Viking Treasures of Dublin

I admit I went to Dublin to see three exquisite pieces of Irish workmanship, the Book of Kells at Trinity Library, the Tara Brooch, and the Ardagh chalice. (And they did not disappoint!) I knew the National Museum of Ireland, Archeology, on Kildare Street also housed remains of Dublin’s Viking past. Nothing prepared me for the treasure trove of Norse weaponry, jewellery, and everyday artifacts in this superb collection.

Viking era Dublin

Model of Viking era settlement at Dublin. “Dubh linn” means “black pool” in Irish, a tidal pool where the Norwegians first landed on the Liffey and set their camp.

Raiders from Norway chose Ireland as their target for pillage, just as it was raiders from Denmark who struck the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in Angle-land – England – to Ireland’s immediate East. Dublin lies on the East coast of the island of Ireland. The River Liffey provided all the Norwegian seafarers needed to access the indigenous settlements already established there. Norwegian Vikings effectively founded Dublin in 841, using it first as an over-wintering camp. It grew to one of their most active trading centres, handling the usual range of goods the far-travelling Scandinavians had access to: prized amber from the Baltic, silk from the near East (carried up the trade rivers of modern-day Russia), Saxon jewellery and coal, woollen goods, walrus tusks and hides from the Arctic Circle. Under the Norse, Dublin also grew to become one of the great slave centres for their trafficking in human flesh.

Over one hundred fifty hoards have been found from Viking Era Ireland, comprising mostly silver and bronze items. Along with the burial goods these folk were consigned to their graves with, and accidental losses now recovered, rich and diverse material remains provide vivid glimpses into the ways these mostly Norwegian raiders both changed and were changed by the Irish they settled amongst.

Norwegian swordsand spears

Swords and spear points. Nearly all of the recovered weapons show signs of Norwegian manufacture.

Swords and skeggoxes

Swords, and skeggoxes. Also on display was a human skull, with a head injury frighteningly identical to that I describe as killing Yrling’s right hand man Une in “Sidroc the Dane”. You’ll forgive me for not photographing it; it was too terrible to look at.

Gold Hilt

Gold dressed hilt on elite warrior’s sword. Only a very rich war-chief would have carried this. Surpassing beauty.

The Viking incursion into Ireland meant a huge influx of silver was carried into the island – silver dirhams and Kufic coins from trade originating in Islamic lands, and masses of hack silver (broken bits of jewellery, coin fragments, slices cut from simple silver rods) brought as booty from pillaging targets along the shores of Frankland.

Irish workers in precious metals, already amongst the most highly skilled on Earth, where quick to adopt Scandinavian motifs into their work. Great penannular pins and brooches featuring bosses, thistles, kite-shaped pins, arm rings, and silver mesh work appeared for the first time in Ireland, adapted from Norse models.

Thistle Brooch

Thistle brooch. I has so thoroughly associated this motif with Scotland and Ireland that to learn it was actually carried from Scandinavia was an eye-opener.

Silver pin

Silver pin.

Pin with bosses

Penanualar pin with bosses, another style unknown to the Ireland before the Vikings.

Gilt pin

Gilt pin.

Brooches and Linen smoother

These warriors brought their wives with them at some point. Typical Norse paired shoulder brooches of bronze, from which glass bead necklaces were strung, from female burial sites.

Game board

Time for relaxation. A superbly preserved wooden tæfl board game, also known by the Old English name cyningtæfl – “king’s table”. Many, many game pieces of wood, bone, and amber are also on display, all with tiny pegs to fit into the drilled holes on the board.

The anaerobic nature of Irish peat bogs has yielded many finds of organic materials in a high state of preservation. I had seen the stray 9th or 10th century shoe on display at Jorvik or the National Museums of Denmark or Sweden; here was a whole array of them, along with leather shoulder bags, water (or ale/wine) bags, and a jaw-dropping leather knife scabbard.

Shoe

Shoe. Note the detailed interlace on the instep tongue.

Leather scabbard

Leather knife scabbard. Sublime example, thanks to preservation in peat.

