Enter the Vikings: The Assault of Lambay Island


Toward the end of the 8th Century A.D., Ireland was almost completely Gaelic and Christian. It was a rural society, with no towns or cities, and the only large settlements were hamlets that grew up around monasteries. The monastery was, firstly, the seat of learning but was also involved in the cultural, economic and political affairs of its province.

On a crisp, calm morning in 795 A.D., a flotilla of longships slipped their moorings at a staging post, hidden deep within a cragged fjord in Norway. On board, were companies of well-armed, disciplined marauders, intent on conquering and plundering new lands. Many of those sailing that day were the younger sons of nobles and warriors who, because of a rapid rise in population and subsequent shortage of land, compounded by their low ranking within their families, were forced to seek fortune elsewhere. 

Expert boat-builders, they constructed the longship with precise attention to detail, speed being the main, determining factor. Ideally suited for open-sea voyages, it was lightweight, lay low in the water, had a wide beam, and was fast and stable. Fitted with oars as long as the boat itself and with cloth sails, woven from sheep’s wool, all ensured that they could increase speed when needed, and supplement the rowers' efforts.The design allowed navigation in shallow waters, making it ideal for river travel, and made beach landings much easier. With both bow and stern built identically, they could reverse direction without having to turn. Fully trained navigators sailed with the crews and used the sun, moon and stars as guides. The sun stone, shadow board and an early form of compass made certain that they reached their chosen destinations. 

On that fateful morning, sailing out from the fjord, they tacked southwest, skirted the Shetlands, and sailed south to Orkney. After a short respite there, they continued down the Atlantic Ocean, hugging the west coast of Scotland, entered the Irish Sea, and after bypassing the small isle of Manx, directed the convoy toward the land that lay furthest from the then-known civilization. Their target on this day was a small monastic settlement on Ireland's Lambay Island, which lay two miles off shore, close to Dubh linn, a marshy tide pool at the mouth of the River Liffey.

The settlement, built in 530 A.D., by an Irish scholar and monk named Colmcille, was home to a handful of monks and scribes. A church, monastery and several small, corbelled stone huts and simple shelters were built close to the site of the ancient stone-axe quarry. Rocks from the quarry were hewn by the monks, dressed by hand and utilized as the building material for the dwellings. Living a spartan existence, the monks possessed little and the only items of value were the books, religious artifacts and holy relics that adorned the church and monastery walls. 

The Norsemen, or as they are better known, the Vikings, had their own religion and worshiped a pantheon of Norse gods, some of whom promoted violence as a means to an end. They detested Christianity and saw it as a direct threat to their way of life and everything they held dear. That is one reason why they targeted monasteries and churches with such frequency, although they did also raid the houses of noblemen and isolated farms. Another attraction, and perhaps the deciding factor, was that the monasteries contained many gold and silver ornaments of worship.

They were also aware that the inhabitants of those settlements were god-fearing and peace-loving individuals, with only pitchforks and bill-hooks to defend themselves, no match for the heavily armed invaders. After looting the artifacts and relics, the settlement was destroyed in an unbridled orgy of destruction. The buildings were reduced to piles of smoldering rubble. The naked bodies of monks lay butchered, grotesquely strewn on the ground where they fell. Those not slaughtered were rounded up, shackled in readiness for transport back to the fjords, and their new lives as slaves.

That first raid was the beginning of 200 years of intermittent warfare and pillage, with monasteries the favored targets, but these raiders spared no one. The Vikings were expelled from Dublin in 902 A.D. but remained active in the Irish Sea. They continued to raid the Pictish kingdom in Scotland, the Saxon kingdom in Northumbria and frequently ravaged Manx. They returned to Ireland in 914, where they landed a large fleet of longships in Waterford. The Vikings were eventually defeated by King Brian Boru at the battle of Clontarf in 1014 A.D.

From "Out of the Ice: Ireland Then and Now."

