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Title: Scandinavian Relations with Ireland during the Viking Period
Author: Walsh, A.
Language: English
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                        SCANDINAVIAN RELATIONS
                          WITH IRELAND DURING
                           THE VIKING PERIOD


                               A. WALSH


                       THE TALBOT PRESS LIMITED

                        T. FISHER UNWIN LIMITED



This short study was written during my tenure of a Travelling
Studentship from the National University of Ireland, and in March,
1920, was accepted for the Research Degree Certificate of Cambridge

A glance at the bibliography shows that comparatively little has
been written in English on this interesting period of our history.
On the other hand modern Scandinavian scholars--Alexander Bugge,
Marstrander, and Vogt--have thrown a good deal of light on the subject,
but unfortunately very few of their books have been translated into
English. The present dissertation is based principally upon the Old and
Middle Irish annals and chronicles and the Icelandic sagas; reference
has also been made to the work of Scandinavian, English and Irish
scholars on the subject.

I should like to acknowledge my debt to Professor Chadwick, who
directed my work: those who have had the privilege of working under
him will readily understand how much is due to his encouragement and
stimulating criticism. I wish also to express my thanks to my friends,
Miss N. Kershaw and Mr. E. J. Thomas, for many kindnesses while the
book was in preparation; to Miss Eleanor Hull and Professor Ó’Máille,
University College, Galway, for the loan of books; and to the Librarian
and staff of Cambridge University Library, the National Library,
Dublin, and T.C.D. Library.

A. W.





     I. THE VIKINGS IN IRELAND (795-1014)                            1

          VIKING PERIOD                                             10

   III. THE GROWTH OF THE SEAPORT TOWNS                             21

    IV. THE EXPANSION OF IRISH TRADE                                29

     V. SHIPBUILDING AND SEAFARING                                  35

    VI. LINGUISTIC INFLUENCES                                       40

          (_a_) Loan-words from Old Norse in Irish.

          (_b_) Gaelic Words in Old Norse Literature.

          (_c_) Irish Influence on Icelandic Place-nomenclature.

   VII. THE VIKINGS AND THE CELTIC CHURCH                           47


        BIBLIOGRAPHY                                                77

Scandinavian Relations with Ireland during the Viking Period.



The Vikings made their first appearance[1] on the Irish coasts in 795
A.D., when they plundered and burned the church on Recru, or Lambay
Island, near Dublin. During the next ten or twelve years Ireland
seems to have been almost free from further attacks, but in 807 they
descended on Inis Murray, off the Sligo coast, and from there made
their way inland to Roscommon.[2] After that the raids ceased for a few
years, then began again with renewed vigour on Connacht and Munster, on
some of the inland counties of Leinster, and on several places along
the east coast.[3]

The arrival of Turgeis[4] (O.N. Thorgestr) in Armagh, about 832, marks
a new phase of the invasions. Hitherto the Vikings had come in isolated
parties solely for purposes of plunder; now, however, “great sea-cast
floods of foreigners” landed in every harbour, and began to form
settlements in various parts of the island. Dublin was first occupied
in 836, and four years later the Norsemen strengthened their position
there considerably by the erection of a _longphort_ or fortress. From
their _longphort_ at Linn Duachaill (between Drogheda and Dundalk)
built in the same year, they made their way to the West and plundered
Clonmacnois, while settlers from Cael-uisce, near Newry, went south and
laid waste County Kildare.[5]

The power of Turgeis was not confined to the north of Ireland. His
fleets were stationed on Loch Ree, the centre from which Meath and
Connacht were devastated. His wife, Ota (O.N. Authr), desecrated
the monastery of Clonmacnois by giving her oracular responses (_a
frecartha_) from the high altar.[6] The tyranny of Turgeis came to
an end in 845, when he was captured by Maelsechnaill, who afterwards
became _árd-rí_, and was drowned in Lough Owel.[7]

After his death the tide of battle turned in favour of the Irish,
and the Norsemen were defeated in several battles. Weakened by
warfare, they had to contend in 849 with an enemy from without--the
Dubh-Gaill[8] or Danes who had sailed round the south coast of England
and landed in Ireland “to exercise authority over the foreigners who
were there before them.” Two years after their arrival the newcomers
plundered the fortresses at Dublin and Dundalk, but were attacked in
the following year on Carlingford Loch by the Norsemen. In this great
naval battle, which lasted three days and three nights, the Danes were
finally victorious.[9]

“Amhlaoibh Conung, son of the King of Lochlann,” known in Icelandic
sources as Olaf the White, came to Ireland about 852 to rule over his
countrymen, and to exact tribute from the Irish.[10] According to the
_Fragments of Annals_, he left suddenly and returned a few years later
accompanied by his “younger brother, Imhar,” who may be identified
with Ivarr Beinlausi (_i.e._, “the Boneless”) son of Ragnarr Lothbrók.
Both kings ruled from Dublin, which town now gained a new importance
as the seat of the Scandinavian Kings in Ireland. In 865 the Vikings
extended their activities to Scotland, whence they carried off much
plunder and many captives. An expedition on a larger scale was made by
Olaf and Ivarr in 869, when Dumbarton, after a four months’ siege, fell
into their hands. They returned in triumph to Ireland in the following
year with a large number of English, British, and Pictish prisoners
and ended their victorious march by the capture of Dunseverick (Co.

Olaf returned to Norway some time after this to take part in the wars
there,[12] and we hear no more of him in the Irish Annals. “Imhar, King
of the Norsemen of all Ireland and Britain,” did not long survive him;
his death is recorded under the year 873.[13]

During the years which followed Ivarr’s death the country was
comparatively peaceful, and the Irish began to enjoy a rest from fresh
invasions, which lasted about forty years.[14] The Danes and the
Norsemen again began to quarrel among themselves, and once more their
opposing fleets met on Carlingford Lough;[15] in this battle Albann
(O.N. Halfdanr), brother of Ivarr, a well-known leader of the Vikings
in England, was slain. Dissensions also spread among the ranks of the
Dublin Norsemen, dividing them into two hostile parties, one siding
with Sitriucc, son of Ivarr, the other with a certain Sighfrith.[16]
This internal strife so weakened Norse power that the Irish captured
the fortress at Dublin in 902, and drove the Vikings across the sea
with great slaughter.

The forty years’ rest terminated abruptly in 913, when several fleets
arrived at Waterford and proceeded to ravage all Munster and Leinster.
In 916 Raghnall (O.N. Rögnvaldr), grandson of Ivarr, assumed command
while his brother or cousin, Sihtric Gale (also nicknamed Caoch, ‘the
Blind’) came with a fleet to Cenn Fuaid, in the east of Leinster, and
built a fortification there.[17] Both chiefs united forces against the
_árd-rí_ Niall Glundubh, and having defeated him in battle Sihtric
entered Dublin and became king (918). In the following year the Irish
under Niall made a brave stand at Kilmashogue, near Dublin, but Sihtric
won a decisive victory, and Niall and twelve other kings were among the

Scandinavian power in Ireland was now at its height. Large fleets
occupied all the lakes in Ulster, so that no part of the surrounding
territory was safe from their attacks.[19] The Vikings also retained
their grip of the coast towns, and successfully withstood the efforts
made by the Irish leaders to dislodge them. Between the years 920
and 950 the importance of Dublin increased considerably through its
connection with the Scandinavian Kingdom of Northumbria. Raghnall,
grandson of Ivarr, captured York about 919[20] and reigned there until
his death in 921.[21] He was succeeded by Sihtric Gale, who had
been expelled from Dublin in the preceding year,[22] probably by his
brother, Guthfrith. After Sihtric’s death in 927 Guthfrith, King of
Dublin (d. 934), with the Vikings of Dundalk, left Ireland in order
to secure his own succession in York, but he would seem to have been
driven out by Aethelstan, for the Irish Annals mention his return to
Dublin after an absence of six months.[23]

Guthfrith’s son, Olaf, came forward about this time. Supported by the
Norsemen of Strangford Lough he plundered Armagh, but his subsequent
attacks on Ulster were checked by Muirchertach MacNeill, son of
Niall Glundubh. Olaf fought in alliance with Constantine in the
battle of Brunanburh (937), and after the defeat inflicted on them by
Aethelstan’s forces he fled to Dublin.[24] He is probably the “Anlaf of
Ireland” who was chosen King by the Northumbrians in 941,[25] but he
died about a year later.[26]

Another Olaf, the famous Olaf Cuaran, also called Sihtricsson to
distinguish between them, also played an important part in campaigns in
Ireland and England. He went to York about 941, and was elected king
by the Northumbrians, but was expelled after a few years along with
Raegenald, son of Guthfrith.[27] He then took the Dublin Kingdom under
his rule, and in the following year was defeated in battle by the Irish
at Slaine (Co. Meath). Leaving his brother Guthfrith to govern in his
stead, he departed to York, where he became king a second time; but the
Northumbrians drove him out after three years and placed “Yric, son of
Harald” (_i.e._, Eric Bloodaxe, late King of Norway) on the throne.[28]

Henceforward Olaf limited his activities to Ireland, where he reigned,
the most famous of the Dublin Kings, for some thirty years. In 980,
having summoned auxiliaries from the Scottish isles and Man, he
prepared to attack the _árd-rí_, Maelsechnaill II. A fierce battle was
fought between them at Tara in which the Norse armies were completely
routed, Olaf’s son Raghnall being among the slain. Maelsechnaill
followed up this victory by a three days’ siege of Dublin, after
which he carried off a number of hostages from the Norsemen, and also
obtained from them 2,000 kine, together with jewels and various other
treasures.[29] Olaf himself, utterly disheartened by his defeat, went
on pilgrimage to Iona, where he died soon after.

Some fifteen years before, a severe blow had been struck at the
power of the Limerick Vikings under Ivarr, grandson of Ivarr and his
sons. The attack made on them at Sulcoit (968) by two princes of the
Dal Cais, the brothers Mathgamain and Brian, resulted in victory
for the Irish, who took Limerick shortly after.[30] Mathgamain was
treacherously murdered in 976, and Brian then became King of Thomond.
He soon brought the Kingdoms of Ossory and Leinster under his control,
and by the terms of a treaty made in 998 Maelsechnaill consented
to leave Brian master of Leth Mogha (_i.e._, the southern half of
Ireland). The Leinstermen under King Maelmordha, dissatisfied with
this arrangement, began to make trouble and revolted, assisted by the
Dublin Norsemen. An important victory was gained over their combined
armies at Gleann Mama (Co. Wicklow) in the year 1000 by Brian, who
after the battle captured Dublin. King Sihtric (O.N. Sigtryggr), son of
Olaf Cuaran, had to submit to Brian’s authority. Having accepted his
allegiance Brian married Gormflaith, mother of Sihtric and sister of
Maelmordha, and at the same time gave his own daughter to Sihtric in

Brian became _árd-rí_ in 1002, and after that for about twelve years
there was peace. Towards the end of that time Gormflaith, who had
meanwhile separated from her husband, incited her brother Maelmordha to
make war on Brian. Maelmordha and Sihtric began to gather forces for
the coming struggle. Sihtric at his mother’s command sought the aid of
Sigurthr, Earl of Orkney and of Brodar,[32] a Viking whose fleet then
lay off the west coast of Man. Fleets also came from Norway[33] and
Iceland to help their kinsmen. The armies under Brian and Maelsechnaill
marched towards Dublin, and having encamped near Kilmainham set fire
to the district of Fingal (_i.e._, _Fine Gall_, “the Foreigners’
territory”) north of the city. The two armies met at Clontarf on Good
Friday morning and the battle, one of the most famous ever fought on
Irish soil, raged all that day. The Norsemen suffered a severe defeat,
and in attempting to fly for refuge to their ships were slaughtered by
Maelsechnaill at Dubhgall’s Bridge, near the Four Courts. Brian himself
did not take part in the fight, but he was slain in his tent by Brodar
after the battle.[34]

After the Battle of Clontarf the Norsemen became gradually absorbed
in the general population except in a few coast towns, where they
continued to live more or less distinct and governed by petty kings
until the English Invasion (1169). In the chronicles of the twelfth
and thirteenth centuries they are generally alluded to as “_Ostmen_”
(corruptly _Houstmanni_, _Nosmani_, etc.),[35] and it would seem that
when Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford were captured by the English the
“Ostmen” had to withdraw to certain districts outside the walls of
these towns. Thus, near Dublin, north of the River Liffey, we hear of
Ostmaneby[36] (_i.e._, _Austmannabyr_) afterwards called Ostmanstonry,
and now known as Oxmanstown. Mention is also made (c. 1200) of a
“‘cantred’ of the Ostmen and holy isle,” near Limerick and (c. 1282)
of a “vill of the Ostmen”[37] near Waterford.[38] In the records of
the fourteenth century, however, there is an almost total absence of
references to the “Ostmen” in Ireland.[39]


[1] Zimmer was of the opinion that the Norsemen made their way to
Ireland as early as the seventh century. He bases his theory on an
entry in the _Annals of Ulster_ and in certain other Irish annals
(under the year 617) recording “the devastation of Tory Island by
a marine fleet.” (_über die frühesten Berührungen der Iren mit den
Nordgermanen_, p. 279 ff. in _Sitzungsberichte der kgl. preussischen
Akademie der Wissenschaften_. 1891. Bd. I., pp. 279-317.) But this
attack is likely to have been due to Saxon or Pictish raiders rather
than to the Norsemen.

[2] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 807.

[3] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 811, 820-824, 827, 830.

[4] Some writers would identify Turgeis with Thorgils, son of Harold
Fairhair, who with his brother Frothi went on a viking expedition to
Ireland. They captured Dublin, and Thorgils reigned there for a long
time as king. In the end, however, he was betrayed by the Irish and was
killed. (_Heimskringla: Haralds saga hins hárfagra_, ch. 35.)

This account of Thorgils certainly bears a resemblance to that of
Turgeis contained in the Irish chronicles and Giraldus Cambrensis (cf.
Todd: Introduction to _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, I., ii.),
but it is of course incorrect to say that Turgeis was a son of Harold

[5] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 841.

[6] _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 13.

[7] _Ib._, p. 15.

[8] The Irish chroniclers use a variety of names for the Scandinavians:
_Dibearccai_ (outlaws), _Gaill_ (foreigners), _Gennti_ (Gentiles), and
_Pagánaigh_ (Pagans). They also distinguish between Danes and Norsemen.
The Danes were known as _Danair_, _Danmarcaigh_, _Dubh Gennti_ (Black
Gentiles), and _Dubh-Gaill_. The word _Dubh-Gaill_ (Black Foreigners)
still survives in the personal names _Doyle_ and _MacDowell_ and in
the place-name _Baldoyle_. The Norsemen were called _Finn-Gaill_
(Fair Foreigners), _Finn-Genti_, _Nortmannai_ (Lat. Northmanni) and
_Lochlannaigh_ (_i.e._, men of _Lochlann_ or Norway).

[9] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 851 (= 852).

[10] _Three Fragments of Annals_, p. 127.

Vogt (_Dublin som Norsk By_, p. 66) suggests that Olaf was related to
Turgeis, the first Norse King of Ireland, and to Earl Tomrair (O.N.
Thórarr), “_tanist_ of the King of Lochlann,” who fell in the battle of
Scaith Neachtain (847). On the other hand it may be noted here that the
Annalist errs in making Olaf a brother of Ivarr the Boneless.

[11] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 870.

[12] _Three Fragments of Annals_, p. 195. The _Landnámabók_, II., ch.
15 says that “Olaf fell in battle in Ireland,” but this is surely a

[13] _Annals of Ulster_, _sub anno_, 872 (= 873).

[14] Cf. _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 27. Cf. also the
entries in the _Annals of Ulster_:

“Ruaidhri, son of Muirmenn King of the Britons came to Ireland, fleeing
before the Black Foreigners” (an. 876).

“The shrine of Colum-Cille and all his relics were brought to Ireland
to escape the Foreigners” (an. 877).

[15] The _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_ (p. 27) mentions another
battle between Fair and Black Gentiles, in which many of the latter
were killed.

[16] It is extremely difficult to identify these two princes owing
to the similarity between their names. It has been suggested that
Sighfrith is the Siefredus or Sievert who ruled jointly with
Guthred-Cnut (d. c. 894) as King of Northumbria, while Sitriucc son
of Ivarr is probably the “Sitric comes” whose name appears on a coin
dating from this period. (See A. Mawer: _The Scandinavian Kingdom of
Northumbria_, pp. 11-13. Saga-book of the Viking Club, VII. Part I.)

[17] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 916.

[18] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 918. _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_,
p. 37. An entry in the _Anglo-Saxon Chronicle_ (A.D. 921), referring
to the result of this battle, runs:--“In this year King Sihtric slew
his brother Niel.” There is, however, no evidence in Irish sources that
Sihtric and Niall were brothers, or even half-brothers.

[19] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 920, 921, 923, 925.

[20] _Anglo-Saxon Chronicle_, A.D. 923.

[21] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 920.

[22] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 919.

[23] _Ib._, A.D. 927.

[24] _Ib._, A.D. 937. _Anglo-Saxon Chronicle_, A. Annal, 937.

[25] _Anglo-Saxon Chronicle_, D. Annal 941.

[26] _Ib._, E. Annal 942; _Annals of Clonmacnoise_, A.D. 934.

[27] _Anglo-Saxon Chronicle_, A. Annal 944.

[28] _Anglo-Saxon Chronicle_, E. Annals 949, 952.

[29] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 978, 979; _Annals of Ulster_,
A.D. 979 (= 980).

[30] _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 77.

[31] _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 115; _Annals of the Four
Masters_, A.D. 997.

[32] _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 153. _Njáls Saga_, ch.
155. In the _Annals of Loch Cé_ (A.D. 1014) Brodar is called the earl
of York (_iarla Caoire Eabhroigh_).

[33] _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 151.

[34] _Ib._, pp. 151-191; _Njáls Saga_, chs. 155-157, _Annals of Loch
Cé_, A.D. 1014; _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 1013.

[35] _Calendar of the Ancient Records of Dublin_ (ed. by J. T.
Gilbert), II. 81; _Chartularies of St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin_ (ed.
by Gilbert), I. 258; II. 251; Giraldus Cambrensis: _Topographia
Hibernica_, V. 187.

