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The Vikings came to Ireland as raiders but began to settle here by the ninth century. The first appearance of the Norsemen, or Vikings, on the Irish coast is recorded in 795.  In the south of the country they founded the towns of Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Cork and Limerick.

What is the Viking meaning of Strangford?

Archaeologists have found evidence for these southern towns, but no traces of settlements, and relatively few Viking objects, in the north of Ireland. However, the name ‘Strangford’ is a Viking word. When the Vikings came they renamed it Strang Fjord, which means the ‘fjord of the strong currents’. The Narrows is renowned for its’ fierce currents, while a fjord is a long narrow inlet of the sea formed by glacial action. There is evidence for the presence of the Vikings on Strangford Lough in the ninth and 10th centuries and the Vikings had a base in Strangford Lough for their fleets of longships engaged in struggles in the Irish Sea and elsewhere.

Vikings call Carlingford home

The Carlingford region was a significant area of Viking activity. The Vikings also gave Carlingford Lough its name, which reminded them of the fjords (sea inlets) of their homeland in Norway.  Viking long ships used Carlingford Lough and the area that was to become Newry as a base to attack and pillage other areas inland. Annalong Village, in gaelic 'Alt na Long' (the ford of the ships) also recalls their influence.

What did the Vikings leave behind?

The Vikings were more than just warriors, and finds from archaeological excavations help to balance the traditional picture and show us that the real story is much more complex. The Vikings developed trading links from Greenland to Russia and Turkey. They influenced art, crafts, boatbuilding, navigation, language and law. Like many invaders, they intermarried with local people and eventually integrated into their societies. Some Irish surnames are derived from Old Norse including McKitterick, MacManus McAuley and Cotter. 

The Vikings RaidComic Viking

In 795 the first Viking raid in Ireland happened. Although the Vikings originally came from Denmark, Norway and Sweden, many of the Norse and Danes in Ireland came from Scotland and Northern England rather than directly from Scandinavia. In 825, the Vikings raided the monastery at Movilla, Newtownards but were defeated afterwards by the Dál Fiatach. In 842 they established a base (called a longphort) on the coast of Down. This may have been only a temporary base. Monasteries were particularly prone to attack and St Moninna's (Killeavy Old Church) suffered this fate. It was raided by the Vikings in 852 and 923 and in 1050, was the site of the killing of Cailleach of Cell Sléibbe ‘a pious good senior’. Between 924 and 943 a Viking fleet captured islands in Strangford Lough. They were driven out after 19 years by the men of Lecale. Downpatrick was plundered and burned in 989.

Who was Magnus Barelegs?

The Vikings established settlements and controlled trade and commerce for about two centuries, until 1014. The last effort to establish Norse domination was by Magnus III, king of Norway. In 1103, Magnus Barelegs, King of the Vikings, was killed near Downpatrick. This was a murder of international significance. Magnus was a Viking adventurer who had become King of Norway in 1098. In 1102 he set off for Ireland and in that year took control of Dublin. He was ambushed and killed by the Ulaid — the native Irish — while in the process of acquiring cattle provisions for his journey home. He is buried near the town of Downpatrick and was the last Viking King to rule the Irish Sea, with his grave the only recorded grave of a Norwegian Viking king outside Scandanavia. 

Embrace your inner Viking this spring as we celebrate our shared Norse heritage in Strangford and Portaferry. 

Images supplied by Lake Vikings

Visit the Viking encampments to see exciting battle re-enactments, exhibitions, and the Long Boat display. Live like the Vikings as you enjoy unique themed experiences, kids' activities as well as great food, drink, and music - this will be an adventure to remember!

Plan your Trip 

Luckily for visitors, our region has lots for you to see. Planning ahead can make your visit to our region that little bit easier. We can give you the best advice, maps, and guides to help you get the most out of your trip.  

Downpatrick, County Down
Downpatrick, English Street looking towards Down Arts Centre

Downpatrick (Dún Pádraig) is the County town of Down and is a Cathedral town and Downpatrick is the burial place of Saint Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland. Downpatrick is one of Ireland's most historic towns and the largest town in the Lecale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Strangford Lough
Nature and Wildlife
Brent Geese flying over Strangford Lough with Mournes on horizon

Strangford Lough  is located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is almost fully enclosed by land. It is the largest sea water inlet in Ireland and the United Kingdom and an important habitat for wildlife.  A regular car ferry links the picturesque towns of Strangford and Portaferry.  Strangford Lough is a significant asset in the Aspiring UNESCO global Geopark.   The Lough was formed at the end of the last ice age. Strangford Lough is Northern Ireland's first Marine Conservation Zone and is a special area of conservation for wildlife. Strangford Lough is a key destination for winter migration for many wading and sea birds.  The lough is home to common seals, basking sharks and brent geese.

Strangford, County Down
Strangford Lough Ferry

Strangford is a small village at the mouth of Strangford Lough in County Down, Northern Ireland, just 20 minutes outside Belfast City.  Strangford Lough is located in both an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and in an area of special scientific interest.  It is one of the most richly bio-diverse regions in Europe with over 2,000 marine species spread across 150km and with all the birds, badgers and seals, there is an unmistakable tranquillity to this place. Near the village of Strangford is Castle Ward, an 18th-century National Trust property with beautiful scenic trails for walking and exploring.  Game of Thrones, Winterfell scenes were filmed at Castle Ward.

Lecale Way
Walking & Hiking
Lecale Way

Long, flat walk around very scenic coastline