Vikings, longships and Clew Bay

Viking raiders on Irelands west coast
The earliest undisputed reference to Viking raids on Skellig Michael is in the Annals of Inisfallen, where under the year 824 it is stated: “Scelec was plundered by the heathens and Etgal was carried off into captivity, and he died of hunger on their hands.”

On Ireland’s west coast Viking raiders were known to raid monasteries on offshore islands (Skelligs, Inishmurray) and inland up rivers from the coast.

Clew bay's islands, County Mayo
Clew Bay’s islands provided shelter from wind and wave to seafarers from the Vikings, sea queen Grania O’Malley and the Spanish Armada in County Mayo, Ireland.

Clew bay’s islands were a perfect seafarers haven to rest up for such raiders. The National Museum in Castlebar has a fascinating find which suggests Viking ships have visited Clew Bay in the 10th century.

In 1939 a local man discovered eleven silver arm-rings and fragments of fourteen others, buried together on his land in Kilmeena, on the shore of Clew Bay.

This is the largest hoard of such arm-rings (date to 915AD) ever found and it seems clear that they were deliberately buried, probably for temporary safe-keeping, sometime in the 10th century. We know these arm-rings were used by Irish people, as many have been found in areas never occupied by Vikings, but in this case the seaside location may suggest that they belonged to a Viking sailing along the Mayo coast.

The island of Inishcuttle is said to be named after a Danish or viking Kettel ( or similar ) said to be buried there.

A sword was dredged from the River Moy at Coolcronaun, near Foxford in 1963. It is a Viking type of sword, probably made in Scandinavia around c.925-975 AD and brought to Ireland by a Viking warrior. However, its final owner could have been either a Viking or an Irish warrior.

“In Connacht, the second over-kingdom discussed in Lebor na Cert, only one local king is offered ships by his provincial king: the king of Umall or Clew Bay who is offered five ships. Such a gift provides a context for the raid on Clew Bay by a fleet of seven ships of Hebrideans in 1015, indicating that the area was involved in maritime politics. In 1079, a plundeing raid by Tairdelbach Ui Briain took place on the islands of Clew Bay ; This would seem to imply that the Ui Briain also had an interest in the region”. Lebor na Cert  is a collection of poems dealing with the relationships between local Irish kingdoms and their over-kings.

Curiously, one of the biggest Viking warships ever found, built to carry some 40 oarsmen, Skuldelev 2 is a Danish-type warship (narrow, low-sided and of shallow draft) found scuttled at the entrance to Roskilde fiord in Denmark, but built in Ireland c. A.D, 1060-70 according to dendrochronological evidence. Source: ROYAL FLEETS IN VIKING IRELAND: THE EVIDENCE OF LEBOR NA CERT, A.D. 1050- I I 50 By CATHERINE SWIFT.

According to the Annals of Ulster there are several references to attacks by the ‘sea robbers’ or Vikings in the Kingdom of Umhall (lands around Clew Bay) in 811. Source Military History of the Western Islands by Sheila Mulloy (1989 Westport Historical Society Journal).


Published by shayfennelly

Marine scientist and photographer. Interested in all marine ecology, exploration, science and technology.

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