisation of Scandinavia and so it in uncertain about its accuracy. Another possible reason for burying hoards was in order to protect silver generally (without specific threat of invasion) by leaders so that they could in time reward their followers with silver. This display of wealth and power could also have lead to hoards of silver being buried in order to eliminate them from circulation, creating a talking point for others. [8] 

Another debate is who buried which hoards. Hoards do not seem to completely correlate with the pattern of Norse settlement, although there are numerous finds near Dublin. More hoards are found in territories controlled by independent Irish Kings than in areas controlled by Vikings. [9] All this information raises the question of what use hoards had for the Irish and Vikings. The study of distribution of hoards shows us that many of them where in native ownership when buried. However it is also possible that the hoards were given to the Irish by Vikings for political reasons, or were looted items. Many other hoards on the other hand represent Viking wealth. By end of millennium Viking hoards contained rarely anything but coins. [10] 

Chapter III: Coinless hoards

Generally coinless hoards consist of a range of ornaments and/or ingots and hack silver. In total there are to date fifty-one coinless hoards of early Viking Age date . Coinless hoards can be divided into three sub-groups on the basis of their form and structure. Analysing hoards in this way enables a more specific research into their intended purpose and origin. One type of Viking age coinless hoard contains neither hack silver nor ingots and is composed exclusively of complete ornaments. Most of these ornaments are of Hiberno Scandinavian type and vary in their style from four examples. These types of hoards account of nearly half the total number of coinless hoards. [11] 

Half of all Viking age hoards from the 9th and 10th century fall into the coinless category and consist largely or wholly of Hiberno-Scandinavian ornaments. Examples of these finds consist of hoards from Raphoe in County Donegal and Cushalogurt in County Mayo. The most common item found in coinless hoards are the broad band armrings which are Hiberno-Scandinavian silver artefacts. Their dates range between 850AD and 950AD. This case study concerns itself with this sub-group of Viking silver hoards.

Case Study:A Hoard of Viking silver bracelets from County Donegal and County Mayo:

Until 1966 there were the remains of what appears to have been a rath or cashel in the townland of Roosky in east County Donegal.. The owner of the land decided to build a house with a ford and cleared away most of the surrounding wall. Several foundation trenches were cut for the foundation walls of the new house but no archaeological evidence was found.

However whilst demolishing the wall of the fort, four silver bracelets where discovered on the surface of the ground on the inside. This lead the finder to believe that the bracelets had fallen down with the wall itself which would mean that they had been hidden in one of the gaps between the stones of the wall. This indicates that the fort was built earlier that the making of the bracelets. The four objects were found so closely together than they could only be interpreted as a hoard. The four bracelets are common in types of Viking silver work in Europe. In Ireland no silver bracelet resembling those from Roosky has so far been found. Those found in Britain range in dates from 900AD to the 11th century.

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In Eastern Europe, bracelets which have been found that have resemblance to the Roosky bracelets date to the first half of the 12th century. This suggests the original source being from the west and/or influence from that area. Muslim Spain has also been suggested as the original source but little evidence supports this. [12] J. Raftery concludes that the bracelets were probably Norse in origin as their shape has no forerunners in Ireland and the nature of the ornamentation on them has no parallels amongst native Irish material. This does not however dismiss the possibility of the bracelets being made in Ireland by Norse or Irish silversmiths. The conclusion by А. Ð’. Ó Ríordáin that Viking silver ornaments of Irish provenance were made in Ireland and the material used is the product of silver mines in Ireland has little evidence to back the claim up. [13] 14

This hoard is interesting because of where it was, namely near the coast. Most Viking hoards come from near the coast. This could suggest that the pattern of chance finds of Viking objects coincided with what we know of the movements of Norsemen. However some of these discoveries could represent Irish loot from Vikings who had ventured ashore. The number of Norse items from non costal areas is quite small.

