Insider Tips

Viking Cities: Dublin

By Visit Dublin

16th March 2016

Though our ancestors might beg to differ, the proud and striking city of Dublin certainly wouldn’t be what it is today without the impact of the Vikings! You certainly don’t have to look too far to see the marks left by these fierce Scandinavian invaders, who arrived on Ireland’s shores in longboats in 795AD. Welcome to Dublin, a Viking city...

Exterior image of Christ Church Cathedral

“Before the Vikings came, Dublin was essentially inhabitable,” explains Fin Dwyer of the Irish History Podcast. “It was three or four families living close together around the Father Mathews Bridge. You couldn’t even identify it as a village today.

“The outline of the city today is their mark”, Fin continues. “It’s around Christ Church Cathedral, because the Viking King of Dublin gave that land to the church.” And you can explore this area for yourself at Dublinia, located in the heart of Christ Church. This fun attraction houses four unique exhibitions, offering you the chance to don the slickest Viking apparel, experience the living conditions of the time, learn about crime and punishment, get up close and personal with medieval artefacts and take in a stunning view of the city from atop St Michael’s Tower. 

Two children looking at a medieval tent at Dublinia

The Viking influence extended beyond the city centre though, as Terry Barry, Professor of Medieval History at Trinity College Dublin notes. “The Vikings introduced urbanism into Ireland”, he says. “Without them we wouldn’t have our major east coast towns and cities. Because Ireland was beyond the reach of t­he Roman Empire, urban life developed here much later. They also brought us into the monetary economy of Europe, with the penny coins of King Sitric first appearing in 997 AD.”
Coins like these, along with items of pottery, armour and weaponry were uncovered during a massive archaeological excavation at Wood Quay in the 1970s. As Dublin Corporation dug the foundations for a new office, this historical site provided revelatory insight into Viking Dublin. Remains of Norse and Norman villages were found alongside thousands of artefacts – many of which are on display in the National Museum of Ireland and Dublinia. The findings at Wood Quay underline the extent and richness of international trade and how involved Dublin was as part of that extensive network. 

Today, the Vikings remain fascinating historical figures. Though fierce warriors, their ranks consisted of blacksmiths, tradesmen, shipbuilders, artists and craftsmen. Today, thanks to their mark on Irish culture, we have something of a rose-tinted view of the Vikings, not to mention the odd misconception. The iconic horned helmet, for example? Fiction!
“We celebrate the Vikings because of the romance we associate with them, even if it’s not true,” says Terry. “We men can wear outlandish costumes, carry axes, wear horned helmets and sport big beards. Of course, there’s no evidence for horned helmets for Vikings until the 19th century, when they were dreamed up to make the Vikings appear more menacing!”
For more Viking-related sights and sounds, check out our handy guide to the best themed pubs, festivals and activities the city has to offer

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