Catherine Swift, “Royal Fleets in Viking Ireland: The Evidence of Lebor Na Cert, A.D. 1050-1150.”

This article was in my Academia roundup from last week, and given that M studies Vikings and I have always been interested in the topic, I decided to go with this as my article this week. It is part of a compilation, Land, Sea and Home- it is part of the Proceedings of a Conference on Viking-period Settlement at Cardiff, July 2001. I will fully admit I do not know if this is at all up to date or if theories have changed a great deal in the almost fifteen years since writing.

Swift examines Lebor na Cert for relationships between local and over-kings in Ireland, particularly the over-king’s responsibiliity to give gifts to the local kings. The book is a collection of poems that dates to the fourteenth century, but Swift reiterates Eoin MacNeill’s argument that the text was most likely written in the eleventh century and recopied into this later text. (190) There are five over-kingdoms mentioned in the collection: 1) Munster, 2) Connacht, 3) Ailech, 4) Airgialla, and 5) Ulaid. Ships were commonly given as gifts to local kings, but less so in the Southeast. She argues that over-kings would want to give ships as gifts because the local king would then be under the military command of the over-king. She further argues that the local kings would want to be in this relationship because they would receive a portions of the “rewards” of the battle.

My goal is to read more on the Vikings in Ireland this year. While I usually focus on the early medieval period in Ireland, I think it will really help my own research to know what is happening in the adjacent periods. I can’t ask too many questions of this article, because I don’t really have any experience in the area, but I do have a few thoughts:

This stuck out at me: “The traditional accounts of early Irish history are all heavily based on the relatively copious entries in the Irish annals. This is to accord too much importance to the annalistic record and not enough to the contemporary record.” (205) I personally love using literature in my historical work, I think that it provides insight and context for the period in which it was written. However, being that this text is not definitively dated,  I think that we do still need to be wary of jumping in. Literature cannot be treated as a “historical” source, there is a different way of approaching it. The annals obviously have their own flaws, but I think she needed to explain herself more fully. My other sticking point was her discussion of the other gifts- she quickly outlines in what the smaller gifts would be in a few sentences. I know that she specifically looked at ships, but it was interesting to hear what else would be given and provides context for giving something as monumental as a ship.

Hines, John. Land, Sea and Home: settlement in the Viking period: proceedings of a conference on Viking-period settlement, at Cardiff, July 2001. Cardiff, Wales: Maney, 2004.

Until tomorrow,
The Historian!

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