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The Vikings and the British Isles: 9th - 10th century

The coasts of the British isles are now dotted with monasteries, not yet rich by the standards of medieval monasticism but with sufficient wealth to attract Viking marauders. One of the most famous islands, Iona, is raided three times in a decade (in 795, 802 and 805). Even monasteries which seem secure, pleasantly sited on inland rivers, fall victim to Viking longships rowing upstream. But gradually, during the 9th century, the raiders settle.

Soon all the Scottish islands and the Isle of Man are in Viking hands, and the intruders are even seizing territory on the mainland of both Britain and Ireland. In 838 Norwegians capture Dublin and establish a Norse kingdom in Ireland. From 865 the Danes settle in eastern England.

Norwegians in Ireland: 9th - 11th century

During the 9th century the Norse kings of Dublin are in constant warfare with Irish kings. They suffer several reverses. But in the early 10th century the trend seems to be going in favour of the Vikings. They capture important strongholds at the mouths of Ireland's main rivers. Waterford falls to them in 914, Limerick in 920. Cork is at various times occupied by Vikings, and Wexford is founded as a Norse settlement.

The Irish persistently fight back - most notably under the leadership of Brian Boru.

Brian Boru and the Vikings: 976-1014

Brian, known as Boru from his birthplace by the river Shannon, is the son of a small local ruler. His family gain power through their successful attacks on the Vikings. In 964 Brian's elder brother asserts his dominance over the local Irish potentates, the royal dynasty of Munster. Taking their famous stronghold, the rock of Cashel, he becomes accepted as king of Munster and as leader of resistance to the Vikings in southern Ireland. Brian succeeds him in both roles in 976.

Brian Boru successfully drives the Vikings from the Shannon. In 1002 he is accepted as high king of all Ireland. His final confrontation with the Norsemen follows a plot set in motion in 1013.

In 1013 the Norse king of Dublin spends Christmas in the Orkneys with another Viking ruler - the local earl. They hatch a scheme. The earl of the Orkneys will bring a fleet and army to Dublin, before Easter, to assist the Norse king in overwhelming the king of all Ireland, Brian Boru.

The engagement takes place, and at the appointed season. On April 23, 1014, Brian Boru confronts the Norse army at Clontarf, on the coast just east of Dublin. He is now seventy-three, so he only directs the battle. His son, Murchad, leads the men in the field and dies fighting (as does the earl of the Orkneys). After twelve hours the Norsemen are defeated. But a Viking chieftain, fleeing the battlefield, comes across Brian Boru in his tent and kills him.

The Irish victory at Clontarf puts an end to any serious Norse threat to the whole of Ireland. But it does not remove the Vikings from their coastal strongholds of Dublin and Waterford. And, with both Brian Boru and his son casualties of the battle, it leaves the Irish themselves in a disordered state.

This remains the case for more than a century until a stronger group of Vikings, of Norman descent, arrive on the Irish coast in 1169.

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