Available at: https://www.amazon.com/author/johnabrennan

Read more here:


Views: 2775

Tags: History of Ireland, Island, Lambay, Vikings

Comment by Colm Herron on October 2, 2016 at 9:25am

I think I wrote before that you're the man that fills in the gaps. It was a pleasure and an education to read this John. And on top of everything else the images were perfection itself. Thank you.

Comment by John Anthony Brennan on October 2, 2016 at 1:02pm

Thank you Colm. If I can inspire the reader to follow up and read further on the subject, then I have done my job. We Irish have the uncanny ability to take the information in from, as Van Morrison said, the "source," internalize, understand, formulate and then express it with our words. It truly is a gift and we owe that special race of people, the Tuatha de Dannan, our thanks for passing it on to us.

Comment by Colleen MarieBlanchefleur Whalen on October 2, 2016 at 5:43pm

Illuminating, enlightening and a very good and "easy read".

I did not want the article to end.

John Anthony Brenna, you are a highly gifted historian, bard and writer.  What a blessing, what a treasure to have discovered you!  I look forward with delight, anticipation, awe and wonder to reading MORE of your brilliant work!

Reading your work makes me even more grateful I am a descendent of Tuatha de Dannan and of Irish descent.  How our people survived so many centuries of genocide, pillage, plunder is a testament to the human spirit.

Although tyranny, ignorance and depravity may prevail for centuries...the "The Good, The True and The Beautiful" always conquers evil (even if it takes 800 years to transpire)   Long live the noble Irish and all their descendents across the glob.

The Wild Geese are far more than "survivors"....we are champions, thoroughbreds, winners and "civilizers."

Colleen Marie-Blanchefleur Whalen

Northern California

Comment by John Anthony Brennan on October 2, 2016 at 6:46pm

Thank you Colleen for the wonderful review. It made my day for sure. We Irish are truly a race apart and add greatly to the global collective consciousness. We are as you state, "champions, thoroughbreds, winners and "civilizers." The reason certain individuals tried to keep us down was because they feared our potential. I look forward to your future reviews. Thank you once again.

Comment by Nichole Cardillo on October 2, 2016 at 6:51pm

I learned from this article and it was true to reality.  There was one line though I personally disagree with.  I practice Druidry myself but do have friends who are Asatru/Norse and have celebrated at blots/sumbels with them.  The line "worshiped a pantheon of Norse gods, gods that promoted violence as a means to an end" is not accurate of all of their gods.  Yes there were some who venerated war/raiding (and viewed it very differently) but there were many others who didn't or had many other aspects to them.  Thank you for writing this though, I always strive to learn new things and see things though the eyes of others. 

Comment by Colleen MarieBlanchefleur Whalen on October 2, 2016 at 7:17pm

Hello Again, John Anthony Brennan:

You "nailed it" when you posited that other cultures of cattle rustling, marauding savages                                   "tried to keep us down because they feared out potential".  

Spot on.  

I used to work in domestic violence shelters and with drug addicts/alcholics in recovery programs.  I was shocked how many times when our clinic staff would offer FREE, unlimited resources to help these tormented, tragic people...our clients would get physically violent, outraged, furious the staff wanted to help them heal their malaise.  Some people are determined to enslave themselves and cling to the chains which bind them.  All of this can be explained by the work of Hannah Arrendt in her seminal treatiste "The Banality of Human Evil" and Erich Fromm's book "The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness".  Although it is with a heavy heart, I am a disciple of Dr. Stanley Milgrim and Dr. Philip Zimbardo - I still believe SOME people follow The Light instead of ignorance, depravity, pillage, plunder

There is a psychotic, wierd part of the human psyche that fears illumination, truth telling and justice seeking. The people who want to succumb to "Fear Based Thinking" - demonizing "The Other" and totalitarian, tyrannical, despotic regimes FEAR "The Good, The True and The Beautiful". Some people are hard-wired neurologically hardwired towards self-destructive behavior.  This is what I call "The Chronic Patters of Self Abuse and The Chronic Patterns of Self Neglect".