All photos taken in the exhibition halls of the National Museum of Ireland, Archeology, Kildare Street. I am very eager to return – I felt I could spend a week poring over this collection, and a docent told me it is but a fraction of what is held in storage!

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{ 38 comments… add one }
  • Avatar Janice Wilson February 9, 2019, 9:28 am

    These artefacts are so beautiful…and humbling ! The artistry and skill are amazing. I have spent over 40 years trying to master the intricacies of knotwork…not very successfully. These examples are truly inspiring. Back to the drawing board I think. Thank you for sharing your Dublin experiences.

  • Avatar Shawna L. Benoit February 5, 2019, 9:19 pm

    Amazing….Read the entire article….Thank you so very much for sharing…What a super exciting adventure….

  • Avatar Dracie Shute February 5, 2019, 8:09 pm

    Seeing all these priceless artifacts gives me chills. I wonder of those who wore them and carried the swords. What were they like as a person???. These were treasured possessions of someone, their things they wore daily. Just amazes me how long after a person is gone the tbings that they once valued remains.

  • Avatar Dixie Cutler February 5, 2019, 5:07 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. I enjoyed all of your photos I have been making silver jewelry for 20+ years but, even with modern tools, I will never develop the skill of those ancient craftsmen (and, probably, women!).

  • Avatar Learne Burgess February 5, 2019, 3:48 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing you are making some of my dreams come true.

  • Avatar Jennifer Morris February 5, 2019, 11:59 am

    Such wonderful craftsmanship! Just superb, thanks for sharing!

  • Avatar Judith Boxer February 5, 2019, 11:49 am

    Absolutely amazing and love all the pieces you have shown up. A real treasure trove that still suprise us and the history behind them is so wonderful. I love Ireland it is such a magical place and am sure there are still more hidden treasures to find. So glad you had such a brilliant time and that it has, am sure, inspired you in your wonderful writing Octavia. Blessings always.

  • Avatar Lauren February 5, 2019, 11:10 am

    Loved the Dublina exhibit in Dublin. Really made sense of the many Viking stories I have read.

  • Avatar Roslyn Barbara February 4, 2019, 8:04 pm

    You forget how amazing the Irish Viking treasure was! I loved the Book of Kells . Funny they never had a written language all we know about them is from other people! Thank you!!

  • Avatar Julie February 4, 2019, 7:22 pm

    Seeing these iimages assists in developing the imagination in terms of the items mentioned in the saga stories all the more.

  • Avatar Carol Fish February 4, 2019, 4:36 pm

    Very interesting pictures. I felt the same way when I went to the Cairo Museum back in 1979. Fascinating.

  • Avatar Elaine MacDonald February 4, 2019, 2:50 pm

    P.S. I particularly love the shoe. I am trying to imagine who owned the foot for that shoe.

  • Avatar Elaine MacDonald February 4, 2019, 2:49 pm

    This is incredible! Octavia, thank you so much for sharing. I am just amazed how well preserved the leather items are. I did not know about the preservation qualities of peat! Beautiful items. As always, thank you!!!! I learn so much from you.

  • Avatar Liz February 4, 2019, 2:40 pm

    WOW, what a treasure and the History…. wonderful. Thanks for sharing

  • Avatar TERRY BUXTON February 4, 2019, 2:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing this was a wonderful insight.

  • Avatar Kathy Jerman February 4, 2019, 1:17 pm

    Amazing artifacts. Thank You for sharing

  • Avatar Debra J Smith February 4, 2019, 12:14 pm

    Beautiful work! This is why I’m fascinated by Ireland. Thank you for sharing.