The name “Ostmen” is generally supposed to have been first given
to them by the English, but the word is Norse (_i.e._, _Austmenn_,
plural of _Austmathr_, “a man living in the East”) and therefore must
have been current in Ireland before the English invasion. It may be
suggested that the name was applied to the original Scandinavian
settlers in Ireland, to merchants and other later comers from Norway,
Sweden, and Denmark. Cf. the nickname _Austmathr_, given to a certain
Eyvindr by the Scandinavian settlers in the Hebrides because he had
come there from Sweden.

[36] _Chartularies of St. Mary’s Abbey_, I. 267; _ib._, I. 227, 234,
etc.; _Calendar of the Ancient Records of Dublin_, I. 55; II. 96.

[37] _A Calendar of Documents Relating to Ireland_ (ed. by H. S.
Sweetman), I. 24.

[38] _Ib._, II. p. 426.

[39] For interesting articles on the Ostmen in Ireland see A. Bugge:
_Sidste Afsnit af Nordboernes Historie i Irland_, pp. 248-315 (Aarb ger
for nord. Oldk. 1900); and E. Curtis: _The English and the Ostmen in
Ireland_ (English Historical Review, XXIII., p. 209 ff.).



The existence of the Gaill-Gaedhil or foreign Irish in Ulster and
various parts of Munster[40] during the years 854-856 shows that
even in the early part of the ninth century there must have been
considerable intercourse between the Vikings and the native population.
For some of the Gaill-Gaedhil were partly of Irish, partly of Norse
extraction; others, as the annalist explicitly states, were Irishmen
who had been fostered by the Norsemen, and in consequence had
forsaken Christian practices and lapsed into Paganism.[41] From a
chance allusion in a tenth century text[42] it would seem that they
could speak Gaelic, but so badly that the expression “the gicgog of
a Gall-Gaedheal” was generally understood to mean halting or broken

They are mentioned in the Annals for the first time[43] in 854, in
which year Aedh Finnliath, King of Aileach, won a great victory over
them in a battle fought at Glenelly, in Tyrone.[44] After this they
took an active part in the Irish wars, fighting like mercenaries
on different sides--at one time in alliance with the _árd-rí_,
Maelsechnaill, who was at war with the Norsemen;[45] again, with an
Irish clan against the Dublin Vikings under Ivarr,[46] and still later
we find them joined with the men of Waterford in opposition to the
_árd-rí_.[47] Led by Caittil Find (O.N. Ketill + Ir. _find_--fair)
they made their last stand against the Dublin Vikings under Olaf and
Ivarr, but were defeated with heavy losses, and after this there is no
further record of their activities in Ireland.[48] On one occasion at
least, they fought with the Viking armies in England. According to
the account of the siege of Chester (c. 912) preserved in the _Three
Fragments of Annals_, many Irishmen, foster-children of the Norsemen,
formed part of the besieging army under the chieftain Hingamund,[49]
who had been expelled from Dublin some time previously. To these
Irishmen Aethelflaed, the lady of the Mercians, sent ambassadors
appealing to them as “true and faithful friends” to abandon the
“hostile race of Pagans” and to assist the Saxons in defending the
city. The Irish then deserted their former allies and joined the
Saxons, “and the reason they acted so towards the Danes,” adds the
chronicler, “was because they were less friendly with them than with
the Norsemen.”[50]

The Vikings who formed settlements in Ireland during the reign of
Turgeis (839-845) seem to have mingled freely with the Irish, for
we find them not long after their arrival stirring up the clans to
rebellion against the _árd-rí_[51] and joining the native princes on
plundering expeditions. The annals mention several such alliances.
Cinaedh, Prince of Cranachta-Breagh, who had revolted against
Maelsechnaill with a party of plunderers, laid waste the country from
the Shannon eastward to the sea.[52] Another Irish prince, Lorcan, King
of Meath, accompanied Olaf and Ivarr when they broke into the famous
burial-mounds[53] at New Grange, Knowth and Dowth, on the Boyne, and
carried off the treasures which they found there. After the great
naval battle between Danes and Norsemen in Carlingford Lough (A.D.
852) Danes and Irish frequently united forces against the common
enemy, and on one occasion--after the two armies had won a victory
over the Norsemen in Tipperary--the Danish chieftain Horm and his men
were escorted in triumph to Tara where they were received with great
honour by the _árd-rí_.[54] Even after the arrival of Olaf the White,
who brought about a temporary reconciliation between the two parties
of “Foreigners,” a detachment of Danes remained on in the service of
Cearbhall, King of Ossory.[55]

The Irish chronicler, in alluding to the Norse practice of billeting
their soldiers in the Irish farmhouses, lays stress on the feelings of
hostility entertained by the Irish towards this “wrathful, foreign,
purely Pagan people.” Yet, we not infrequently find instances of
friendly intercourse, as in the well-known story of Olaf-Trygvason and
the peasant.[56] It appears that after Olaf’s marriage to Gyda, sister
of Olaf Cuaran, he occasionally visited Ireland. Once he sailed there
with a large naval force, and being short of provisions went on land
with his men on a foraging expedition. They seized a large number of
cows, and were driving them towards the shore when a peasant ran after
them and begged Olaf to give him back his cows. Olaf told him to take
them, if he could separate them from the rest without delaying their
journey. The peasant had with him a large sheep-dog, which he sent in
among the herd, and the dog ran up and down and drove off as many cows
as the peasant claimed. As they were all marked in the same way it was
evident that the dog knew all his master’s cows. Then Olaf asked if the
peasant would give him the dog. “Willingly,” was the reply. So Olaf
gave him in return a gold ring, and assured him of his friendship. The
dog was called Vígi, “the best of all dogs,” and Olaf had it for a long
time. Years later, after the great naval battle in which Olaf lost his
life, “Vígi lay on a mound and would take no food from anyone, although
he drove away other dogs and beasts and birds from what was brought to
him… Thus he lay till he died.”[57]

Moreover, the evidence of both Norse and Irish sources goes to show
that all through the ninth and tenth centuries there was extensive
intermarriage between the two peoples. Marriages of the invaders
with the women whom they had carried off as captives must have taken
place from an early period,[58] and we know definitely that the kings
and chieftains on both sides frequently strengthened their alliances
by unions between members of the royal families. According to the
_Landnámabók_ many distinguished Icelanders traced their descent to
Kjarval, _i.e._, Cearbhall, King of Ossory (d. 887), an ally of Olaf
and Ivarr. His grandson, Dufthak (Ir. Dubhthach)[59] was the founder
of an Icelandic family, and three of his daughters, Kormlöth (Ir.
Gormflaith),[60] Frithgerth[61] and Rafarta[62] married Norsemen. The
_Landnámabók_ speaks of Kjarval as having been King of Dublin while
“Alfred the Great ruled in England… and Harold Fairhair in Norway,”[63]
a statement which is often doubted because unsupported by the evidence
of the Irish historians; but it is not at all unlikely, since Cearbhall
was remotely connected with the Dublin royal house through his
granddaughter Thurithr, who married Thorsteinn the Red, son of Olaf the

There is no mention of Authr, Olaf’s Norse wife, in the Annals, but we
hear incidentally[65] that Olaf, while in Ireland, married a daughter
of Aedh Finnliath, King of Aileach. After he became _árd-rí_ (864) Aedh
turned against the Norsemen, and having plundered all their fortresses
in the north of Ireland marched towards Lough Foyle, where they had
assembled to give him battle. Aedh was victorious, and some years after
he again defeated the Foreigners, who were at this time in alliance
with his nephew Flann; Flann himself and Carlus, son of Olaf the White
being numbered among the slain. We also hear of other Irish Kings
who were closely related to their Viking opponents. _Laxdaela Saga_
contains an interesting account of a slave-woman who was bought at a
market in Norway by an Icelander called Höskuldr. The woman was dumb,
but Höskuldr was so struck by her appearance that he willingly paid for
her three times the price of an ordinary slave, and took her back with
him to Iceland. A few years later, happening to overhear her talking
to their little son, Olaf Pái, he discovered to his amazement that her
dumbness was feigned. She then confessed that her name was Melkorka
(Ir. _Mael-Curcaigh_) and that she was the daughter of Myr Kjartan, a
king in Ireland, whence she had been carried off as a prisoner of war
when only fifteen years old.

When Olaf was grown up his mother urged him to visit Ireland in order
to establish his relationship with King Myr Kjartan, “for,” she said,
“I cannot bear your being called the son of a slave-woman any longer.”
Before they parted she gave him a large finger-ring and said: “This
my father gave me for a teething-gift, and I know he will recognise
it when he sees it.” She also put into his hands a knife and belt and
bade him give them to her nurse: “I am sure she will not doubt these
tokens.” And still further Melkorka spoke: “I have fitted you out
from home as best I know how, and taught you to speak Irish, so that
it will make no difference to you where you are brought to shore in

The saga goes on to describe the voyage to Ireland, the landing there,
and Olaf’s reception by King Myr Kjartan.

Myr Kjartan may be identified with Muirchertach “of the Leather
Cloaks,” King of Aileach, who like his father Niall Glundubh
distinguished himself by his spirited resistance to Norse rule in
the first half of the tenth century.[67] Donnflaith, another of his
daughters and mother of the _árd-rí_, Maelsechnaill II., married Olaf
Cuaran. Their son, Gluniarainn, reigned in Dublin after his father’s
retirement to Iona, and appears to have been on friendly terms with
Maelsechnaill.[68] The relationship between these two families becomes
more complicated owing to the fact that Maelsechnaill’s own wife,
Maelmuire (d. 1021), was a daughter of Olaf.[69]

But perhaps no figure stands out so prominently in the Irish and
Norse chronicles[70] of the second half of the tenth century as
Gormflaith (O.N. Kormlöth) who first married Olaf Cuaran, then his
enemy Maelsechnaill II., and finally Brian Borumha, from whom she also

The interchange of family and personal names which took place to
such an extent during the Viking period also points to the close
connection between the foreigners and the Irish. As early as 835
mention is made of one Gofraidh (O.N. Guthröthr), son of Fergus, who
went to Scotland from Ireland in order to strengthen the Dal Riada and
died some time after as King of the Hebrides.[71] The Dublin Viking
who led an attack on Armagh in 895 had an Irish name, Glun-iarainn,
obviously a translation of O.N. _Jarn-kné_. He was in all probability
a relative of Iercne or Jargna (corrupt forms of _Jarn-kné_) who ruled
in conjunction with Zain or Stain (O.N. Steinn) as King of Dublin
(c. 850);[72] while other earls of Dublin, Otir mac Eirgni,[73] Eloir
mac Ergni or Largni[74] and Gluntradna, son of Glun-Iarainn would
also appear to have been of the same royal family.[75] Irish names
occur more frequently in Norse families during the tenth and eleventh
centuries; we find Uathmaran, son of Earl Bairith (O.N. Barthr);
Camman,[76] son of Olaf Godfreyson; Giolla Padraig, Dubhcenn[77] and
Donndubhan, sons of King Ivarr of Limerick;[78] Niall, son of Erulb
(O.N. Herjulfr); Cuallaidh, son of King Ivarr of Waterford; Eachmarach,
and very many others.[79] On the other hand, we may note the prevalence
of such common Norse names as Ivarr, Guthröthr, Sumarlithi among the
Irish, especially in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Several of
these names still survive, as, for instance, MacAuliffe (O.N. Óláfr);
MacCaffrey (O.N. Guthöthr); MacCalmont or Lamont (O.N. Lögmathr);
Kettle (O.N. Ketill); Kitterick (? Ir. Mac + N. Sigtryggr); MacKeever
(O.N. Ivarr); Manus and MacManus (O.N. Magnus); Quistan (Ir. Mac. +
O.N. Eysteinn); Reynolds (O.N. Rögnvaldr); Sigerson (O.N. Sigurthr) and
MacSorley (O.N. Sumarlithi).

Both Gaill and Gaedhil, so dissimilar in many ways, benefited by
their intercourse with one another. In Ireland the Vikings played an
important part in the development of trade; they also promoted the
growth of town life. We may trace the beginnings of the seaport towns,
Dublin, Limerick, Waterford and Wexford, to the forts built by them
near the large harbours in the ninth and tenth centuries. In Dublin
coins were minted for the first time in Ireland[80] during the reign
of Sihtric Silken Beard (c. 989-1042). Moreover, the large number of
loan-words from Old Norse which made their way into Irish shows that
the Irish learned in many other ways from the invaders, notably in
shipbuilding and navigation.

So far as literature and art are concerned, the period of the
Viking occupation is one of the most interesting in the history of
Ireland. In spite of the destruction of the monasteries and the
departure of numbers of the monks[81] to the Continent the work of
the great schools was carried on and there was considerable literary
activity;[82] in 914 and 924, respectively, the great crosses at
Clonmacnois and Monasterboice were set up; cumhdachs, or book-shrines
of plated gold and silver, were made for the three great manuscripts,
the _Book of Kells_, the _Book of Durrow_ and the _Book of Armagh_;
carved gold, silver, and bronze work reached a high level of excellence
in the famous Ardagh Chalice and the Tara Brooch; and during the years
which intervened between the battles of Gleann Mama and Clontarf,
Romanesque architecture was introduced into Ireland. Irish art did
not remain wholly free from Scandinavian influence. In the Cross of
Cong (A.D. 1123) the Celtic interlaced patterns are found side by side
with the “worm-dragon” ornament, while the crosier of Clonmacnois, the
psalter of Ricemarsh and the shrine of St. Patrick’s Bell are decorated
in the style known as “Hiberno-Danish.”[83]

The Vikings, on the other hand, came under the influences of Irish
art and literature. We find marks of Celtic influence not only in the
sculptured crosses erected by the Norsemen in the North of England
and Man, but even in Scandinavia itself.[84] Moreover, there are
strong reasons for supposing that the rise of the prose saga among the
Icelanders may be the outcome of their intercourse with the Irish in
the ninth and tenth centuries.


[40] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 855, 856; _Annals of the Four Masters_,
A.D. 856.

[41] _Three Fragments of Annals_, pp. 128, 129, 138, 139.

[42] _Airec Menmam Uraird Maic Coisse_, sec. 29 (Marstrander: _Bidrag
til det Norske Sprogs Historie i Irland_, p. 10).

[43] With the Gaill-Gaedhil are often identified a body of plunderers,
members of Meath and Cavan clans, who in the year 845 devastated large
tracts of territory “after the manner of the Gentiles” (_Annals of
Ulster_, A.D. 845). The Annalists call them “sons of death” (_maic
báis_), possibly a term applied by the monastic chroniclers to a
people who had abandoned their Christian baptism, and who had profaned
churches and religious houses. (Cf. Marstrander, _op. cit._, p. 7, n.)

[44] Cf. _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 854. _Three Fragments of
Annals_, A.D. 852, referring to the same event, mention the “fleet of
the Gaill-Gaedhil.”

[45] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 855.

[46] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 856.

[47] _Fragments of Annals_, A.D. 858.

[48] There was also a mixed Norse and Gaelic population in Galloway
(the word is a corruption of _Gall-Gaedhil_, Welsh Galwydel) as well
as in the Hebrides (Ir. _Innse Gall._, _i.e._, the “Islands of the
Foreigners or Norsemen”) and other parts of Scotland. There is a
reference to these Gaill-Gaedhil in the _Four Masters_ (A.D. 1154):
“The Cinél Eoghain and Muirchertach, son of Niall, sent persons over
the sea to hire the fleets of the Gaill-Gaedhil of Aran, Cantire and
the Isle of Man and the borders of Scotland in general, over which Mac
Sgelling was in command…” (For other references see Marstrander, _op.
cit._, p. 9.)

By _Gaddgethlar_ the Norsemen understood “the place… where Scotland and
England meet” (cf. _Orkneyinga Saga_, ch. 28). It is also interesting
to note that in Norse sources the inhabitants of Galloway are called
_Vikinga-Skotar_, a direct translation of Gaill-Gaedhil.

O’Flaherty (_Ogygia_, p. 360) thought that the Gaill-Gaedhil mentioned
in the Annals of the mid-ninth century came to Ireland from Scotland,
but the ancient _Three Fragments of Annals_, which contain the fullest
accounts of the Gaill-Gaedhil (pp. 138-141) speak of them as _Scuit_
(_i.e._, an Irish form of the Latin _Scoti_, a word which is always
used with reference to the Irish before the tenth century). Moreover,
the impression received from reading the _Fragments of Annals_ is that
the Annalist had in his mind the Norse-Gaelic population of Ireland,
not of Scotland.

[49] _Ann. Cambriae_, A.D. 902; (Steenstrup: _Normannerne_, III., pp.

[50] _Three Fragments of Annals_, p. 230 ff.

[51] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 845, 852; _Annals of Ulster_,
A.D. 846. _Three Fragments of Annals_, A.D. 862.

[52] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 848.

[53] The plundering of these burial-mounds--“a thing that had never
been done before”--made a deep impression on the Irish Annalists; it
was thought that the Vikings discovered the existence of the treasure
by magic, “through paganism and idol worship” (_War of the Gaedhil with
the Gaill_, p. 115). The same source (p. 25) records the plundering of
Kerry by Baraid (O.N. Barthr) and Olaf the White’s son “who left not a
cave there underground that they did not explore.”

Several references to this practice of the Vikings occur also in
Icelandic literature. It is interesting to compare the Irish accounts
with the following passage from Landnámabók (I., ch. 5): “Leifr (one of
the earliest settlers in Iceland) went on a Viking raid to the West.
He plundered Ireland and found there a large underground house (Icel.
_jarth-hus_). It was dark within until he made his way to a place where
he saw a light shining from a sword which a man held in his hand. Leifr
slew the man and took the sword and much treasure besides.”

[54] _Three Fragments of Annals_, p. 135.

[55] _Ib._, p. 137.

[56] _Heimskringla: Óláfs Saga Tryggvasonar_, ch. 35.

[57] Cf. The story of Samr, (_i.e._, probably Ir. sam, “happy” or
“peaceful”) the Irish hound which Olaf Pai gave to Gunnarr. Samr was
killed while defending his master’s homestead. (_Njáls Saga_, chs. 69,

[58] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 820; _Fragments of Annals_, p.
166; _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 79; _The Victorious Career
of Callachan of Cashel_, p. 9.