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A hoard of 25 silver bracelets and fragments was discovered in 1939 on the peninsula in the townland of Cushalogurt, Kilmeena parish, Burrishoole barony, County Mayo. The discovery was only six yards from the shore. This hoard is the largest of its king known in Ireland. It is connected to the Roosky hoard findings in that as regards to shape and decoration, the bracelets are unparalleled amongst earlier Irish material but do occur often in Viking age contexts of Scandinavia and Europe. Their popularity continued in Scandinavia until the 13th century but in Britain their popularity assessed on deposition ceased at an earlier date. А. Ð’. Ó Ríordáin pointed out when discussing the bracelets from Carrowmore in Co. Donegal that numismatic evidence from Scotland and England demonstrated that the bracelets were in fashion during there during the 10th and 11th centuries. That the Vikings were responsible for their introduction into Ireland can be seen by the occurrence of the Runic letter R incised on the back of one of the bracelets from the hoard from Roosky which emphasised its Scandinavian derivation. [15] 

The second sub group of coinless hoards contain ingots and/or ornaments but no hack silver. This type of hoard is more uncommon and makes up only 16% of the total number of coinless hoards. In most cases these ornaments are of Hiberno-Scandinavian type and vary in number from two to four examples.

Case Study: Hoard from Carraig Aille, County Limerick

The next sub group accounts for 36% of the total coinless hoards and is characterized by the presence of hack silver. Most of these hoards also contain ingots. A classic example of this type of hoard in that from Carraig Aille, County Limerick, which contains one complete ring, three ring fragments, two ingots and an ingot fragment. [16] The fragments of bracelets found here link to the hoard mentioned previously which consisted of 25 silver bracelets from County Mayo. Both are the same type of bracelet (rectangular and cross-sectioned) and are dated to the 10th century. [17] 

The context in which the hoard from Carriag Aille, Co. Limerick was found is quite interesting. On the hill where the hoard was found stand two Iron age stone Cashels which are on the bank of Lough Gur and dated between 8th and 11th century AD. Both forts are quite low, the wall only maybe 1- 1.5m high although originally they would have been considerably higher. There is an entrance in both of them to the east. This fort is not unusual in style and would have been built by the native Irish. [18] The question lies on who was responsible for creating the hoard and who buried it. It seems that the bracelet is Scandinavian whereas the ingots have no evidence to suggest their origin. The 10th century was a turbulent time in Co. Limerick. The Vikings founded the town Limerick in 922 AD as a strategic point between the Shannon and Abbey River. However the Vikings often fought each other (seen with the attack of Vikings from Dublin on Limerick in 924) as well as fighting the native Irish. In 968 the Irish gained control over Limerick but it was short lived as in 969 the Vikings regained their authority. It would be until the early 11th century until the Irish assumed full control of the town once again and this time the Vikings absorbed into Irish society. [19] Carraig Aille is roughly 20km from the town of Limerick and would have been easily accessible by rivers. There is evidence of the Waterford Vikings creating a base at Lough Gur, which Carraig Aille is in close proximity to on the east side. Carriag Aille would have witnessed the base which was built as an advancement point for the Waterford Vikings to Limerick. During the disputes with the Limerick Vikings and Dublin Vikings, the Waterford Vikings sided with Dublin. The Waterfordmen were defeated by the Limerick Vikings and their Irish allies, apparently at Kilmallock (which lies in between Limerick and Logh Gur) in 927. [20] Geographically Carraig Aille could have been caught amongst the disputes and the subsequent burial of the hoard could be a consequence as the date of the bracelets coincide with the power struggles in that area. What is not certain is whether the native Irish or the Vikings buried the hoard, as that would depend on who had control over the forts, this evidence is not available. Their similarity to the 25 silver bracelets found in County Mayo suggest that they were made by Hiberno-Norse silversmiths.

