By Donnchadh Ó Corráin
Ireland and Scandinavia in the early Viking age, edited by H. B. Clarke, Máire Ní Mhaonaigh and Raghnall Ó Floinn (Dublin, 1998)
Introduction: Coming, as I do, at the end of a very successful conference that has provided many new scholarly insights, some very lively discussion, and a pleasant social ambience where much good talking was done, I find myself in an awkward position. There is no point in attempting a summary of papers already presented in full, though this bad and bumptious habit is common enough in conference proceedings. Neither should I try a review of the papers or an assessment of the achievements of the conference. There are plenty critics only too willing to do that and it would be a pity to spoil their fun when the proceedings appear. And in any case I do not know enough to play the reviewer. It might be more useful to offer some reflections on three topics discussed at this conference: the political and social condition of Ireland when the Vikings came, the provenance of the Vikings and their early raids, and the cultural relations between Ireland and Iceland.
As Charles Doherty has pointed out, too much was said in the past about the alleged backwardness and retarded political system of Ireland before the Viking period. Irish society has been seen as archaic, isolated, backward-looking, and tribal—an ‘old order’ that had survived unchanged since antiquity (if not remote Indo-European times, whenever they were) and that was shattered by the Viking attack. The Vikings were thought to have shaken the Irish out of their rut but in doing so they made Irish society much more violent and that, in its turn, caused rapid socio-political change.