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The Danes

Early Waterford History

6. The Danes
Waterford has been always regarded as the most Danish town in Ireland. No doubt the Norsemen saw this city was the key to the most powerfull parts of the country, and that if they could succeed in holding it within their grasp the interior would be easily approachable. In historical parlance Waterford was built by the Danes or Ostmen. How much of the city, as at present standing, is the work of the Ostmen, conjecture alone can estimate. Indeed it is doubtful if as the result of all the industry of the Danes "a stone has been left upon a stone." Of course we say this with all due respect to the inscription on Reginald's Tower, which says it was built in 1003 by the Dane. Now, remembering that Waterford was pillaged, ruined, and burned down in 1050 by the King of Leinster; and afterwards, in 1087, by the people of Dublin and again destroyed by fire in 1252 and 1282, it is highly improbable that the tower, the main defence, would be left untouched in those predatory wars, However, everybody agrees that in or about the year 853 A.D., three brothers, Aulaf, or Amlav, Sitric, and Ivor made settlements upon our coasts, AULAF, built Dublin, Ivor, Limerick, and Sitric, Watorford.

Statement Challenged - Still, the merest common sense, not alone a knowledge of history, must convince a thinking mind that Sitric never founded Waterford in the sense that he founded a city here, no portion of which existed before his time. The Danes, it is probable, commenced to raise a fortified city separated from the Irish portion, and capable of being defended from the attacks of the Irish enemy. But to assume that no nucleus of a town existed before the settlement of the Danes, and that these worldly grabbers fixed upon a barren, uninhabited spot to pitch their tents, and commence to build a city, is quite improbable.

Being a great commercial people the establishment of centres of commerce should have been of vast advantage to both themselves and the Irish, and their settlement in this country would, perhaps, never be looked upon as a scourge or calamity, but rather, perhaps, a national advantage, were it not the disgraceful savagery by which they treated the inhabitant', when once they got a firm footing. Along the east coast we find the names of four stations or havens used by their fleets, vis:-Vaderfiord (Waterford), Wessfiord, or Westhaven (Wexford),Strangfiord (Strangford Bay), and Carlingfiord (Carlingford). The modern Denmark should not get credit for sending out all those craving and hungry excursionists of the ninth and tenth centuries. They came from the Scandinavians, inhabitants of Norway and Sweden, people who then ruled Denmark as part of their own dominion, Nor should we consider the deprivations which Ireland underwent during the Danish invasions, a proof that the Irish remained passive, or did not give them plenty of fighting. A glance at what the Danes effected in England is the best means of proving how well the Irish accounted for themselves in the Danish troubles. Look at the same power in England making a conquest of whole country, and actually annexing it to the Crown of Sweden and Norway, which state of affairs continued for nearly a quarter of a century after the battle of Clontarf.

What they did - Yet, no doubt, they left indelible evidences of their settlement in Waterford. They founded town walls and the several towers thereon which defended the town, as it then existed, and which we trace on another page; and they also founded the original Christ Church, and the Church of St Olaves As a rule along the coast, such as in Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Youghal, Cork and Limerick, they settled more as merchants than conquerors, keeping up sufficient army to make sorties to the inner country for plunder, and occasionally abetting some Irish prince against his neighbour, or against the King of Ireland in defiance of the payment of tribute, or some other object of revenge or spoliation. It is even recorded that at times they seemed to have left the country altogether, while they had only taken their troops away for pirating upon other coasts. For instance, in 916, the Danes of Waterford sent an expedition against Alba of Scotland. Upon other occasions they seemed to have got such overthrows from the Irish princes as would lead to the presumption that they had been completely annihilated, but their resources of recruiting their shattered ranks from their own country great as to give them, after signal defeats, a new vitality and power in the country.

Brian Boru, the former Munster King, and then King of Ireland, finally settled accounts with the Danes at the famous battle of Clontarf, 1014, which overthrow broke the power of the Norsemen, and avenged the tyranny which they practised over the Irish during the previous two centuries In this historic battle and overthrow the ancient tribes, Dalgais, or Desii, of Waterford, contributed. a large share towards the defeat of the Danes. Holding their position partially as a defeated race till the English invasion, the Danes made a last stand by uniting with a portion of the Irish against the invaders, but their ancient prowess had departed, and those of them who remained settled down contented with the lot which had befallen them, to become tributary to the Anglo-Norman regime.

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