seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Discovery of the Derrynaflan Chalice

derrynaflan-chaliceThe Derrynaflan Chalice, an 8th- or 9th-century chalice, is found as part of the Derrynaflan Hoard of five liturgical vessels on February 17, 1980 near Killenaule, County Tipperary. According to art historian Michael Ryan the hoard “represents the most complex and sumptuous expression of the ecclesiastical art-style of early-medieval Ireland as we know it in its eighth- and ninth-century maturity.” The group is among the most important surviving examples of Insular metalwork.

The hoard is probably secreted during the turbulent 10th to 12th centuries, when Viking raids and dynastic turmoil create many occasions when valuables are hidden. The early and later 10th century is marked by a particular concentration of hoarding in Ireland.

Derrynaflan, the site of an early Irish abbey, is a small island of dry land situated in a surrounding area of peat bogs, in the townland of Lurgoe, County Tipperary, northeast of Cashel. The monastery is an important foundation in the period preceding the Viking raids. The present modest ruins of a small Cistercian nave-and-chancel abbey church there, however, date from a later period.

The Derrynaflan Hoard is discovered on February 17, 1980 by Michael Webb from Clonmel and his son, also Michael, while they are exploring the ancient monastic site of Derrynaflan with a metal detector. They have permission of the owners of the land on which the ruins stand to visit the site but they have no permission to dig on the lands. A preservation order had been made in respect of the ruin under the National Monuments Act, 1930, so that it is an offence to injure or to interfere with the site. The discovery is initially kept secret for three weeks.

The behaviour of the Webbs, and nearly seven years of litigation, culminating in the Supreme Court action where they unsuccessfully seek over £5,000,000 for the find, leads to the replacement of Irish laws of treasure trove by the law in the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1994, with a new Section 2 being included in the legislation.

The Ardagh Chalice dates from around the same period, perhaps a century earlier, of the Derrynaflan Hoard and is found close by in neighbouring County Limerick. At the time, the ruling dynasty in Tipperary and most of Munster are the Eóganachta, while their longtime allies and possible cousins the Uí Fidgenti rule in the Limerick area. Feidlimid mac Cremthanin, king-bishop of Cashel, who becomes King of Munster in 821 and dies in 847, is a patron of the monastic foundation at Derrynaflan and has been suggested as a possible patron of the chalice.

As a masterpiece of Insular art, the Derrynaflan chalice is included in the exhibition “The Work of Angels: Masterpieces of Celtic Metalwork, 6th–9th Centuries AD” (London, 1989). The Derrynaflan Hoard is donated to the Irish State and the items are now on display in the National Museum of Ireland.

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Earliest Verifiable Viking Invasion of Ireland

The earliest verifiable date of a Viking invasion of Ireland is September 9, 872, in Dunrally in what is now County Laois.

The Vikings conduct extensive raids in Ireland and found many towns, including Dublin, Limerick, Wexford, Waterford, Wicklow, Arklow and Leixlip. Literature, crafts, and decorative styles in Ireland and Britain reflect Scandinavian culture. Vikings trade at Irish markets in Dublin. Excavations find imported fabrics from England, Byzantium, Persia, and Central Asia. Dublin becomes so crowded by the 11th century that houses are built outside the town walls.

The Vikings pillage monasteries on Ireland’s west coast in 795, and then spread out to cover the rest of the coastline. The north and east of the island are most affected. During the first 40 years, the raids are conducted by small, mobile Viking groups. From 830 on, the groups consist of large fleets of Viking ships. From 840, the Vikings begin establishing permanent bases at the coasts. Dublin is the most significant settlement in the long term. The Irish become accustomed to the Viking presence and culture. In some cases they become allies and also intermarry.

In 832, a Viking fleet of about 120 ships under Turgesius invades kingdoms on Ireland’s northern and eastern coasts. Some believe that the increased number of invaders coincides with Scandinavian leaders’ desires to control the profitable raids on the western shores of Ireland. During the mid-830s, raids begin to push deeper into Ireland. Navigable waterways make this deeper penetration possible. After 840, the Vikings have several bases in strategic locations throughout Ireland.

In 838, a small Viking fleet enters the River Liffey in eastern Ireland, probably led by the chieftain Saxolb, who is killed later that year. The Vikings set up a base, which the Irish call longphorts. This longphort would eventually become Dublin. After this interaction, the Irish experience Viking forces for about 40 years. The Vikings also establish longphorts in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and Wexford. The Vikings are driven out of Ireland for a short period around 900, but return to Waterford in 914 to found what would become Ireland’s first city. The other longphorts are soon re-occupied and developed into cities and towns.

The last major Irish battle involving Vikings is the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, in which a large force from the pan-Viking world and their Irish allies oppose Brian Boru, then the High King of Ireland and his forces, a small contingent of which are Viking defectors. The battle is fought in what is the now Dublin suburb of Clontarf on Good Friday of that year. Boru, the Irish High King has allowed the Viking King of Dublin, Sigtrygg Silkbeard, one year to prepare for his coming assault. Silkbeard responds by offering the bed of his mother to several Viking lords from Scandinavia, Ireland and Britain. The savage mêlée between the heavily mailed Norse and the unarmoured, yet undaunted Gaels ends in a rout of the Vikings and their Irish allies. Careful accounts are taken by both sides during the battle, and thus many famous warriors seek each other out for personal combat and glory. High King Brian, who is nearly eighty, does not personally engage in the battle but retires to his tent where he spends the day in quiet prayer.

