Last updated on February 6, 2024
Those who don’t know Ireland usually don’t realise how much influence the Vikings had on the development of the island. But if you visit Waterford, you will get a good idea….
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The Viking cities in Ireland
The city of Waterford was founded in 914, making it the oldest city in Ireland – even older than Dublin!
And it was neither Irish nor British who founded Waterford, but Norwegian Vikings.
However, Waterford is by no means an isolated case, as other Irish cities were also founded by Vikings, such as Wexford, Limerick, Cork and Dublin!
The towns were always built at harbours that had previously been used as trading bases. The harbour at Wicklow was also a Viking harbour and there may also have been Viking bases at Arklow.
We can probably also assume that there were other Viking harbours in the south-west of Ireland and around Limerick and the Shannon Estuary, but we know too little about this today.
Did the Vikings not just plunder Ireland?
At first they did, but later they learnt to appreciate the mild climate and snow-free winters on the island and established their first settlements.
They later realised that trade was a far more profitable source of income than raiding and connected Ireland with a network of trading posts stretching from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean.
Over time, harbours and settlements became real towns, like here in Waterford.
The Vikings ruled the Dublin region for around 200 years. After that, their influence in Ireland declined. This was probably due to a mixture of disunity within their own ranks, the strengthening of Irish clans and the Anglo-Norman invasion from the 111th century onwards.
In fact, they only partially left Ireland, as they lived peacefully and in good neighbourliness with the Irish population for long periods of time. There were marriages between the peoples and the population around the Viking towns became increasingly genetically mixed.
In fact, scientific studies have shown that the DNA of mainly Norwegian Vikings can still be clearly detected in the DNA of many Irish people, especially in the areas where the Vikings settled.
Waterford and the Viking Triangle
Waterford is particularly proud of its Viking heritage. There is the Viking Triangle here at the harbour, a small district in which several museums on the subject can be found:
The tower at the harbour is the oldest building in the city. It is the remains of an Anglo-Norman defence system. Previously there was a Viking defence system here, which was built of wood. The tower now houses part of the Waterford Museum of Treasures, which is dedicated to the Vikings. See: https://www.waterfordtreasures.com/museum/reginalds-tower/. In front of the tower is a replica of a Viking ship.
King of the Vikings
Just a few metres from the tower, you will find an oversized sword. It is made from a tree trunk and decorated with marvellous carvings depicting motifs from the time of the Vikings. Behind it is the entrance to the interactive King of the Vikings exhibition, which is also part of the Waterford Museum of Treasures. See: https://www.waterfordtreasures.com/museum/king-of-vikings/.
A few metres further on you will find the Medieval Museum, which tells the story of the Middle Ages in Waterford. See: https://www.waterfordtreasures.com/museum/medieval-museum/.
Other places of interest
In the Viking Triangle there is also the Irish Museum of Time, the Waterford Chrystal Crystal Manufactory, the Irish Silver Museum and the Irish Wake Museum and at the harbour you will find the Clock Tower, an old clock tower. Then there is the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity Within. I won’t go into detail about these sights here. You can find more information here: https://visitwaterford.com/.
The city centre of Waterford
In the Viking Triangle, you will find yourself in the old town of Waterford, which stretches a good distance westwards, always parallel to the harbour. There are pedestrianised areas with shops and restaurants. So there’s no need to go hungry in Waterford!
Is Waterford, the oldest city in Ireland, worth a visit?
I know the city quite well, as I’ve been there several times. We live in the south-east of Ireland (second home), on the southern edge of the Wicklow Mountains. This is where we run our motorbike rental business in the summer (https:// www.easycruiser.tours) and our guest rooms (https://www.the-view-accommodation.ie).
As I’m a big Viking fan, I think Waterford is absolutely worth a visit. If you’re not interested in the museums and the Viking Triangle, you can of course visit Waterford, but you might not be quite as impressed. The cityscape is quite beautiful, but not necessarily worth the trip on its own.
However, you can combine Waterford with a drive along the beautiful south coast, for example from Wexford via Waterford, the Coppercoast, Dunganvan and Youghal to Cobh. Waterford is then a nice stopover, which also offers a number of hotels and B&Bs.
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Picture credits cover picture: Viking Ship at Regniald`s Tower in Waterford, photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg (www.easycruiser.tours, www.the-view-accommodation.ie, www.irland-insider.de, www.ireland-insider.com)