A Letter from Ireland:

Irish Vikings – A Walk on the Viking Meadow


Do you have any “Irish Vikings” in your family tree? Have you ever taken a walk on “The Viking Meadow”? That is the translation for Wicklow Town on the east coast of Ireland. The town also gives County Wicklow it’s name. So what is all this about Vikings? Do read on….

Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to the Letter from Ireland for this week! We’re just back from a trip to County Wicklow (have you ever been there?) – where we were covering an Irish Homelands feature for The Green Room and visiting such wonderful locations as Glendalough. How are things in your own part of the world today? Is it coming into Autumn – or maybe Spring?

I’m having a nice cup of Barry’s tea as I write – and I do hope you will join me now with a cup of whatever you fancy yourself as we start into today’s letter.

On the Viking Meadow.

Wandering around Wicklow town, one particular sign in a shop window caught our eye:

“Paid Work! Film extras wanted for the 5th season of Vikings. We wish to meet adults of all shapes and sizes, all religions and ethnic backgrounds…..”

Now, wouldn’t that be fun! Enough to say that our imaginations ran wild for a while after seeing the notice – I even have two old Norse surnames in my own Irish family tree – Dolphin and Cotter. Have you ever been an extra on a TV show or film? Vikings is a great show – and seems to have gathered a large audience all over the world.

So many of the towns and cities in Ireland were first settled by the Norse – including the town of Wicklow itself. It gets it’s name from the old Norse “Vikingaló”, meaning “Vikings (or Pirates) Meadow”. Like many of the coastal Irish towns, it started as an over-winter haven for groups of Norse Vikings. Over the decades, they settled in the area – and intermarried with the local Irish. However, they always maintained themselves as a fighting force – going to battle with other Irish Norse, further Viking invaders, the local Irish or a mixture of all three!

Following the Battle of Clontarf in the early 11th century, the time of the Vikings had come to an end, and the influence of the local Hiberno-Norse cities went into decline. When the Normans (themselves of Viking descent) arrived in Ireland in the late 1100s, they cleared the cities of Wexford and Waterford of their Norse populations – and took their place.

Our host in Wicklow town was a lady with the surname of Doyle. This name comes from the Irish “O Dubhghaill” (pronounced “Oh-Duv-Gyle”) and means “dark foreigner”, a generic description the early Irish had for the Hiberno-Norse inhabitants of the cities of Leinster.

Nowadays, you couldn’t throw a rock in this area but it would hit a Doyle – bounce off them, and hit a Byrne. Or so the locals like to say!

The Battle of Clontarf – From The National Gallery, Dublin.

We finished off our walk around Wicklow town by heading to the old Port area – a place where the original Vikings would have sought shelter between raids. An amazing sight caught our eyes – a number of the Viking ships that were due to feature in series 5 of Vikings were sitting in the port. They were waiting shipment overland to Poulaphouca reservoir nearby, where the water scenes are shot. What luck! They had just arrived and would ship out the next morning. We must share some of these photos with you on Facebook and in The Green Room.

While the Vikings did not really leave any surnames behind them (the age of the Viking had passed before the introduction of many surnames), there are still a lot of Irish surnames made up from Norse personal names. These include:

Arthur, Beirne, Birney/Burney, Blacker, Bligh, Bolan/Boland, Broder/Broderick, Caskey, Coll, Coppinger, Cotter, Cottle, Dolphin, Doyle, Gohery/Godfrey, Growder/Grudder, Harold, Henrick, Hever, Kettle, McCorkell, McGetrick, McIver/McIvor/McKeever, McLoughlin, McManus, Norris, Seery, Skillen, McSorley, O’Rourke, Sugrue, Sweetman, McSwiggan, Thunder, Toner and Tormey.

Are any of your Irish surnames included here?

Like to add your surname to our list? Just signup for your free weekly Letter from Ireland by clicking here.and we’ll let you know how to join in the fun.

And so, Carina and myself left the lovely town of Wicklow. We climbed through the mountains of Wicklow – and back in time – to the ancient monastery of Saint Kevin in Glendalough. But that will be a story for another time.

The Gateway to Glendalough

That’s it for today – as always, do feel free to leave a comment below and share any questions or stories you might have yourself.

We’ll see you next week! : )

Slán, Mike and Carina

  • Maureen Jane says:

    This is exciting. I see the name “Dunn” from my family tree and my ancestry dna shows Scandanavian heritage along with my 67% pure Irish. Love it! 💚

    I’m also a new member of the Green Room but have been too busy to explore it.

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  • Ruth says:

    Was so happy to see my McManus show up!

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