Ye olde travel guide: Dublin AD 1000

Clare Downham offers a traveller's guide to Ireland's emerging capital – a thriving, rain-sodden hub for traders across the Viking world

Illustration by Jonty Clark.

When to go

Temperatures are mild all year in Ireland, although the rain can seem incessant at times. Go in summer, when the days are longest.

What to take with you

It is not called Dubhlinn (‘Black Pool’) for nothing – the streets and laneways are wet and muddy. Sensible leather footwear is essential. Don’t look like a tourist: dress in Viking style in wool and linen, and top off your new look with a warm cloak.

Costs and money

Don’t leave home without silver – Dublin is a thriving port and prices are high. A new currency has recently been struck in the name of Sitric Silkenbeard, king of Dublin. However Anglo-Saxon coins are accepted at all retail outlets. Silver can also be exchanged as bullion – but bring your own set of weights and scales to ensure fair dealing. Dublin is a hub for traders across the Viking world, so set aside funds for shopping, and a separate allowance for emergencies (you never know when you may need a mercenary – there are plenty for hire).

Sights and activities

If you can get in, the royal court is a great place to visit. Sitric’s court is famous across Ireland for the many coloured clothes worn by the wealthy, and the Viking bling. Both the men and women love jewellery. The locals also take great pride in personal grooming. They wear their hair long and beautifully combed. The king himself is renowned for his silky beard.
The feasts are lavish and there are entertainers and poets from across Ireland and Scandinavia. If you are lucky, you may hear a braigetóir or ‘professional farter’. Gossip is another major pastime and the more salacious the better. Sitric’s glamorous mother, Gormflaith, is a legend when it comes to scandal.
The assembly site or ‘thing’ is something to behold, especially if a legal case is in session, or an army is being raised. Otherwise taverns (for drinking and board games), craft shops and markets offer plenty of distraction.

Dangers and annoyances

Dublin can be whiffy and cesspits lie close to the houses (take care if you are roaming about after dark). Rotting vegetation carpets the floors of many wattle-built houses providing perfect homes for all types of unpleasant pest. Fleas and bed bugs are a constant annoyance.
These inconveniences pale in comparison to potential dangers. Dublin has a reputation for being rough. Get into a quarrel over a minor point of honour, and you may find yourself at the sharp end of a Viking sword.
Also avoid discussing politics – people are passionate about their loyalties. Last year, when King Brian Bóru of Munster came to town, parts of it were burned. King Sitric has recently subordinated himself to Brian but rumours of rebellion are rife. The townsfolk also loathe Maelseachlainn, king of Meath, because of a heavy tax he levied 11 years ago. If you hear of an Irish army approaching, a quick exit by sea is recommended.

Sleeping and accomodation

If you want some nightlife, head to the High Street or Merchant’s Quarter. Don’t expect a room or even a bed to yourself. Houses are usually open-plan, and everyone will be snuggled up on the side benches close to the fire. For a quieter evening, head towards one of the less congested parts of town, like the recently developed west end.

Eating and drinking

Drinking is taken seriously in both Irish and Scandinavian culture, and there’s a great excuse to indulge: it’s safer to drink ale, mead, wine or beer, than spring water.
Food is huge and hearty – beef, pork and fish are available in quantity, often smoked or salted. Stews are a staple dish. For something a bit different, try the sweet and sour sauce made from honey and sloe berries.

Shopping

From slaves to silks and spices, you can buy goods from across the Viking world. Hiberno-Scandinavian jewellery is the height of fashion. The latest trend is the ‘kite’ brooch, currently available from all good metalworkers.

Getting around

The town’s lanes and paths are well organised but it’s easy to get muddled as most of the houses look the same. The long-ship is the classiest way to travel long distance. For those on a smaller budget, space on merchant vessels, fishing boats and ferries is negotiable. Beware of unscrupulous hauliers who may try to capture you and sell you as a slave.
Clare Downham is the author of Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ívarr to AD 1014 (Dunedin Academic Press, 2008).
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