BBC - Who are the English Bastards?
As the Bronze Age in Ireland drew to a close, there appeared in Ireland a new cultural influence. Developing in the Alps of central Europe, the Celts spread their culture across modern-day Germany and France and into the Balkans as far as Turkey. They arrived in Britain and Ireland around 500BC and within a few hundred years, Ireland's Bronze Age culture had all but disappeared, and Celtic culture was in place across the entire island.
The map on the left  shows how Europe looked around 400BC. Celtic influences (for it was a culture, not an empire) had spread across much of central Europe and spread into Iberia and the British Isles. The Celts called Britain and Ireland the "Pretanic Islands" which evolved into the modern word "Britain". The word "Celt" comes from the Greeks, who called the tribes to their north the "Keltoi", but there is no evidence that the Celts ever referred to themselves by that name. To the south a small upstart republic, with its capital at Rome, was minding its own business. However it was these Romans who, a few centuries later, would supercede Celtic culture across most of Europe when they built their huge Roman Empire, which stretched from Palestine to England.
The Celts had one major advantage - they had discovered Iron. Iron had been introduced to the Celtic peoples in Europe around 1000 to 700BC, thus giving them the technological edge to spread as they did. Iron was a far superior metal to bronze, being stronger and more durable. On the other hand, it required much hotter fires to extract it from its ore and so it took a fair degree of skill to use iron. None of this is to be taken to mean that bronze fell out of use. Rather, iron simply became an alternative metal and many bronze objects have been found that were made in the Iron Age.
Whether or not the arrival of the Celts in Ireland was an actual invasion, or a more gradual assimilation, is an open question . On the one hand, the Celts - who were by no means pacifists - must have arrived in sufficiently large numbers to obliterate the existing culture in Ireland within a few hundred years. On the other hand, other better documented invasions of Ireland - such as the Viking invasions of the 7th and 8th centuries AD - failed to have the effect of changing the culture on an islandwide scale. Current academic opinion favours the theory that the Celts arrived in Ireland over the course of several centuries, beginning in the late Bronze Age with Celts of the early iron-using Hallstatt group of people, to be followed after 300BC by Celts of the La Tène cultural group which formed within the Hallstatt group.
Some have postulated that, as the Romans invaded and took control of the continental Celtic territories of Gaul [France] and Iberia [Spain and Portugal], some of the displaced Celts travelled to unconquered Celtic lands such as Britain and Ireland. The medieval "Book of Invasions" talks about Milesians and Fír Bolg arriving in Ireland. These have been identified with displaced Celts from Spain and Belgium, respectively, although this is conjecture .
Roman Influences and Irish Colonies:
In the last centuries BC, the rest of Celtic Europe fell to the expanding Roman Empire. The Celts of southern Britain were conquered in 43AD. Stopping short of the Picts of modern-day Scotland, the Roman emperor Hadrian built his famous wall between the Celts of the north and Roman Britain. Did the Roman armies invade Ireland? The answer is no, but we know they did consider it. During a foray into southern Scotland, the Roman General Agricola looked across the North Channel towards the Irish coast. The writer Tacitus reports that Agricola "saw that Ireland... conveniently situated for the ports of Gaul might prove a valuable acquisition" and that "I have often heard Agricola declare that a single legion, with a moderate band of auxilaries, would be enough to finish the conquest of Ireland" . However an invasion never took place - not because the Irish would be too hard to defeat, but simply because the Romans decided it wouldn't be worth the effort.However, Ireland did come under heavy Roman influence, even if not under its rule. In the first and second centuries AD, there is evidence that there was sporadic trading between the Irish and the Romans of Britain. Tacitus, writing in the first century AD, says of Ireland "the interior parts are little known, but through commerical intercourse and the merchants there is better knowledge of the harbours and approaches" . Evidence of a Roman trading post has been found near Dublin. However, it was not until the fourth and fifth centuries AD that there is evidence of prolonged Roman influences in Ireland. Roman coins and other implements have been found in Ireland. There is evidence that the language spoken by the Eóganacht of Munster, who arrived at the end of the Iron Age, had been heavily influenced by Latin. Finally, it is certain that Ogham, the first written scripts in the Irish language, was based on the Latin alphabet
Towards the end of the pre-Christian period, as the Roman Empire and its colony in Britain declined, the Irish took advantage and began raiding western Britain. Picts from Scotland and Saxons from Germany raided other parts of the colony. As their raids got ever more successful, the Irish began to colonise western Britain. The Érainn of Munster settled in Cornwall, the Laigin of Leinster settled in south Wales while the Déisi of south-east Ireland settled in north Wales. Cormac of Cashel (writing much later, in 908AD) records that "The power of the Irish over the Britons was great, and they had divided Britain between them into estates... and the Irish lived as much east of the sea as they did in Ireland" . These colonies were all defeated by the Britons within the next century or so, although Irish kings seemed to be still ruling in south Wales as late as the tenth century. The map on the left shows these colonies.