Chapter IIII: Mixed hoards:

Mixed hoards consist of non-numismatic silver combined with coins. Around 16 of Irelands hoards are of this type, fifteen of which were deposited during the 10th century. Most of these hoards contain ingots or ingot derived hack silver in addition to coins and occasionally ornament derived hack silver. The 10th century first see substantial amounts of coins be buried with hoards in Ireland. It was the period of the second half of the 9th century and the first half of the tenth century that saw Hiberno Vikings develop their silver-working. From 920 until ca 1000 begins the most debatable phase of hoard deposition. It was in this period that the Vikings increased their power in Leinster and Munster and consequently there was an upsurge in violence between the Vikings and the Irish and indeed the Vikings amongst themselves. Dublin was also rapidly growing as a trading port. The deposition of hoards reach a peak in c.970 and the scholar Dolley has suggested that this coincides with rising violence prior o the defeat of the Vikings at the battle of Tara in 980. [21] 

There were a large number of coins minted in York found in hoards dating to the early part of the period and this reflects close political links between Viking York and Dublin. Hoards from c.925-c.975 are dominated by Anglo-Saxon coins minted in Chester which reflects the importance of the trade route between Dublin and Chester. After c.975 the number of coins from Chester decline and the number of coins from the West country rises which show the growing importance of the Dublin to/from Bristol trade route. The re-establishment of Dublin and the growth of other Viking towns during the first decades of the 10th century saw a gradual transition from bullion towards coin usage in economy. Whereas previously coins were often melted, now they began to be retained as familiarity for coin usage in trade increased which would finally lead to the minting of the first Hiberno-Norse coins in Dublin c- 977. The earliest hoards of Hiberno-Norse coins from Dundalk, County Louth and Clondalkin, County Dublin were deposited around c.997-1000. The practise of hoarding continued, however by the end of the millennium Viking age silver hoards contained rarely anything except coins. [22] 23

The distribution of coinless hoards are relatively evenly spread over much of Ireland, however mixed hoards and coin hoards display a strong concentration on the east coast of the east Midlands. This can be seen as evidence for the central role of Viking costal settlements, particularly Dublin in the dispersal of silver within Ireland. [24] 

Case Study: Mixed hoard from Dysart Island, County Westmeath

This hoard is a relatively recent and was deposited ca. 907 AD. This hoard contains Kufic dirhams and coins from Anglo Saxon England, Viking York and possibly Carollingian in Germany as well as ingots and a variety of fragmentary ornaments. This important hoard may in part be derived from wealth captured by the Irish as a result of the sack of Dublin. The Dysart Island hoard could reflect the expulsion of the Vikings from Ireland in 902 and their subsequent settlement in north-west Britain. Metal analysis of the silver in the Dysart hoard demonstrates close affinities with the nearby hoard from Carrick which contained 60 ingots and it is possible that they are of similar date. [25] 

The Dysart hoard is significant in that it has ingots which are quite like those from the infamous Cuerdale hoard. Graham Cambell uses this as evidence that the Norse remained actively involved in Irish affairs despite their loss of Dublin in 902. [26] Graham Cambell has shown that the massive Cuerdale Hoard of ca. 903 is of likely Hiberno-Norse origin. Cuerdale was in Danish-Viking Northumbria but close to Norse Viking strongholds in Ireland. The hoard contained about 7,000 coins and over 1,300 pieces of silver. The range of the material, including Hiberno-Norse armrings and fragments of both bossed penannular brooches and thistle brooches, is closely comparable with Dysart. The slightly later hoard from Goldsborough c.920, Yorkshire also contains fragments of similar brooches and armrings. Hoards outside of Ireland could be possible evidence of the sudden defeat of the Vikings in Ireland and the subsequent bringing of the silversmith trade to Britain. The publishers of the Dysart coin hoard conclude that the hoard was deposited in an entirely Irish context at a time when the Vikings had been expelled from Dublin. [27] 

Chapter V: Coin hoards

Finally the last category of Viking hoard in Ireland is the hoard which consists exclusively of coins. These hoards represent in bullion terms and insignificant element of the overall silver wealth of the Viking Age in Ireland. There are over sixty examples of coin hoards on record however most of these are quite small in size. The majority were deposited after c.940 and the type of issues found in them are predominantly Anglo Saxon. However Arabic coins as well as those issued by the Viking Northumbrian and East Anglian rulers are also represented. Hiberno-Norse coin issues dominate the composition of the 11th century hoards.

