The Viking invasion of Ireland was made far easier as the country’s population had dwindled so much they were able to offer little resistance when the men in longboats started raiding these shores.
It could have been war, plague or famine which reduced the Irish population, or a combination of these.
That’s according to new research carried out by academics who said Ireland’s population was in decline almost 200 years before the Norseman first built permanent settlements in Ireland.
The research from Queen’s University Belfast’s School of Natural and Built Environment is the first of its kind and has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. At first, the Vikings looted monasteries along the coast and later raided inland, before eventually settling and founding most of our major cities today.
It has previously been thought that Ireland’s population was gradually increasing over the years. However, using rigorous archaeological data science algorithms, the experts have released an estimate of past population numbers.
The data shows the importance of migration as without the Vikings, the population decline could have been much worse. Dr Rowan McLaughlin, Research Fellow with the university’s School of Natural and Built Environment, said millions of people lived in Ireland during prehistory and the earliest Christian times.
“Around the year 700, this population in Ireland mysteriously entered a decline, perhaps because of war, famine, plague or political unrest. However, there was no single cause or one-off event, as the decline was a gradual process,” Dr McLaughlin said.
The Norse Vikings first carried out raids here in 795AD, primarily looting coastal monasteries. Dr McLaughlin pointed out that it wasn’t until the 10th century they started to settle here.
“Despite being few in number, they were more successful than the ‘natives’ in expanding their population. Today, genetic evidence suggests many Irish people have some Viking blood,” he said.
For the study, the researchers used a database of archaeological sites discovered during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years, when there was a boom in development in Ireland.
Developers are required by law to employ archaeologists to record sites before they are destroyed. This allowed the researchers to access information that was previously unavailable.