Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Patrick's Day: A Norwegian Holiday?

Driving in to work today there certainly was a lot of green to be seen (and I don’t mean grass or blooming plants). It's St Patrick’s Day again and there are A LOT of folks “getting their Irish on” today. Be they Irish diaspora or fans of good old fashioned revelry, there’s never a shortage of people who like to make a big celebration of St Patrick’s Day and Irish heritage & culture around these parts.

That being the case, I thought it only fair to blog about Norway’s impact on Irish heritage and culture. For example, can you tell me what Dublin, Cork, Wexford, Limerick, Howth and Fingall all have in common? I’ll give you this one—at one point each of these well-known Irish cities were Norwegian/Viking settlements.

That’s right, in fact the Viking/Irish interaction was so well known it was not only documented in Viking saga’s, it was also detailed in the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters the Annals of Clonmacnoise and The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill. Further accounts can be found in the arabic writings of the accounts of Ibn Ghazal.

You see in the 700s, pressure on land in Scandanavia had forced many nobles and warriors to seek land elsewhere. Some of these were younger sons, who stood to inherit nothing of their father's estate. Noblemen with little to lose began to gather together groups of warriors and go down the coast pillaging settlements. With the invention of Viking long boats, the raiders eventually began reaching further across the cold waters of the North Sea. By the late 700’s the Vikings were finding themselves on the shores of modern day England and Ireland.

At first the Vikings came for riches and slaves, finding both in large supply within Ireland’s abundant Christian monasteries. Often, the slaves were sold to Vikings traveling back to Norway, but many were kept in Ireland working in a Viking-held town (I’ve heard that this was such a prevalent practice that even today there are remnants of Irish tartans found in Norwegian bunad materials).

However, this raiding period would not last long, and by 950 the Vikings had stopped raiding in Ireland altogether and developed instead as traders and settled in the lands around their towns. It was during this time that Norwegian culture really affected Ireland by providing place names, like Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, Strangford, Leixlip, Carlingford, Youghal, Howth, Dalkey and Fingall [an area of modern-day Dublin]. Also a few of their words were also adopted into the Irish language.

So, today, when you celebrate St Patrick’s Day with a green beer and an old folk song, be sure to offer at least one toast to Norway.

If you want to read more about Norway’s interaction with Ireland, I suggest:

The Viking Answer Lady
Wesley Johnston's pre-Norman history


Debbie said...

How cool is that? I learn something new every day. Thanks for the info.

Andrew Holden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Holden said...

I just want to point out that there is NO way Irish tartans could be part of Norwegian bunads.

You see bunads are not really that old, they are more or less a modern invention of the 1800s. And they only became popular in the 1900s.

They were invented in a period of Norway's history when national romantic ideals were prevalent.

From poetry to painting, many famous Norwegian artists were part of this movement. We're talking about Ibsen, Bjørnson, Wergeland, Welhaven and so on.

This was a time of rapid change, modernization and urbanization. The bunads were designed to invoke the past "glory" and romantic ideals of the farmer society. It helped people create an identity they could embrace as Norwegians.

And it was during this time Norway would seek independence from Sweden. The national romantics Do you see how it's all tied together? And why bunads are prominent on the 17th of May!

I could go on for hours about this, the subject is heavily featured in Norwegian schools.

It's common knowledge in Norway that quite a few cities in both the UK and Ireland are of Norwegian origin. From Scottish to Ireland, even the Isle of Man(n).

While Dubh Lihn, "black pool", is well known, the ancient Viking city of Jorvik later gave name to a far greater city. The English called the city "York" for short. I believe there's a namesake in the US today...