[59] _Landnámabók_, V., ch. 8.

[60] _Ib._, V., ch. 13.

[61] _Ib_., III., ch. 9.

[62] _Ib._, III., ch. 12. Rafarta was the wife of Eyvindr the
Easterner, “who settled down in Ireland and had charge of Kjarval’s
defences” (cf. _Grettis Saga_, ch. 3). _Orkneyinga Saga_ (ch. 11.)
makes Edna (Ir. _Eithne_) another of Kjarval’s daughters to be the
mother of Sigurthr, Earl of Orkney (killed in the battle of Clontarf,
1014); but owing to the chronological difficulty this is hardly likely.

[63] _Landnámabók_, I., ch. 1.

[64] _Ib._, II., ch. 15.

[65] _Three Fragments of Annals_, p. 151. The same source (p. 173)
mentions still another wife of Olaf, “the daughter of Cinaedh,” _i.e._,
in all probability Cinaedh Mac Ailpin, King of the Picts (d. 858).

[66] _Laxdaela Saga_ (translated by M.A.C. Press), chs. 12, 13, 20, 21.

[67] The _Annals of the Four Masters_ record his death under the year
941: “Muirchertach of the Leather Cloaks, lord of Aileach, the Hector
of the West of Europe in his time, was slain at Ardee by Blacaire, son
of Godfrey, lord of the Foreigners.”

Muirchertach’s grandson was killed by Olaf Cuaran. (_Ib._, A.D. 975).

[68] _Ib._, A.D. 981.

[69] _Ib._, A.D. 1021.

[70] _War of the Gaedhit with the Gaill_, p. 142 ff.; _Njáls Saga_,
chs. 153, 154.

[71] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 851.

[72] _Three Fragments of Annals_, pp. 119, 123. _Annals of Ulster_,
A.D. 852.

[73] _Chronicon Scotorum_, A.D. 883.

[74] _Ib._, 886; _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 885.

[75] See A. Bugge: _Nordisk Sprog og Nordisk Nationalitet, i Irland_,
pp. 284, 285. Professor Marstrander (_op. cit._, pp. 45, 46) takes
_Gluntradna_ to be an Irish adaptation of an O.N. nickname _Trönu-Kné_,
to which he compares _Trönubeina, the daughter of Thraell, in the
Rígsthula_, 9.

[76] Cf. the name Grímr Kamban (_Landnámabók_, Hauksbók MS., ch. 19)
which seems to be a Norse form of the Irish _Camman_.

[77] According to A. Bugge, _Dubhcenn_ is a translation of the O.N.
_Svarthöfthi_, but Marstrander (_op. cit._, p. 45) holds that the name
was known in Ireland before the Viking age. It may be suggested that
it was a nickname given to Ivarr’s son by the Irish. Cf. Olaf _Cuaran_
(Ir. _cuaran_, a shoe made of skin); Olaf _Cenncairech_ (_i.e._,

[78] Their mother was an Irishwoman, sister of Donnabhan, King of Ui
Fidgenti. Donnabhan himself was married to a daughter of Ivarr, King of
Limerick. (_War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 207).

[79] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 931; _Annals of Ulster_, A.D.
960, 1036, 1042, etc. See also Whitley Stokes: _On the Gaelic Names in
the Landnámabók_ (_Revue Celtique_, III., pp. 186-191).

[80] From the contemporary Irish poems the _Book of Rights_ and _The
Curcuit of Muirchertach Mac Neill_ it may be inferred that in ancient
Ireland all payments were made in kind. With the extension of trade,
however, it is probable that many Anglo-Saxon and other foreign
coins--including those of the Scandinavian Kings of Northumbria,
several of whom also reigned in Ireland--came to be circulated in
Ireland. The Vikings in England struck coins there during the reign of
Halfdanr (d. 877). (Cf. C. F. Keary: _Catalogue of Coins in the British
Museum_, I., p. 202).

[81] One of these fugitives wrote the following lines on the margin of
Priscian’s Latin Grammar in the monastery of St. Gall, Switzerland:

“Is acher ingaith innocht fufuasna fairge findfolt, Ni agor reimm mora
minn dond laechraid lainn na lothlind.”

(_Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus_. Ed. Stokes and Strachan, II., 290.)


Bitter is the wind to-night, It tosses the ocean’s white hair; To-night
I fear not the fierce warriors of Norway Coursing on the Irish Sea.

(Translation by Kuno Meyer: _Ancient Irish Poetry_, p. 101.)

[82] See Margaret Stokes: _Early Christian Architecture in Ireland_, p.

[83] G. Coffey: _A Guide to the Celtic Antiquities of the Christian
Period_ (National Museum, Dublin) pp. 29, 49 and 62.

[84] _Ib._, p. 17.



The foundation of the seaport towns was the most important, and at the
same time the most permanent effect of the Viking invasion of Ireland.
Before this the only towns were the larger monastic centres[85] at
Armagh, Clonmacnois, Durrow and Clonfert, which, besides the monastery
itself, consisted of numerous beehive-shaped houses of stone, or small
huts of clay and wattles built for the accommodation of the students
attending the schools. During the first half of the ninth century
these monasteries suffered sorely from the attacks of Viking raiders.
After a stubborn resistance on the part of the Irish, Armagh fell into
the hands of Turgeis, who drove out the abbot Farannan and “usurped
the abbacy” (c. A.D. 839). Some years later Armagh was abandoned when
the Vikings captured Dublin, at this time a small “town by the hurdle
ford,”[86] but they were quick to realise its possibilities as the seat
of their monarchy and the chief centre of their trade. As a result
of the struggle for ecclesiastical supremacy, which took place at a
later period[87] between Armagh and Dublin, the Bishops of Dublin were
obliged to acknowledge the Primate of Armagh; but the latter town
never recovered its former prestige as the capital of Ireland.[88]

That Dublin owes its importance, if not its origin, to the Norsemen
may be inferred from the almost total silence of the historians and
annalists regarding it in the years preceding the Scandinavian inroads.
It is probable that there was a fort to guard the hurdle-ford where
the great road from Tara to Wicklow, Arklow and Wexford crossed the
Liffey, but it seems to have played no great part in history before the
Norsemen fortified it in 840. Between Church Lane and Suffolk Street
they had their _Thing_[89] or meeting-place, which was still to be seen
in the seventeenth century; while all along College Green, called Le
Hogges[90] and later Hoggen Green by the English, lay their barrows
(O.N. _haugar_). During the ninth and tenth centuries the Kingdom of
Dublin--known to the Scandinavians as _Dyflinarski_--became one of the
most powerful in the west. Its sway extended north to its colonies[91]
at the Strangford and Carlingford Loughs, west to Leixlip, south to
Wicklow, Wexford[92] and even as far as Waterford. The Dublin kings
intermarried with royal families in Ireland, England and Scotland,
and between the years 919 and 950 ruled, though in somewhat broken
succession, as Kings of York.

Limerick (O.N. Hlymrek)[93], the great stronghold on the west coast,
had no existence as a city before the ninth century. It was first
occupied during the reign of Turgeis by Vikings, who used the harbour
as a base for their ships.[94] The only chieftains mentioned in
connection with this kingdom during the ninth century are Hona and
Tomrir Torra (O.N. Thórarr Thórri), who were slain about the year 860
in attempting to capture Waterford.[95] A few years later Barith (O.N.
Barthr) and Haimar (O.N. Heimarr) when marching through Connacht on
their way to Limerick, were attacked by the Connachtmen and forced to
retreat.[96] The real importance of Limerick, however, dates from the
early part of the tenth century when it was colonised by Vikings under
Tomar (Thórir) son of Elgi (O.N. Helgi). To secure the fort against
attack an earthen mound was built all round, and gates were placed
at certain distances leading into the streets and the houses.[97]
As a kingdom it was independent, having subject colonies at Cashel,
Thurles, Lough Ree and Lough Corrib.[98] It had no connection with
Dublin during the tenth century; in fact, there is evidence to show
that both royal houses were bitterly hostile towards each another. On
one occasion Guthfrith, King of Dublin, led an army to Limerick, but
was repulsed with heavy losses by the Vikings there.[99] A few years
later (A.D. 929) he expelled Tomar’s successor, King Ivarr of Limerick,
and his followers from Magh Roighne (a plain in Ossory), where they had
encamped for a whole year. Olaf Godfreyson was equally active. After
defeating Olaf Cenncairech and the Limerick Vikings at Lough Ree in
937, he carried them off to Dublin,[100] and that same year probably
forced them to fight on his side in the battle of Brunnanburh.

This hostility would seem to have been due to rivalry between
two powerful kingdoms, rather than, as has been suggested,[101]
to difference of nationality. It is not at all certain that the
Limerick Vikings were purely Danes. One Irish chronicler speaks
of the Scandinavians in Munster as _Gaill_ and _Danair_ and calls
their fleets _loingeas Danmarcach ocus allmurach_ (“fleets of Danes
and foreigners”).[102] Elsewhere[103] we find the word Lochlannaigh
(_i.e._, Norsemen) used with reference to the Limerick settlers;
and Colla (O.N. Kolli), Prince of Limerick (d. 931) was certainly a
Norseman, for he was son of Barthr, a leader of the Finn-Gennti in the
ninth century. There would seem to have been a mixture of both Danes
and Norsemen in Limerick, and since there is no proof that struggles
for mastery took place between them, we may take it that they acted in

During the tenth century Limerick stood in close connection with the
Scandinavian Kingdom in the Hebrides.[104] Mention is made of one
chieftain “Morann, son of the Sea King of Lewis,”[105] who fought and
fell in Limerick against the Irish. Moreover, the occurrence of the
names Manus, Maccus (O.N. Magnus) and Somarlidh (O.N. Sumarlithi)
in both royal families points at least to relationship by marriage.
Indeed, the same family seems to have reigned in both kingdoms.
“Godfrey, son of Harold, King of the Hebrides,” who was slain by the
Dal Riada in 989[106] was in all probability a son of that “Harold,
lord of the foreigners of Limerick,” whose death is recorded by the
Four Masters in 940.

Practically nothing is known of the Scandinavian settlement in
Waterford[107] (O.N. _Vethrafjörthr_) before the year 919, when Vikings
under Raghnall (O.N. Rögnvaldr), “King of the Danes,” concentrated
their forces there before attacking Dublin. These invaders, sometimes
called Nortmannai (‘Norsemen’), but generally alluded to as _Gaill_
(‘foreigners’) must have also included Danes, as Raghnall’s army
was composed of both Danes and Norsemen;[108] and moreover, both
parties are represented as fighting side by side against the Irish in

Waterford had not at first a dynasty of its own, but was dependent on
the Dublin Kingdom. Olaf Godfreyson seems to have been in command there
while his father was King of Dublin;[110] and we hear also that when
the town was attacked by the Irish under Cellachan of Cashel, Sihtric,
a prince from Dublin, came with a fleet to relieve it.[111] Later in
the same century, the kingdom of Waterford stood quite distinct, and
was governed by Ivarr (d. 1000), who was probably a member of the
Dublin royal family. He came forward as a claimant to the Dublin throne
after the murder of Gluniarainn, son of Olaf Cuaran (989) but was
driven out after a three years’ reign by Sihtric Silken-Beard. Ivarr’s
successors in Waterford, Amond (O.N. _Amundr_) and Goistilin Gall were
killed in the battle of Clontarf.

In the tenth and eleventh centuries Waterford was strongly fortified,
and, like Limerick, had gates leading into the town.[112] The town
itself was built in the form of a triangle with a tower at each
angle,[113] only one of which, the famous Reginald’s Tower, built in
1003, is still standing. Gualtier (? Ir. _Gall tír_, ‘land of the
foreigners’), a barony lying on the west side of the harbour, is
supposed to have been connected with the ‘Ostmen,’ who were obliged to
settle there after the arrival of the English in 1169.

Cork, the seat of a famous school founded by St. Finbar, fell an easy
prey to the Vikings in the first half of the ninth century. They built
forts there and at Youghal,[114] but in endeavouring to push their way
inland to Fermoy were checked by the Irish (866), and their chief,
Gnimcinnsiolla (or Gnimbeolu)[115] was slain. We hear no more of
Scandinavians here until early in the tenth century when new invaders,
part of the large army which came to Waterford with Raghnall and
Earl Ottarr in 919, gained possession of the town. The new settlers
seem to have been chiefly, if not entirely, Danes (_Danair_ and
_Duibhgeinnti_),[116] and it would seem that with the Danish colonies
at Thurles and Cashel they subsequently came under the authority of
Ivarr of Limerick, “the high-king of the foreigners of Munster.”

Traces of the Scandinavian occupation still remain in the place-names
on the coast, especially in the districts surrounding the seaport
towns. Near Dublin we find Howth (O.N. _höfuth_, ‘a head’) and Skerries
(O.N. _skjær_, ‘a rock’); also Lambey, Dalkey and Ireland’s Eye, all
three containing the O.N. form _ey_, an ‘island.’ The name Leixlip is
probably a form of O.N. _laxhleypa_[117] (‘salmon-leap’) not, as is
generally supposed, of O.N. _lax-hlaup_. The O.N. _fjörthr_ occurs in
Wexford, Strangford and Carlingford (O.N. Kerlingafjörthr).[118] Other
Scandinavian names on the east coast are Copeland Islands (_i.e._,
_Kaupmannaeyjar_, ‘the merchants’ islands’) near Belfast Lough; Arklow,
Wicklow (O.N. _lo_, a low, flat meadow by the water’s edge.); Carnsore
and Greenore (O.N. _eyrr_, ‘a small tongue of land running into the

The number of names on the south and west coasts is limited; besides
Water_ford_, we find only Hel_vick_ (O.N. _vík_, ‘a bay’), Dursey
Island, south-west of Cork, and Swerwick Harbour, in Kerry. At least
three well-authenticated place-names have dropped out of use; Dún na
Trapcharla, in Co. Limerick (O.N. (1) _torf-karl_, ‘a turf-cutter’ or
(2) _thorp-karl_, a ‘small farmer’);[119] Jolduhlaup,[120] a cape in
the north of Ireland; and Ulfreksfjörthr,[121] the Norse name for Lough

It is also interesting to note that the second element in the names of
the three provinces, Ulster, Leinster and Munster is derived from the
O.N. _stathir_ (plural of _stathr_, ‘a place’), while the name Ireland
(O.N. Iraland) is Scandinavian in form and replaced the old Irish word
Eríu during the Viking period.


[85] In the _Annals of Tighernach_ (A.D. 716), the _Annals of Ulster_
(A.D. 715), and the _Book of Hymns_ (ed. Todd, p. 156) the Latin
_civitas_ (Ir. _Cathair_) is the word used for a monastery.

[86] The old name for Dublin was _Baile-atha-Cliath_, “the town of the
hurdle ford.” It was afterwards called _Dubh-linn_ (“black pool”), of
which the O.N. _Dyflin_ is a corruption.

[87] See p. 55.

[88] Armagh is the only place in Ireland which is marked on a tenth
century map of the world preserved in the British Museum. See R. A. S.
Macalister: _Muiredach_: _Abbot of Monasterboice_, p. 13.

[89] It is called _Tengmonth_ and _Teggemuta_ in medieval documents
(_Chartularies of St. Mary’s Abbey_, I., 15, 461, 463, 465) and from
it the surrounding parish of St. Andrew--“_Parochia Sancti Andreae de
Thengmote_”--took its name. In 1647 it is referred to as “the fortified
hill near the College,” but about thirty years later it was levelled
to the ground and the earth was used for building Nassau Street (J. T.
Gilbert: _History of Dublin_, II, p. 258).

[90] The name survived until the 18th century in _Hog Hill_, but it was
afterwards changed to St. Andrew’s Street.

[91] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 839, 840, 925, 928, 934.

These colonies were governed by earls, not kings, and their dependency
on the kingdom of Dublin is clearly shown by certain entries in the
Annals. In 926 a Viking fleet at Linn Duachaill (on the coast of Louth)
was commanded by Albdann (O.N. _Halfdanr_), son of Guthfrith (King of
Dublin, 920-933). Later, when part of Albdann’s army was besieged at
Ath Cruithne (near Newry), Guthfrith went with his forces to relieve
it. In 927 the “foreigners of Linn Duachaill” accompanied Guthfrith
when he marched on York. See Steenstrup, _op. cit._, III., p. 115.

[92] Wexford was also governed by earls. One of them, Accolb, is
mentioned in the _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 928.

[93] The Irish name _Luimnech_ (hence O.N. _Hlymrek_) was originally
applied to the estuary of the Shannon, but was afterwards confined to
the town itself when it had risen to importance under Scandinavian rule.

[94] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 843; _War of the Gaedhil with
the Gaill_, p. 8.

[95] _Three Fragments of Annals_, pp. 167, 144-6. _War of the Gaedhil
with the Gaill_, ch. 23.

[96] _Three Fragments of Annals_, pp. 173-175; _Chronicon Scotorum_,
A.D. 887.

[97] _The Victorious Career of Cellachan of Cashel_, pp. 9, 66; _War of
the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 56.

[98] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 845, 922, 929; _The Victorious Career of
Cellachan of Cashel_, p. 10; _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p.
10; _Three Fragments of Annals_, p. 197.

[99] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 924.

[100] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 935; _Chronicon Scotorum_,
A.D. 936.

[101] A. Bugge: _Sidste Afsnit af Nordboernes Historie i Irland_, pp.
254, 255.

[102] _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 41.

[103] _The Victorious Career of Cellachan of Cashel_, p. 64.

[104] Steenstrup: _op. cit._, III., p. 213.

[105] _The Victorious Career of Cellachan of Cashel_, p. 65.

[106] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 988.

[107] _Three Fragments of Annals_ (A.D. 860) record that “two fleets
of the Norsemen came into the land of Cearbhall, son of Dunlaing (King
of Ossory) to plunder it.” These fleets probably sailed up the Barrow
from Waterford harbour. The same annals also mention (p. 129) a Norse
chieftain called Rodolbh, who may have been connected with the colony
at Waterford. See also _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 888 [891].

[108] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 921.

[109] _The Victorious Career of Cellachan of Cashel_, p. 71.

