Following Viking traces in Dublin
  • Ireland /
  • Dublin

An itinerary that rediscovers the Viking history of Dublin

Wood Quay
(by William Murphy CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr)
Map of Ireland, circa 900 CE, with kingdoms and principal (Viking) towns indicated.
Viking expansion

(by William Murphy CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr)

Three hundred metres from Dublinia, in the direction of the Liffey River, lies the largest Viking archaeological site discovered in the city. 

Excavations have unearthed evidence of the massive Viking presence in Dublin. Pottery, armour, weapons and the remains of an entire village, coins testifying to their flourishing economy, bearing the face of King Sitric. The National Museum of Ireland and Dublin show evidence and wonders of the past.

Today at Wood Quay, it is possible to see the Viking Longboat Statue as an indication of the place of discovery.

The river’s proximity has a very significant value, symbolising the importance of waterways for the Vikings. On their resilient and light boats, they could travel hundreds of kilometres inland and reach unreachable points, surprising their victims. But, perhaps, it was explicitly their unpredictability and logistical ability to move, one of the most compelling aspects of Viking tactics.

Some records report that the Vikings had settled in Ireland by 841 CE, using temporary naval forts as bases for more extensive raids. One of these was Dublin. In this early period, the main targets were the monasteries, the only significant centres of population and wealth, and the main quest was for loot and enslaved people.

Clearly, the main targets were the noteworthy and wealthy Christian religious centres and monastic foundations such as Glendalough, Kildare and Clonmacnoise.

Although protected by city walls, these places could do little compared to the brutal and destructive force the northern blondes sowed throughout Ireland. Some monasteries, such as Clonmacnoise, maintained some form of militia, albeit of dubious effectiveness.

The Vikings were pirates setting sail from the coastal areas of Scandinavia. So, naturally, they were famous for their skill as navigators and, with their long boats, colonised the coasts and rivers of much of Europe, the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland within a few centuries. 

Their unstoppable activity pushed them as far south as Italy and the coasts of North Africa and as far east as Russia and Constantinople, both to trade and to pillage.

Viking ships were built according to the most advanced technology of the time and gave navigators considerable advantages over their rivals. The Vikings had developed design and construction techniques that allowed them to build ships that were not only fast but could navigate shallow waters and dock almost anywhere. As a result, exploration became much more accessible without ports, leaving more space for discovery and trade with small settlements on the coasts and along the rivers.

Since the ships were equipped with oars, the Vikings did not have to rely solely on favourable winds. This was an enormous advantage when manoeuvring in narrow rivers, naval battles, and pressing escapes. The hulls of the Viking ships were made of overlapping planks connected; in this way, a solid and light outer surface was possible, and a less heavy frame was sufficient. Furthermore, such a stacked plank construction created a hydrofoil effect. With the fast movement in the water, the hull lifted upwards and tended to rise out of the liquid, thus reducing hydrodynamic resistance and increasing the speed of progress. In addition to being faster, these light ships could also be easily transported on the strips of land between two rivers.

There were two types of Viking boats: the “drakkar” and the “knarr”. The former, used for exploration and warfare, was designed to be fast and manoeuvrable and were equipped with oars to make them independent of the presence or absence of wind. The drakkar had a long, narrow hull and a moderate draught to facilitate troops landing in shallow waters. On the other hand, the knarr were merchant ships, slower but with a greater cargo capacity, designed with a short, wide hull and a deep draft. There were no oarsmen on the knarr.

So it is primarily the link between the term “Viking” and “traveller”, and consequently, their dreaded ships symbolise both destruction and discovery.


1. The origins in Dublinia

2. Wood Quay

3. The Steine

4. Curious rests

5. Christ Church Cathedral