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Dublin, a Viking City?

Dublin is an iconic city, where the Liffey meets the Irish sea. It’s a city that’s full of monuments, beautiful architecture, art, and bridges. It’s the seat of Irish culture, music, textiles, and all things Irish. In fact, ask anyone to name a city in Ireland and chances are that Dublin is the first city they think of. Dublin is undeniably Irish, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Ha' Penny Bridge in Dublin

Ha’ Penny Bridge in Dublin

From Wikipedia: “The earliest reference to Dublin is sometimes said to be found in the writings of Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy), the Egyptian-Greek astronomer and cartographer, around the year 140, who refers to a settlement called Eblana. This would

Boru Wood Quay Warrior pendant from The Celtic Ranch

Boru Wood Quay Warrior pendant from The Celtic Ranch

seem to give Dublin a just claim to nearly two thousand years of antiquity, as the settlement must have existed a considerable time before Ptolemy became aware of it. Recently, however, doubt has been cast on the identification of Eblana with Dublin, and the similarity of the two names is now thought to be coincidental. It is now thought that the Viking settlement was preceded by a Christian ecclesiastical settlement known as Duiblinn, from which Dyflin took its name. Beginning in the 9th and 10th century, there were two settlements where the modern city stands. The Viking settlement of about 841 was known as Dyflin, from the Irish Duiblinn (or “Black Pool”, referring to a dark tidal pool where the River Poddle entered the Liffey on the site of the Castle Gardens at the rear of Dublin Castle), and a Gaelic settlement, Áth Cliath (“ford of hurdles”) was further upriver, at the present day Father Mathew Bridge at the bottom of Church Street.”

Viking Lion Figurine. Photo courtesy of National Museum of Ireland

Viking Lion Figurine. Photo courtesy of National Museum of Ireland

It’s widely accepted that Viking Dublin was a thriving city by 840 AD, with trading outposts scattered throughout the Island. For those of you who watch the hit series Vikings, **SPOILERS** Ragnar’s son, Ivar The Boneless was one of Dublin’s Viking Kings, and his brother, Sitrygg Snake In The Eye, briefly reigned in Waterford. Vikings reigned in Dublin until 1014, when they were defeated by Irish High King, Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf.

Norse Alphabet Runes

Norse Alphabet Runes

Keith Jack Norse Forge Dragon Weave Bracelet from The Celtic Ranch

Keith Jack Norse Forge Dragon Weave Bracelet from The Celtic Ranch

It’s believed that in the two centuries of Viking expansion in Dublin, Viking and Celtic cultures began to meld, and they even developed a hybrid Gael-Norse language. In fact, there are still remnants of Norse in modern Gaelic. Religions were combined as well, with Roman Catholicism, Celtic Christianity, and Viking Paganism all being practised in ancient Dublin. But just as quickly as the Vikings arrived, they left, taking most of their culture, language and descendants with them. In fact, only around 1.4% of Irish people have Viking DNA, where the numbers are significantly higher in Great Britain, with some areas, like Orkney and Shetland, where 25-29% of men were found to have Viking DNA.

Viking Artifacts courtesy of The National Museum of Ireland

Viking Artifacts courtesy of The National Museum of Ireland

So, Is Dublin a Viking or a Celtic city? Yes. It’s both. The bones of the city are undoubtedly Viking, even if you’d have to dig pretty deep to find them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Irish Whales

 

At the turn of the Twentieth Century, with anti-Irish sentiment running high in both America and Britain, Irish Olympic athletes faced a choice of either competing as British athletes, for a crown and flag that they resented, or emigrating to America or Canada, where they were not wanted nor welcomed. The world did not yet recognize Ireland as a nation and these Irish athletes, who came to be known as The Irish Whales, became unlikely heroes as they set and broke records in track and field events between 1896 and 1924, competing under British, American and Canadian flags.

Irish Whales Team

Irish Whales Team

The Irish Whales were so named because they were large men, both in stature and in character. They were known for their fiery spirits, showmanship, and were the first Olympic heroes of the modern era. Pat McDonald, Simon Gillis, Con Walsh, John Flanagan. Matt McGrath, James Mitchell, Paddy Ryan and Martin Sheridan took the world by storm and did much to earn the Irish diaspora respect around the world.