  • Avatar Carrie Powell February 4, 2019, 11:58 am

    Oh, Dear Author! This article is like giving someone salty peanuts….it leaves them wanting MORE! I am AMAZED by the treasure that has been preserved….the details on the shoe, the wonderful design on the leather scabbard…it seems so high tech than what we might have expected from the time period. Even the shoe, when I imagine it whole and complete, looks like a sort of ‘Mary Jane’ style shoe with, perhaps, a nice solid sole, that I would wear. I remember being surprised at seeing a single simple leather shoe in the cathedral at Roskilde, Denmark. The example you show here is much superior in preservation! I’m not so sure one week will even be enough time when, one day, you will return 😉 Thank you for sharing the wonderful artistry of our beloved Norse predecessors <3

  • Avatar April Reeves February 4, 2019, 11:50 am

    Thank you for sharing your visit with us Octavia. Such amazing workmanship on so many beautiful items.
    My family’s farm is in Cork, Ireland.

  • Avatar Dale Foss February 4, 2019, 11:50 am

    The workmanship is simply amazing and beautiful. The past certainly comes alive in books and museums.

  • Avatar Mary Jane Fulciniti February 4, 2019, 10:47 am

    Lovely treasures! Such fine workmanship. Thank you for sharing!

  • Avatar Leda February 4, 2019, 10:18 am

    Wondeful pieces of history.

  • Avatar Linda J Emerson February 4, 2019, 10:14 am

    What wonderful items on display. Thnx for sharing them with us! Looking forward to our next book you’re currently working on! I’m painting my bathroom walls today to help pass the time! Lol Keep writing sweet Octavia!

  • Avatar Robert P. Shyan-Norwalt February 4, 2019, 10:12 am

    Very well presented thank you from the heart.

  • Avatar Carol Ardeeser February 4, 2019, 9:41 am

    What a wonderful display, thank you Octavia for sharing!

  • Avatar Jane Green February 4, 2019, 9:25 am

    Thanks for sharing. This is fascinating. I’ve been to the Viking Museum in York and would love to get to this one. I’m starting Sidroc today!

  • Avatar Lee hoffman February 4, 2019, 9:14 am

    I too was enchanted by the objects on display at the museum in Dublin and at Trinity Library.

  • Avatar Raymond Williamson February 4, 2019, 8:51 am

    I spent three years in Ireland and visited the Dublin Museum and Viking museum a number of times. Extremely well presented and wonderful artefacts. A must visit for anyone visiting Dublin.

  • Avatar LINDA CAMPBELL February 4, 2019, 8:42 am

    wow beautiful, Octavia! thanks so much for sharing. Historical artifacts are fascinating.

  • Avatar Barbara Keune February 4, 2019, 8:03 am

    Thank you Octavia for this wonderful share. This information is so very interesting. I am a member of the Facebook group and enjoy the saga and pictures of your new home.

  • Avatar Libby February 4, 2019, 7:46 am

    Thank you, Octavia! It is truly magnificent to these pieces and they are so well preserved. I will need to go there!

  • Avatar Angela Cassidy February 4, 2019, 7:27 am

    Thanks for sharing this great information and the beautiful photos. We visited this museum several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. I can never get enough.

  • Avatar Peggy February 4, 2019, 7:09 am

    Thank you for a look at the past. Would be wonderful to see in person. Some of my Irish history there as well

  • Avatar Barbara Odgers February 4, 2019, 6:50 am

    This is amazing thankyou Octavia, I have saved this postbbso I may look at it again. These treasures are an eye opener to what the Vikings were capable of, their intricate works surpass any.

  • Avatar Rebecca Epstein February 4, 2019, 6:30 am

    Thank you for śharing such a wonderful article.

  • Avatar Giles Fielding February 4, 2019, 5:05 am

    This is absolutely fascinating, thanks so much for sharing. We visited the Viking triangle in Waterford over the Summer and learnt an awful lot in the museums there about the Vikings and their time in Ireland but I had no idea that there was so much else to see because we didn’t have time to get to Dublin sadly. Thanks again, very interesting article.

    • Avatar Margie Ehlers February 4, 2019, 11:36 am

      Beautiful, Octavia!! Hoping to go to Scotland this year! Have been wanting to go since the age if 12. Hubby wants yo go to Ireland too. Now maybe (haga) we will!! Thanks for the tip!

    • Avatar Pandra February 4, 2019, 2:53 pm

      What wonderful visual history. Thank you

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