However, it wasn't until 934 CE, when Olaf, a Hiberno-Norse Viking chief, succeeded his father to the throne of the King of Dublin that the city that is loved the world over was truly founded. 

Whilst this military man may have been a wrecker of armies, he was also a builder of kingdoms.

The Hiberno-Norse

The history of the island of Ireland is so intertwined with the history of the Vikings that it is often hard to separate the two. 

The first "recorded" Viking raid, at Lindisfarne in 793 CE, seems to have been a blueprint for the early phase of Viking expansion. A similar attack occurred just two years later on Rathlin Island – a similarly isolated island off the northeast coast of the island of Ireland. 

For the next two decades, Viking raids and attacks would occur frequently throughout the length and breadth of the eastern seaboard of the island of Ireland.

By the beginning of the 820s CE, the Viking expansion into the Irish Sea started to change from mere speculative raids to ones of a larger and more deadly dimension. Raiding parties began to look more and more like settling parties, and people – particularly women - were routinely enslaved as spoils of wars.

In 837 CE, according to a contemporary Irish chronicle, more than 60 Viking ships sailed up the river Liffey to raid a small settlement that, half a century earlier, had been founded by both Vikings and the local Gaelic population. 

This settlement had now grown to include churches, fortifications, and houses and was known for the murky waters near the confluence of the Liffey and Poddle rivers which the Norse had named Dyflin (Dark Pool). In the local Gaelic tongue, this settlement was known as Dubh Linn.

One King to Rule Them All

By the middle of the 9th century CE, the Viking raiders had turned into settlers and colonizers. The area around what is now Dublin became an important center of commercial activity, soon thriving to become one of the largest slave ports in Europe. 

People from the British Isles were enslaved and ferried here to be sent as far away as the Black Sea or Baghdad. It could be argued that Viking slavery was fundamental to the early growth, literally and figuratively, of Dublin.
 It is here that we turn to the sagas for the establishment of a ruler of these slave-trading Vikings. According to the Norse tradition, Ivar the Boneless was one of three sons of a semi-legendary Norse warrior and chieftain, Ragnar Lothbrok.

Ivar journeyed to the Norse settlement of Dublin and soon established sole rule over the Norse population. If we look at the historical record, a tentative date of 853 CE has been given for the establishment of the King of Dublin. 

However, despite the title, this king was often a co-ruler with the more established political elite of the Viking kingdom of Northumbia, centered at Jorvik (modern-day York).

The first mention we have of Olaf (sometimes called Olaf Guthfrithson, Anlaf Guthfrithson, or in his old Irish form Amlaíb mac Gofraid) comes from the Irish Annals, contemporary Gaelic chronicle. 

Here, Ivar the Boneless familial grip on power had passed down to his grandson, Guthfrith of Ivar (or as the locals knew him Gofraid ua Ímair), whose reign spanned from 918 to 934 CE. 

As the Norse rule over Dublin had lasted several generations by now, the rulers, like the settlers, adapted more and more to the local Gaelic language and population.

The history of Ireland is intertwined with the history of the Vikings. Illustration: The Viking Herald

A famously cruel father

His father would have the early memories of the Gaelic overpowering the Norse settlement, forcing many of the recent arrivals to leave the settlement in 902 CE. 

This powerful trauma may have been passed down, from father to son, explaining the iron glove that Olaf was said to rule with during his reign. 

The course of Guthfrith's reign was one of constant battle with the Gaelic population, the bloody climax of which was a raid into what is now Kildare, slaying – according to contemporary accounts – over 1.000 people. 

This was the figure that young Olaf would live up to, and when his father passed away in 934 CE, he was mourned by few of the local population. 

The Annals of Ulster said, of his passing, that he was the "most cruel king of the Norsemen." Young Olaf had big (and nasty) shoes to fill.

Despite Olaf's ascension to the throne, his father's death had fractured the Hiberno-Norse elite. Olaf had to quickly secure his throne by defeating a rival claimant, a Norse ruler who had proclaimed himself "King of Limerick." 

This area, to the west of Dublin, broke away in the days after the passing of Guthfrith, and it took the young king three years to win it back. Following this, Olaf now secured his eastern flank, in the same year, by allying himself with the Scottish King Constantine II. 

Their aim was to try and win back the Kingdom of Northumbria, which had once belonged, nominally, to Olaf's father.

A famous battle and demise

Southward across the Irish Sea lay the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of England, which, in 937 CE, was ruled by Æthelstan. Olaf wanted to seize back Northumbria, which had been in the Viking orbit since it was first conquered following the invasion of the Great Heathen Army in 865 CE. 

Furthermore, with his king claiming nominal rule, he felt it was also his birthright. Olaf and Constantine, along with Owain of Strathclyde (another one of those post-Romano British successor states), met the Anglo-Saxons on a battlefield somewhere in what is now Cheshire, England, at a place locals called Brunabruh.

Whilst some historians have described this battle as one of the most important ever on British soil (it was said to keep the unity of Æthelstan's Anglo-Saxon England and thus the very idea of England itself), the jury is still very much on 1) where it occurred and 2) its importance to the unification of Anglo-Saxon England. 

Nevertheless, Olaf and his allied forces were absolutely routed. In fact, if we are to believe the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (problematic as it can be seen as a piece of victor's propaganda), "never yet as many people killed before this with sword's edge ... since the east Angles and Saxons came up over the broad sea.." That is, of course, early medieval English for a royal ass-whooping!

Despite being on the losing side, Olaf won the eventual war as Æthalstan's death just over 18 months later saw Olaf sail back to Northumbria, this time seizing it, leaving a cousin in charge of his Dublin kingdom. 

Olaf would eventually die in 941 CE, having one-upped his father and secured two thrones in the British Isles. An archaeological dig in 2005 uncovered what some historians believe to be the skeleton of Olaf, but the latest hypothesis is that the skeleton was a victim of one of Olaf's attacks.

The Hiberno-Norse would go on to rule parts of the island of Ireland and the British Isles until the Norman invasions from the late 11th century CE onwards.

Forbes has published more on Ireland's proud Viking heritage here.

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