Resources for Schools

The Viking Age: 790 - 1066

Want to know more about the peoples of Britain and Ireland?

Information and resources are available on our web site for teachers and students of the Viking Age (including the OCR A-Level course “The Viking Age”). It covers the history, society and culture of the Scandinavian peoples and their engagement with Britain and Ireland during the period 793-1066.

Viking Ship The Gokstad Ship by Karamell, 2005, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.

Medieval Ireland

Resources are available in this section for those interested in Medieval Ireland and its relationship with Britain and the wider world. A series of project sheets cover different aspects of medieval Irish life, drawing on words in the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language. These resources are available below.

The Role of Women in Medieval Ireland

If you type ‘woman’ into the Search field of the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language, you receive a huge number of different results: from ben, the medieval Irish word for ‘woman’, to banimpir ‘empress’. But can we immediately take these words as evidence for the role and position of women in medieval Irish society?

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A Project on Medieval Manuscripts: The Book of Kells

We decided to start with a single page from the medieval Irish manuscript known as the Book of Kells – but you could carry out a similar investigation to this one by starting with any manuscript page, or another artefact, such as a carved stone or a piece of jewellery or a weapon. The whole of the Book of Kells has been digitised by Trinity College Dublin, where the manuscript is kept.

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Mounds, Graves & the Otherworld

The medieval Irish had many words for ‘burial mound’ or ‘grave’. The Irish landscape is scattered with mounds, from Neolithic monuments, like Newgrange and Knowth, to Iron Age or even early medieval burials.

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One of the largest and best-known mounds in Ireland is Newgrange, also called the Brug in medieval texts, and located in a complex of other prehistoric structures at Brú́ na Bó́inne (‘the mansion of the Boyne’.

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The Hill of Tara

The Hill of Tara (medieval Irish Temair) is one of the most important sites in Ireland, for modern archaeologists, historians, and literary scholars, as well as for medieval writers and audiences. The remains of at least twenty structures and mounds ranging from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages are visible at the site, and many more remain underground, waiting to be excavated.

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Place Names

Many place-names (or toponyms) in Irish tell you about the history or appearance of the location. Sometimes the root words that make up a place-name can be difficult to see in modern English spellings.

Baile, Cell, & the Built Environment

We will look at several place-names that include words for artificial structures or settlements. Sometimes the meanings of words drift over time, or come to signify related concepts. Thus, cloch, ‘stone’, can refer to things made of stone as well as stone itself, including castles, gemstones, and even rosary beads!

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Rivers, Ford & Waterways

Toponyms frequently contain words for natural features; words for rivers, fords, and other waterways are particularly common. This may partly be because settlements were often built near sources of fresh water, and because waterways (including the ocean) provided a means of easy transportation, linking distant communities.

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Mountains, Hills & Plains

Many places in Ireland take their names from hills and promontories, or lower depressions and plains. Like waterways, hills can be useful places to settle for a number of reasons, including defensibility, visibility, and ecological features; proximity to water and good farmland can make plains equally attractive.

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How did Vikings influence the Irish language?

Viking settlement of Ireland would have resulted in all sorts of interactions between the Vikings and the medieval Irish – and looking at how these interactions are reflected in the language can be a really useful way of tracking how relationships between these two peoples developed. These worksheets will look at what what a Viking is and what evidence personal and family names and loan-words can give us about these interactions.

What is a Viking?

The Old Norse term ví́kingr referred to a raider from the Scandinavian countries. So it originally referred to piratical activity, but it also came to be more generally applied to Scandinavian seafarers engaged not only in raiding, but also settlement and trading.

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Personal and Family Names

The Vikings began raiding Ireland at the end of the eighth century – but their activity in Ireland quickly began to diversify in the following centuries. They began to settle there, to found towns such as Dublin and Cork, to establish trading networks, and even to fight alongside Irish kings.

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A loan-word is a word that has been borrowed from another language. As such, it can give valuable evidence about contact between two different cultures. For example, a lot of twentieth- and twenty- first-century loan-words into Modern English relate to food, such as ‘pizza’ (from Italian), ‘baguette’ (from French) or ‘taco’ (from Mexican Spanish). This tells us that one way in which modern cultures interact is by borrowing one another’s culinary ideas!

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