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Vikings in Mayo and Connacht

Viking silver arm-ring, NMI Collection - 1939.968

It is obvious that Viking ships must have sailed along the west coast of Ireland throughout the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries.

Vikings raided counties Sligo and Galway as early as 807 AD and in 812 and 813 battles are recorded between Vikings and the Fir Umaill, who lived on the north side of Clew Bay.

It used to be thought that no Vikings actually lived in Connacht but recent research has identified several possible Viking sites, including evidence of what may have been Viking houses on the Mullet peninsula and on the Inishkea islands nearby. These would have been small-scale homesteads, unlike the larger settlements on the east coast that eventually became towns like Dublin, Waterford and Wexford.

The burial of a 9th century Viking warrior, with his sword, shield and spear, was discovered not too far from Mayo in Eyrephort, near Clifden, Co. Galway. The rugged Connacht coastline would probably have felt quite familiar to Vikings from the Norwegian coast. 

Besides the Cushalogurt silver hoard and the Coolcronaun sword, there is also a Viking-type battle axe from the river Robe at Ballinrobe. The handle of the Ballinrobe axe has been radiocarbon dated to 1023-1154 AD and at this date it is most likely that the owner was Irish, rather than Viking. Even if this was the case, however, this axe, like the sword and the hoard, is evidence for the lasting impact of the Vikings, even in Mayo.

Find out more about the Vikings and their impact on Ireland. Visit the exhibition, Viking Ireland, at the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology, Kildare Street, Dublin 2.

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