[110] The Four Masters record “the plundering of Kildare by the son of
Gothfrith (_i.e._, Olaf) from Waterford” (A.D. 926).

[111] _The Victorious Career of Cellachan of Cashel_, p. 70.

[112] _The Victorious Career of Cellachan of Cashel_, pp. 13, 70.

[113] Smith: _History of Waterford_, p. 165.

[114] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 846, 864.

[115] _Ib._, 865. _Fragments of Annals_, p. 169.

_Gnimbeolu_ is the O.N. _Grímr Bióla_. The Irish “_Cinnsiolla_”
(Nom. Cenn Selach) is probably a translation of O.N. _Selshofuth_,
a word which does not occur as a nickname in Old Norse literature.
It was, however, known in Ireland as may be seen from the runic
inscription--_domnal Selshofoth a soerth (th) eta_--on a bronze
sword-plate found in Greenmount (Co. Louth). Cf. Marstrander, _op.
cit._ p. 49.

[116] _The Victorious Career of Cellachan of Cashel_, pp. 10, 67.

[117] Cf. Marstrander, _op. cit._, p. 149.

[118] Cf. Marstrander, _op. cit._, p. 154. According to him, the O.N.
_Kerling_, “an old woman” in this instance, is a folk-etymological form
of Carlinn, the old name for the ford.

[119] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 1062. Cf. _Co dunad na
Piscarcarla in Cath Ruis na Rig_ (ed. Hogan) where _Piscarcarla_
corresponds to the O.N. _fiskikari_, “a fisherman.”

The word _Trapcharla_ (“na _Trapcharla_”) also occurs in the _Book
of Ballymote_ as the name of a people who fought at Troy. It has
been suggested that the term was generally used during the ninth and
tenth centuries of a Norse colony in Co. Limerick, which colony would
acquire a legendary character after the Norsemen had been driven out
of Ireland, and would figure, like the Lochlannaigh or Norsemen, in
Middle-Irish stories and poems.

See _Miscellany presented to Kuno Meyer_, pp. 293, 370.

[120] _Landnámabók_ I. ch. 1.

[121] _Heimskringla: Saga Óláfs hins helga_, chs. 88, 10.



When the Scandinavians had firmly established themselves on the Irish
coasts they developed trade to a considerable extent, not only by
bringing Ireland into communication with their new settlements in
England, but also by opening up commerce with Iceland and Scandinavia,
and even with Russia and the East.[122] Before A.D. 900 at all events,
they had been accustomed to visit France from Ireland, and had
trafficked with merchants there, using a certain vessel called the
‘Epscop’[123] for measuring their wine. That this branch of their trade
was in a flourishing condition in the latter half of the tenth century
may be inferred from a contemporary poem in which Brian Borumha is said
to have exacted as tribute one hundred and fifty vats of wine from
the Norsemen of Dublin, and a barrel of red wine every day from the
Limerick settlers.[124]

The Scandinavians also made marked advances on the old methods of
trading by building their forts near the large harbours and carrying
on from there a continuous overseas commerce.[125] Previous to this
foreign merchants[126] who visited Ireland used to exchange their
goods for home produce at the numerous _oenachs_ or fairs held at
certain intervals all over the country. These _oenachs_ continued to be
celebrated during the Viking period, but it was in the seaport towns,
Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Wexford, and Waterford, that the most important
trade was centred. Dublin, owing to its splendid position, half way
between the Continent and the Scandinavian settlements in Scotland
and Iceland, and within easy distance of England, became one of the
wealthiest towns in the West. One Irish chronicler gives a glowing
account of the treasures carried off from there by the Irish after the
battle of Gleann Máma (A.D. 1000):

“In that one place were found the greatest quantities of gold, silver,
bronze, and precious stones: carbuncle-gems, buffalo horns, and
beautiful goblets… much also of various vestures of all colours were
found there likewise.”[127]

Dublin is frequently mentioned in the sagas and seems to have been
very well known to Icelandic dealers. In _Olaf Tryggvason’s Saga_
(_Heimskringla_) we read that during the reign of Olaf Cuaran
a merchant called Thórir Klakka, who had been on many a Viking
expedition, went on a trading voyage to Dublin, “as was usual in those
days.”[128] When _Olaf’s_ son, Sihtric Silken Beard, was King of Dublin
(c. 994) the Icelandic poet Gunnlaug Ormstungu sailed from England to
Ireland with merchants who were bound for Dublin.[129]

_Eyrbyggia Saga_ tells[130] of both Thórodd, the owner of a large ship
of burden, and Guthleif,[131] who went with other traders on voyages
“west to Dublin.” Still more interesting is the account in the same
saga of a merchant-ship that came from Dublin in the year 1000 to
Snaefellsness in Iceland and anchored there for the summer. There were
on board some Irishmen and men from the Sudreyar (Hebrides) but only
a few Norsemen. One of the passengers, a woman named Thorgunna, had a
large chest containing “bed-clothes beautifully embroidered, English
sheets, a silken quilt, and other valuable wares, the like of which
were rare in Iceland.”[132]

Limerick is heard of only once in Icelandic sources; a trader named
Hrafn was surnamed “the Limerick-farer” (Hlymreks fari)[133] because
he had lived for a long time there. The _War of the Gaedhil with
the Gaill_ gives a detailed description of the spoils gained by the
Irish after the battle of Sulcoit (968) whence it would seem that the
Limerick Vikings had been engaged in trade with France, Spain and the

“They carried away their (_i.e._, ‘The Vikings’) jewels and their best
property, their saddles, beautiful and foreign, their gold and their
silver; their beautifully woven cloth of all colours and of all kinds;
their satins and their silken cloths, pleasing and variegated, both
scarlet and green, and all sorts of cloth in like manner.”[134]

Reference has already been made to the numbers of Irish women captured
by Viking raiders; many of these captives were afterwards sold as
slaves in Norway and Iceland. In _Laxdaela Saga_ we hear of Melkorka,
an Irish princess, who was exposed for sale with eleven other women
at a market in Norway. The slave-dealer, a man known as Gilli (Ir.
Giolla) “the Russian” was in all probability a Scandinavian merchant
from Ireland who had carried on trade with Russia. The extent of the
slave traffic is further illustrated in _Kristni Saga_ (ch. 3) where
mention is made of “a fair Irish maid” whom Thangbrandr the priest
bought; “and when he came home with her a certain man whom the emperor
Otto the Young had put as steward there, wished to take her from him,”
but Thangbrandr would not let her go![135] On the other hand, the
Irish frequently descended on the Viking strongholds in Ireland and
carried off the Norse women and children, “the soft, youthful, bright,
matchless girls; blooming, silk-clad young women, and active, large
well-formed boys.”[136] Therefore it is not unlikely that the “slaves
ignorant of Gaelic” who are stated to have been given as tribute to
the Irish kings in the ninth and tenth centuries[137] were really
Scandinavian prisoners of war.

An interesting passage in the _Book of Ely_ gives an idea of the
activity of the Irish merchants at this period: “Certain merchants from
Ireland, with merchandise of different kinds and some coarse woollen
blankets, arrived at the little town called Grantebrycge (Cambridge)
and exposed their wares there.”[138] It is not surprising then that the
wealth of Ireland increased rapidly, so much so that Brian Borumha,
realising that this was largely due to Viking enterprise, allowed the
invaders to remain in their forts on the coast “for the purpose of
attracting commerce from other countries to Ireland.”[139] And even
after their defeat at Clontarf, the Vikings remained in the coast
towns, whence they continued to engage in trade with England and the
Continent. Both Giraldus Cambrensis[140] and William of Malmesbury[141]
mention the extensive slave-trade carried on between Ireland and
England in the twelfth century, Bristol being the chief centre. In
addition to the slave traffic, large supplies of wine were imported
from France, while the Irish ‘out of gratitude’ (_non ingrata_) gave
hides and skins in exchange.[142] That there was commercial intercourse
with Chester and also with the towns round the Bristol Channel may
be seen from the names of the citizens of Dublin in the year 1200:
Thorkaill, Swein Ivor from Cardiff; Turstinus and Ulf from Bristol;
Godafridus and Ricardus from Swansea; Thurgot from Haverfordwest and
Harold from Monmouth.[143] About 1170 two ships sailing from England
“laden with English cloths and a great store of goods” were attacked
and plundered near Dublin by a Norseman, Swein, son of Asleif; and some
years later vessels from Britain carrying corn and wine were seized in
Wexford harbour by the English invaders.[144]

The historical evidence is amply borne out by the existence of
such old Norse loan-words in Irish as _mangaire_ (O.N. mangari, a
‘trader’), _marg_ (O.N. mörk, a ‘mark’), margadh, (O.N. markathr,
a ‘market’), and _penning_ (O.N. penningr, a ‘penny’), and also by
certain archæological discoveries. In Scandinavia coins of King Sithric
Silken-Beard have been found,[145] while four sets of bronze scales
and some weights richly decorated in enamel and gold have been dug up
in Ireland (Bangor, Co. Down).[146] To the same period (early ninth
century) also belong the scales and weights which were discovered in
the great hoard at Islandbridge, near Kilmainham in 1866.[147] With
such strong evidence of the influence exerted by the Vikings on the
expansion of Irish trade it is not surprising to find that even as late
as the seventeenth century the greater part of the merchants of Dublin
traced their descent to Olaf Cuaran and the Dublin Norsemen.[148]


[122] See the map of the Irish Trade Routes in Mrs. J. R. Green’s _The
Old Irish World_.

[123] “Epscop fina” in the sea-laws, _i.e._, “a vessel for measuring
wine used by the merchants of the Norsemen and the Franks.” See _Sanas
Cormaic_ (_Cormac’s Glossary_) compiled c. A.D. 900. (_Anecdota from
Irish Manuscripts_ IV., ed. Kuno Meyer.)

[124] Cf. O’Curry: _Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish_, II.,
p. 125. For a transcript of the poem see A. Bugge: _Vesterlandenes
Indflydelse paa Nordboernes i Vikingetiden_, p. 183.

[125] Cf. _Laxdaela Saga_, ch. 21.

[126] According to an ancient poem on the great fair of Carman (Co.
Kildare) foreign merchants visited this fair and sold there “articles
of gold and silver, ornaments and beautiful clothes.” For other
references see Joyce: _A Social History of Ancient Ireland_, Vol. II.,
pp. 429-431; O’Curry: _Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish_, III.,
p. 531.

[127] _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 115.

[128] _Saga Óláfs Tryggvasonar_ (_Heimskringla_), ch. 51.

[129] _Gunnlaugs Saga Ormstungu_, ch. 8.

[130] _Eyrbyggia Saga_, ch. 29.

[131] _Ib._, ch. 64.

[132] _Ib._, ch. 50.

[133] _Landnámabók_, II., ch. 21, etc.

[134] _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 79.

[135] _Kristni Saga_, ch. 3.

[136] _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 79.

[137] _The Book of Rights_ (Leabhar na gCeart), pp. 87, 181. Ed. J.

[138] _Liber Eliensis_, (ed. Gale) I., ch. XLII.

[139] _Keating: History of Ireland_, III., p. 271. (Ed. Dinneen).
Keating probably derived his information from Giraldus Cambrensis:
_Topographia Hibernica_, D. III., ch. LIII.

[140] _Expugnatio Hibernica_, I., ch. XVIII.

[141] _De Vita S. Wulstani_, II., 20.

(See Cunningham: _Growth of English Industry and Commerce_, I., p. 86.)

[142] Giraldus Cambrensis: _Topographia Hibernica_, I., ch. VI.

[143] A. Bugge: _Contributions to the History of the Norsemen in
Ireland_, Part III.

[144] Giraldus Cambrensis: _Expugnatio Hibernica_, I., ch. III.

[145] A. Bugge: _Vesterlandenes Indflydelse paa Nordboernes i
Vikingetiden_, pp. 300-304.

[146] G. Coffey, _op. cit._, p. 91.

[147] _Ib._, p. 89.

[148] Duald Mac Firbis: _On the Fomorians and the Norsemen_ (ed. A.
Bugge), p. 11.



The almost complete absence of any allusion to Irish ships[149]
during the eighth and ninth centuries shows that at this time the
Irish had no warships to drive back the powerful naval forces of the
Vikings. Meeting with no opposition on sea the invaders were able to
anchor their fleets in the large harbours, and afterwards to occupy
certain important positions along the coasts. In this connection it is
interesting to note that the Irish word _longphort_ (a ‘shipstead’;
later, ‘a camp’) is used for the first time in the _Annals of Ulster_
with reference to the Norse encampments at Dublin and Linn-Duachaill
(840); hence it has been concluded that the early Norse _long-phorts_
were not exactly fortified camps, but ‘ships drawn up and protected on
the landside, probably by a stockaded earthwork.’[150]

The Annalists tell how, when the Vikings were expelled from Dublin in
902, they fled across the sea to England, leaving large numbers of
their ships behind them. It was probably the capture of these vessels
that impressed upon the Irish the advantages of this new method of
warfare, for they now began to build ships and to prepare to meet
the Vikings in their own element.[151] In 913 a “new fleet,” manned
by Ulstermen, attacked the Norsemen off the coast of Man but was
defeated.[152] Another Ulster fleet commanded by Muirchertach mac
Neill, King of Aileach, sailed to the Hebrides in 939 and carried off
much spoil and booty.[153] Moreover, the Irish seem to have imitated
the Scandinavian practice of “drawing” or carrying their light vessels
over land to the lakes and rivers in the interior of the island.
Mention is made of Domhnall, son of Muirchertach, who “took the boats
from the river Bann on to Lough Neagh, and over the river Blackwater
upon Lough Erne, and afterwards upon Lough Uachtair.”[154]

The men of Munster also had their navy, which they organised according
to Norse methods[155] by compelling each district in the different
counties to contribute ten ships to it. Thus by the middle of the
tenth century they were able to put a formidable fleet to sea. When
Cellachan of Cashel (d. 954) was captured by the Vikings and brought to
Dublin, he sent messengers to the Munstermen bidding them to defend
their territory: “and afterwards,” he said, “go to the chieftains of
my fleet and bring them with you to Sruth na Maeile (Mull of Cantyre),
and if I am carried away from Ireland, let the men of Munster take
their ships and follow me.”[156] The chronicle goes on to give a vivid
description of the great naval battle which followed: the Vikings
under the leadership of Sihtric, a prince from Dublin, took up their
position in the Bay of Dundalk, where the “barques and swift ships of
the men of Munster” met them. The Irish ships were arranged according
to the territories they represented: those of Corcolaigdi and Ui
Echach (Co. Cork) were placed farthest south; next came the fleets of
Corcoduibne and Ciarraige (Co. Kerry), and lastly those of Clare. When
the Munstermen saw Cellachan, who had been bound and fettered to the
mast by Sihtric’s orders, they made gallant attempts to release him;
some of them leaped upon “the rowbenches and strong oars of the mighty
ships” of the Norsemen, while others threw tough ropes of hemp across
the prows to prevent them from escaping. Failbhe, King of Corcoduibne,
brought his ship alongside Sihtric’s, and with his sword succeeded
in cutting the ropes and fetters that were round the King, but was
himself slain immediately afterwards. The battle ended in victory for
the Irish: the Norsemen were forced to leave the harbour with all their
ships, but “they carried neither King nor chieftain with them.”[157]

The _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_ records still more victories
for the Munster fleet during the reign of Brian Borumha. In 984 he
assembled “a great marine fleet” on Lough Derg and took three hundred
boats up the Shannon to Lough Ree[158] and again in 1001 sailed with
his fleet to Athlone.[159] But the greatest triumph of all was in
1005, when Brian, then at the height of his power, “sent forth a naval
expedition composed of the foreigners of Dublin and Waterford and the
Ui Ceinnselaigh (_i.e._, the men of Wexford) and almost all the men
of Erin, such of them as were fit to go to sea; and they levied royal
tribute from the Saxons and the Britons and from the men of Lennox in
Scotland and the inhabitants of Argyle.”[160]

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the names of a number of Frisian
sailors who fought with the English in a naval battle against the
Vikings (A. an. 897). In the same way the Irish ships must have been
manned to a large extent by Norse mercenaries or by the Gaill-Gaedhil,
for practically all the shipping terms introduced into Irish in the
tenth and eleventh centuries are of Norse origin.[161] This is evident
from the following list:--

  Mid. Ir. _abor_, _abur_:      O.N. _hábora_, ‘an oar hole.’

  _Accaire_:                    O.N. _akkeri_, ‘an anchor.’

  _Accarsoid_:                  O.N. _akkerissaeti_, ‘a harbour for

  _Achtuaim_:                   O.N. _aktaumr_, ‘a brace.’

  _athbha_:                     phonetic form (af, av) of O.N.
                                     _höfuth_, ‘head’ of a ship.

  _Allsad_:                     O.N. _halsa_, ‘to slacken a sail.’

  _As_:                         O.N. _ass_, ‘the pole to which the
                                     lower end of a sail was
                                     fastened during a fair wind.’

  _bat_, _bad_:                 O.N. _bátr_, ‘a boat.’

  _birling_:                    O.N. _byrthingr_, ‘a transport vessel,’
                                     ‘a merchant ship.’[162]

  _carb_:                       O.N. _karfi_, ‘a ship.’

  _cnairr_:                     O.N. _knörr_, ‘a merchant ship.’

  _laideng_:                    O.N. _leithangr_, ‘naval forces.’

  _lipting_:                    O.N. _lypting_, ‘a taffrail.’

  _lunnta_, _lunn_ (in reania): O.N. _hlunnr_, ‘the handle of an oar.’

  _scib_:                       O.N. _skip_, ‘a ship,’ whence also are
                                     derived _sciobaire_, ‘a sailor’
                                     and _scipad_ and _sgiobadh_, ‘to
                                     make ready for sailing.’

  _tile_:                       O.N. _thili_, ‘a plank,’ ‘the bottom
                                     board in a boat.’

  _Tlusdais_ (? teldass):       O.N. _tjaldáss_, ‘the horizontal topmast
                                     of a ship.’

  _uicing_, a word used for     O.N. _Víkingr_, ‘one who haunts
  ‘a fleet’:                          a bay or creek.’
  _uiginnecht_, piracy:



(_a_) Loan-words from Old Norse in Irish.

