Monday 18 February 2019

Arklow castle traced back to Strongbow

Local history

The original castle at Arklow was erected by the followers of Strongbow in the years that followed 1170 to strengthen their grip over the local population.
The original castle at Arklow was erected by the followers of Strongbow in the years that followed 1170 to strengthen their grip over the local population.


THE GREAT Wicklow historian Dr. Liam Price (also a justice of the district court) believed that Arklow was the bigger of the two Viking settlements on the Wicklow coast - the other being the town of Wicklow.

Now, as we have seen, Viking Arklow was most probably founded during the early decades of the 800s on an estuary which had been traditionally ruled over by the Ua Fiachrach kings of the local Irish kingdom of Ui Enechglaiss.

While there is no recorded instance of conflict between the Vikings and the kings of Ui Enechglaiss in the annals, it is probable that the Vikings won their foothold here at the edge of a sword.

Whatever the case may be, it does appear though that Vikings over time were unable to reduce the Ua Fiachrach kings of Ui Enechglaiss to political impotence, as testified by the continued mention of them in the Irish annals.

Moreover, Mac Iarainn (son of Iron) Ua Fiachrach, king of Ui Enechglaiss, was mentioned in the sources during the year 1103. His name is interesting, as it may reflect the Viking forename of Jarnkne or ' Iron knee' - perhaps suggesting that his mother may have been a Viking.

Indeed, the later medieval lordship of Arklow (comprising of the town and the adjoining three districts known as the Tuatha or later as the shires of Arklow) that appears in charters issued in the aftermath of the English conquest of the 1170s reflects the outline of a pre 1169 territorial unit.

Most likely, the medieval lordship of Arklow incorporated both the lands of Ui Enechglaiss and the Viking enclave at Arklow.

That the English from so early on viewed Arklow and Ui Enechglaiss as one political and territorial unit is suggestive of a very close relationship between the Ua Fiachrach kings and the Vikings of Arklow in the pre 1169 period - one that had been forged through marriage and alliance.

Even so, we remain unsure as to where the hub of the Viking town of Arklow lies. Yet, some clues can be extracted from the later documentary evidence such as the pre 1176 grant of lands to Glendalough by Richard de Clare (d.1176) (otherwise known as Strongbow). In addition, we have the grant by Prince John (d.1216) of Arklow to Theobald Walter (d.1205) (the ancestor of the Butlers).

Typically, John made his grant to Theobald Walter in flagrant disregard of the rights of the heir of Strongbow over the district. Interestingly, though the grant made mention of an already existing castle.

Presumably, this castle was erected by the followers of Strongbow in the years that followed 1170 to strengthen their grip over the local population.

More than likely, this castle was built upon the earlier centre of Viking authority in Arklow, reflecting similar occurrences at Cloncurry in Kildare and Dunamase in Laois where the English imposed their castles on the former residences of Irish kings.

V IKING ARKLOW also appears to have had a hinterland of settlement, comprising of rural communities living on farmsteads. It would also seem that the Viking population of Arklow had grown over time, leading to some families settling further inland in the countryside bordering the town.

Also the placename Killahurler appears to incorporate the Viking forename Thoraldr - perhaps testifying to the presence of a long forgotten settler. On the other hand, little archaeological evidence or traces has been discovered of the Vikings within the wider Arklow region.

Although at Three Mile Water to the north of Arklow, two bronze oval brooches with silver decoration and a silver wire chain were discovered in what appeared to be a female grave.

In contrast to the Arklow and Wicklow Vikings, Vikings settlers of northeast Wicklow were more expressive of their identity - marking their presence on the landscape through the erection of monuments (known as Rathdown slabs) incised with crosses, cupmarks and herring bone reflective of Northumbrian influences.

Instead, it has been suggested that the blood of Vikings still flows in the Arklow region. Both Price and Dr. Colman Etchingham postulate that the Vikings may have left their genetic marker on the landscape around Arklow through those who bear the surname Doyle that denotes that they are the descendants of a 'Dubgall' - the dark foreigner.