By Jennifer Paxton, Ph.D., The Catholic University of America
The Irish were particularly open in accepting the influence of Vikings in many aspects of their lives. This assimilation even led to intermarriages, which in turn facilitated the Christianization of the new settlers. Their conversion to Christianity paved the way for them to enter into the realm of politics.
The Irish kings were more welcoming toward Christian Vikings, with the Vikings soon permeating the native Irish political hierarchy. A few significant dynasties competed for the allegiance of small client kingdoms.
The Irish kings didn’t regard these new settlers as enemies; instead, they considered them potential allies with vast amounts of wealth. But not all of them made perfect allies. So, the Irish kings fought against some and formed alliances with others.
Brian Ború, a Notable Ally of Vikings
The most important alliance was formed by Brian Ború. He was a southern Irish king who built an alliance with Vikings to fight against his Irish rivals. In 1014, at the great Battle of Clontarf, Brian and his Viking allies defeated another king who was Irish and had Viking allies. This battle, which took place north of Dublin, later turned into a legend that stated the war was between the Irish and the Vikings. According to this legend, Brian forced the Vikings out of England.
The legend, which is still known today, was fabricated by Brian’s descendants to give their family a more impressive appearance. But in reality, the Vikings and the Irish had both alliances and clashes in their mutually advantageous interchange.
Brian Ború, or the ‘Lion of Ireland’, is of considerable significance in Irish history. He was a provincial king with high aspirations whose headquarters were at Kincora in what is now County Clare. He had a very long reign, during which he had various campaigns to spread his power and kingdom. Interestingly, he traveled through the whole country in person, which needed a lot of energy.
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Why Was Brian Ború Such a Successful King?
Well, he was indeed a tremendously energetic king, like other successful medieval kings. But he enjoyed other means, too.
The first thing that helped Brian was the factions among other Irish kingdoms, which was a typical feature of Irish politics.
The second feature was Brian’s exceptional ability to use the Norse settlements and his alliances with the Norse of Limerick, Waterford, and Cork, and even Dublin. These alliances helped him maintain a balance of power in his favor.
The third factor was his good public relations. Rightly aware of the power of the church, he donated a considerable amount to Saint Patrick’s Church at Armagh. He also filled essential positions in churches in Munster. This way, he had powerful secular and religious positions in Ireland under his control.
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Diminishing Power of Brian Ború
Brian’s success didn’t rest on institutional foundations, mainly relying on his own power and energy. His dominance started to be challenged in 1012, when his ally, the king of Meath, fell out with the Dublin Norse. The next year, Brian had to siege Dublin in his support.
The blockade lasted the whole winter. In the Battle of Clontarf on Good Friday, April 23, 1014, Brian, who was unable to fight due to his old age, was killed by Norsemen. He was buried in Armagh with elaborate rituals. Today, his tomb is still marked in Armagh cathedral.
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The End of Vikings in Ireland
The Battle of Clontarf did not lead to the end of the Viking presence in Ireland. The Norse communities continued living in Ireland for centuries later. After the year 1000, the Vikings stopped their raids because of their conversion to Christianity. They had been coexisting with the Irish for centuries.
Two centuries after the Battle of Clontarf, the Norse communities continued to live and keep their distinctive identity. The city of Dublin was still the most important in terms of political affairs. But the Dublin Norse gradually lost their independence and were increasingly dominated by various Irish provincial kings.
With the invasion of the English in the 1160s and 1170s, the Viking towns were seized, and the Norse communities were vanished by the newcomers.
The legacy of the Vikings still continues to manifest itself in the Irish cities and the Irish people. Many Irish names are actually of Scandinavian origin. For example, Doyle means ‘son of the dark foreigner’, and MacAuliffe means ‘Son of Olaf’. These are among many Viking influences on the Irish life that remain to be uncovered.
Common Questions about the Influence of Vikings on Irish Politics
Brian Ború was a provincial king with high aspirations. He gained considerable success through his dynamic character and clever strategies and alliances he made with influential groups.
Brian Ború was a southern Irish king who formed an alliance with Vikings to fight against his Irish rivals. He was called the ‘Lion of Ireland’.
Brian Ború was killed in a battle on Good Friday, April 23, 1014. He was killed by Norsemen. He was buried in Armagh with elaborate rituals. Today, his resting place is still marked in Armagh Cathedral.