FINE GALL (Medieval Ireland)

Fine Gall (literally, kindred of the foreigners) was the name given to a stretch of territory north of the River Liffey that was ruled by the Scandinavians of Dublin. It thus developed after the foundation of the longport in 841, at the height of the Viking incursions. Today the name "Fingal" still applies to the area north of the city from the River Tolka to the Devlin River near Gormanstown.

Several place names reflect the Viking history of the area. The names Howth, the Skerries, Ireland’s Eye, Lambay, and Holmpatrick found along the coast north of Dublin contain Norse place-name elements. While it is likely that Vikings settled in the district, archaeological evidence (for example, from the excavations at Feltrim Hill in North Dublin) indicates that an Irish population continued to flourish under Viking control. It is also clear that there was a high level of interaction between Gaelic and Scandinavian culture in the area. To date, however, archaeological indicators to Scandinavian settlement north of the Liffey are few.

It is uncertain when the Vikings seized the lands of Fine Gall. The temporary occupation of islands off Brega by Vikings in 852 may represent the beginnings of this expansion. Nevertheless, the conquest may have proceeded slowly. The name Fine Gall appears in The Annals of the Four Masters under the year 868 [= 866], but this seems to reflect a later gloss added to the chronicle record (cf. Chronicum Scotorum). More reliably, the name appears in Irish chronicles under the year 1013. On this occasion the Uf Neill over king Mael-Sechnaill II raided Fine Gall, including Drinan and Howth. Other references to this name are found from the eleventh century onward.

There is evidence that Dublin’s northern hinterland once reached beyond the boundaries of modern Fingal. In the 970s, Vikings temporarily held sway over parts of Meath. By 1052, the northern boundary of their power had retracted to the Devlin River, which is the present boundary of Fingal. Vikings also subdued territory south and west of Dublin. This included all or part of the barony of Rathdown in the south. Indeed, the south county is, so far, the only part of Dublin’s hinterland in which archaeological traces of Viking houses have been found—at Brownsbarn (near Clondalkin) and at Cherrywood (near Shankill). The latter has been identified as a longhouse, typical of the ninth century. To the west, the place name Leixlip (Old-Norse laxhlaup, salmon leap) may indicate the extent of Dublin’s influence. The Annals of Ulster suggest that in 938 their influence extended as far as Ath Truisten, near Mullaghmast, in County Kildare. It may be significant that a "hog’s back" tomb—that resembles a type from Scandinavian Northumberland—has been found in the area. Nevertheless, their territory shrank with the decline of Viking power from the late tenth century. The boundaries of modern County Dublin may thus represent the final stage in the long-term evolution of the port’s territorial power.

Fine Gall was a distinct part of Dublin’s wider hinterland. The whole territory was named Dyfli-naskiri (Dublin shire) in Icelandic sagas. This may be equated with crfch Gall mentioned in Irish sources. This hinterland was significant as a source of food, building materials, fuel, and other day-today goods for Dublin. Fine Gall in particular was prized for its agricultural fertility, and the area was later dubbed "the breadbasket of Dublin." In the late tenth and early eleventh centuries there is reference to another important resource, The Wood of Torir, located near Clontarf. This was probably a source of fuel, building materials, game, nuts, and fodder for pigs for the Dublin market. Fine Gall also included the islands of Lambay and Ireland’s Eye. These served at different times in Dublin’s history as military outposts, trading posts, or refuges. For example, in 902, some of Dublin’s inhabitants fled to Ireland’s Eye when the port was sacked by troops from Brega and Leinster.

The political significance of Fine Gall for Dublin meant that it was often preyed upon by those seeking to win control over the town. At least fifteen attacks are recorded from 962 until 1162. In spite of these dangers a large number of ecclesiastical settlements appear to have flourished in Fine Gall. The most prominent were Lusk and Swords. Lusk was founded before the Vikings came to Ireland, but Swords is first recorded in 994 and it may have received patronage from the kings of Dublin. Each site has a fine round tower that predates the Anglo-Norman invasion.

After the invasion, Henry II retained the lands around Dublin, including Fine Gall. These lands were then granted to colonists, including Hugh de Lacy and Almeric St. Lawrence, while large areas were confirmed in the possession of the church. Some Gaelic and Hiberno-Scandinavian landholders seem to have remained in the area despite the influx of new settlers. Nevertheless, the strategic significance and agricultural fertility of Fine Gall made it a core area of English colonization. Anglophone culture persisted there for the rest of the Middle Ages. A large number of castles were built from the late twelfth century, including those at Malahide, Swords, Howth, and Dun-soghly. These reflect both the politically disturbed conditions of the region and its wealth. From its foundation Fine Gall was closely linked with the fortunes of Dublin and has been an area characterized by the cultural diversity of its inhabitants.

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