But by far the most successful colony was that of the Dál Riata in western Scotland. Their colony thrived and, in fact, it seems that most or all Dál Riatans ultimately left northern Ireland for the new colony. Probably founding the colony around 400-500AD, Dál Riata was well established by 563AD and in the ninth century it took control of Pictland, to the east, and founding the united kingdom of Scotland.
Celtic Constructions: Royal Sites
During the Iron Age, there was a general consolidation of territories and kingdoms. Most of these territories had a defended hilltop fort as their centre of power. However, a number of very large-scale works were undertaken. Referred to as the 'royal sites', these consisted of earthworks of various kinds, burial mounds and enclosures. Most of these were constructed around the 2nd century BC.
CONTINUED BELOW (see ROYAL SITES)
|THE LATEST POMMIE PROGRAMME|
|A landmark series dealing with the greatest unresolved mystery in our history - how the modern nations of England, Wales and Scotland were born out of the chaos of the Dark Ages.|
| There are audio clips with programme information below.|
The Dark Origins of Britain is a landmark series dealing with the greatest unresolved mystery in our history - how the modern nations of England, Wales and Scotland were born out of the chaos of the Dark Ages. In 400 AD, when Roman power collapsed in Britain, we were a province inhabited by Celtic peoples speaking a mixture of early Welsh and Latin. But only two hundred years later, the foundations of a new, Anglo-Saxon, English-speaking nation were being laid.
It was perhaps the biggest cultural transformation we've ever experienced. It set us on the road we were to follow to the present day. But even now, no-one knows how it happened, or why. The fifth and sixth centuries are truly the darkest period in our history - almost without written records or archaeological evidence.
An Anglo-Saxon brooch and a helmet from Sutton Hoo excavation.
In recent years historians and archaeologists have begun telling the story of the Dark Ages as it's never been told before. They've overturned our most basic assumptions about the period. For centuries we've taken it for granted that England was an Anglo-Saxon nation, and that England - and by extension, Wales - was created by a large-scale Anglo-Saxon invasion. But most experts now believe that that invasion never happened.
According to this new orthodoxy, there was no process of ethnic cleansing, as the contemporary chroniclers claimed and generations of children have been taught. Instead, the existing population of lowland Britain simply adopted Anglo-Saxon fashions, and learnt to speak English in a deliberate process of upward mobility. The Dark Origins of Britain investigates that extraordinary claim - with its profound implications for who we really are - with the help of Britain's leading specialists in the field.
Malmesbury Abbey iin Wilsthire. A monastry was established on the site in around 676 AD.
Programme 1 (16th January) of the series goes to the heart of the debate over the origins of England and Wales. It uncovers amazing evidence drawn from the latest forensic techniques - such as analysis of tooth enamel - which has proved that the "Anglo-Saxon cemeteries" dotted across England actually contain very few Anglo-Saxons. But it also looks at new genetic research which appears to show the opposite; suggesting that hordes of marauding Anglo-Saxons did indeed come here after all. Finally, this programme considers whether contemporary notions of political correctness have influenced attempts to construct a non-violent version of our national origins.
