Monday, 27 June 2016

The Viking streets of Stoneybatter, and Dublin's 'Milluminum' anniversary


Many of Stoneybatter's streets have Norse-sounding names. In a literal sense, most of them came via the Artisans' Dwelling Company around the late 19th century. Many of these back streets, like their terraced houses and cottages, were brand new back then.

Hence Harold Road, Ivar Street, Norseman Place, Ostman Place, Olaf Road, Sigurd Road, Sitric Road, Thor Place, Viking Road, Viking Place, Oxmantown Road...

But why Viking? The early history (or at least recorded history) of this area of Dublin is steeped in Vikings, piles of 'em. Viking plunderers, slavers, conquerors, traders, tourists. Much mayhem ensued, with more massacres and murders than your typical Scandi Noir on BBC 4 on a Saturday night.

By the 10th century Ireland was a major slave-trading hub, processing slaves between what are now Britain and Ireland to Scandinavia and even to Muslim Spain. (A portion of the Scottish population can trace their ancestry to Saharan tribes, whose ancestors came to Spain with the Moorish conquest and who were then captured in slave raids on Spain, taken to Dublin and sold on as slaves to Scottish landowners.)

Norseman Place, Stoneybatter (and bottle)
But the "Viking" label has me confused. It lumps together different waves of invaders and settlers from what are now Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Which Vikings were which? As I've 'fessed up on this blog before, their involvement in Irish history is a vague blur to me. Should've paid more attention at the back of the class.

So I've tried to work out a rough chronology. Here goes.

795: the earliest recorded Viking hit-and-run raids on Ireland, usually offshore islands, generally involving small raiding parties from southwest Norway.

821: a second wave of attacks, this time on both coastal and inland settlements. The raiding parties are larger, better organised, "with better kit" as they say - though nothing like the modern myths of wild savages with horned and winged helmets. They establish longphorts (ship harbours) for overwintering in Ireland in their naval encampments.

837: an even bigger push. Picture the scene: a fleet of 60 or more longships from Norway sailing up the Liffey, which would have been much wider and shallower in those days.

841: the Vikings return yet again, not just as raiders but as conquerors. They seize the ecclesiastical settlement at Duiblinn, rebrand it "as Dyflin", and establish another longphort nearby. Not sure of exact whereabouts though. Cue some proper historians:
"The Dublin longphort was apparently established at the tidal pool in the River Poddle. Later references after 843 are to a settlement at Áth Cliath and this is presumably another site though close. There was an island, Usher's Island, in the river close by and this may have been the site of Duiblinn. Islands were often used by Vikings as settlements. There is little evidence that the site was at Kilmainham."
So they set up base around the southern end of Stoneybatter.

The Norsemen soon expand their power base to Fingal in the north, and to Bray and the Wicklow mountains in the south. This is the Norse Kingdom of Dublin, roughly corresponding to most of present-day County Dublin.

Even so, all this is using the "Norse" word loosely. The Vikings are not so much a single, top-down corporation, more a series of franchises, in that sense a bit like Al-Qaeda. Or McDonalds.

Around 851: the start of a series of battles between competing sets of Viking franchises - and with the local Irish ones. Two main Viking franchises are the Dubgenti or Dubgaill ("Dark-haired Foreigners", possibly of Danish or Anglo-Danish origin), who defeat and expel the town's Findgenti or Findgaill ("Fair Foreigners", possibly of Norwegian origin). The unsuccessful franchise scarpers, leaving behind the Fingal placename.

There follows a long list of heathen kings and heathen armies, and intense battles "to grow market share" (as it were) between both local and overseas and hybrid franchises.

876 to 916: a so-called period of "Forty Years' Rest". Despite the title, there is continued warfare between the Dublin Norsemen and their Irish neighbours, and more plundering of monasteries.

902: two Gaelic kings - Cerball mac Muirecáin, King of Leinster and Máel Findia mac Flannacáin, King of Brega (in what are now Counties Meath, Louth and bits of north Dublin) - launch a two-pronged attack on the Dublin longphort at Áth Cliath, driving Ivar II (Ímar ua Ímair in Irish) out of town.

Ivar is also the name of an IKEA storage furniture system and, like the instructions for a flatpack furniture kit from Hong Kong, things get extremely vague here. The Norsemen's defeat is comprehensive, they abandon Dublin until 917. It marks the end of "the First Viking Age", apparently.

