This section is from the book "Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, And Superstitions Of Ireland", by Jane Francesca Wilde. Also available from Amazon: Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, And Superstitions Of Ireland.
In thus briefly alluding to the labours of St. Patrick, I wish to be understood to say that about the time of his mission there was much Saxon intercourse with this country, and the great missionary had not only many friends but several relatives residing here, and some of them on the very banks of the Boyne ; and I believe that a considerable amount of civilization and some knowledge of Christianity had been introduced long previously ; so that, although old King Laoghaire or Loury and his Druids did not bow the knee to the Most High God, nor accept the teaching of the beautiful hymn that Patrick and his attendants chanted as they passed up the grassy slopes of Tara, still there were many hundred people in Ireland ready to receive the glad tidings of the gospel of salvation.
Having finished with the Milesians, we now come to the Danes (so-called), the Scandinavians or Norsemen-the pagan Sea-Kings who made inroads on our coasts, despoiled our churches and monasteries, but at the same time, it must be confessed, helped to establish the commercial prosperity of some of our cities and towns from 795 to the time of the battle of Clontarf, a.d. 1014, when the belligerent portion of the Scandinavians were finally expelled the country. During the time I have specified, Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford belonged to these Northern people. They not only coasted round the island and never lost an opportunity of pillage and plunder, but they passed through the interior and carried their arms into the very centre of the land. The Danes left us very little ornamental work beyond what they lavished upon their swords and helmets; but, on the other hand, it should be borne in mind that there are no Irish antiquities, either social, warlike, or ecclesiastical, in the Scandinavian Museums.
Concerning their ethnological characters, I must again refer to the " Crania Britannica." In the records they were designated strangers, foreigners, pagans, gentiles, and also white and black foreigners, so that there were undoubtedly two races-the dark, and the fair or red, like as in the case of the Firbolgs or Dananns. They were also styled " Azure Danes," probably on account of the shining hue of their armour.
I believe the fair section of that people to have been of Norwegian origin, while the dark race came from Jutland and the coast of Sweden ; and both by the Orkneys, the coasts of Scotland, and the Isle of Man. Their skulls were large and well formed ; they had a thorough knowledge of metal work, and especially iron ; and, as I have shown elsewhere, their swords and spears were of great size and power, the former wielded as a slashing-weapon, while those of their early opponents were of bronze, weak, and intended for stabbing. In nowhere else in Europe (that I am aware of) have these rounded, pointed, or bevelled heavy iron swords been found except in Ireland and Norway.
Large quantities of Danish remains have been discovered in deep sinkings made in Dublin ; and several weapons, tools, and ornaments, believed to be of Scandinavian origin, have been found within a few inches of the surface on one of the battle-fields on the south side of the Liffey, within the last few years. Upon most of these I have already reported and given illustrations. I may mention one circumstance connected with this race. I never examined a battle-field of the Danes, nor a collection of Danish weapons or implements, that I did not find the well-adjusted scales and weights which the Viking had in his pocket for valuing the precious metals he procured either by conquest or otherwise.
Although considered hostile, these Scandinavian Vikings must have fraternized with the Irish. We know that they intermarried ; for, among many other instances that might be adduced, I may mention that during the battle of Clontarf, when Sitric, the Danish king of Dublin, looked on the fight from the walls of the city, he was accompanied by his wife, the daughter of the aged king known as " Brian the Brave."
When, however, the Irish chieftains were not fighting with one another, they were often engaged in petty wars with the Scandinavians, who, in turn, were attacked by their own countrymen, the " Black Gentiles," especially on the plain of Fingali, stretching from Dublin to the Boyne, and which the white race chiefly occupied. It must not be supposed that the battle of Clontarf ended the Danish occupation of Ireland ; they still held the cities of Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford at least, and largely promoted the commercial prosperity in these localities-a prosperity which has not quite yet departed. I should like to present you with some remains of the Scandinavian language in Ireland, but the materials are very scanty.
We are now coming to a later period. The Romans had occupied Britain, the Saxons followed ; the Danes had partial possession for a time ; the Heptarchy prevailed until Harold, the last of the Saxon kings, fell at Hastings, and England bowed beneath that mixture of Norman, Gaulish, Scandinavian, and general Celtic blood that William brought with him from the shores of France. The Saxon dynasty was at an end, but the Britons of the day accepted their fate ; and not only the soldiers, but the Norman barons fused with the people of that kingdom, and largely contributed to make it what it now is. This fusion of races, this assimilation of sentiments, this interchange of thought, this kindly culture, the higher elevating the lower, among whom they permanently reside, must always tend to great and good ends in raising a people to a nobler intellectual state.
The Anglo-Normans came here in 1172, a very mixed race, but their leaders were chiefly of French or Norman extraction. Why they came, or what they did, it is not for me to expatiate upon. I wish, however, to correct an assertion commonly made, to the effect that the Norman barons of Henry II. then conquered Ireland. They occupied some towns, formed a "Pale," levied taxes, sent in soldiery, distributed lands, and introduced a new language ; but the " King's writ did not run ; " the subjugation of Ireland did not extend over the country at large, and it remained till 1846 and the five or six following years to complete the conquest of the Irish race, by the loss of a tuberous esculent and the Governmental alteration in the value of a grain of corn. Then there went to the workhouse or exile upwards of two millions of the Irish race, besides those who died of pestilence. Having carefully investigated and reported upon this last great European famine, I have come to the conclusion just stated, without taking into consideration its political, religious, or national aspects.