Listen to: introduction
Listen to: was there an Anglo-Saxon conquest?
Listen to: conclusion
Programme 2 (23rd January) investigates the Dark Origins of Scotland - and the mystery of the Picts, a people who dominated the north of Britain for a thousand years - and then apparently vanished. The Picts left no written documents but to this day they tantalise us with the hundreds of unique sculpted stones they scattered across the landscape, carved in a language of symbols that we're still struggling to interpret. Who were the Picts? Where did they go? And what legacy did they leave Scotland?
Listen to: introduction
Listen to: significance of the Picts
Listen to: conclusion
Programme 3 (30th January) brings the story up to date. It looks at how the English, Welsh and Scots have returned again and again to plunder the Dark Ages to explain - and re-interpret - their origins. Why did the Norman kings of England promote the cult of King Arthur? Why is Queen Victoria portrayed in the National Portrait Gallery as an Anglo-Saxon maiden? And what are the origins of the modern-day fascination with all things Celtic? This programme examines the role of myth in the formation of our national identities.
Listen to: introduction
Listen to: English identity
Listen to: significance of Anglo-Saxon history
Listen to: conclusion
The Dark Origins of Britain is presented by BBC correspondent Tim Whewell who has a long-standing interest in the history of the period, and produced by Tanya Datta.
The series is an important contribution to the current debate over British identity, and will help to answer the question, Who are we?
IF YOU HAVE ORBIT DOWNLOADER enter these links for audio download (sadly not mp3, but you can convert with SUPER or VLC)
| The King's Stables near Navan Fort in Co. Armagh - 62k |
According to tradition, this area was used to keep the horses of early Ulster kings. Recent archaeological investigations suggest that it may have been a Bronze Age ritual pool.
The Bronze Age in Ireland is normally considered to start in 2500 BC or 2000 BC, and to end in 600 BC or 300 BC. In the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age, a distinctive type of pot without handles, called a beaker, starts to appear in many parts of Europe. The spread of "Beaker culture" in Europe seems to have been a cultural change, rather than the result of large scale migrations. Some late Neolithic wedge tombs contain beakers, but it seems likely that these were Bronze Age burials in older Neolithic tombs. A more typical early Bronze Age burial would consist of a pit or stone cist, containing the cremated remains of a single individual, together with a large pottery vessel and perhaps a few bronze objects.
The earliest metal tools in Ireland were copper and were concentrated in Munster. They were cast using open stone moulds, such as the sandstone mould found near Ballynahinch, Co. Down. The addition of small quantity of tin to the copper made the much harder bronze alloy. This enabled more complicated objects such as spearheads, woodworking tools, razors, swords and fasteners for clothes to be made during the later Bronze Age. Gold ornaments such as bracelets and lunula have also been found, suggesting a more stratified social structure, and the beginnings of an aristocracy. Metal objects like this would have been rare and precious, and were traded over considerable distances.
A Bronze Age site on the shore of Cullyhanna Lough in Co. Armagh has been interpreted as a temporary hunting camp. When excavated, it was found to consist of an outer wooden enclosure and a timber hut. The oak at the site has been dated using tree-ring dating to 1526 BC, just at the end of the Early Bonze Age. Another interesting site was found at Lough Eskragh in Co. Tyrone. This appears to have been a crannog or artificial island. Crannogs were also constructed in Neolithic and even in medieval times, but this one was dated to about the 10th century BC, in the Late Bronze Age. Nearby were the remains of two dugout canoes, made of oak, which had been preserved in the mud.
Several Bronze Age structures have been found in the area around Navan Fort in Co. Armagh. About half a mile from Navan Fort is an artificial pool called the King's Stables. This is a pool about 25 metres across and about 4 metres deep. A small test excavation in the pool found animal bones, moulds for swords and part of the skull of a young man. The findings suggest that this was a ritual pool used to deposit offerings to gods. The most exotic find at the Navan Fort itself was the skull of a Barbary Ape, which may well have been an extremely costly present transported from North Africa to Ulster. Navan Fort was obviously a place of considerable importance in the Late Bronze Age, and emerges as the Royal centre of Emain Macha during the Iron Age.
