Vikings of the Irish Sea (David Griffiths)

(Why, yes, school DID just start again…it’s no accident I haven’t posted since June 13th, when school got out for the summer.  It’s difficult to think, let alone type, with children chattering at your elbow.  So many of their sentences this summer started with “HeyMomCanI..” I was beginning to think I’d acquired a new nickname..  Anyhoo.  Back for the school year…)

It’s taken me several months to read David Griffiths’ Vikings of the Irish Sea (2010) but that’s my fault, not the book’s.  Mostly.  It is a detailed, academic treatment, possibly not a good fit for a general audience and certainly not a place to begin reading about the Vikings’ forays into the British islands.  And absolutely not a book to be trying to get through with short people chanting “HeyMomCanI…” in the background.  Your brain starts blinking Insufficient attention available at this time.  

That said, the book is very good at what it’s meant to be–a corrective to how we usually think about Vikings and their interaction with the British islands.  Griffith makes the point that crossing the Irish sea is much easier and faster than, say, crossing Ireland by land. Trading and raiding–and not just by Vikings–crisscrossed the Irish sea, and we would do well to adjust our thinking accordingly.

The added bonus for anyone interested in Linn Duachaill is that this book came out as the first-round excavations were planned or perhaps underway, and so is a snapshot of the state of our knowledge just before that significant discovery.  It’s worth noting that Griffiths had enough information at his disposal even before the discovery of the longphort  to caution against assuming that Lisnarann was where the Vikings made camp:  “the longphort…could equally well be associated with the monastery, as also seems the case at St. Mullins” (32).

This, of course, has turned out to be precisely the case.

Now, of course, I want to do some reading about St. Mullins as an analogue for Linn Duachaill.

The Archaeology of Early Medieval Ireland. Nancy Edwards.

The only problem with this book is that everything it says is important. You can’t actually underline everything. It took me months to read, mostly because I had to stop every few pages to let my brain process the chockfull o’ goodness facts. I may well have to read it again to hope to get a good grasp on what’s here. Because it’s all here. What archaeology tells us about housing, food, clothing, artisans, artwork, weapons and fighting techniques, church architecture, and agriculture in early medieval Ireland.

I do wish there were a newer edition of the book. It was originally published in 1990 and a great deal has been discovered in the two decades since. Like Linn Duachaill. Indeed, her description of how little we know about Viking settlement in Ireland, particularly outside areas that developed into large cities (i.e. Dublin, and to a lesser extent Waterford) underscores the importance of the Linn Duachaill discovery.