The Easter holidays are always a great time to do some different activities and visited some locations I had on my list for sometime.
One of these locations was Dunmore caves in the north of county Kilkenny, the caves are some of the most spectacular – located here in Ireland, with a large entrance hall and a great mix of tunnels and caverns. This time was a great visit, there have been some great guides over the years but our female guide over the weekend was clearly into the geology and environment of the area and of the caves themselves along with the Pagan and Viking (history, myths and beliefs) based around the long time use of these caverns.
One local myth in Kilkenny county revolves around the belief that there is a tunnel that goes all the way from the caves into the center of kilkenny city, possibly used for escape in times when the city was under attack. This tunnel has been searched for many times but never found, so maybe it is just a story but the search goes on.
Dunmore caves facts and History
Dunmore Cave (from Irish Dún Mór, meaning ‘great fort’) is a limestone solutional cave in Ballyfoyle, County Kilkenny, Ireland. It is formed in Lower Carboniferous (Viséan) limestone of the Clogrenan Formation. It is a show cave open to the public, particularly well known for its rich archaeological discoveries and for being the site of a Viking massacre in 928.
Dunmore Cave was designated a National Monument by the Commissioners of Public Works in 1944, but development as a show cave with visitor centre and tours didn’t begin until 1967, at the behest of respected archaeologist and spelaeologist J. C. Coleman. The cave was closed in 2000 for archaeological work and redevelopment, and reopened in 2003.
The earliest historical reference to the cave is to be found in the Triads of Ireland, dating from the 14th to the 19th century, where “Úam Chnogba, Úam Slángae and Dearc Fearna” are listed under the heading, “the three darkest places in Ireland”.The last, meaning the “Cave of the Alders,” is generally thought to be the present Dunmore Cave, while the first two translate as the caves of Knowth and Slaney. It is not known which exact system of caves/passage tombs near the river Slaney is being referred to, with the most likely, those at Baltinglass. Other sources translate the listed locations as Rath Croghan, the cave or crypt of Slane and the “Cave of the Ferns”.
In the Annals of the Four Masters, dated to the 17th century, Dearc Fearna was recorded as the site of a great Viking massacre in 928 AD:
“Godfrey Uí Ímair, with the foreigners of Ath Cliath, demolished and plundered Dearc Fearna, where one thousand persons were killed in this year as is stated in the quatrain:
Nine hundred years without sorrow, twenty-eight, it has been proved, ‘Since Christ came to our relief, to the plundering of Dearc-Fearna.”
Gofraith, ua h-Iomhair, co n-Gallaibh Atha Cliath, do thoghail & do orgain Derce Fearna,
airm in ro marbhadh míle do dhaoinibh an bhliadhain-si, amhail as-berar isin rann,
Naoi c-céd bliadhain gan doghra,
a h-ocht fichet non-dearbha,
o do-luidh Criost dár c-cobhair
co toghail Derce Ferna.
While the human remains found in the cave are thought to be victims of the Viking massacre, this has not been reliably confirmed. Many of the remains belong to women and children, and it is hypothesised that they are the bodies of people hiding in the cave who were unable to leave when the Vikings tried to smoke them out, dying from asphyxiation.
The earliest writings on the cave of an archaeological nature came from the bishop George Berkeley, whose report dated 1706 detailed a visit that he made to the cave as a boy. The essay was not published until 1871. In 1869 Arthur Wynne Foot, a physician, made an archaeological visit to the cave with Rev. James Graves and Peter Burtchaell and discovered large quantities of human remains, which they collected. In his reports, Foot meticulously documented his findings, and culled references from the writings of researchers over the preceding 120 years.
In 1999, a hoard of 43 silver and bronze items was discovered in a rocky cleft deep in the cave. Archaeologists dated this hoard, consisting of silver, ingots and conical buttons woven from fine silver, to 970 AD.
I was only back in-front my laptop for the first time yesterday evening, uploading some of the images I captured over the Easter Holidays.
It was a great break, this year we stayed in Ireland but chose to visit many of the great locations the south east and west of the country has to offer.
The Irish National Heritage Park, was just one of these places, the Park gives you an historic journey that takes you deep into Ireland’s past, Through 9000 years of Irish History. It is a very special place where Ireland’s heritage comes alive with sights and sounds that shaped a country and helped to shape the bigger world.
Located on the banks of the picturesque River Slaney, The Irish National Heritage Park truly is the cornerstone of Ireland’s Ancient East.
With an outdoor museum depicting 9000 years of re-created Irish History situated within natural forestry & wet woodlands.
The following images are just some from the many I took on the day we visited ….
King John’s Castle, Limerick
Back in January this year I took a weekend trip to Limerick on the river Shannon, to King Johns Castle located at the high street end of the town.