Did the Bronze Age inhabitants of Ulster speak a Celtic language? The traditional view was that Celtic languages originated in the Hallstatt region of Europe during the Iron Age, radiated out to other regions. By about 700 BC, swords of the Hallstatt type start to appear in Ireland, but these were made of bronze, not of iron, so it seems likely that these were bronze copies made by local smiths. There is little archaeological evidence to support the idea of an influx of a significant number of people speaking a Celtic language, so the origins of the language remain something of an unsolved mystery for archaeologists and linguists.
Emain Macha - Now called Navan Fort, in county Armagh, today consists of a circular enclosure with a mound in the centre. In the late Iron Age it was the royal seat of the Ulaid during their rise to power in Ulster, making it certainly the most important such site in Ulster. The most famous king of the Ulaid was Connor and the legendary warrior Cú Chulainn. However, the events that took place at the construction of Navan Fort are remarkable. Around 100BC, a huge circular building was constructed: 43 metres (143 feet) in diameter. It was made from a series of circles of progressively taller wooden poles, and the entire cone-shaped building was thatched. This was a huge building in Iron Age standards. However, even more remarkable was the fact that the building seems to have been partially burned and partially demolished shortly after its completion, and covered over with a mound of limestone and earth. This all suggests that the building was part of some large-scale ritual and was not used for any domestic purpose. To compound the mystery, the remains of a
Barbary Ape was also found on the site - an animal native to north Africa which was probably an exotic gift. Navan today boasts an extensive visitors' centre. (The reconstruction above is by D Wilkinson of the Environment Service, DOENI.)
Dún Ailinne - Dún Ailinne, in county Kildare, appears to have been the royal site of south Lenister. It underwent several transformations, but at its height it seems to have included a circular enclosure 29 metres (96 feet) in diameter with several tiers of benches around it. Around the time of Christ, a circle of timbers was built, then burned and buried in a mound. Like Emain Macha, Dún Ailinne seems to have served a ritual purpose.
Tara - The Hill of Tara in county Meath is home to a large number of monuments. There is a Neolithic passage tomb called the Mound of the Hostages as well as some post-Iron Age ringforts. Around the main part of the site is a large earthen enclosure. Tara was an important site throughout the Celtic period where it was a royal centre and, ultimately, the seat of the High King of Ireland.
Celtic Constructions: Decorated Stones
A large number of carved stones were created in the last centuries BC. Probably serving a ritual purpose, they were stones up to 2 metres (7 feet) in height and feature complex swirling patterns of a style common with central European Celtic cultures. We can only speculate on what kind of ritualistic purpose it may have served. Some have argued that these are the most durable of a variety of materials used for these objects, such as wood. The most famouse example is the Turoe Stone, in county Galway, which is pictured on the left (Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland).
Celtic Constructions: Hilltop and Promontory Forts
Most kingdoms, or Tuath, in Ireland had a hilltop fort which was used either as a permanent residence for the king or as a temporary refuge in times of conflict. They are typically built on the top of a hill and surrounded by a stone wall. Often these sites coincide with previous Bronze Age burials, and frequently they showed a lack of respect for these previous monuments, sometimes re-using their stones. Unlike the royal sites, which were made from earthen banks, they had very well constructed stone walls made from close-fitting cut stones. Some of the most well defended hillforts were built with one edge at the top of a cliff. So-called promontory forts were built both on inland mountains and coastal cliffs.
Everyday Life in Celtic Ireland:
Although very like the Celtic cultures of the rest of Europe, that of Ireland had been influenced in part be the preceding Bronze Age culture. So Ireland's culture was not totally like that of mainland Europe. However, in many regards it was very similar. Much of what we know about specifically Irish culture has come down through the years in the form of Heroic Tales, such as the Ulster Cycle which tells of the exploits of Cú Chullain, the Hound of Ulster. Once thought to be historicaly unreliable, these Heroic Tales describe a way of life that fits well with what we now know about the Celts of mainland Europe. Thus it seems that, while the events described may have been embelished over the years, the underlying themes and props in the stories may be accurate descriptions of life in Iron Age Ireland.
