Four Ways to Find Ireland’s Viking History

by Maria Lisella
Four Ways to Find Ireland’s Viking History

National Museum of Ireland houses Viking relics.

This year there has been a surge of interest in Ireland. The rate of North American visitors skyrocketed to 21 percent more than last year in June.

Overall, visitors to Ireland grew by 4.2 percent in the first half of 2017, to almost 4.6 million compared to the same period in 2016. June was also the best ever month of June for tourism to Ireland, with almost 1 million arrivals – an increase of 8 percent on June 2016.

Yet, if you were to ask travelers about Ireland’s Viking history, they might be hard pressed to link the dots.

Well, that’s not surprising because it is only been within the past 25 years that a commissioned effort was made in Dublin to unearth what turned out to be vast quantitites of Viking relics, many of which are now on display at the National Museum in Dublin.

At first, the Vikings stayed within 20 miles of Ireland’s coast where they targeted Irish monasteries. Eventually, they made more permanent settlements with in Dublin (named Dubhlinn), Cork and Waterford (named Vadrefjord).

Jack Burtchaell, historian and tour guide in Waterford says, “Yes, the Vikings attacked monasteries,” says Burtchaell, “but as for bloodthirsty pillaging, well, basically, they were no worse than the natives.”

The Vikings weren’t without their sensitive side and the Urnes style is evidence of that. Derived from a style of decoration used on the Urnes stave church in southern Norway, this is the Norse answer to the Celtic swirl found at places such as Newgrange and on countless pieces of traditional jewellery.

With the increasing popularity of Ireland, it is showcased on a long list of tour operators’ portfolios to name a few: Brendan Vacations, CIE Tours, Collette, Contiki, Insight, Lynott, Shamrocker Adventures, Tauck, Trafalgar all skirt or stay close to Ireland’s Viking settlements.

County Cork, Ireland’s biggest county known to natives as the “People’s Republic of Cork,” sprawls its fertile farmland and wild peninulas and islands over the southwest. Its first Viking encounter took place in 820 when its monastery came under attack. Twenty-six years later, the first Viking settlement followed, but they were vanquished and reappeared in the 12th century. Until the 1970s,  the evidence was thin. Two major archaeological excavations at Skiddy’s Castle, off North Main Street, and at the medieval college by Christ Church off South Main Street indicated that there was a little settlement

Kildare Street in County Dublin is a direct route to Dublinia. The Viking Splash Tour, a land and water tour takes sightseeing to new heights – aboard the amphibious world war two vehicles that travel to the newly developed Grand Canal docklands for a peek at U2’s recording studio.

The Viking designed Cross of Cong, now housed in the National Museum of Ireland  is a great example of Norse design that is often defined by interlacing animals – snakes and greyhounds – a motif that marks a handful of priceless historical relics.

Vikings settled in what is now Ireland’s oldest city, Waterford in 914. The Viking Triangle in the city-center is home to a trio of museums known as Waterford Treasures: Reginald’s Tower, and longboat, one of the famous Viking ships found at Roskilde in Denmark is here; and finally Waterford’s Medieval Museum.

“The Vikings influenced design, seafaring, shipbuilding and they plugged Ireland into a trading network that stretched from Iceland to Turkey and the Baltic.” According to Jack Burtchaell, historian and tour guide in Waterford.

The Vikings spent 300 years making Wexford a true Viking town. They worked as traders, and eventually became allies to the local Gaelic kings, and hired themselves out as mercenaries. National Heritage Park in Ferrycrrig is a good place to get a close look at reconstructed longboats, ring forts and Viking homes on 35 acres of woodland.

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