The large number of loan-words from Old Norse which occur in Old and
Middle Irish indicate clearly the extent and character of Scandinavian
influence in Ireland. They are therefore interesting from an historical
point of view, for they confirm, and sometimes supplement, the evidence
of Irish and Icelandic sources, that the relations existing between the
two peoples were largely of a friendly character.

As the subject has already been fully dealt with by Celtic
scholars,[163] only the more important loan words are given here:--


  O. Ir. _at-cluic_, also _clocc-att_ ‘a helmet.’ _att_ = O.N. _hattr_,
  ‘a hat,’ while _cluic_ = M. Ir. _clocenn_, ‘a head.’

  M. Ir. _allsmann_;                 O.N. _halsmen_, ‘a necklace.’

  M. Ir. _boga_;                     O.N. _bogi_, ‘a bow.’

  M. Ir. _bossan_;                   O.N. _púss_, ‘a small bag or purse
                                          hanging from the belt.’

  M. Ir. _cnapp_;                    O.N. _knappr_, ‘a button.’

  M. Ir. _elta_;                     O.N. _hjalt_, ‘a hilt’ (of a sword).

  M. Ir. _mattal_;                   O.N. _möttull_, ‘a cloak.’

  M. Ir. _mergge_;                   O.N. _merki_, ‘a flag’ or ‘banner.’

  M. Ir. _sceld_;                    O.N. _sköjldr_, ‘a shield.’

  O. Ir. _scot_, lin _scoit_;        O.N. _skaut_, ‘a cloth,’ or ‘sheet.’

  M. Ir. _starga_;                   O.N. _targa_, ‘a shield.’


  M. Ir. _bailc_;                    O.N. _bálkr_, ‘a beam.’

  M. Ir. _fuindeog_;                 O.N. _vindauga_, ‘a window.’

  M. Ir. _garda_;                    O.N. _garthr_, ‘a garden.’

  M. Ir. _halla_;                    O.N. _höll_, ‘a hall.’

  M. Ir. _sparr_;                    O.N. _sparri_, ‘a rafter.’

  M. Ir. _stóll_;                    O.N. _stóll_, ‘a stool.’


Other interesting loan words are:--

  O. Ir. _armand_, _armann_;       O.N. _ármathr_, ‘an officer.’

  M. Ir. _callaire_;               O.N. _kallari_, ‘a herald.’

  M. Ir. _gunnfann_;               O.N. _gunnfáni_, ‘a battle standard.’

  O. Ir. _erell_; M. Ir. _iarla_;  O.N. _jarl_, ‘an earl.’

  M. Ir. _lagmainn_;[165]          O.N. _lögmenn_, plural of _lögmathr_,
                                       ‘a lawman.’

  M. Ir. _Pers_;[166]              O.N. _berserkr_.

  M. Ir. _sráid_;                  O.N. _straeti_, ‘a street.’

  M. Ir. _sreang_;                 O.N. _strengr_, ‘a string.’

  M. Ir. _tráill_;                 O.N. _thraell_, ‘a slave.’

  M. Ir. _trosg_;                  O.N. _thorskr_, ‘codfish.’

  O. Ir. _ustaing_;                O.N. _hústhing_, ‘an assembly.’

Certain old Norse words and phrases which are to be found in Irish
texts also go to show the familiarity of the Irish with the Norse
language. They may be mentioned here, although they are not loan-words,
but rather attempts on the part of the Irish authors to reproduce the
speech of the foreigners:--

  _cing._[167]                     O.N. _konungr_, or possibly A.S.

  _conung_ (_Three Fragments of
    Annals_, pp. 126, 194, 228).   O.N. _konungr_, ‘a king.’

  “_Faras Domnall?_” (_War of      “_Hvar es Domhnall?_” “Where
    the Gaedhil with the Gaill_;     is Domhnall?”
    p. 174).

  “_Sund a sniding_,” was the      O. Ir. _sund_, “here.”
    reply.                         O.N. _nithingr_, “here, rascal.”

  fíut (_Book of Leinster_, 172,
    a, 7).                         O.N. _hvítr_, ‘white.’

  _Infuit_, a personal name;       O.N. _hvítr_, ‘white.’
    _War of the Gaedhil with
    the Gaill_, p. 78.

  _litill_ (_ibid._, p. 84).       O.N. _lítill_, ‘little.’

  _mikle_ (_Three Fragments of     O.N. _míkill_, ‘much.’
    Annals_, p. 176).

  _nui, nui_ (_ibid_, p.           O.N. _knúe_, from _knýja_, ‘to
    164).[168]                          advance.’

  _roth._[169]                     O.N. _rauthr_, ‘red.’

(_b_) Gaelic Words in Old Norse Literature.[170]

Considering the close connection between Ireland and Iceland,
especially in the tenth and eleventh centuries, it is surprising that
so few Gaelic words found their way into Old Norse literature. The only
Norse words that can be said, with any certainty, to be derived from
Irish, are the following:--

  _bjannak_ (_Ynglingasaga_,       Ir. _bennacht_, ‘a blessing.’
    _Heimskringla_, ch. 2):

  _erg_ (_Orkneyinga Saga_,        Ir. airghe, (1) ‘a herd of cattle.’
    ch. 113)                           (2) ‘grazing land.’

  _gelt_;[171]                     Ir. _geilt_, ‘a madman.’

  _varth at gjalti_, to become
    mad with fear. Cf. _Eyrbyggja
    Saga_, ch. 18.

  _ingian_;                        Ir. _inghean_, ‘a girl.’

  _kapall_ (Fornmanna Sögur II.,   Ir. _capall_, ‘a horse.’
    p. 231);

  _kesja_;                         Ir. _ccis_, ‘a spear.’

  _korki_ (Snorres Edda, II.,      Ir. _coirce_, ‘oats.’

  _kross_;                         Ir. _cros_, ‘a cross.’

  _kuaran_;                        Ir. _cuaran_, ‘a shoe’ (made of skin).

  _kúthi_;[172]                    ? Ir. _cuthach_, ‘fierce.’

  _male diarik_;[173]              Ir. _mallacht duit, a rig_, ‘a curse
                                       upon you, O king.’

  _minnthak_;[174]                 Ir. _mintach_, ‘made of meal.’

  _ríg_ (in _Rígsmál_);            Ir. _ri(g)_, ‘a king.’

  _tarfr_ (_Eyrbyggia Saga_, ch.   Ir. _tarbh_, ‘a bull.’
    63, etc.)

(_c_) Irish Influence on Icelandic Place-nomenclature.

A number of the place-names mentioned in the _Landnámabók_[175] contain
a Gaelic element which, with one or two exceptions, is present in the
form of a personal name. Among these Icelandic place-names we may note
the following:--

                                   _Personal Name._

  _Bekkanstathir_;                 Ir. _Beccán_.

  (1) _Branslackr_, (also (2)      Ir. (1) _Bran_, (2) _Brian_.

  _Dufansdalir_;                   Ir. _Dubhan_.

  _Dufthaksholt_;                  Ir. _Dubhthach_.
    also _Dufthakskor_; etc.

  _Kalmansá_;                      Ir. _Colmán_.
    also _Kalmanstunga_.

  _Kjallakshöll_,                  Ir. _Ceallach_.

  _Kjaransvík_;                    Ir. _Ciarán_.

  _Kylansholar_;                   Ir. _Culen_ (Marstrander).

  (1) _Lunansholt_ or              Ir. (1) _Lon-án_ (2) _Lommán_.
    (2) _Lumansholt_;

  _Minnthakseyr_;                  Ir. _mintach_, ‘made of meal.’

  _Papýli_, _Papey_;               Ir. ‘papa,’ ‘an anchorite.’

  _Patreksfjörthr_;                Ir. personal name _Patraic_.



Beyond a few meagre allusions the Irish Annals throw no light on the
progress of Christianity among the “foreigners” in Ireland during
the ninth century. Fortunately, however, the Icelandic Sagas and the
_Landnámabók_ have preserved some interesting details concerning a
small number of the Norse settlers in Iceland, who had previously come
under the influence of Christianity in Ireland and in the Western
Islands of Scotland. As far as we can gather from these sources the
new faith seems at first to have made but little headway; heathenism
retained a strong hold on the majority of the Norse people, and
there can be little doubt that this form of religion was extensively
practised in Ireland during the Viking age. Evidence of this is to
be found in _The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, which describes
how Authr, wife of Turgéis, sat on the high altar of the church in
Clonmacnois, and gave audiences as a prophetess.[176] In this instance
the high altar would seem to have corresponded to the _seithr hjallr_
or platform which it was customary to erect in Icelandic houses when
a _völva_ or prophetess was called in to foretell the future.[177]
Some writers[178] also point to the numerous raids on churches and
religious houses as a proof of the Vikings’ hostility to Christianity,
but these attacks were much more likely to have originated in the
amount of treasure which the raiders knew to be stored in these places.
It is rather in this light, too, that we must regard Turgéis’ expulsion
of the abbot Farannan from Armagh (in 839), and his subsequent
usurpation of the abbacy,[179] than as an attempt to stamp out
Christianity and establish heathenism in its stead.

Yet, at the same time, the Norsemen must have come into close contact
with the religion of the “White Christ” through their intercourse with
the Irish. Indeed, an entry in the _Annals of Ulster_ (A.D. 872),
referring to the death of Ivárr the Boneless, implies that this famous
Viking died a Christian.[180] The records are silent on this point with
regard to Olaf the White, although he was related by marriage to Ketill
Flatnose, a famous chief in the Hebrides, all of whose family, with
the exception of his son, Björn the Easterner, adopted Christianity.
Olaf’s wife, Authr, daughter of Ketill, was one of the most zealous of
these early Norse converts: “She used to pray at Crossknolls, where
she had crosses erected, because she was baptized, and was a good
Christian.” Before her death she gave orders that she was to be buried
on the seashore, between high and low water-mark, because she did not
wish to lie in unconsecrated ground. The _Landnámabók_ also says that
for some time after her death her kinsfolk reverenced these knolls,
but in course of time their faith became corrupt, and in the same
place they built a temple and offered up sacrifices.[181] We hear,
too, of Orlygr the Old, who had been fostered by Bishop Patrick in the
Hebrides. When he was setting out for Iceland the Bishop gave him “wood
for building a church, a plenarium, an iron penny and some consecrated
earth to be put under the corner pillars,” and asked him to dedicate
the church to St. Columba. On the voyage a great storm arose. Orlygr
prayed to St. Patrick that he might reach Iceland in safety, promising,
as a thanksgiving, to call the place in which he should land by the
saint’s name.[182] Mention is also made of several other Christians
from the British Isles: Jörundr, Helgi Bjóla;[183] Thorkell--son of
Svarkell from Caithness--“who prayed before the cross, ever good to
old men, ever good to young men;”[184] Ásólf,[185] Ketill--grandson
of Ketill Flatnose--who was surnamed _hinn fiflski_ (‘the foolish’)
because he adhered to Christianity.[186] A long time after (c. A.D.
997) Thangbrandr the Priest found descendants of Ketill’s in Iceland,
“all of whom had been Christians from father to son.”[187] Considering
the missionary ardour of the Irish at this period it is curious that
no priests accompanied these early settlers to Iceland. This may
have been due to scepticism as to the sincerity of these converts;
such, at least, is the impression received from the Irish annals and
chronicles, in which the Norsemen are almost invariably referred
to as ‘heathens’ and ‘pagans.’ The result was that the influence
of Christianity declined in Iceland; “some of those who came from
west-the-sea remained Christians until the day of their death” says the
_Landnámabók_, “but their families did not always retain the faith, for
some of their sons erected temples and offered sacrifices, and the land
was wholly heathen for nearly one hundred and twenty years.”[188]

In the transition from heathenism to Christianity opposing beliefs were
sometimes held at the same time; the Viking continued to have recourse
to Thor even after he had been baptized. Helgi the Lean, son of Eyvindr
the Easterner, and Rafarta, daughter of King Cearbhall of Ossory, “was
very mixed in his faith; he believed in Christ, but he invoked Thor for
seafaring and brave deeds. When he came in sight of Iceland he asked
Thor where he should settle down;” and when he had built his house,
“he made a large fire near every lake and river, thus sanctifying all
the land between… Helgi believed in Christ, and therefore named his
house after Him.”[189] We also read that “Örlygr the Old and his family
trusted in Columba,”[190] but whether they abandoned all other belief
in the Christian faith and fell into Paganism is not quite clear.
Again, in the account of the naval battle between Danes and Norsemen in
Carlingford Lough (A.D. 852) the annalist describes how “Lord Horm,”
leader of the Danish forces, advised his men to “pray fervently” to
St. Patrick, “the archbishop and head of the saints of Erin,” whose
churches and monasteries the Norsemen had plundered and burned. So
the Danes put themselves under the protection of the saint: “Let our
protector,” they cried, “be the holy Patrick and the God who is lord
over him also, and let our spoils and our wealth be given to his
church.” After the battle ambassadors from the _árd-rí_ found the Danes
seated round a great fire, cooking their food in cauldrons--which were
supported on the dead bodies of the Norsemen, while near by was “a
trench full of gold and silver to give to Patrick; for the Danes,” adds
the chronicler, “were a people with a kind of piety; they could for a
while refrain from meat and from women.”[191]

This confusion of the two religions is also illustrated in the
crosses, symbols of Christianity, which the Vikings erected in the
north of England and in the Isle of Man to the memory of their
kinsfolk. On the Gosforth cross in Cumberland a representation of the
Crucifixion--obviously influenced by Celtic designs--is found side
by side with a figure of the god Vitharr slaying the Wolf, a scene
described in Vafthrúthnismál; while on the western side of the cross
is portrayed the punishment of Loki.[192] A fragment of a cross in
the same locality shows Thor fishing for the Mithgarthsormr,[193] a
subject which is also treated on a cross slab in Kirk Bride Parish
Church, Isle of Man.[194] Among the many other Celtic crosses in Man
are four upon which are carved pictures from the story of Sigurthr
Fáfnisbani: Sigurthr roasting the dragon’s heart on the fire and
cooling his fingers in his mouth, his steed Grani and the tree with the
talking birds; another figure has been identified with Loki throwing
stones at the Otter.[195] There are besides twenty-six crosses with
Runic inscriptions, six of which bring out the Viking connection with
the Celtic Church. On one the Ogam alphabet is scratched, and the same
monument bears a Runic inscription which tells us that “Mal Lumkun
(Ir. Mael Lomchon) raised this cross to his foster (mother) Malmuru
(Ir. Maelmuire), daughter of Tufgal (Ir. Dubhgall), whom Athisl had
to wife.” To this the rune writer adds: “It is better to leave a good
foster-son than a bad son.”[196] Crosses were also erected by Mail
Brikti (Ir. Mael Brigde), son of Athakan (Ir. Aedhacan) the smith;[197]
by Thorleifr Hnakki in remembrance of his son Fiak (Ir. Fiacca);[198]
and by an unknown Norseman to the memory of his wife Murkialu (Ir.
Muirgheal).[199] Another cross-slab commemorates Athmiul (? Ir.
Cathmaoil), wife of Truian (_i.e._, the Pictish name _Druian_), son of
Tufkal,[200] while still another stone contains a fragment of a prayer
to Christ, and the Irish saints, Malaki (Malachy), Bathrik (Patrick),
and Athanman (Adamnan).[201]

The advance of Christianity during the tenth century may be attributed
to a large extent to the prevalence of the practice known as
_prime-signing_ or marking with the sign of the cross. According to
_Eyrbyggja Saga_ (ch. 50), this was “a common custom among merchants
and mercenary soldiers in Christian armies, because those men who were
‘prime-signed’ could associate with Christians as well as heathens,
while retaining that faith which they liked best.” Nearly all the
Norse kings who reigned in Dublin during this century seem to have
accepted Christianity. When Gothfrith plundered Armagh in 919 “he
spared the church and the houses of prayer, with their company of
culdees (ceile-de) and the sick.”[202] We may assume that Sihtric
Gale, Gothfrith’s brother (or cousin) was also a Christian, since he
formed a friendly alliance with Aethelstan, who gave him his sister in
marriage.[203] In 943 Olaf Cuaran was baptized, and in the same year
Rögnvaldr, another Norse prince, was confirmed.[204] After the battle
of Tara (980) Olaf went on pilgrimage to Iona, where he died “after
penance and a good life.”[205] His daughter and grandson were called by
distinctively Irish Christian names--Maelmuire[206] (servant of Mary),
and Gilla Ciarain[207] (servant of St. Ciaran). We may also note the
name Gilla-Padraig which occurs in the royal family of Waterford[208]
and the half-Irish name of a priest in Clonmacnois, Connmhach Ua
Tomrair, who must have been of Norse extraction.[209]

But all traces of heathenism in Ireland had not disappeared by the end
of the tenth century. An interesting relic was Thor’s ring (Ir. _fail
Tomhair_) which was carried off from Dublin by King Maelsechnaill
II. in 994.[210] This must have been the _dóm-hringr_, so frequently
alluded to in Icelandic literature. It was a ring of silver or gold,
about twenty ounces in weight, which lay upon an altar in the temple,
except during ceremonies, when it was worn on the priest’s arm.[211]
Upon this ring oaths were usually sworn.[212] That it was connected
with the worship of Thor is clear from a passage in the _Landnámabók_
describing a place called Thorsnes in Iceland: “there still stands
Thor’s stone, on which were broken the backs of those men who were
about to be sacrificed, and close by is the _dómhringr_ where the men
were condemned to death.”[213] Even as late as the year A.D. 1000 we
hear of Thor’s wood (_caill Tomair_) north of Dublin, which was laid
waste by Brian Borumha after the battle of Gleann Mama.[214]

The battle of Clontarf (A.D. 1014) is frequently represented as a
great fight between Pagan and Christian, but this point of view
is hardly confirmed by the historical facts. It is true that the
Norsemen numbered among their supporters such prominent upholders
of heathenism as Sigurthr, earl of Orkney, and Broder--who had been
a mass-deacon, but “now worshipped fiends, and was of all men most
skilled in sorcery,” yet it must be remembered that the Leinstermen,
under their king Maelmordha, also formed part of the Norse army on
the same occasion. Moreover, both the Norse and Irish accounts of the
battle agree that Gormflaith, who had been the wife of Brian Borumha,
inspired by hatred of Brian, was mainly responsible for the renewal of
hostilities between the two peoples. Her son, Sihtric Silken Beard,
who was most active in mobilising the Norse troops, must have been
a Christian, since the coins which were minted in Dublin during his
reign are stamped with the sign of the cross. In 1028 he visited Rome,
and there is record of another visit some years later.[215] His death
is entered in the Annals under the year 1042, in which same year his
daughter, a nun in an Irish convent, also died.[216]

It was probably on his return to Dublin from Rome in 1036 that Sihtric
gave “a place on which to build a church of the Blessed Trinity,”
afterwards known as Christchurch Cathedral, and “contributed gold and
silver wherewith to build it.”[217]

The Norsemen would seem to have regarded the Irish Church with no
friendly feelings. The first Norse bishop, Dunan or Donatus, was on
intimate terms with Lanfranc, and when the next bishop, Patrick, was
chosen by the clergy and people of Dublin, he was sent, with a letter
professing their “bounden obedience” to Lanfranc for consecration (A.D.
1074).[218] His successors, Donatus (d. 1095), Samuel (d. 1121), and
Gregory (d. 1162) were also consecrated at Canterbury, and acknowledged
the supremacy of the archbishop. An interesting letter addressed to
the Archbishop of Canterbury by the priests and citizens of Dublin in
1121 is still extant: “You know,” the letter runs, “that the bishops of
Ireland, more especially the Bishop of Armagh, is extremely angry with
us because we will not submit to his decrees, and because we always
wish to remain under your authority.”[219]

Bishoprics were founded at Waterford and Wexford later than in Dublin.
Malcus, the first Bishop of Waterford, was consecrated at Canterbury,
and on his arrival in Waterford in 1096, he began to build a church,
dedicated, like that of Dublin, to the Holy Trinity.[220]

Some years later we hear of a Bishop of Limerick, Gilla or Gilbert,
who does not seem to have been consecrated in England, but who was in
close touch with the Archbishop of Canterbury.[221] He it was who
convoked the synod at Rathbresail, at which it was decided to divide
Ireland into dioceses: “there,” says Keating, “the sees and dioceses of
the bishops of Ireland were regulated; Dublin was excluded, because it
was not customary for its bishop to receive consecration except from
the Archbishop of Canterbury.”[222] Limerick and Waterford were placed
under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Cashel, but this decree seems
to have been ignored by the people of Limerick, for they elected their
next bishop, Patrick, in the ordinary way and sent him to England for
consecration.[223] It is uncertain whether the Waterford people obeyed,
as the records merely mention the names of the succeeding bishops.