It was, in many ways, a culture based around war. Ireland was divided into dozens - possibly hundreds - of petty kingdoms. Within the kingdoms, it was the blacksmiths, druids and poets who were held in high esteem: the blacksmiths for making the weapons of war, the druids for making prophesies and soothsaying, and the poets for putting the exploits of warriors to verse, to be sung around the cooking fires. The aristocracy in this culture was made up of the warriors, who sought fame and recognition by doing battle with their enemies. The young warrior would be initiated by mounting his chariot (a two wheeled wooden cart pulled by two horses), before proceeding to battle and cutting off the heads of his enemies to bring them home as trophies . At the celebratory banquet afterwards, the warriors would compete for the "hero's portion" of the food being served. The weapons brandished by these warriors consisted of round wooden, bronze or iron shields, with iron spears or swords. The spear seems to have been more common than the sword.
By the later Celtic period, Ireland was ruled by a series of perhaps 100 to 200 kings, each ruling a small kingdom or tuath. The kings came in three recognised grades, depending on how powerful they were. A rí túaithe was the ruler of a single kingdom. A 'great king', or ruiri, was a king who had gained the allegiance of, or become overlord of, a number of local kings. A 'king of overkings', or rí ruirech, was a king of a province. Ireland had between 4 and 10 provinces at any one time, because they were always in a state of flux as their kings' power waxed and waned. Today's 4 provinces (Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaught) represent only the final state of these borders. Each province had a royal site, a place where important events took place. In 100AD there were royal sites at Emain Macha, near Armagh; Tara, county Meath and Dún Ailinne, county Kildare as well as other locations.
For most of the civilian population, however, life was spent in small farming units consisting of a wooden or wattle-and-daub house within a circular enclosure. Most would have had access to common land on higher ground on which to graze animals. Dairying was common, but almost everyone grew grain crops such as corn, oats, barley, wheat and rye. The land was ploughed using wooden ploughs pulled by oxen. Almost all farming was subsistence-based, and there was very little trade in food.
The only interruption to the daily ritual of grazing animals and growing crops would have been cattle-raids from neighbouring warriors, who may have pillaged and burned on their way to battle, although in general warfare seems to have been a highly formalised affair in which the peasants were usually not involved. By 400AD there were probably between half a million and 1 million people living in Ireland. This number would have fluctuated due to the recurrent plague and famine which affected all prehistoric cultures in Europe.
The law that the Celts of Ireland used has been called Brehon law. Forms of Brehon Law were used in Ireland for hundreds of years. A full treatment of Brehon Law is beyond the scope of this article, but the idea was that a person's identity was defined by the kingdom in which they lived. A peasant had no legal status outside the tuath, with the exception of men of art and learning. Those who were tied to their tuath were unfree and worked for the king. All land was owned by families, not by individuals. Wealth was measured in cattle, and each individual had a status measured in terms of wealth. Almost any crime committed against an individual could be recompensed by paying a fine equal to the status of the individual. For example, a 50 cows for an important person, 3 cows for a peasant. There was no death penalty; but, an individual could be ostracised from the tuath in certain circumstances.
The language spoken by the Celts in Ireland was Celtic, a variant of the Celtic languages which were used across Europe. In the British Isles, there were at least two dialects in use: Brittonic (P-Celtic) which was spoken in southern Britain and France, and Goidelic (Q-Celtic) which was spoken in Ireland and northern Britain. Brittonic is the root of modern Welsh, Cornish and Breton. Goidelic is the root of modern Irish and Scots-Gaelic. Brittonic and Goidelic must have been heavily influenced by the Bronze Age languages of Ireland.
| Part of the outer bank and ditch of Navan Fort in Co. Armagh - 75k |
The ditch does not seem to have been intended for defence, since it is inside the bank. The outer enclosure is considerably older than the structures within the fort, which date from the early Iron Age.