When the British Crown abolished speaking classical Irish language, when the Crown burned our sacred, ancient cantos and Irish philosophy from enlightened beings - the Crown in fact, was harming themselves. When the Vikings burnt Irish monasteries, destroyed holy scripture, raped, pillaged, plundered - they harmed themselves.  Dr. Martin Luther King wrote a magnificent essay and speech how slavery and racism destroys the soul, psyche and life of the slave master. 

What separates us from the marauding, pillaging plundering, civilization destroying savages is our art, literature, music, poetry and healing arts.  It is the bardic tradition which enobles the base, venal and self destructive part of human nature.

There will always be self-destructive people who want to trample on The Light.  My strategy is to stay out of their path, avoid them at all costs, pray for them and forgive them for their ignorance.  As a 15th generation             Irish-Welsh American living in California, the rise of Donald Trump makes me tremble for our republic.  Despite all Trump's shenanigans I am confident the American people will come to their senses and he will be defeated.  Although I must "hold my nose" to vote and campaign for Hillary Clinton, even at her very WORST she is a brilliant administrator and highly capable (albeit corrupt.)   America is quite a young republic.  We are a republic in it's infancy, a mere 240 years old.  Compared to the Greek and Roman republics, that is a mere blink of an eye.

Despite the rumbling, distant thunder I hear which may destroy us all....I still believe through art, literature, evocative poetics and the healing bardic traditions, that humanity will prevail and we will inheirit our divine birthright - ecstasy, bliss and illumination.  Domination, colonialism, Empire Building, drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, credit card spending addiction - these are all Second Class substitutes for our true nature - which is spiritual ecstasy, bliss and illumination.

Many Blessings to You,

Colleen Marie-Blanchefleur Whalen

Northern California

Comment by Nichole Cardillo on October 2, 2016 at 7:27pm

One more thing - "What separates us from the marauding, pillaging plundering, civilization destroying savages is our art, literature, music, poetry and healing arts."  Well, the Vikings had those as well as did many Pagan cultures, including the Druids, many of whose sacred sites were completely changed by the spread of Christianity.  There are always different historical lenses and different ways of looking at things.  There are Irish deities who also were associated with battle, war and death.  I'm glad we live in modern times where slavery is a lot less prevalent, at least in the traditional sense.  Ireland has a very rich history both Christian and Pre-Christian that should be studied and valued.

Comment by John Anthony Brennan on October 2, 2016 at 8:19pm

Hi Nichole, Thank you for your feedback. You must remember that I wrote the article from an observer's point of view. Thankfully, we Irish managed to keep our old ways despite the insistence of Christianity. I am reminded of it anytime I look and marvel at an oak or hazel tree or a striking rock formation in the center of a flowing stream. Thankfully our culture retained it's ogham alphabet, its tradition of storytelling (Seannachie) and our music. I worship them all anytime I stroll through a verdant forest and listen for the sounds of a goldfinch. I await your further reviews. Thank you once again.  

Comment by John Anthony Brennan on October 2, 2016 at 8:25pm

Yes Colleen, we should always try to stay close to our original nature. Otherwise we get lost. As Jimi Hendrix once said, "When the power of Love overcomes the Love of Power" then we have a chance.

Comment by David Thorndill on October 2, 2016 at 8:28pm

A century later the Vikings colonized Greenland, but several centuries later the Greenlandic colony mysteriously vanished.. Perhaps you’ve never read a screenplay.   Check out my action/adventure screenplay “The Last Vikings" about  Greenland Vikings fleeing to North America during the “Little Ice Age” in the 1400s. It is available on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/1534988114 . It was awarded the Best Action/Adventure Script at the Los Angeles Film and Script Festival (2015), and the Royal Reel Award from the Canada International Film Festival (2016)



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