Early Dublin, Dubhlinn, Dyflinn


Dublin grew up over a 1,000 years ago at the lowest crossing point on the Liffey. The river was wide, shallow, endured high tides reaching far inland as well as flash flooding, and the river mouth was plagued with shifting sandbars. People began to settle on the east-west ridge south of the Liffey in two communities. First to establish itself was Ath Cliath, a trading settlement and then the partly ecclesiastical centre named Dubhlinn for the black pool above which it stood; both were certainly present before the early seventh century though no one can say for sure exactly when the settlements first appeared.

The annals say the Vikings arrived in AD 841 and settled at Dubhlinn, and gave the name their own twist, rendering it as Dyflinn and one or two other variants which very much depended on the spelling powers of the recorder. They moved toward Ath Cliath by AD 900 possibly because the four major highways (defined as a road on which two chariots could pass one another) converged on the town, which would certainly have enhanced Viking trade. The name Ath Cliath means “a ford of hurdle-work,” so presumably it was also right on the crossing point. The river was said to be 300 metres wide at high tide with the ford only passable at low tide and then by a walkway constructed of slippery saplings woven into a mesh and fixed on piles of some kind.

The ninth century Viking longphort (a naval encampment) became a tenth century dun or castle. Across the River Poddle which sweeps around the base of Dyflinn, stood the assembly place called the Thingmot, anglicised as Thingmount, a flat-topped mound where Norse assemblies were held. Nearby are the burial mounds of the Scandinavian kings, known in Old Norse as haugr or haugar and believed to form the basis of the medieval name Hogges or Hoggen green. (I’m rather inclined to believe the name might have something to do with pigs, but what do I know?)

Three hundred metres to the north-east stands the Long Stone, which commemorates either the first landing place, or the re-taking of Dyflinn after one of the Hiberno-Norse battles, or both. One map shows the Long Stone on a small island but as a bridge was built, the quays were dug out, silting up of the river changed the shoreline; the Long Stone appeared to move inland. Amlaib or Olafr Cuaran, father of Sitric Silkenbeard, is given credit for colonising Dyflinn and building the defensive embankments along Wood Quay against the warring Irish. Sitric continued the expansion of the town.

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