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All told, the Irish Wales won some 25 gold medals between the Athens Olympics of 1896 and the Antwerp Olympics of 1920, mainly in the shot-put, hammer and discus events.

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During the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens, the Irish Whales won the bulk of Britain’s medals and the anger and resentment among the Irish athletes was starting to peak. After winning the gold medal for the hop, step and jump event Peter O’Connor ripped the Union Jack from the flagpole that had been raised above his head and replaced it with the green flag of Erin, making quite the statement to all who witnessed such a bold act of Irish patriotism.

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In 1908, the Summer Olympics were held in London and by then, most of the Irish Whales had joined the American Olympic team. There were countless diplomatic failures at these games, notably, the United States flag went missing and was not displayed in the Olympic stadium with the flags of all the other nations.

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According to Roger McGrath writer for Irish America, “As the music of Grenadier Guards filled the stadium, King Edward settled into the royal box with Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria at his side. At the Bugler’s signal, the gate leading to the athletes’ quarters was flung open and the parade of national teams began. One by one, they marched and dipped their flags to the King of England. It was a glorious moment for the host nation. Even the hard rain that had drenched the stadium earlier in the day had stopped. God seemed to be smiling on the empire. Then came the Americans, including the world-record hammer thrower and New York City cop, Matthew J. McGrath. When they approached the royal box, the County Tipperary-born McGrath, a six-foot, two-inch, 245-pound human bull of a man, stepped beside the team’s flag bearer and is rumored to have  said, “Dip that banner and you’re in hospital tonight.” Old Glory went unbowed past the King of England. The English were left in shock. London newspapers lashed the Americans with the severest criticism they could muster and called for an apology. Veteran Olympian and world-record discus thrower Martin J. Sheridan, another New York City cop, spoke of “Mighty Matt” McGrath and the other American team members when he answered the English by pointing to the flag and saying, “This flag dips to no earthly king.” The precedent had been set. To this day the United States does not dip its flag at Olympic ceremonies.”

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The Irish Whales forever changed the Olympics, and inspired Irish and American athletes for years to come. They raised the standards of competition in track and field and gave Irish people around the world a sense of pride and encouragement that would help embolden Ireland to fight for freedom and independence. These mighty men will forever be our Irish Whales.

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Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh (pronounced Loo-Nah-Saw) is the Gaelic harvest festival, which has been celebrated throughout the Celtic lands since ancient times. It is traditionally celebrated midway through the summer solstice and the autumn equinox.

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According to Wikipedia, Lughnasadh is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and has pagan origins. The festival itself is named after the god Lugh. It involved great gatherings that included religious ceremonies, ritual athletic contests (most notably the Tailteann Games), feasting, matchmaking and trading. There were also visits to holy wells. According to folklorist Máire MacNeill, evidence shows that the religious rites included an offering of the ‘first fruits‘, a feast of the new food and of bilberries, the sacrifice of a bull and a ritual dance-play in which Lugh seizes the harvest for mankind and defeats the powers of blight. Much of the activities would have taken place on top of hills and mountains. Lughnasadh customs persisted widely until the 20th century, with the event being variously named ‘Garland Sunday’, ‘Bilberry Sunday’, ‘Mountain Sunday’ and ‘Crom Dubh Sunday’. The custom of climbing hills and mountains at Lughnasadh has survived in some areas, although it has been re-cast as a Christian pilgrimage. The best known is the ‘Reek Sunday‘ pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday in July. A number of fairs are also believed to be survivals of Lughnasadh, for example the Puck Fair. Since the later 20th century, Celtic neopagans have observed Lughnasadh, or something based on it, as a religious holiday. In some places, elements of the festival have been revived as a cultural event.

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Lughnasadh is also known as Bilberry Sunday, Blueberry Sunday, Crom Dubh Sunday, and Garland Sunday, and can be celebrated anytime between the middle of July and the end of August.

Berry picking is a traditional part of Lughnasadh and legend holds that if there is a plentiful crop, then the rest of the harvest will also be plentiful.

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Another Lughnasadh or Garland Sunday tradition is the making of garlands and wreaths, which are then placed around all of the Holy Wells in Ireland, honoring the patron saints.

So how can you celebrate the Lughnasadh Festival? However you want! Bake a pie, dig in the garden, relax around a fire or decorate your home with flowers. However you choose to honor this tradition, we wish you a happy and bountiful summer!

 

 


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