Traditionally seen as raiders and invaders, Vikings also helped transform Ireland economically, culturally and politically. The Viking Age in Ireland exhibition explores through surviving objects, Viking graves, and settlement sites of the 9th to 12th centuries.
First Viking Raids
The first recorded Viking raids on Ireland took place in 795, when islands off the north and west coasts were plundered. Later on, Viking fleets appeared on the major river systems. Fortified bases for more extensive raiding are mentioned from about 840. Monasteries were one of the main targets of Viking raiders because they were likely to contain valuable loot and, most importantly, people to be sold as slaves.
Dublin was one of the early fortified bases established by Vikings, in 841. Pagan Viking burials from the later 9th/early 10th centuries at Kilmainham and Islandbridge, near Dublin, contained the personal possessions of the deceased. Warriors were buried with weapons including fine swords, and the presence of weights, scales, purses, tongs and hammers suggests that some of the dead were merchants and craftsmen.
Typically Scandinavian oval brooches, worn in pairs in women's costume, as well as objects such as a whalebone ‘ironing board’, spindle whorls (for spinning wool) and bronze needle cases, tell us that Scandinavian women were also buried in these cemeteries.
At the centre of the exhibition is a display of finds from the museum’s excavations in Dublin, the most important Viking site in Ireland. This is one of the finest collections of excavated finds from an early medieval site anywhere in Europe.
A final section displays church metalwork and other ecclesiastical material of the 11th and 12th centuries, which shows how Scandinavian features were absorbed into Irish culture, including art styles, in the later Viking Age.