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Scholars explore Viking fortress in Ireland

Viking scholars from around the world came to the Irish communities of Dundalk and Annagassan last week to take part in a conference about the recently discovered fortress and longphort of Linn Duachaill. The conference was held at Dundalk’s Town Hall, while the nearby County Museum Dundalk has also started an exhibition entitled ‘Raiders, Traders and Innovators The Vikings and County Louth’.

The conference focussed on the unique importance of the recent discovery of Linn Duachaill longphort at Annagassan and highlighted its premier status in relation to very rare but similar sites in Ireland, Britain and Europe. The exhibition at the Museum has put on display for the first time many of the amazing archaeological finds discovered in September 2010 during the research archaeological excavation. The National Museum of Ireland has also loaned the County Museum important Viking treasures discovered close to the longphort over the past centuries. These were used by the Vikings living at Linn Duachaill.

The huge longphort was founded in 841 and is a Viking fortress built to protect the invading longships, warriors and civilian population. It was also used as a base for extensive raiding and attacks on the native Irish kingdoms and monasteries and probably served as a slave trading centre as well. A Viking slave chain found in the river beside the longphort, Viking silver and iron fittings from longhips discovered during the excavation are among the extremely rare items on display in the County Museum. The archaeologists and historians believe that the archaeology of the fortress has remained largely untouched for nearly twelve centuries and both experts and locals hope that it will reveal much more about the very early period of Vikings following their arrival in Ireland.

Over the course of the weekend delegates to the Conference heard and discussed the nature of the area’s history ranging from the archaeological evidence uncovered at the site to the impact of changes to the area’s drainage system as outlined by local historian, Micheal McKeown. Other topics discussed included how the discovery of the pristine site will have an important influence on the understanding of Viking Dublin (also founded in 841) and the nature of other longphorts in Ireland. Specialists from the British Museum and Cambridge University also discussed recent finds in Britain from newly discovered and similar Viking military sites and how Linn Duachaill and the Irish evidence will help to unravel the mysteries of these.

In an interview with the BBC, Michael McKeown, said “Dublin developed more as a trading town, this appeared to be more of a raiding town. From here they attacked inland, they flattened all the monasteries in County Louth, they went to Armagh three times in one year, they went as far as the Shannon, deep into Longford. So there had to be a great amount of Vikings here. I would estimate four or five thousand Vikings here with up to 200 ships.”

Viking historian, John Maas, who spoke at the conference on how new discoveries in Irish Viking history and archaeology were leading to major changes in our whole understanding of Viking settlement in Ireland said: “The Linn Duachaill discovery and excavation is a very important component in a completely new understanding of the Vikings right across Europe. Co. Louth, the Annagassan residents and the County Museum should all be very proud of the vital role they played in this wonderful international achievement.”

Ned Kelly, archaeologist and Keeper of Antiquities at the National Museum, who spoke on new longphort discoveries in Ireland said “The conference brought together those scholars who are at the cutting edge of research into ninth century Viking activity in Ireland and England. Much material that is new was presented for consideration including the recent discoveries at Linn Duachaill. It is an extremely exciting time for Viking studies and it is clear that we are at the threshold of major new discoveries at Linn Duachaill and elsewhere.”

The final highlight of the weekend was the guided tour by Ned Kelly of Lios na Rann, an earthwork which was the citadel of the longphort of Linn Duachaill, and by Dr. Mark Clinton of the site of the ramparts of the longphort which were uncovered last September in excavations directed by Dr. Clinton. Delegates were informed of the history and archaeology of the fortress and how it might have appeared at the height of its military power.

Kelly added in an interview with the BBC, “This is a site that has the potential to tell us an awful lot about the early activities of the Vikings in Ireland. This is the phase prior to the establishment of towns like Dublin and Wexford. The site is well preserved, it’s very big and the trial cuttings we put in last September show us that there’s a great depth of archaeological deposits, so there’s an enormous amount we can learn about early Viking settlement in Ireland.”

The County Museum, Dundalk is open to the public Tuesday to Saturday and admission is free. The Viking exhibition runs until mid- February. Click here to visit their website

Click here to visit the Linn Duachaill website

See also Viking Fortress Discovered in Ireland

Sources: County Museum Dundalk, BBC

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