Yet although Scandimania's top dogs are gone, many families of Norse farmers, traders and artisans stay on, under the jurisdiction of a sort of Native Irish Chieftains Franchise. The Norse-Gaels develop Áth Cliath into what would nowadays be called an International Trading And Services Centre, and become "more Irish than the Irish".

Olaf Road, Stoneybatter
980: a major party-pooper from the Gaelic clans comes along. Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill (sometimes anglicised as Malachy II) defeats Olaf Cuaran at the Battle of Tara, returning the Kingdom of Dublin to Gaelic control. He lays siege to the town, takes it after three days and frees all the slaves.

Máel Sechnaill forms a truce with long-time rival Brian Boru, King of Munster. The two kings divvy up the entire island of Ireland: Brian gets the southern half, Máel Sechnaill gets the northern half.

988: the two kings turn their sights on the Norsemen of Dublin.

Hence the Dublin Millennium celebrations a thousand years later in 1988, to mark the official birth of Dublin (tagline: "Dublin's great in '88"), even though
  1. Tbeen a village in Dublin since long before the Roman occupation of Britain
  2. The submission of the King of Dublin to Máel Sechnaill actually occurred in 980?
  3. The capture of Dublin was hardly a major historical turning point - during his long reign the High King captured it many times before and after 
  4. The 20-day siege wasn't exactly fun and games for its inhabitants - they even had to drink brine after Máel Sechnaill's men cut off the fresh water supply. 
After the siege, Máel Sechnaill exacted an annual tax of an ounce of gold on every household, to be paid on Christmas night. Why Christmas? The Christian king was rubbing the foreign heathens in it.

So the 1988 "Milluminum" was a bit of a makey-uppy anniversary by the Corpo. Its lasting legacy includes a specially minted 50p coin, the planting of 1,000 trees, and a Millennium panel "celebrating a thousand years" that you can still see in the South King Street facade of the Stephen's Green Shopping Centre.

The anniversary's specially commissioned Anna Livia bronze monument (aka the Floozie in the Jacuzzi) was eventually relocated from O'Connell Street to the Croppies Memorial Park in Parkgate Street in Stoneybatter, and the Millennium Bar across the road from it must surely be a product of the city's bogus anniversary.
The Millennium pub in Stoneybatter


But back to real history. Then came the Battle of Clontarf on Friday, 23 April 1014, shortly after (a full Irish?) breakfast.

1014: Brian Boru's forces face a Norse-Irish alliance of Sigtrygg Silkbeard (or Sitric, the Hiberno-Norse king of Dublin), Máel Mórda mac Murchada (king of Leinster) and a Viking contingent led by Sigurd of Orkney and Brodir of Mann.

An estimated 7,000 to 10,000 men were killed that day, the Viking and Leinster forces are routed, Brian Boru dies in the battle but that doesn't stop him becoming a national hero.

Despite several rebellions by the native Irish, Dublin remains largely a Norse-Gaelic town.

1169: all changed, changed utterly. The Anglo-Normans invade Ireland from Wales.

1171: King Henry II of England mounts a larger invasion and declares himself Lord of Ireland, and that's basically that for the next 800 years.

Sitric Place, Stoneybatter
But the Norse-Gaels didn't go away. Not yet anyway. In Irish they were called the Gall-Ghàidheil or "Foreign Gaels" - Gaelic speakers with some kind of Norse roots.

They themselves often called their people the Ostmen or Austmenn - literally "the men from the east" (i.e. Scandinavia), the "easterlings". By contrast, they referred to the native-native Gaels as Vestmenn (west-men). In Dublin the Ostmen lived outside the city walls on the north bank of the Liffey around what is now Stoneybatter and Smithfield.

One prevalent myth is that the Ostmen were simply kicked out of town by the English, but apparently not quite. The Ostmen were regarded as a separate group from both the native Irish and the Anglo-Norman conquerors, and were accorded privileges and rights to which the Irish were not entitled.

The distinct hamlet that they founded was called Austmanna-tún (Homestead of the Eastmen), later corrupted to Ostmentown and finally Oxmantown. The name in Irish, Baile Lochlannach, is sometimes roughly translated as "Scandinavian Homestead". All very IKEA.

Note, though, that there is no "s" in Oxmantown. Apart from the name of a set of chi-chi new apartments in Smithfield, Oxmanstown Lofts.

The Oxmantown cafe in Dublin