When Norse raiders first appeared in Irish waters in the year 837 AD, one can imagine the stir they caused. None could have guessed that their presence would mark a transition to forever change the cultural landscape of Ireland.
When we typically think of Vikings, the first images are always that of raiders plundering monasteries. But as we now know, gaining riches was not the soul motivator behind these branching, adventurous, explorers.
Discovering lands in which to make a new life played a big part too.
Ireland proved to be a tantalizing prospect. Since the Norwegians were the first to discover and make raid on Ireland, it comes as no surprise that they were the first to establish permanent bases there.
The first Norse settlements were built in 841 and became known by the native Irish as “longphorts”. “Long” meaning ship, and “port” coming from the Latin “portus”, meaning “place of disembarking”. This name developed when the Irish observed Norse raiders building stockades around their ships. These defended bases, would later grow to become bustling trade centers.
Linn Duachaill (now Annagassan) was one of the first longphorts, set on the Louth coast. Of course, Norse success in Ireland did not go unnoticed by their Danish counterparts. A violent competition would soon arise as the Danes made their presence felt with the establishment of another longphort at the mouth of the Liffey. This fortification later become the city of Dublin.
When I first set out to write my Historical Fiction series, I discovered the importance of these historical places. Particularly, the longphort of Luimnech, which later became the city of Limerick.
Luimnech’s origins are obscure. The island on which it was founded was known to the native Irish as Inis Sibtonn (present day King’s Island). This island was inhabited long before Vikings laid claim to its prime location. While the earliest settlements documented date around 812 AD, we know that people inhabited it much earlier.
No one knows where the original Viking longphort was established before a permanent residence came into being. It is documented that a Dane named Yorus, established a raiding fort in Luimnech around 861. Its location is thought to have been in one of two places.
- The longphort at Athlunkard (Áth Longphort), built somewhere between 840 and 930 AD. This spot is actually located upstream from the present city, adjacent to St. Thomas’ Island.
- On the site of St. Mary’s Cathedral on Kings Island.
Unfortunately, there is little documentation on Luimnech’s longphort and, it seems, nothing but educated guesses as to what it might have looked like. I’ve had little luck finding descriptions of the town itself, except for one reference describing it at one of its sackings as a “dun (fort) with streets and houses”.
Not much to go on.
But my research into Luimnech and longphorts is far from complete. So if any of you fellow Irish History scholars out there have further information or helpful suggestions, I’m all ears!
Oh! And if any of these facts on longphorts or Luimnech have piqued your interest, I’d be happy to share with you some of the source information I’ve come across so far, so that you can conduct your own research in this exciting era.