Viking Locations to Visit in Cork

History of Viking Settlement in Cork

In 800AD Cork consisted of marshland and waterways at the mouth of the River Lee with several tidal islands surrounded and sheltered by valleys to the north and south. The first recorded attack by Vikings was in 820 on Corcach Mor na Mumhan, a flourishing monastery from the 7th century.

There was a settlement at South Main Street which was raided by the King of Cashel, Olchobar,  in 848. He had also been victorious over the Vikings at Sciath Neachtain. This settlement was situated typically at the lowest crossing point of the river. The annals record the death of the Norse leader “chief of the foreigners” Gnimhbeolu, killed by the Déise in 865. In 873 it was said that the Dublin fleet “ravaged from Cork and much of Munster” .

By 915 when we know that Ragnall had instigated the reestablishment of the Viking  coastal strongholds from Waterford to Dublin, a new cohort came as far as Cork. Gothfrith son of Ivar even sails as far as Roscarbery and takes hostages. In 990 the lector, possibly a reader, a rare skill at that time, is taken captive and ransomed  by Brian Boru at Scattery Island.

In 914 the Danish Vikings arrived in Cork and settled in 3 main areas:

The first longphort or settlement was on the southern valley, near present day Barrack Street. Keysers Hill and Cove Street are Viking names that have survived from this period. Four of the churches date from c1000AD and therefore would have been built at the latter end of Viking Age Cork, by which time many Vikings had become Christianised and adopted Gaelic ways. These churches are St Sepulchre, St Mary del Nard, St Michaels and St John the Evangelist.

The second settlement is believed to have been nearby on an island near South Main Street where South Gate Bridge linked the two sites and was known at the time as Droichet.

A third settlement was on the northern valley side near Lower Blackpool.  Remains of a water mill were found on the Kiln River with a dated inscription from 1020AD. Near this settlement was an old fort called Sean Dun, now Shandon. The powerful McCarthy clan owned this fort and though initially rivalry would have been inevitable, by the 1100s we know that power was officially shared between the Vikings and the McCarthys in the form of equal trading rights.

Although not as much excavation has been done as in Dublin or Waterford we know much about the Cork settlement from several excavations since the 1970s. Finds include a trackway and oyster shell pits. In the 1990s further remains of a dwelling and some pottery were found at Hanover Street.  The layout was typical with rectangular houses along a central route on a north-south axis. Outhouses, pits and plots for cultivation were also found. To date no skeletal remains have been found. 

Vikings in Cork

The Danish were primarily traders and the port here was active and significant as one could travel from here to mainland Europe and many goods were imported (wine and salt) as well as exported. Meat, hides and slaves were thought to have been a large part of Irish exports at the time.

In 1013 a year before the Battle of Clontarf a Viking fleet were beaten out of Cork and went to the island of Cape Clear, where, according to the annals Olaf, son of Sitric who would fight against Brian Boru montyhs later, and others were slain.