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(5) Viking ship 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).   
"Ego scripsi, id est Calvus perennis, in conspectu Briani imperatoris Scotorum ..."
Book of Armagh

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.

See also:
Royal Danish Embassy: The Danish Vikings

Medieval Scandinavia: The Vikings

(4) Celtic Kingdoms
Celtic Kingdoms
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