A still more important synod was held at Kells in 1132. There the
decision of the previous synod regarding the division of the country
into dioceses was ratified, and archbishoprics were established at
Dublin, Armagh, Cashel, and Tuam. Henceforth the bishops of Dublin,
Limerick, and Waterford were consecrated in Ireland, and this marked
the close of the connection between Canterbury and the Celtic Church.


[149] Only one reference is to be found in the Annals. See _Annals of
the Four Masters_, A.D. 728.

[150] Eoin MacNeill: “The Norse Kingdom of the Hebrides” (_Scottish
Review_, Vol. XXXIX., pp. 254-276).

[151] It is interesting to recall that a new development in
shipbuilding, probably due to the same causes, was taking place in
England about the same time. The _Anglo-Saxon Chronicle_ first mentions
a naval encounter with Vikings under the year 875, and some twenty
years later describes the long ships, “shaped neither like the Frisian
nor the Danish,” which Alfred had commanded to be built to oppose the
_oescs_, or Danish ships.

[152] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 912.

[153] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 939.

[154] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 953 (= 955). _Annals of
Ulster_, A.D. 963.

To this entry the annalist adds the following note: “Quod non factum
est ab antiquis temporibus.”

Cf. _Three Fragments of Annals_ (A.D. 873): “Bairith (O.N. Barthr),
drew many ships from the sea westwards to Lough Ree…”

[155] Ancient Norway was divided by Haakon into districts
(_Skipreithur_) each of which had in wartime to equip and man
a warship: the number of these districts was fixed by law.
_Gulathingslög_, 10. Cf. _The Victorious Career of Cellachan
of Cashel_, p. 151, n; etc. Cf. _The Saga of Haakon the Good_
(_Heimskr._), ch. 21.

[156] _The Victorious Career of Cellachan of Cashel_, pp. 29, 86.

[157] _Ib._, pp. 89-102.

[158] _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 109.

[159] _Ib._, p. 133.

[160] _Ib._, p. 137.

[161] See A. Bugge: _Norse Loan-words in Irish_ (_Miscellany Presented
to Kuno Meyer_, p. 291 ff.).

W. A. Craigie: _Oldnordiske Ord i de Gaeliske Sprog_ (_Arkiv för
Nordisk Filologi_, X., 1894).

C. Marstrander: _Bidrag til det Norske Sprogs Historie i Irland_.

K. Meyer: Revue Celtique, X., pp. 367-9, XI., pp. 493-5, XII., pp.

[162] Marstrander (_op. cit._, p. 21) suggests that the word is
connected with the O.N. dialectal form _berling_, “a little stick or
beam under the shallows in a boat.”

[163] Cf. the list of authorities referred to _ante_, pp. 38, 39.

[164] The Norsemen sometimes adopted Irish fashions in their dress.
The great Viking Magnus, who was killed in Ireland in A.D. 1103, was
usually called “barelegs” (O.N. _berfaettr_) because he always wore
the Irish kilts; and his son, Harold Gilli, who could speak Irish
better than Norse, “much wore the Irish raiment, being short-clad and
light-clad.” It was probably from his Irish _cuaran_, or shoes of skin
that Olaf Sihtricsson, the famous King of Dublin received his nickname.

[165] In the _Annals of the Four Masters_ (A.D. 960), _lagmainn_ is the
name given to certain chieftains from the Hebrides who plundered the
southern and eastern coasts of Ireland.

[166] The word occurs only once in Irish: cf. _The Victorious Career of
Cellachan of Cashel_, p. 140.

[167] _The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 203, says that when
the Norsemen were fleeing after the battle of Clontarf, Earl Broder,
accompanied by two warriors, passed by the tent in which King Brian
was. One of these men, who had been in Brian’s service, saw the King
and cried “Cing, Cing” (This is the King). “No, no, acht prist, prist”
said Broder (No, no, it is a priest, said Broder).

[168] These annals state that on one occasion (_A.D._ 869) Cennedigh of
Leix, a brave Irish chieftain, was pursued by the Norsemen, who “blew
their trumpets and raised angry barbarous shouts, many of them crying
‘_nui, nui_.’”

[169] Marstrander (_op. cit._, p. 156) suggests, however, that _roth_
may be an archaic form of the Irish _ruadh_, ‘red.’

[170] Cf. W. A. Craigie: _Gaelic Words and Names in the Sagas and
Landnámabók_. (_Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie_, Band I., pp.

A. Bugge: _Vesterlandenes Indflydelse paa Nordboernes i Vikingetiden_,
ch. 9. See especially pp. 358-359.

[171] There is an interesting account of the _gelt_ in the Old Norse
_Konungs Skuggsjá_ (_Speculum Regale_):

“It happens that when two hosts meet and are arranged in battle-array,
and when the battle-cry is raised loudly on both sides, cowardly men
run wild and lose their wits from the dread and fear which seize them.
And they run into a wood away from other men, and live there like
beasts and shun the meeting of men like wild beasts. And it is said of
these men then when they have lived in the woods in that condition for
twenty years, that feathers grew on their bodies like birds, whereby
their bodies are protected against frost and cold…”

Cf. Kuno Meyer: _On the Irish Mirabilia in the Old Norse “Speculum
Regale”_ (_Eríu_, Vol. IV., pp. 11-12).

This bears a striking resemblance to a certain passage in the
mediæval romance _Cath Muighe Rath_ (Battle of Moy Rath, p. 232. Ed.
by O’Donovan). It may also be compared with another romance, which
probably dates from the same period, viz., _Buile Suibhne_, (_The
Madness of Suibhne_, ed. by J. G. O’Keefe for the Irish Texts Society).
Cf. also _Hávamál_ (ed. Gering), str. 129, etc.

[172] Vilbald, a descendant of Kjarval, King of Ossory, had a ship
called _Kuthi_, cf. _Landnámabók_, IV., ch. II. Todd (_War of the
Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 299, n.) suggests Ir. _Cuthach_.

[173] According to _Jáns Saga hins Helga_, ch. 14 (_Biskupa Sögur_ I.,
Kaupmannahófn, 1858) King Magnus Barelegs sent an Icelander with other
hostages to King Myrkjartan of Connacht. When they arrived there, one
of the Norsemen addressed the King in these words: “Male diarik,” to
which the King replied “Olgeira ragall,” _i.e._, Ir., _olc aer adh ra
gall_, (it is a bad thing to be cursed by a Norseman.)

[174] _minnthak_ was the name given by Hjorleif’s Irish thralls to the
mixture of meal and butter which they compounded while on board ship on
their way to Iceland. They said it was good for quenching thirst. Cf.
_Landnámabók_, I., ch. 6.

[175] Cf. Whitley Stokes, _op. cit._, pp. 186, 191.

[176] _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 13.

Cf. also _Three Fragments of Annals_, p. 146: “In a battle fought
between the Irish and the Norsemen the latter were driven to a small
place surrounded by a wall. The druid Hona went up on the wall, and
with his mouth open began to pray to the gods and to exercise his
magic; he ordered the people to worship the gods…”

[177] Cf. _Thorfinssaga Karlsefnis_, ch. 3; _Vatnsdaela Saga_, ch. 10;
_Tháttr af Nornagesti_, ch. 11; _Hrólfs Saga Kraka_, ch. 3; etc.

[178] _e.g._, C. Haliday: _The Scandinavian Kingdom of Dublin_, p. 12
ff. Margaret Stokes, _op. cit._, pp. 96-98.

[179] Cf. _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 8.

[180] The expression used is _quievit in Christo_ and occurs only in
_MS. A_. As neither _MS. B_ nor any of the other annals mention Ivárr’s
conversion it may be that the scribe of the former has unintentionally
slipped into using a formula which was customary in recording the death
of a Christian.

[181] _Landnámabók_, II., ch. 16.

[182] _Landnámabók_, I., ch. 12.

[183] _Ib._, V., ch. 15.

[184] _Ib._, I., ch. 13.

[185] _Ib._, I., ch. 15.

[186] _Ib._, IV., ch. 11.

[187] _Njáls Saga_, ch. 101.

[188] _Landnámabók_, V., ch. 15.

[189] _Ib._, III., ch. 12.

[190] _Ib._, I., ch. 12.

[191] _Three Fragments of Annals_, pp. 120-124.

[192] Cf. _Gylfaginning_, chs. 51, 52.

[193] _Hýmiskvitha, pass._ Cf. W. S. Calverley: _The Ancient Crosses at
Gosforth_, p. 168.

[194] P. M. C. Kermode: _Manx Crosses_, pp. 180-184.

[195] _Ib._, pp. 170-179.

[196] _Ib._, pp. 86-95, 195-199.

[197] _Ib._, pp. 150-153.

[198] _Ib._, pp. 203-205.

[199] _Ib._, pp. 209-213.

[200] _Ib._, p. 169.

[201] _Ib._, pp. 212-213.

[202] _Annals of Ulster_, A.D. 919. The same source in recording
Gothfrith’s death (A.D. 933) speaks of him as “the most cruel of the

[203] _Anglo-Saxon Chronicle_, _MS.D._, A.D. 925.

[204] _Ib._, _MSS. A._, 942, D. 943.

[205] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 979.

[206] _Ib._, A.D. 1021.

[207] _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, p. 207.

[208] _Annals of the Four Masters_, A.D. 982.

[209] _Ib._, A.D. 1011.

[210] _Ib._, A.D. 994.

[211] _Eyrbyggja Saga_, chs. 4 and 10; _Kjalnesinga Saga_, ch. 2; etc.

[212] Cf. _Anglo-Saxon Chronicle_, _MS.A._ Annal, A.D. 876,
_Kjalnesinga Saga_, ch. 2; etc.

[213] _Landnámabók_, II., ch. 12.

[214] _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, pp. 196, 198.

[215] _Annals of Tigernach_, A.D. 1028, 1036.

[216] _Ib._, A.D. 1042.

[217] _The Whole Works of Sir James Ware Concerning Ireland_, Vol I.,
p. 301. (Ware quotes from the Black Book of Christchurch Cathedral,

[218] _Ib._, p. 306.

[219] _Ib._, pp. 309-311.

[220] _Ib._, pp. 525-6.

[221] _Ib._, p. 504.

Cf. J. MacCaffrey: _The Black Book of Limerick_. Introduction, chs. 5
and 7.

[222] _The History of Ireland_, by Geoffrey Keating (ed. P. S.
Dinneen). Vol. III., p. 298.

[223] _Ware_, _op. cit._, p. 505.




The most interesting branch of early Norse literature is the saga or
prose story. Of these there are many varieties but the most distinctive
are the following: (1) the _Íslendinga Sögur_, or stories relating to
prominent Icelanders, (2) _Konunga Sögur_, or stories of Kings, chiefly
of Norway; (3) _Fornaldar Sögur_, or stories about early times. All
these are essentially Icelandic in origin; sagas having their origin in
Norway are by no means unknown, but they are, as a rule, translated or
derived from French and other foreign sources.[224] In their present
form the sagas relating to the history of Iceland date for the most
part from the thirteenth century, though some of them were probably
committed to writing in the latter part of the twelfth.

The earliest Icelandic document of which we have any record is the
original text of the Laws, said to have been written in the year 1181.
Ari’s _Íslendinga-Bók_, containing a short account of the settlement
of Iceland with notices of the more important events, and accounts
of the succession of lawmen and bishops, was written a few years
later, though the form in which it has come down to us is that of an
abbreviated text written about the year 1130. This work, the foundation
of all subsequent historical writing in Iceland, contains some short
notices, which apparently had been handed down by tradition, but these
stories, usually known as sagas, would seem to have been written down
somewhat later. Indeed until the close of the twelfth century the
language employed for historical writings in Iceland, as elsewhere, was
for the most part Latin.

Though the writing of the sagas did not begin until the latter part
of the twelfth century, sagas in some form or other must have been
in existence much earlier, carried on from generation to generation
by oral tradition. This faculty of reciting sagas was a special
characteristic of the Icelanders, by whom it was carefully cultivated.
In the preface to his _Historia Danica_ Saxo acknowledges his
indebtedness to the “men of Thule,” who “account it a delight to learn
and to consign to remembrance the history of all nations, deeming it as
great a glory to set forth the excellence of others as to display their
own. Their stores, which are stocked with attestations of historical
events, I have examined somewhat closely and have woven together no
small portion of the present work by following their narrative.”[225]

That the art of story-telling did not decline in Iceland even after
the majority of the sagas were written down is attested by _Sturlunga
Saga_. Here we are told that when Sturla visited King Magnus’ court at
Bergen in 1263 the king received him coldly, but afterwards allowed
him to accompany the royal party on a voyage to the south of Norway.
In the evening one of the sailors asked if there was anyone among them
who could tell stories, but he received no answer. He turned to Sturla,
“Sturla, the Icelander, will you entertain us?” “Willingly,” said
Sturla. Then he related the story of Huld[226] better and with much
more detail than any of those present had ever heard it told before.
Then many men made their way to the deck so as to hear as clearly as
possible, and there was a great crowd there. The queen asked: “What
is that crowd on the deck?” A man answered, “Men who are listening to
the tale the Icelander is telling.” “What story is that?” she asked.
“It is about a great giantess; it is a good story and well told.” On
the following day the queen sent for Sturla and asked him to come and
bring with him the saga of the giantess.[227] So Sturla went aft to
the quarterdeck and told the story over again. When he had finished,
the queen and many of the listeners thanked him and took him to be a
learned and wise man.[228]

A much earlier reference to the recitation, and indeed the composition
of sagas is found in _Thorgils Saga ok Haflitha_, in which there is an
account of a wedding-feast at Reykholar in 1119:

“There was fun and merriment and great festivity, and all kinds of
amusements, such as dancing, wrestling and story-telling… Hrólfr of
Skalmarnes told a story about Hrongvithr the Viking, and Olaf ‘the
sailor’s king,’ and about the rifling of the barrow of Thrainn the
berserkr, and about Hrómundr Gripsson, and he included many verses in
his story. King Sverrir used to be entertained with this story, and he
declared that fictitious stories like these were the most entertaining
of any; and yet there are men who can trace their ancestry to Hrómundr
Gripsson. Hrólfr had put this saga together. Ingimundr the priest told
the story of Ormr, the poet of Barrey and included many verses in
it, besides a good poem which Ingimundr had composed, therefore many
learned men regard this saga as true.”[229]

The former of these stories is the _Hrómundra Saga_ which belongs to
the class commonly called _Fornaldar Sögur_.[230]

Still further back in the reign of Harald Hardradith (1047-1066) we
have a most important allusion to the art of story-telling. According
to the saga[231] a young Icelander came one summer to King Harald
seeking his protection. The king received him into his court on the
understanding that he should entertain the household during the winter.
He soon became very popular, and received gifts from members of the
household and from the king himself. Just before Christmas the king
noticed that the Icelander seemed dejected, and he asked the reason.
The Icelander replied that it was because of his ‘uncertain temper.’

“That is not so,” said the king… “I think your stock of sagas must
be exhausted, because you have entertained us all through the winter,
whenever you were called upon to do so. Now you are worried because
your sagas have come to an end at Christmas time, and you do not wish
to tell the same over again.”

“You have guessed rightly,” said the Icelander. “I know only one more
saga, but I dare not tell it here, because it is the story of your
adventures abroad.”

“That is the saga I particularly want to hear,” said the king, and he
asked the Icelander to begin it on Christmas Day and tell a part of
it every day. During the Christmas season there was a good deal of
discussion about the entertainment. Some said it was presumption on
the part of the Icelander to tell the saga and they wondered how the
king would like it; others thought it was well told, but others again
thought less of it. When the saga was finished, the king, who had
listened attentively throughout, turned to the story-teller and said:
“Are you not curious to know, Icelander, how I like the saga?”