Navan Fort was probably Emain Macha, the capital of the Ulaid, mentioned in early Irish literature.
Celtic languages and culture are thought to have their roots in the later part of the Hallstatt culture (about 800 to 475BC) during the Iron Age in the upper Rhine and Danube valleys. From about 500BC, goods decorated in the La Tène style start to appear to the north of the Hallstatt region. The style appears to have been influenced by the earlier Hallstatt style, and also by classical Etruscan and Greek designs. Known to the Greeks as Keltoi, and to the Romans as Galli, the tribes and states speaking Celtic languages were to be found in many parts of Europe, from the British Isles in the north, Spain to the west, and Galatia in the east.
The only historical reference to a Celtic invasion of Britain is that of the Belgae, who conquered parts of the south east of England in 75 BC. In 43 AD, the Roman legions arrived and eventually conquered most of England and Wales. In 60 or 61 AD, Boudica (or Boudicea) led her famous revolt of the Iceni against the Romans, but was defeated. However, the Romans never conquered the Caledonii in Scotland, and they do not seem to have attempted to invade Ireland. In subsequent centuries, the surviving Celtic societies also came under pressure from the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans. Ulster was one of the very few regions where Celtic traditions survived.
Before the time of St. Patrick (5th century AD), historians are forced to rely mainly on legends. Attempts have been made to identify several different waves of Celtic invaders from these legends, but such reconstructions must be treated with considerable caution. The origins of early tribes like the Cruithni remain a matter of speculation. Ptolemy drew a map of Ireland in the second century, which may have been based on the epic voyage of Pytheas in about 325-323 BC. This map contains some identifiable names in Ireland such as the Volunti (Ulaidh) in the north east and the Ivernni in the south west (perhaps the Érainn).
|By the fourth century, the Scotti (raiders) from Ireland were attacking the declining Roman Empire in Britain, and carrying off Romano-British slaves. In the following century, one of these slaves was Patrick, who spent six years in Ireland before escaping. He may have studied in Gaul, but then had a vision which prompted him to return to Ireland as a missionary. He was probably not the first Christian missionary to come to Ireland, but he is certainly the best remembered. The manuscripts written by Irish monks both in Ireland and elsewhere over the following centuries preserved not only important Christian documents (such as St Patrick's confession and the Book of Kells) but also legends from oral tradition. Pagan sites and gods were also incorporated into Christian tradition - for example, a druidic incantation was probably the origin of the hymn now called St Patrick's Breastplate.|| |
Naill of the nine hostages died on a raid in France in 405 AD. The northern Uí Néill dynasties were based in the area now known as Donegal, and claimed to be descendants of two sons of Naill (Eógain and Conall). Cenél Eóghain gradually moved eastwards into Tír Eógain (land of Owen, now Tyrone) eventually restricting the older over-kingdom of the Ulaidh to the area east of the river Bann. By about 1050 AD, the centre of power of Cenél Eóghain had moved from Aileach to Tullyhog, and Cenél Connail were able to conquer Inis Eógain (island of Owen, now Inishowen). These two kingdoms were to dominate much of Ulster until the battle of Kinsale in 1601.
> Some other interesting things showed up though. Did you know they
> found the skeleton of a Barbary "ape" (actually a kind of macaque)
> like those found on Gibraltar during the excavation of Emain Macha,
> the Iron Age royal site just west of Armagh? This was undoubtedly a
> present from a visitor from abroad, but it does offer some support
> for the Spanish connection mentioned in a number of the medieval
I agree with the notion that it was a present from a visitor from
abroad, but I do strongly doubt that this offers support for the
Spanish connection mentioned in the medieval tales. There is a number
of reasons for this.
First: The Spanish connection in the epics is invariably connected
with the early Milesians. They, however, are set in the mythical past
already some hundred years ago when Emain Macha is the setting of the
Ulster Cycle tales (which is, in the annals of the four masters, set
to about 100 BC).
