On the Bright Side
Despite the constant warfare, the reality is that most Irish people lived most of their lives just like they had before the Vikings arrived. In fact, some people lived better; the Vikings brought with them a number of valuable ideas from the mainland. They built the first Irish towns, they brought fancy boat-building techniques, and they could coin money. They used these things to help increase trade to and from Ireland, which brought in artistic influences from the outside.
In Dublin's Fair City
When the Vikings returned to Ireland in 914, they built a new stronghold at Dublin 2 miles closer to the sea than their earlier settlement; apparently, they wanted to be able to escape more quickly if necessary. They planned the city carefully, laying out streets and houses with great attention to detail. There was even a rudimentary drainage system, which suggests the presence of a strong leader in charge of urban development. By the late tenth century, the Kingdom of Dublin was one of the most important political units in western Europe.
The meeting place in Viking towns was a giant mound of earth called the “Thing”; the governing council that met there was called the “Thingmote.” The huge Thing in Dublin, at Church Lane and Suffolk Street, was used for pageants and miracle plays until 1685, when it was destroyed. After that, the mayor of Dublin continued to review his troops at the old Thing site.
A Time of Trade
Thousands of people lived in Viking Dublin. There were merchants and craftsmen of all types — carpenters, shipwrights, blacksmiths, weavers, leather-workers, and others. Dublin's location put it right on the trade routes from Scandinavia down to England, and the Vikings traded vigorously with the people of England and continental Europe. They got wine, silver, and wool from England and Europe, which they sent on up to Scandinavia; from Scandinavia they received amber, ivory, furs, and slaves, which they moved on to European markets.
The Vikings also traded with the Irish people. This brought them into close contact with their new neighbors, and it appears that the two groups coexisted in relative harmony. (Some of those slaves traded by the Vikings did happen to be Irish, but the sad fates of a few individuals didn't necessarily hurt Viking–Irish relations on the whole; the Irish didn't all love one another.) The Irish taught the Vikings about Christianity. Members of the two groups married one another and sent their children to be fostered in one another's homes. Scandinavian artistic styles appear in Irish art around this time, and some of Ireland's most “characteristic” metalwork patterns of interlaced spirals with free-flowing tendrils, sometimes incorporating the shapes of animals, date from this period.