By the year 800, Ireland had become a favorite target of the Scandinavian warriors known as Vikings. They arrived by sea in their sturdy ships in search of loot. The churches on the coastline were easy targets, being both vulnerable and having plenty of valuable gold and silver objects, such as chalices and shrines. The Vikings were also on the lookout for another valuable commodity – people. At this time the slave trade was thriving, and the monks and other people captured in these raids were taken and sold into slavery.
Over time the Vikings, who called themselves Ostmen, or men from the east, began to settle down at certain coastal sites. Gradually these developed into the first towns in Ireland. The most famous of these Viking towns was Dublin, which was founded in the year 917. They also founded towns at Waterford and Cork. It appears that the Vikings also established small towns or communities at Arklow and Wicklow, though there is little evidence to show this. The large towns at Dublin and the smaller communities at Arklow and Wicklow became important ports, where many exotic goods where brought into Ireland from Britain and mainland Europe. Shipbuilding was also an important industry at these towns. There were also many benefits for those people living in the countryside near these new towns. The people living in these towns needed food to eat, and timber to make their houses and ships. The farmers who lived in the hinterland of these towns were only too glad to supply the townspeople with food and timber.
When the Vikings first arrived they brought with them their own religion and gods. Over time they converted to Christianity. Archaeological evidence for this can be found at a few old graveyards in the north of Wicklow. For example, at Killegar near Enniskerry are a number of decorated stones that were used to mark the graves of Viking people who were buried in this Christian graveyard. On these stones are unusual decoration not used by the local Irish, but was fashionable amongst the Viking inhabitants of Dublin.
This article is extracted from County Wicklow in Prehistory a heritage office publication produced as an action of the County Heritage Plan. Text supplied by Chris Corlett