“I am afraid to ask,” replied the story-teller.

The king said: “I think you have told it very well. Where did you get
the material for it, and who taught it to you?”

The Icelander answered: “When in Iceland I used to go every summer
to the _Thing_, and each summer I learned a portion of the saga from
Halldór Snorrason.”

“Then it is not surprising that you know it so well, since you have
learned it from him,” said the king.

We may in fact see the origin of the _Íslendinga Sögur_ in certain
passages of the sagas themselves. In _Fóstbroethra Saga_, for instance,
the story is told of an Icelander named Thormóthr, who went to
Greenland in order to avenge the death of his foster-brother Thorgeirr.
On one occasion he fell asleep in his booth, and when he awoke some
time later he found, to his surprise, that the place was quite
deserted. Then his servant Egill “the foolish” came to him and said:
“You are too far off from a great entertainment.”

Thormóthr asked: “Where have you come from and what is the

Egill replied: “I have been to Thorgrímr Einarsson’s booth and most of
the people who are attending the _Thing_ are there now.”

Thormóthr asked: “What form of amusement have they?”

Egill answered: “Thorgrímr is telling a saga.”

“About whom is the saga?” asked Thormóthr.

“That I do not know clearly,” replied Egill, “but I know that he tells
it well and in an interesting manner. He is sitting on a chair outside
his booth and the people are all around him listening to the saga.”

Thormóthr said: “But you must know the name of some man who is
mentioned in the saga, especially since you think it so entertaining.”

Egill replied: “A certain Thorgeirr was a great hero in the saga, and I
think that Thorgrímr himself must have had some connection with it, and
played a brave part in it, as is most likely. I wish you would go there
and listen to the entertainment.”[232]

Then Thormóthr and Egill went to Thorgrímr’s booth and stood close by
listening to the saga, but they could not hear it very distinctly.
Thormóthr had, however, understood from Egill’s remarks that this
was the same Thorgrímr who had slain his foster-brother and was now
recounting his exploits for the amusement of the crowd.

More famous is the scene in _Njáls Saga_ where Gunnar Lambi’s son, who
has just arrived at Earl Sigurthr’s palace in the Orkneys is called
upon to tell the story of the burning of Njáll’s homestead.

“The men were so pleased that King Sigtryggr [of Dublin] sat on a high
seat in the middle, but on either side of the king sat one of the
earls… Now King Sitryggr and Earl Gille wished to hear of these tidings
which had happened at the burning, and so, also, what had befallen

“Then Gunnarr Lambi’s son, who had taken part in the burning was got to
tell the tale, and a stool was set for him to sit upon…

“Now King Sigtryggr asked: “How did Skarphethinn bear the burning?”

““Well at first for a long time,” said Gunnarr, “but still the end of
it was that he wept.” And so he went on giving an unfair bias to his
story, but every now and then he laughed aloud.

“Kári (Kjall’s friend who was listening outside) could not stand this
and he then ran in with his sword drawn… and smote Gunnarr Lambi’s son
on the neck with such a smart blow that his head spun off on to the
board before the king and the earls.

“… Now Flosi undertook to tell the story of the Burning and he was fair
to all, and therefore what he said was believed.”[233]

For the way in which such stories were preserved from generation
to generation we may refer to the end of _Droplaugarsona Saga_
(Ljósvetninga): “Thorvaldr (born c. 1006) son of Grímr”--one of the
chief actors in the story--“had a son called Ingjaldr. His son was
named Thorvaldr, and he it was who told the story.”[234]

The passage quoted from _Njála Saga_ and _Fóstbroethra Saga_ seem
to show that the art of story-telling was already developed at the
beginning of the eleventh century. In these instances, it is true, we
have only the records of events given by the actors themselves or by
eyewitnesses, and we cannot be certain that such stories had assumed
anything like a fixed form. Far more important is the passage from
_Haralds Saga Hardrada_,[235] for there the story-teller was not an
eyewitness, but had obtained the story, or the material for it, from
Halldór Snorrason, an Icelandic follower of King Harald. From what is
said about the length of the saga, there can be no doubt that it had
been worked up in a very elaborate way. For such elaborate secondhand
stories we have no other definite evidence, but again, considering the
time which the recital is said to have occupied, it would be unwise to
conclude that this later form of the art was entirely new.

We have, therefore, clearly to distinguish two stages in the history
of the oral saga; (i) the story as told by someone who had taken part
in the events described; (ii) the secondhand story. The story was soon
embellished, especially in the second stage, not merely with such
devices as the records of conversation, but even by the introduction of
imaginary adventures. Indeed we need not assume that even in the first
stage the stories were told in strict accordance with fact. Reference
may be made, for instance, to the passage quoted above from _Njáls
Saga_, where Gunnarr Lambi’s son is said to have told the story of the
burning unfairly. Even in the _Íslendinga_ and _Konunga Sögur_ fiction
forms a not inconsiderable element: in the _Fornaldar Sögur_ it is
obviously much greater.

Yet there is good reason for believing that in the main the
_Íslendinga_ and _Konunga Sögur_ are historical. This may be seen
by the general agreement between the various sagas, since the same
characters constantly reappear, and there is little inconsistency
with regard to their circumstances or personal traits. Again, the
description of houses, ships, weapons, and other articles seems
generally to correspond to those known to date from the period to which
the stories refer. There is, moreover, one feature which points to a
more or less fixed tradition dating from the closing years of the tenth
century, namely, the attitude towards those characters who figured
prominently in the struggle between Christianity and heathenism. Thus
there are indications that the rather unsympathetic representation of
Harold Greycloak and his brothers may be due to the fact that they
were Christians. Still more significant is the attitude of the sagas
towards Haakon the Bad, whose character seems to undergo a great
change--probably a reflection of the change in the popular opinion of

Sagas like those of Egill and Kormak relating to the middle or first
part of the twelfth century are few in number and usually contain a
considerable amount of poetry; in fact, the prose is not infrequently
based upon the poetry. Stories dealing with early Icelandic history
from A.D. 874 onwards and Norwegian history of the same period are much
less full. In general they appear to be trustworthy, but the details
are such as might have been preserved by local or family tradition
without the special faculty which is characteristic of the sagas.

Of a totally different character are the sagas relating to times before
the settlement of Iceland (A.D. 874). Some of these, such as _Völsunga
Saga_ and _Hervarar Saga_, deal with events as far back as the fifth
century, and are, to a great extent, paraphrases of poems, many of
which have come down to us. Very frequently, too, whether based on
poems or not, the narrative bears the stamp of fiction.[236]

Conditions in Iceland were especially favourable to the development
of the art of story-telling, owing partly to the isolated position of
the country itself and to the difficulties of communication across
the wide tracts of land separating the various settlements within it,
partly also to the love of travel which characterised its inhabitants.
In Icelandic literature the recital of stories is mentioned in
connection with public meetings--such as the annual general assembly
(_Althingi_)--and with social gatherings at the “winter-nights,” the
chief season for hospitality in Iceland, when travellers had returned
from abroad.

The Icelanders were famous, too, for the cultivation of poetry. This
art was evidently much practised in Norway in early times, but we
hear of hardly any Norwegian poets after Eyvindr (c. 980), whereas
in Iceland poetry flourished for a considerable period after this.
Icelandic poets were received with favour not only in Norway, but
elsewhere, for instance, in England and Ireland. It has been stated
that sagas dealing with the early part of the tenth century owe a
good deal to poetry, while stories relating to times earlier than the
settlement of Iceland are often almost entirely dependent on poetic
sources. Moreover, the cultivation of poetry probably contributed very
largely to the development of the faculty of story-telling, and the
two arts may have been practised by the same person. On this point,
however, we have no precise information.


Yet the remarkable fact that this faculty of story-telling was peculiar
to the Icelanders alone among the Teutonic peoples still remains to be
explained. It can hardly be without significance that the only parallel
in Europe for such a form of literature is to be found in Ireland.

From the allusions to this type of composition in old Irish literature
it would seem to have existed at a very early period; so early, that
its very origin is obscure. There is, for example, mention of a king’s
“company of story tellers” in the eight lines of satirical verse, said
to have been composed by the poet Cairbre on Bress, the niggardly king
of the Formorians.[237]

Story-telling was one of the many attractions of the great _aonachs_ or
fairs which played the same part in the national life of Ireland as the
_things_ or popular assemblies in Iceland. From the poem on the ancient
fair of Carman preserved in the _Book of Ballymote_, we can form an
idea of the entertainment provided by the professional story-teller:--

“The tales of Fianna of Erin, a never-wearying entertainment: stories
of destructions, cattle-preys, courtships, rhapsodies, battle-odes,
royal precepts and the truthful instructions of Fithil the sage: the
wide precepts of Coirfic and Cormac.”[238]

The _Book of Leinster_ states that the poet who had attained the rank
of _ollamh_ was bound to know for recital to kings and chieftains two
hundred and fifty tales of prime importance (prím-scéla), and one
hundred secondary ones.[239] The same source gives the names of one
hundred and eighty-seven of these tales, the majority of which have not
come down to us. These include stories from the three great cycles of
legend, viz., that relating to the gods; to Cuchulain and the warriors
of the Red Branch, and to Finn and Fianna. A number of stories relating
to the kings of Ireland mentioned in this list have an historical
basis; while there are others purporting to deal with kings as far back
as 1000 B.C., which are no doubt partly imaginary, and were invented to
arouse popular interest in the past history of the country.

We know of several stories and poems about kings and chieftains who
played a prominent part in the wars against the Vikings. The list in
_The Book of Leinster_ mentions only one, _The Love of Gormflaith for
Niall_ _i.e._, Niall Glundubh (d. 919), a summary of which is contained
in the mediæval English translation of _The Annals of Clonmacnois_.
In the case of _The Victorious Career of Cellachan of Cashel_, it
is difficult to say whether this was originally an oral narrative
committed to writing for the first time in the fifteenth century, or
whether it was copied from an older manuscript, now lost. Brian Borumha
and his sons are the principal characters in _The Leeching of Cian’s
Leg_, a tale preserved in a sixteenth century manuscript.[240] It is
interesting to note here the presence of a strong folk element which
would seem to point towards a popular, not a literary origin.

At the close of the tenth century story-telling was in high favour
in Ireland, and the professional story-teller was able not only to
recite any one of the great historical tales, but to improvise, if
the occasion arose. Mac Coisse, the poet attached to the court of
Maelsechnaill II., tells in an interesting prose work how his castle at
Clartha (Co. Westmeath) was once plundered by the O’Neills of Ulster.
He immediately set out for Aileach in order to obtain compensation from
the head of the clan, King Domhnall O’Neill (d. 978). On his arrival,
he was received with great honour and brought into the king’s presence.
In response to Domhnall’s request for a story, Mac Coisse mentioned
the names of a large number of tales including one called _The Plunder
of the Castle of Maelmilscotach_. This was the only one with which the
king was unfamiliar, so he asked the story-teller to relate it. In it
Mac Coisse described, under the form of an allegory, the plundering of
his castle by the king’s kinsmen. When he had finished he confessed
that he himself was Maelmilscotach[241], and he begged the king to
grant him full restitution of his property. This the king agreed to do,
and the grateful poet then recited a poem of eighteen stanzas which he
had composed about the king and his family.[242]


The resemblance which we have noted between Icelandic and Irish customs
seem to justify us in suggesting that they may be due in part to some
influence exercised by the one people upon the other. There is in fact
a certain amount of evidence which renders such influence probable.
We know that Irish poets and story-tellers were welcome guests at the
court of the Scandinavian kings in Ireland. In an elegy on Mathgamain,
Brian’s brother,[243] one of the Munster bards, says he finds it
difficult to reproach the foreigners because of his friendship with
Dubhcena, Ivarr’s son.[244] And during the lifetime of Brian, Mac
Liag, Brian’s chief poet, and Mac Coisse, poet and story-teller to
Maelsechnaill II., visited the court of Sigtryggr and remained there
for a whole year. On their departure they gave expression to their
feelings of regret in a poetical dialogue:--

    _Mac Liag_:

    It is time for us to return to our homes,
    We have been here a whole year;
    Though short to you and me may seem
    This our sojourn in Dublin,
    Brian of Banba deems it too long
    That he listens not to my eloquence.[245]

Another poem of Mac Liag’s, in which he addresses the Scandinavians
of Dublin as “the descendants of the warriors of Norway,” was also
composed in Dublin, at the court of ‘Olaf of the golden shields,’ soon
after the battle of Clontarf.[246]

On the other hand Icelandic sources mention at least three skálds who
made their way to Ireland during the tenth century: Thorgils Orraskáld,
who was with Olaf Cuaran in Dublin,[247] and Kormak (Ir. Cormac) who
fought with Harold Greycloak in Ireland (c. 961).[248] In _Gunnlaugs
Saga Ormstungu_ (ch. 8) there is a charming account of the poet’s
reception in Dublin, shortly after Sigtryggr became king (c. 994):
Gunnlaug went before the king and said: “I have composed a poem about
you, and I would like to get a hearing for it.”

“The king answered: “No man has yet made a poem about me, and I will
certainly listen to yours.”

“Then Gunnlaug recited his poem in praise of “Cuaran’s son,” and the
king thanked him for it.

“Sigtryggr then called his treasurer and asked: “How shall I reward him
for this poem?”

““As you will, lord,” replied the treasurer.

““Shall I give him two merchant-ships?” asked the king.

““That is too much,” said the treasurer, “other kings give, as rewards
for songs, costly gifts, good swords or gold rings.”

“So the king gave Gunnlaug his own garments of new scarlet cloth, a
tunic ornamented with lace, a cloak lined with choice furs, and a gold
ring which weighed a mark. Gunnlaug remained for a short time there and
then went to the Orkneys.”

It is to be noted, too, that among the original settlers in Iceland
there were a not inconsiderable number who came from Ireland and the
islands off the west coast of Scotland. These included some of the most
important families in the country. We may mention especially Authr,
widow of Olaf the White, king of Dublin, with her brothers Ketill the
Foolish, Björn, Helgi Bjóla and all their families and dependants;[249]
also Helgi the Lean who had been brought up partly in the Hebrides,
partly in Ireland, Jörundr the Christian and Örlygr the Old.[250] Not a
few of these were partly of Irish stock such as Helgi the Lean, Áskell
Hnokkan and his brother Vilbaldr who were descendants of Cearbhall,
king of Ossory (d. 877).[251] Sometimes we hear of settlers who were
of pure Gaelic blood, like Kalman (Ir. Colman) from the Hebrides,[252]
and Erpr, son of a Scottish earl Maeldúin,[253] and Myrgjol (Ir.
Muirgheal), daughter of Gliomall, an Irish king.[254]

It has been urged[255] that the persons mentioned in the _Landnámabók_
as coming from Ireland and Scotland form a very small percentage of the
whole number of settlers. But we have to remember that by no means all
the colonists are mentioned in the records and genealogies. There can
be no doubt that a number of slaves and freedmen accompanied the more
important settlers to Iceland, and of these probably the great majority
were of Celtic blood. Their numbers, too, were being continually
reinforced during the tenth century. It is difficult, however, to
estimate how many they were, because in the case of thralls Icelandic
names were not infrequently substituted for Irish ones. Thus, of the
Irish thralls whom Hjörleifr brought to Iceland only one, Dufthakr, had
a Gaelic name.

Such slaves were not always people of humble origin. Gilli (Ir.
Giolla), the slave who killed Thorsteinn, son of Hallr[256] of
Side, was a descendant of Cearbhall, king of Ossory. Mention is
made elsewhere of Nithbjörg, daughter of the Irish king Biolan (Ir.
Beollán) who was carried off from Ireland in a Viking raid;[257] also
of Melkorka, King Myrkjartan’s daughter, who was bought from a slave
dealer in Norway.[258] Icelandic custom did not necessarily prevent the
children of slave women from becoming persons of wealth and influence;
indeed Ósvifr, son of Nithbjörg and Olaf Pái, son of Melkorka, were
among the leading men in Iceland in their time. It is not unreasonable,
then, to suppose that by the end of the tenth century Irish blood had
found its way into a large number of Icelandic families.

Lastly we may observe that the Irish and Icelandic sagas bear certain
resemblances to one another which are at least worthy of attention. In
both cases the narrative prose is frequently interspersed with poetry,
and in both the use of dialogue is a prominent feature. Nor is the
subject matter dissimilar. Indeed it is possible to apply to the Irish
stories a classification roughly similar to that which is adopted for
the more important of the Icelandic sagas.[259] As far as the “stories
of the kings” are concerned, the resemblance is most striking in the
case of sagas relating to early times such as _Ynglinga Saga_. There
are Irish stories, too, corresponding to a certain extent to the
_Íslendínga Sögur_, though they are comparatively few in number, while
many of the _Fornaldar Sögur_ may be said to bear a certain resemblance
to the Irish epic stories.

The evidence discussed above seems to afford some ground for suspecting
that the saga literature of Iceland and Ireland may not be wholly
unconnected, and, as we have seen, the conditions of the time,
particularly the frequent intercourse between the two countries, were
such as to favour the exercise of literary influence by one people upon
the other. If so, one can hardly doubt that in this case the influence
came to Iceland from Ireland.

We have seen[260] that the prose saga appears to have developed in
Iceland in the course of the tenth century. There are indeed narratives
relating both to the settlement of Iceland and to still earlier events
in Norway. But these, in so far as they can be regarded as trustworthy
traditions--not embellished by fiction in later times--are quite brief,
and not far removed from such local or family traditions as one could
find in other parts of the world. The detailed and elaborate type of
story which we dealt with in Section I., and which is the distinctive
feature of Icelandic literature, can hardly be traced back beyond the
end of the tenth century.

The prose stories of Ireland, on the other hand, are without doubt much
earlier. Although we have few MSS. of Irish prose dating from a period
before the twelfth century, yet it is generally agreed that many of the
forms preserved, _e.g._, in the _Yellow Book of Lecan_ MS. of the Tain
Bo Cualnge must be derived from an earlier MS. of not later than the
seventh or early eighth century. The oral saga in Ireland is therefore
of great antiquity.