The Castle is a 13th-century construction located on King’s Island in Limerick, next to the River Shannon. Although the site dates back to 922 when the Vikings lived on the Island, the castle itself was built on the orders of King John in 1200. The walls, towers and fortifications remain today and are visitor attractions.
The remains of a Viking settlement were uncovered during archaeological excavations at the site in 1900
If you are passing this part of the world the Castle is well worth a visit as is a walk around Limerick city itself. You can go on a loop river walk that lets you see every part of the city from the river bank. There are many pubs and coffee stops along the way all with a great view of the river.
The arrival of the Anglo-Normans to the area in 1172 changed everything. Domhnall Mór Ó Briain burned the city to the ground in 1174 in a bid to keep it from the hands of the new invaders. After he died in 1194, the Anglo-Normans finally captured the area in 1195 under King John. In 1197, local legend claims Limerick was given its first charter and its first Mayor, Adam Sarvant. A castle, built on the orders of King John and bearing his name, was completed around 1210.
The castle was built on the boundary of the River Shannon in order to protect the city from the west and from any rebellion by Norman lords to the east and south. Under the general peace imposed by the Norman rule, Limerick prospered as both a port and a trading center, partly due to the castle acting as a watchdog on any cargo passing through the port of Limerick.
The town of Limerick became so wealthy during this era King John set up a mint in the North West corner of the castle, with pennies and half pennies from this time available to see in Limerick museum today. A 1574 document prepared for the Spanish ambassador attests to its wealth:
A couple of years back I was asked to create some images for a group of Co.Kerry based Re-enactors and they selected the Vikings as there historic period, this shoot was great fun to do for the day. We selected the remains and grounds of an old church yard and this worked very well.
I have posted some history of the Vikings in Ireland at the bottom of the images.
At the end of the eighth century the first Viking raiders appeared in Irish waters. These raiders came exclusively from Norway. The first recorded raid was in 795 on Rathlin Island off the coast of Antrim where the church was burned. On the west coast the monasteries on Inismurray and Inisbofin were plundered possibly by the same raiders. The Scottish island of Iona was also attacked in the same year.
For the first four decades, 795-c.836, the raids followed a clear pattern of hit-and -run affairs by small, probably independent, free-booters. Attacks were usually on coastal targets no Viking raid is recorded for areas further inland than about twenty miles. These attacks were difficult to defend but the Vikings were sometimes defeated. In 811 a raiding party was slaughtered by the Ulaid and the following year raiding parties were defeated by the men of Umall and the king of Eóganacht Locha Léin. By 823 the Vikings had raided around all the coast and in 824 the island monastery of Sceilg, off the Kerry coast, was attacked. The monastic city of Armagh was attacked three times in 832.
In the first quarter century of Viking attacks only twenty-six plunderings by Vikings are recorded in the Irish Annals. During the same time eighty-seven raids by the Irish themselves are recorded. An average of one Viking raid a year can have caused no great disorder or distress in Irish society. Attacks on Irish monasteries were common before the Viking Age. The burning of churches also was an integral part of Irish warfare. Wars and battles between monasteries also occurred in Ireland before the coming of the Vikings. Irish monasteries had become wealthy and politically important with considerable populations. The Vikings attacked the monasteries because they were rich in land, stock and provisions. They also took valuable objects but this was not their primary concern.
Intensified Raids and Settlements
From c. 830 Viking raids became more intense in Ireland. In 832 for instance, there were extensive plunderings in the lands of the Cianachta who lived near the sea in Louth. In 836 the Vikings attacked the land of the Uí Néill of southern Brega and attacked the lands of Connacht. In 837 a fleet of sixty ships appeared on the Boyne and a similar fleet on the Liffey. Soon afterwards Vikings made their way up the Shannon and the Erne and put a fleet on Lough Neagh.
The Vikings wintered for the first time on Lough Neagh in 840-41. In 841 they established a longphort at Annagassan in Louth and at Dublin and used these bases for attacks on the south and west. They wintered for the first time at Dublin in 841-842 and in 842 another large fleet arrived. Also in this year there is the first reference to co-operation between Vikings and the Irish though this may have occurred previously. A fleet was based on Lough Ree and the Shannon and built a fortified position on the shores of Lough Ree from where they ravaged the surrounding countryside in 844. Máel Seachnaill, overking of the Uí Néill attacked the Vikings, captured a leader called Turgesius and drowned him in Lough Owel in Westmeath.
From now on Irish kings began to fiercely fight back against the Vikings. Because they now had fixed settlements or fortified positions they were vulnerable to attack. Máel Seachnaill routed a Viking force near Skreen, County Meath and killed 700 of them. At Castledermot, in Kildare, the joint armies of the kings of Munster and Leinster defeated a large force of Vikings. The newly founded Viking settlement at Cork was destroyed and in 849 the Norse territory of Dublin was ravaged by Máel Seachnaill. The Vikings were now a factor in the internal politics of Ireland and were accepted as such. Norse-Irish alliances became commonplace.
