On the Ancient Races of Ireland: Norsemen - Sir William Wilde

Having finished with the Milesians, we now come to the Danes (so-called), the Scandinavians or Norsemen—the pagan Sea-Kings who made inroads on our coasts, despoiled our churches and monasteries, but at the same time, it must be confessed, helped to establish the commercial prosperity of some of our cities and towns from 795 to the time of the battle of Clontarf, A.D. 1014, when the belligerent portion of the Scandinavians were finally expelled the country. During the time I have specified, Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford belonged to these Northern people. They not only coasted round the island and never lost an opportunity of pillage and plunder, but they passed through the interior and carried their arms into the very centre of the land. The Danes left us very little ornamental work beyond what they lavished upon their swords and helmets; but, on the other hand, it should be borne in mind that there are no Irish antiquities, either social, warlike, or ecclesiastical, in the Scandinavian Museums.

Concerning their ethnological characters, I must again refer to the "Crania Britannica." In the records they were designated strangers, foreigners, pagans, gentiles, and also white and black foreigners, so that there were undoubtedly two races—the dark, and the fair or red, like as in the case of the Firbolgs or Dananns. They were also styled "Azure Danes," probably on account of the shining hue of their armour.

I believe the fair section of that people to have been of Norwegian origin, while the dark race came from Jutland and the coast of Sweden; and both by the Orkneys, the coasts of Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Their skulls were large and well formed; they had a thorough knowledge of metal work, and especially iron; and, as I have shown elsewhere, their swords and spears were of great size and power, the former wielded as a slashing weapon, while those of their early opponents were of bronze, weak, and intended for stabbing. In nowhere else in Europe (that I am aware of) have these rounded, pointed, or bevelled heavy iron swords been found except in Ireland and Norway.

Large quantities of Danish remains have been discovered in deep sinkings made in Dublin; and several weapons, tools, and ornaments, believed to be of Scandinavian origin, have been found within a few inches of the surface on one of the battle-fields on the south side of the Liffey, within the last few years. Upon most of these I have already reported and given illustrations. I may mention one circumstance connected with this race. I never examined a battle-field of the Danes, nor a collection of Danish weapons or implements, that I did not find the well-adjusted scales and weights which the Viking had in his pocket for valuing the precious metals he procured either by conquest or otherwise.

Although considered hostile, these Scandinavian Vikings must have fraternized with the Irish. We know that they intermarried; for, among many other instances that might be adduced, I may mention that during the battle of Clontarf, when Sitric, the Danish king of Dublin, looked on the fight from the walls of the city, he was accompanied by his wife, the daughter of the aged king known as "Brian the Brave."

When, however, the Irish chieftains were not fighting with one another, they were often engaged in petty wars with the Scandinavians, who, in turn, were attacked by their own countrymen, the "Black Gentiles," especially on the plain of Fingall, stretching from Dublin to the Boyne, and which the white race chiefly occupied. It must not be supposed that the battle of Clontarf ended the Danish occupation of Ireland; they still held the cities of Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford at least, and largely promoted the commercial prosperity in these localities—a prosperity which has not quite yet departed. I should like to present you with some remains of the Scandinavian language in Ireland, but the materials are very scanty.