It may, of course, be argued that if the prose saga arose spontaneously
in Ireland, there is no reason why it should not also have arisen
independently in Iceland. But the existence of this form of literature
in Ireland may be due to special circumstances for which Iceland offers
no parallel. The oldest Irish sagas belong to that class of literature
known as the heroic epic, a class which among the Teutonic peoples--as
indeed among all other European peoples--makes its first appearance
in verse. The exceptional treatment of this subject in Irish is all
the more remarkable in view of the fact that among the Celtic peoples
the _file_ or professional minstrel occupied a distinguished position
in society. It would be strange if the professional minstrel were not
primarily concerned with heroic epic poetry in Ireland as in other
countries, since in the times to which our records refer the recitation
of the heroic prose epics was one of the chief functions of the _file_.

On the other hand, we know nothing of the ancient forms of Irish
poetry. The earliest poems that have come down to us have a metrical
form which is not native. Earlier than these--in the fifth and sixth
centuries--there is evidence for the cultivation of “rhetorics,” or
metrical prose, but this too appears to be of foreign origin.[261] The
unique feature in Irish literature, namely, the fact that the early
epic, as it has come down to us, appears in prose instead of poetry may
be due, at least in part, to the disappearance of native metrical forms
before the fifth century. It may be that the prose epics originated
in paraphrases of early poems such as we find, for instance, in the
_Völsunga Saga_, which is a paraphrase of older poems dealing with the
story of Sigurthr. Or the change may have been more automatic, the
outcome of a process of metrical dissolution similar to that of which
the beginnings may be seen in certain Anglo-Saxon and German poems.
Such metrical dissolution would be favoured, if not necessitated, by
the extensive phonetic changes which took place in Ireland in the fifth
century. But into this question it is not necessary to enter here. It
is sufficient to point out that Irish Saga literature, according to
all appearances, began in the heroic epic, a form which in all other
literatures, including Norse, originated in poetry.

The preservation of poetry, narrative or other, by oral tradition is
a common enough phenomenon among many peoples, but the traditional
prose narrative, except in such primitive forms as folk-tales, is very
rare. Since we find it both in Ireland and Iceland--and apparently in
no other European countries--and since we have found so many other
connections between these two countries, the theory that the Icelandic
Saga owes its origin, however indirectly, to the Irish Saga, seems
to deserve more serious consideration from scholars than it has yet


[224] It has been stated (cf. E. Mogk: _Geschichte der
Norwegisch-Isländischen Literatur_. Strassburg, 1904, p. 830) that many
of Saxo’s stories came from Norway, where they had been collected by an
Icelander in the twelfth century. There can be no doubt that stories
of some kind relating to families and localities--especially stories
which accounted, or professed to account for local names--were current
in Norway down to this time. Such stories form the basis of many of the
_Fornaldar Sögur_, but in all probability these had been familiar to
Icelanders from the first settlement of the island, or at least during
the tenth century. We have no evidence that they ever gained literary
form in Norway. (Cf. Finnur Jónsson: _Old Norske Litteraturs Historie_,
II., p. 791.)

[225] _The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus._
Translated by Oliver Elton (ed. by F. York Powell, p. 5). It is not
clear whether Saxo had Icelandic manuscripts before him, but his words
leave no doubt that he was aware of the fact that stories had been
carried on by oral tradition.

[226] This was probably something in the nature of a fairy-tale like
the _Huldre-eventyr_ of modern Norway. We may refer to the story of the
witch Huldr given in _Ynglinga Saga_ (ch. 16), and to the supernatural
being Holda or Holle in German folk-lore.

[227] “_hafa meth sér trollkonu-söguna._” From these words Finnur
Jónsson (_op. cit._, II., p. 792) concludes that Sturla possessed a
written copy of the saga.

[228] _Sturlunga Saga_, II., pp. 270-271.

[229] _Thorgil’s Saga ok Haflitha_ (_Sturlunga Saga_, Vol. I., p. 19).

[230] _Fornaldar Sögur_, Vol. II., p. 323.

[231] _Harald’s Hardrada Saga_, ch. 99 (_Fornmanna Sögur_, VI., pp.

[232] _Fóstbroethra Saga_, ch. 23.

[233] _Njáls Saga_ (by G. W. Dasent), chs. 153, 154.

[234] _Droplaugarsona Saga_ (Ljosvetninga Saga), p. 175 (_Austfirthinga
Sögur_, ed. Jakobsen).

[235] See pp. 60, 61, ante.

[236] Cf. the references to _Hrómundar Saga_, pp. 69, 70, ante.

[237] The poem is preserved in the _Book of the Dun Cow_ (twelfth
century), but the form of the language in which it is written is
considerably earlier than this date; indeed, the meaning of the verses
would be quite obscure if we did not possess explanatory glosses.

Cf. D’Arbois de Jubainville: _The Irish Mythological Cycle_, p. 96
(Best’s translation): also D. Hyde: _A Literary History of Ireland_, p.

There is a possible reference to an Irish story-teller in an
inscription on a stone cross at Bridgend (Glamorganshire). The
inscription, which is thought to date from the seventh century,
runs:--_(Co)nbellini possuit hanc crucem pro anima eius Scitliuissi_ …
Rhys takes _scitlivissi_ to be an Irish word, a compound of _viss_ (Ir.
_fis_, ‘knowledge’) and _scitl_ (_scetlon_, _scél_, a ‘story,’ ‘news’)
and surmises that _scitliviss_ might mean a ‘messenger,’ a ‘bringer of
news,’ a ‘scout.’ (Cf. _Celtic Britain_, pp. 313-315.) But _scitliviss_
can also be explained as ‘one who knows stories.’ In that case we might
infer that story-telling was a profession in Ireland as early as the
seventh century; but the reading appears to be too uncertain to justify
us in attaching any great importance to the inscription.

[238] O’Curry: _Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish_, II., p. 543.

[239] O’Curry: _Lectures on the MS. Materials of Irish History_, pp.
243, 583.

[240] Printed in _Silva Gadelica_ (ed. Standish O’Grady), Vol. I., pp.

Stories of Brian and his sons are still current in the Gaelic-speaking
districts of Ireland. (See _Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie_, Band
I., pp. 477-492.) They are, however, more likely to be folk tales, in
which the deeds of mythical heroes have been transferred to historical
people, than sagas transmitted by oral tradition from generation to

[241] _i.e._, “son of the honeyed words,” a poet.

[242] O’Curry: _Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish_, II., pp.

[243] Mathgamain was murdered at the instigation of King Ivarr of
Limerick in 976.

[244] _War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_, pp. 98-99.

[245] _O’Curry_, _op. cit._, II., p. 128.

[246] _Ibid._, II., p. 125.

[247] _Landnámabók_, I., ch. 19.

[248] _Kormak’s Saga_, ch. 19.

[249] Cf. _Landnámabók_, II., ch. 16, etc.

[250] _Landnámabók_, V., ch. 15.

[251] _Ib._, IV., ch. 11.

[252] _Ib._, II., ch. 1.

[253] _Ib._, II., ch. 16.

[254] _Ib._, II., ch. 16.

[255] Finnur Jónsson, _op. cit._, II., pp. 187-188 (n); W. A. Craigie:
_Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie_, Band I., p. 441.

[256] “This Gilli was the son of Jathguth, who was the son of Gilli,
son of Bjathach (Ir. Blathach), son of King Kjarval of Ireland.”
(_Thorsten’s Saga Síthu-Hallssonar_, appendix. _Draumr Thorsteins
Síduhalssonar_, Ásmundarson’s Ed., pp. 26, 27.)

[257] _Landnámabók_, II., ch. 11.

[258] Cf. p. ante.

[259] Cf. p. 66, ante.

[260] Cf. p. 63 ante.

[261] See Kuno Meyer: _Learning in Ireland in the Fifth Century_
(Dublin, 1913).



_Annals of Clonmacnois_, ed. by Rev. D. J. Murphy. Dublin, 1896.

_Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters_ (Vols. I. and
II.), ed. by J. O’Donovan, Dublin, 1856.

_Three Fragments of Irish Annals_, ed. by J. O’Donovan. Dublin, 1860.

_Annals of Tigernach_, ed. by Whitley Stokes (Revue Celtique, XVI.;
XVII.). Paris, 1895.

_Annals of Ulster_ (Vol. I.), ed. by W. M. Hennessy. Dublin, 1887.

_Black Book of Limerick_, ed. by J. MacCaffrey. Dublin, 1907.

_Book of Rights_ (Leabhar na gceart), ed. by J. O’Donovan. Dublin, 1847.

_Brennu-Njálssaga_, ed. by Finnur Jónsson. Halle a S., 1908.

_The Story of Burnt Njal_, translated by Sir G. W. Dasent. London,
1861. (Several subsequent editions.)

_Caithriém Cellachain Caisil: The Victorious Career of Cellachan of
Cashel_, ed. by A. Bugge. Christiania, 1905.

_Chronicon Scotorum_, ed. by W. M. Hennessy. London, 1866.

_Cogadh Gaedheal re Gallaibh_ (_The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill_)
ed. by J. H. Todd. London, 1867.

_Eyrbyggja Saga_, ed. by H. Gering. Halle a S., 1897. (English
translation by E. Magnússon and William Morris, London, 1892).

_Fornaldar Sögur_, ed. by C. C. Rafn. Copenhagen, 1829-30.

_Fornmanna Sögur._ Copenhagen, 1825-1837.

_Fóstbroethra Saga_, ed. by V. Ásmundarson, Reykjavík, 1899.

_Gunnlaugs Saga Ormstungu_, ed. by V. Ásmundarson. Reykjavík, 1911.

_Heimskringla_, ed. by C. R. Unger. Christiania, 1868.

_Kormaks Saga_, ed. by V. Ásmundarson. Reykjavík, 1893.

_Landnámabók_, ed. by V. Ásmundarson. Reykjavík, 1909. (English
translation by Rev. T. Ellwood. Kendal, 1898.)

_On the Fomorians and the Norsemen_ (Duald Mac Firbis), ed. by A.
Bugge. Christiania, 1905.

_Origines Islandicae_, ed. by G. Vigfusson and F. York Powell. Oxford,

_Orkneyinga Saga_, ed. and tr. by J. Anderson. Edinburgh, 1873. Also
tr. by Sir G. W. Dasent for the Rolls Series. London, 1894.

_Sturlunga Saga_, ed. by G. Vigfusson. Oxford, 1878.

_Thorsteins Saga Sithu-Hallssonar_, ed. by V. Ásmundarson. Reykjavík,

_Two of the Saxon Chronicles (Parallel)_, 2 Vols., ed. by Earle and
Plummer. Oxford, 1892 and 1899.


  Bugge, A.                  _Contributions to the History of the Norsemen
                               in Ireland._ Christiania, 1900.

  ----                       _Vesterlandenes Indflydelse paa Nordboernes
                               i Vikingetiden._ Christiania, 1905.

  Collingwood, W. G.         _Scandinavian Britain._ London, 1908.

  Craigie, W. A.             _The Icelandic Sagas._ Cambridge, 1913.

  Du Chaillu, P. B.          _The Viking Age_, 2 Vols. London, 1889.

  Henderson, G.              _The Norse Influence on Celtic Scotland._
                               Glasgow, 1910.

  Jónsson, F.                _Old Norske Litieraturs Historie_, also
                               (abridged). Copenhagen, 1907.

  Joyce, P. W.               _A Social History of Ancient Ireland_,
                               2 Vols. Dublin, 1913.

  Keary, C. F.               _The Vikings in Western Christendom._
                               London, 1891.

  Kermode, P. M. C.          _Manx Crosses._ London, 1907.

  Marstrander, C.            _Bidrag til det Norske Sprogs Historie i
                               Irland._ Christiania, 1912.

  Mawer, A.                  _The Vikings._ Cambridge, 1913.

  Mogk, E.                   _Geschichte der Norwegisch-Isländischen
                               Literatur._ Strassburg, 1904.

  O’Curry, E.                _On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient
                               Irish_ (ed. by W. K. Sullivan). London,

  ----                       _Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of
                               Ancient Irish History._ Dublin, 1861.

  Steenstrup, J. C. H. R.    _Normannerne_ (Vols. II. and III.).
                               Copenhagen, 1876-82.

  Stokes, G. T.              _Ireland and the Celtic Church_ (revised by
                               H. J. Lawlor). London, 1907.

  Vogt, L. J.                _Dublin som Norsk By._ Christiania, 1896.

  _The Whole Works of Sir James Ware concerning Ireland_, 2 Vols.
  (translated and continued by W. Harris). Dublin, 1764.

  Worsaae, J. J. A.          _Minder om de Danske og Nordmaendene i
                               England, Skotland og Irland._
                               Copenhagen, 1851. (English translation:
                               _An Account of the Danes and Norwegians
                               in England, Scotland and Ireland_.
                               London, 1852.)

  Zimmer, H.                 _The Celtic Church in Britain and Ireland_,
                               (translated by A. Meyer). London, 1902.

Reference has also been made to the following articles:--

  Bugge, A.                  _Nordisk Sprog og Nordisk Nationalitet i
                               Irland_ (Aarboger for Nordisk Oldkyndighed
                               og Historie, 1900, pp. 279-332).

  ----                       _Bidrag Bidet Sidste Afsnit af Nordboernes
                               Historie i Irland_ _ibid._, 1904, pp.

  Craigie, W. A.             _Oldnordiske Ord i de Gaeliske Sprog_ (Archiv
                               for Nordisk Filologi. 1894.)

  Curtis, E.                 _The English and the Ostmen in Ireland_
                               (English Historical Review, XXIII., p.
                               209 ff.)

  Hull, E.                    _Irish Episodes in Icelandic Literature_
                               (Saga Book of the Viking Club. January,

  ----                        _The Gael and the Gall: Notes on the Social
                                Condition of Ireland during the Norse
                                Period._ (_Ibid._ April, 1908.)

  Mawer, A.                   _The Scandinavian Kingdom of Northumbria._
                                _Ibid._ January, 1911.

  Stokes, W.                  _A few Parallels between the Old Norse and
                                the Irish Literatures and Traditions_
                                (Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi. 1885.)

  Zimmer, H.                  _Ueber die frühesien Berührungen der Iren
                                mit den Nordgermanen._ (Sitzungsberichte
                                der Kgl. Preussichen Akademie der
                                Wissenschaften, Bd. I., pp. 279-317.
                                Berlin, 1891.)


  Aedh Finnliath, 10, 15.

  Albann, brother of Ivarr the Boneless, 4.

  Albdann, son of Gothfrith, 22 _n._

  Altar-ring, 53, 54.

  _aonach_, 30, 67.

  Armagh, 21-22, 48, 52, 55.

  Art, Scandinavian influence on Irish, 20.

  Authr, wife of Olaf the White, 15, 48, 72;
    wife of Turgéis, 47.

  Brian Borumha, 7-8, 29, 37-38.

  Brunanburh, battle of, 6, 24.

  Burial mounds, 12.

  Canterbury, 55-56.

  Carlingford Lough, battle of, 3, 13, 50-51.

  Cearbhall, king of Ossory, 13-15, 50, 72, 73.

  Cellachan, king of Cashel, 26, 36-37.

  Chester, siege of, 12.

  Clontarf, battle of, 8-9, 54.

  Colla, 25.

  Cork, 27, 30.

  Danes, 2-4, 12, 13, 24-27, 50-1.

  _dóm-hringr_, 53-4.

  Dublin, fortress built at, 2;
    seat of Scandinavian kings, 3, 5-7;
    Vikings driven from, 5;
    coins minted in, 19;
    early history, 21-3;
    as a trade centre, 30-1, 70-1.

  _epscop_, 29.

  Eric Blood-axe, 7.

  Fingal, 8.

  Finn Gaill, 3 _n._

  Gaill-Gaedhil, 10-11, 38.

  _gelt_, 44.

  Gleann Máma, battle of, 8, 30, 54.

  Gluniarainn, 17-8.

  Gnimcinnsiolla, 27.

  Gormflaith, wife of Brian Borumha, 8, 17, 54;
    wife of Niall Glundubh, 68.

  Gothfrith, king of Dublin, 6, 24.

  Heathenism, 47-8, 50-4.

  Hebrides, 17, 25, 36, 41 _n._, 48-9.

  Iceland, 13 _n._, 8, 57-8, 66, 71.

  Ivarr the boneless, 3-4, 11, 48;
    king of Limerick, 7, 24, 70 _n._,
    king of Waterford, 18.

  Ketill Flatnose, 48-9;
    Ketill “the foolish,” 49, 72.

  Kilmashogue, battle of, 5.

  _lagmainn_, 41.

  Lambey, 1.

  Limerick, 7, 9, 23-5, 30-1.

  _longphort_, 2, 34, 35.

  Mac Liag, 70.

  Maelsechnaill I (Malachy), 2, 11;
    Maelsechnaill II, 7-8, 17, 70.

  Melkorka, 16, 31, 73.

  Morann, son of the king of Lewis, 25.

  Muirchertach of the Leather Cloaks, 6, 16-7.

  Niall Glundubh, 5, 68.

  Norsemen, _passim_.

  Northumbria, 5-7.

  Norway, 4, 16, 32, 59.

  Olaf Cuaran (Sihtricsson), 6-7, 17, 34, 40, 53, 71;
    Godfreyson, 6, 26;
    Olaf the White, 3-4, 11-2, 15, 48;
    Trygvasson, 13-4.

  _Ostmen_, 9, 26.

  Ota, wife of Turgéis, 2, 47.

  Place-names, Scandinavian influence on Irish, 27-8;
    Irish influence on Icelandic, 45-6.

  _prime-signing_, 75.

  Raghnall, grandson of Ivarr, 5, 25.

  Runic inscriptions, 27 _n._, 51-2.

  Settlers in Iceland, 13 _n._, 71, 72.

  Sihtric Silken Beard, 8, 19, 34, 54-5, 70.

  Sigurd, earl of Orkney, 8, 15 _n._

  Slave traffic, 32-3, 72-3.

  Story-telling in Iceland, 58-64;
    in Ireland, 67-9.

  Sulcoit, battle of, 7.

  _Tengmouth_, 22 _n._

  _thing_, 22, 61, 67.

  Turgeis, 1-2, 21, 23.

  Waterford, 5, 9, 23, 25-6, 30.

  Wexford, 22, 23, 30.

  _völva_, 47.

  York, 5, 6, 23.

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