During the years 849-852 new Vikings, probably from Denmark, arrived in the Irish Sea area and many battles took place between the new arrivals and the more established Vikings. In 853 Olaf the White arrived in Dublin and with Ivar, another Viking, assumed sovereignity of the Viking settlement there. Along the Irish coast were other Viking settlements. Vikings at Waterford attacked the King of Osraige but were slaughtered in 860. There was a longphort settlement at Youghal which was destroyed in 866. In 887 the Limerick Vikings were slaughtered by Connachtmen and in 892 the Vikings of Waterford, Wexford and St. Mullins were defeated.
Ivar, joint king of Dublin died in 873 and there were struggles and division in Dublin for the next two decades. In 902 the kings of Brega and of Leinster combined again the Norse of Dublin and defeated them, destroyed their settlement and expelled them from Ireland. By his time extensive cultural assimilation had taken place between the Irish and the Norse. Olaf, king of Dublin in the middle of the ninth century was married to the daughter of Áed Finnliath, king of the northern Uí Néill. The Hiberno-Norse also had gradually become christianised. The annals in recording the death of Ivar in 872 said that “he rested in Christ”.
The Second Phase of Viking Attacks on Ireland
By the first decades of the tenth century opportunities for Vikings in Britain and the Europe were limited. It is not surprising that they chose to attack Ireland again. From 914 large fleets again began to attack Ireland, these Vikings came from those already settled elsewhere in Britain. Munster was ravaged widely in 915 and the king of Tara was defeated when he went to the aid of the Munstermen. The king of Leinster was killed in a battle with Vikings under the leadership of Sitric at Leixlip. The king of Tara was killed in a combined Irish attack on the Norse of Dublin in 919. For the next two decades the Norse kings of Dublin were also trying to establish their power in York. Their activities in Ireland gradually became more confined to Dublin and its immediate hinterland. The Irish began to counter attack with growing success. Dublin was burned by the king of Tara in 936 and was sacked in 944. Its power had declined considerably by the second half of the tenth century.
The Wars of the Great Dynasties
One of the great leaders of this period was Brian Boru of Dál Cais in County Clare. He had defeated the Vikings of Munster. His great rival was Máel Sechnaill 2, King of Tara who had defeated the Norse of Dublin in 980. Brian at times made alliances with Norse as in 984 when the Norse of Waterford attacked Leinster by sea while he attacked by land. In 977 an agreement was made between Brian and Máel Sechnaill that the former would be king of the southern part of Ireland while the latter would be king of the northern part. In 998 the two kings co-operated in an attack on the Norse of Dublin.
A sculpture of Máel Seachnaill in Trim, Co. Meath, by James McKenna.
The next year the Dublin Norse allied with the Leinstermen revolted and were defeated by Brian. He spent January and February 1000 in Dublin, plundering the city and destroying its fortress. He expelled Sitric, king of Norse Dublin who could find refuge nowhere else in Ireland. He returned, gave hostages to Brian and was restored. Brian now claimed the kingship of the whole island and Máel Sechnaill submitted.
In 1012 Leinster revolted against Brian and the Norse of Dublin assisted them. Brian and Máel Sechnaill together attacked Leinster and blockaded the city of Dublin from September to Christmas before returning home. Knowing that the attack would be renewed the Norse set about getting help from allies. Sitric, king of Dublin visited Sigurd, earl of the Orkneys who agreed to be in Dublin on Palm Sunday 1014. Sitric then went to the Isle of Man and persuaded two Viking leaders Brodar and Ospak to support him.
Brian and Máel Sechnaill marched to Dublin but a dispute arose between them and Máel Sechnaill took no part in the battle. Battle was joined at Clontarf on Good Friday 1014 and after a long battle Brian’s forces were victorious. Brian himself was killed. Sigurd and Brodar were also killed though Sitric who remained inside the town during the battle survived.
In subsequent traditions, both Irish and Norse, Clontarf became a heroic battle of saga and story-telling. Fearsome portents and visions were said to have been seen by both sides on the eve of the battle. A fairy woman appeared to Brian’s followers and foretold disaster. Saint Senan appeared to Brian’s followers the night before the battle demanding compensation for an attack by Brian on a monastery years before. In the Isle of Man there were ghostly assaults on Brodar’s ships and ravens with iron beaks and claws attacked his followers. Evil portents were seen throughout the Norse world even in Iceland. Everyone wished his ancestors to have participated in the great battle.
While the battle of Clontarf was not a simple Irish against Norse battle it did signal the end of the power of Norse Dublin and the effective end of the Viking Age in Ireland.