By Alfred P. Smyth
Saga-book of the Viking Society, Vol. 19 (1974-77)
Introduction: In 866 the “Great Army” of Danes crossed the Humber from its base in East Anglia and captured York on the feast of All Saints. Five months later, on 21 March 867, the Danes successfully repulsed a Northumbrian attempt to regain the city. In the battle-rout which ensued the Northumbrians lost both their kings, Osbert and Ælla, and the Danes became the undisputed masters of the kingdom. Contemporary Irish annalists described the Danish assailants at York and the slayers of King Alli, as Dub Gaill or “Black Foreigners”. These Dub Gaill were so called to distinguish them from their fellow vikings and rivals the Finn Gaill or “White Foreigners” – the name applied by Irish chroniclers to the Norwegian invaders who harassed their own shores.
It is clear from other references to Scandinavian activity of the ninth and tenth centuries within Ireland that the “White Foreigners” had a predominantly Norwegian origin, and that their opposite numbers were Danes. We know from the annals that the Finn Gaill had been established in Western Scotland and Ireland before the arrival of their Dub Gaill enemies, and Scandinavian sources, together with archaeological and place-name evidence, make it clear that the earliest settlers in the West were Norsemen. The oldest Irish source which actually equates the “Black Foreigners” with Danes is the twelfth-century War of the Irish with the Scandinavians (Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh) which speaks of “Danish Black Gentiles” (Duibgeinti Danarda) who tried to drive the “White Gentiles” out of Ireland in 851.