The Viking Brodir of Man chances upon Brian’s tent as he flees the field. He and a few followers seize the opportunity, and surprise the High King, killing the aged Brian before being captured. Brian’s foster son Ulf the Quarrelsome later tracks down and dispatches Brodir by disembowelment. The battle is fairly matched for most of the day and each side has great respect for the prowess of the other, however, in the end, the Irish forces the Norse to return to the sea. Many of the fleeing Vikings are drowned in the surf due to their heavy mail coats as they struggled for the safety of their longships. Others are pursued and slain further inland.

After the battle, Viking power is broken in Ireland forever, though many settled Norse remain in the cities and prosper greatly with the Irish through trade. With Brian dead, Ireland returns to the fractured kingdom it had once been, but is now cleared of further Viking predation.

(Pictured: Guest from Overseas, Nicholas Roerich, 1901)


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Viking Settlement That Becomes Dublin is Founded

founding-of-dublinA Viking settlement that would later become the city of Dublin is founded on the banks of the River Liffey on July 10, 988.

The first documented history of Dublin begins with the Viking raids in the 8th and 9th century. These lead to the establishment of a settlement on the south side of the mouth of the Liffey, named Dubh Linn (Black Pool) after the dark tidal pool where the River Poddle enters the Liffey which is where the Danes first moor their boats.

The Vikings, or Ostmen as they call themselves, rule Dublin for almost three centuries, although they are expelled in 902 only to return in 917 and notwithstanding their defeat by the Irish High King Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. From that date, the Norse are a minor political force in Ireland, firmly opting for a commercial life. Viking rule of Dublin ends completely in 1171 when the city is captured by King Dermot MacMurrough of Leinster, with the aid of Anglo-Norman mercenaries. An attempt is made by the last Norse King of Dublin, Ascall mac Ragnaill, to recapture the city with an army he raises among his relations in the Scottish Highlands, where he is forced to flee after the city is taken, but the attempted reconquest fails and Ascall is killed.

Dublin becomes the centre of English power in Ireland after the Norman invasion of the southern half of Ireland (Munster and Leinster) in 1169-1171, replacing Tara in Meath, seat of the Gaelic High Kings of Ireland, as the focal point of Ireland’s polity. On May 15, 1192 Dublin’s first written Charter of Liberties is granted by John, Lord of Ireland, and is addressed to all his “French, English, Irish and Welsh subjects and friends.” On June 15, 1229, his son Henry grants the citizens the right to elect a Mayor who is to be assisted by two provosts. By 1400, however, many of the Anglo-Norman conquerors are absorbed into the Gaelic culture, adopting the Irish language and customs, leaving only a small area of Leinster around Dublin, known as the Pale, under direct English control.


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The Battle of Clontarf

battle-of-clontarfThe Battle of Clontarf takes place on Good Friday, April 23, 1014, at Clontarf, near Dublin, on the east coast of Ireland. The battle is the culmination of two centuries of strife, treachery, failed alliances and treaties that pits the forces of Brian Boru, high king of Ireland, against a Norse-Irish alliance comprised of the forces of Sigtrygg Silkbeard, king of Dublin, Máel Mórda mac Murchada, king of Leinster, and a Viking contingent led by Sigurd of Orkney and Brodir of Mann.

The first Norsemen, also known as Vikings, arrive in Ireland some two centuries earlier, initially plundering the gold, chalices, crosses, and manuscripts of the monasteries and the corn harvests of the settled communities. Gradually they establish Viking settlements around Ireland and engage in trade and commerce.

There is, however, significant opposition to their presence in Ireland, not least in Munster where King Brian Boru has defeated their armies on several occasions. Brian’s aim is to unite all the warring Celtic kingdoms under one rule and one High King.

In 1013, Máel Mórda, the king of Leinster goes into revolt after inter-marriage alliances with Brian have broken down, and joins forces with the Vikings. Together, they initially attack the kingdom of Mael Sechlainn of Meath who summons the help of King Brian. Brian sets off toward Dublin with 4,900 troops. Opposing them are Máel Mórda’s army of 4,000 Leinster men allied to 3,000 Viking warriors.

Although but a small segment of the battle is fought close to the seafront at Clontarf, the historic encounter of Good Friday 1014 enters the annals as the Battle of Clontarf. This is largely because some 2,000 Vikings had landed in longboats at Clontarf by sunrise on the morning of April 23.

As the two opposing armies face one another, the Vikings and the Leinster men are lined across the sloping plains bounded by the sea and the River Tolka, while King Brian’s army occupies the rising ground near Tomar’s Wood in Phibsboro.

The most ferocious part of the battle is fought at the “Battle of the Fishing Weir,” which approximates to the site of the former D.W.D. Whiskey Distillery on Richmond Road. Historic accounts of the battle also refer to the “savage encounters” fought on the “Bloody Fields of Marino” and what is today Phibsboro and Cross Guns.

The result of the bloodiest day in ancient Ireland is a rout for King Brian, although some 4,000 of his troops are killed on the battlefield. In contrast some 6,000 Leinster men and Vikings are slaughtered including every single Viking leader. King Brian’s army drives the fleeing Vikings back towards the sea at Clontarf.

Although Brian has won the greatest victory of his long career, he does not live long to enjoy it. As he kneels praying in his tent near Cross Guns, the Isle of Man Viking Leader, Brodir, who is hiding in the adjacent woods, runs into his tent and kills the 84-year-old Brian with his axe. Brodir is later captured and slaughtered by Ulf the Quarrelsome, the younger brother of King Brian.

The Battle of Clontarf is the watershed of all the hatred, division, and rivalries that have consumed Ireland for centuries. A period of relative peace follows where the Celtic chieftains and the Vikings live together in a spirit of harmony with the emphasis on greater integration, cooperation, and commerce.