Michael Dolley has established some theories about coins from Viking age Ireland. Coins were first imported by the Dublin Hiberno-Norse and coin use in Ireland was confined to the Norse. Graham Cambell has remained non-committal on the subject of whether the native Irish used coins. Irish coin use, as opposed to the study of coins themselves as been of secondary interest in works by scholars such as Michael Dolley. Marilyn Gerriets states that closer examination of evidence demonstrated that the conclusion that the Irish rejected the use of coins is based on little evidence. [28] 

She argues that hoards do not correlate with patterns of Norse settlement but rather more hoards are found in territories controlled by independent Irish kings. Secondly, non-coin Viking artefacts are better correlated with Viking activity in the interior of Ireland than are coins. Dolley’s theory of spatial distribution of coin hoards and other artefacts is an unreliable indicator of coin use. Many factors, including the pattern of contemporary violence and the distribution of modern economic activity, bias the pattern of finds. The hypothesis that the Irish did not use coin still could be supported if the assumption was made that coins founds in Irish territories bordering Dublin arrived as plunder from rains on Dublin or were lost by Vikings resident in Irish kingdoms. Although some hoards lost in Irish territory could have been the booty of plunder, many hoards correlate poorly with instances of plunder recorded in the Annals according to Gerriets. [29] Irish regions have more hoards during their periods of greatest power when Irish natives were in control instead of Vikings. Gerriets argues that too little is known about early Irish society to support the argument regarding how the Irish might have used coin, or whether they used it at all.

Case Study: Coin hoard from Dunbrody, County Wexford

This coin hoard is the largest found in Ireland with over 1600 examples of coin. It was discovered in 1836 beside Waterford harbour. This reflects the function of the estuary as a trade route. It could also relate to trading activities with the adjacent monastic centre of Kilmokea, situated at a strategic ferry crossing on the road linking the Norse towns of Wexford and Waterford. [30] 

The hoard consists of predominantly Hiberno-Norse phase coins In addition there were ca. 200 late Anglo-Saxon pennies from editions by Cnut to Edward the Confessor, the majority being of the latter. The hoard therefore can be dated to c.1050 based on the Anglo-Saxon element. [31] Waterford Harbour was under the control of Vikings during this period and therefore it is plausible that the hoard was buried by Vikings, however we cannot be certain.


The distribution patterns of silver hoards in Ireland give us the most information about the relations between the Vikings and the Irish. Coinless hoards are fairly evenly spread, however with a concentration in the central midlands. Mixed hoards and coin hoards are found predominantly in the midlands and east coast of Ireland. The majority of silver hoards were deposited in areas of Ireland that were not under control by the Vikings which can be taken as evidence that although many of the finds were Viking in style, they were in fact in the ownership of the native Irish. We cannot be certain how the wealth was acquired but the fact that the hoards were found in contemporary native Irish territory suggests evidence of trade and the process of giving receiving gifts between the Irish and the Vikings. The changing economy of Viking Ireland can be seen by the steady transformation of what was contained in hoards. From the late 9th century to the early 10th century there is a steady transition from a bullion economy (seen in the coinless hoards) to an economy which imported and used coins. Coins were in existence before the burial of coin hoards, however many were melted to their silver state in order to be used for other objects. Coins began being retained, and this transition is represented by the mixed hoards which can be associated with the foundation of the Scandinavian towns during the beginning of the 10th century. From the mid of the 10th century, coinless and mixed hoards decline dramatically whilst coin hoards become more prominent. By the beginning of the 11th century the transformation from bullion is completed.


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