Second: The finding of the Barbary ape has brought a Radiocarbon
dating (already calibrated) between 390 and 20 BC. However, as the
find is closely associated with the end of phase 3 / beginning of
phase 4 at Site B in Emain, we can take the dendrochonological dating
of the timbers of phase 4 (felling date), 95/94 BC as the date when
the barbary apes remenants were buried in Emain, with a deviation of
only a few years. This would set the barbary ape to the times of the
Ulster cycle, in which there is no Spanish connection mentioned in
Third: The barbary ape is even now restricted in Europe to the Rock
of Gibraltar. In the times of the find, however, it was probably not
even there, but restricted to the northwest African mountainous
areas. Not only that Gibraltar is not Spain, and that we have not the
slightest indication of Celts ever being in that area, Celtic areas
being concentrated to the North, Northwest and Center of Spain. As
such the barbary ape would much more point towards a northwest African
connection, which is never mentioned in the epics.
The conclusion from the above would be, that the remains of the
barbary ape came to Emain Macha, which was definitly a very important
royal and probably also ritual center at that time, as a gift or
trading object (curiosity) from a trader at least having some contact
to Northafrica. As such, a seafaring trader along the tin-searoute
from Britain through the straights of Gibraltar to the Mediterrenean
centers would be the most likely candidate, as such limiting the
possibilities of his provenance most likely to Roman or Phoenician.
|Oseburg Viking ship at the Viking Ship Museum, Oslo, Norway - 33k|
One of the first Viking raids on the British Isles took place in 793, when Lindisfarne was sacked. In 795, attacks were also made on Iona and on island monasteries in Ireland. However, Vikings were not simply pirates. Over the next century, they were to control most of the North Sea and Irish Sea, establishing colonies in Shetland and the Orkneys, in the western Isles of Scotland, Jorvik (York), and in Dublin. Danish armies put severe pressure on Anglo-Saxon kings such as Alfred the Great. In fact, Anglo-Saxon England was partitioned in 886, with the Danelaw in the east and north, and the Anglo-Saxons controlling the remainder.
The Annals of Ulster record the effect of Viking raids on Bangor, Armagh and the churches on Lough Erne. In 839, the Vikings reached Lough Neagh, and used this as a base to plunder churches in the north of Ireland. Armagh was attacked again in 852, this time by the Dublin Norse. A number of battles were fought between the Danes, the Norse and the Ulster kings. In 866, the Uí Néill king, Áed Finnliath, defeated the Vikings, and it was not until 921 that the Northmen returned to plunder Armagh and the Foyle.
In the south of Ireland, the Vikings founded the first towns, such as Dublin, Waterford, Cork and Limerick. These towns became important trading centres, and the Ostmen (as they called themselves) began to play a part in the complex alliances and conflicts between the various Irish kingdoms. No towns were established in the north, probably because the northern kings were powerful enough to resist the Vikings. However, there seems to have been a settlement at Ulfrek's fjord (Larne) and perhaps in some other areas with Viking names, such as Strangford. The word Ulster itself is derived from the Viking Uladztír, based on the Irish words Ulaidh and Tír.
|For many years, the high-king of the northern or southern Uí Néill also claimed to be the high-king of Ireland, a title which had more symbolic than practical significance. However, during the Viking era, their claim was disputed by Brian Bóruma (Boru), a king from a comparatively obscure kingdom in Munster. Brian was able to make the high-kingship a reality, and eventually forced all the other kings (including the Ostmen of Dublin) to give hostages to him. In 1005, Brain arrived in Armagh and proclaimed himself Imperatoris Scotorum (Emperor of the Irish).|| |
In 1012, the Leinstermen and the Dublin Ostmen rebelled against Brian, and were defeated two years later at the battle of Clontarf. However, Brian himself was killed at Clontarf, and for about 50 years afterwards, none of the provincial kings were strong enough to claim the high-kingship, without opposition. It was probably Brian's great grandson who commissioned a history called the "The war of the Irish with the foreigners" - a rather successful piece of propaganda claiming that Brian had saved the Irish from Viking oppression.