HISTORY OF THE NORTH INNER CITY

Living on the Liffey

The origins & early development of Dublin


Dublin was the first urban settlement on the island of Ireland and for much of its history it has been the largest.

It began modestly of course, as a cluster of small settlements situated near the mouth of River Liffey which today flows through its centre, the dividing line between what are now its highly developed north and south sides. It is from two original, pre-9th century settlements that the city derives its name – or names.

  • Atha Cliath, the name by which Dublin is known in the Irish language, translated as the ‘ford of the hurdles’, was an ancient settlement that was secular in character.
  • The other was an enclosed ecclesiastical settlement, Duibhlinn, or the ‘dark pool’, a reference to the colour of the tidal war where the River Poddle, which now flows underground, entered the Liffey.
Excavating Viking Dublin in the late 1970s. Here, archaeologists unearth the city’s past in Wood Quay. Viking settlement was mostly concentrated south of the River Liffey.

Excavating Viking Dublin in the late 1970s. Here, archaeologists unearth the city’s past in Wood Quay. Viking settlement was mostly concentrated south of the River Liffey. Courtesy of Dublin City Council.

A Viking-style Longboat sails up the River Liffey as part of the city’s Millenium celebrations in 1988

A Viking-style Longboat sails up the River Liffey as part of the city’s Millenium celebrations in 1988. Courtesy of Dublin City Council.

The Vikings

The presence of such settlements and its coastal location marked Dublin out as attractive to seafaring raiding parties. It attracted the Vikings. Scandavian in origin, they arrived in the 830s and in 841, they established a longphort, a defended base where their fleets of long boats could be safely moored.

Much of Dublin’s Viking settlement lay on the south side of the Liffey, though recent archaeological excavations have revealed evidence of settlement on its northern banks. The Vikings, or Norsemen, used Dublin as a base from which to mount raids in Ireland and across the Irish Sea, though they in turn faced regular attacks from Irish chieftains and kings.

 

The Normans & Dublin’s First Map

The Viking Age came to an end in the 12th century when the town was seized by a Norman-Irish army. The Norman invasion of 1171 led to Dublin becoming the capital of the English Lordship in Ireland and it received a royal charter. In the ensuing centuries it would develop into a small-sized city and would witness changes to its social make-up, physical character and political status.

However, such development as there was remained concentrated on the southside of the Liffey, as revealed in the 1610 map of the city produced by English cartographer, John Speed. It is the earliest known map of Dublin and notes few significant landmarks it notes on Dublin’s northside are St Michan’s Church, founded in 1095 , and Oxmanstown, established by Hibero-Norse in the wake of their defeat to the Normans in 1170-1171.

John Speed’s Map of Dublin, 1610

John Speed’s Map of Dublin, 1610. Courtesy of Dublin City Council.


Do you have family memorabilia or stories about life in the North Inner City? We’d love to hear from you: