Howth is situated at the northern tip of Dublin Bay with commanding views that made it a perfect stronghold for the Vikings who first invaded in 819. The name is derived from Old Norse ‘Hofuth’ (meaning ‘head’) and it is where many fighters fled after their defeat in the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. The Norse maintained a presence there until they were eventually defeated by the Normans in 1177.
The original Howth Castle was situated atop Tower Hill which affords a wonderful view of Howth harbour, marina and the islands – Ireland’s Eye and Lambay to the north. You can visit Ireland’s Eye (best in the summer) but Lambay is privately owned. There are Martello Towers on both, and that on Tower Hill is now home to Ye Olde Hurdy Gurdy Vintage Radio Museum.
Across from Tower Hill is St Mary’s Church. The original was built by Sitric, King of Dublin, in 1042. This was replaced in 1235 and the current building was erected in the following century. Again, the views of the modern marina from the medieval building are superb.
The harbour has plenty of history associated with it, as it was where King George IV first set foot in Ireland on 12th August 1821. This event has been commemorated with ‘his footprints’ (cut by stonemason Robert Campbell) at the end of the West Pier. Check them out and see if you could ‘fill the royal shoes’. And on the 26th July 1914 Erskine Childers and his crew (it included his wife Molly) of the Asgard landed 900 rifles and almost 30,000 rounds of ammunition that Irish Volunteers used in the Easter Rising 1916 and the War of Independence 1919-1921. The harbour is a busy commercial hub and supplies seafood to many of the local shops and restaurants. Wrights of Howth and Beshoffs of Howth, both at the start of the West Pier, are long established and perennial favourites.
A walk around the marina and a bracing stroll on the East Pier is a particular pleasure and not to be missed.
Howth Marina & The Islands
It has played a part in Irish life for centuries and Dublin Castle had its origins back in time of the Vikings. It was originally settled on the high ground close to the Poddle and Liffey rivers and provided excellent an defence. However, with the Norman invasion in 1169 the old structure was demolished and a more permanent building was erected. King Henry II implemented this phase, which was completed in 1230 and was the beginning of the ‘Castle’ as we know it today. The Poddle was diverted underground and its water used to fill the moat that surrounded the fortress. Typical of Norman design there was a tower at each corner and the Record Tower (1228) is the only surviving one.
Over time many other buildings were added, especially in the Georgian period. The Treasury Building in the lower yard, the first purpose built office space in Dublin, was completed in 1714. In the upper yard the Bedford Tower, named for the Duke of Bedford who was then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, was constructed in the 1750s. And it was from here in July 1907 that one of the most infamous events in the Castle’s history took place when the Irish Crown Jewels were stolen on the eve of the visit of King Edward VII. They have never been recovered.
As the centre of British power it was often challenged with it coming under attack during Robert Emmet’s short-lived rising in 1803 and Easter 1916. British power ceased on the 16th January 1922 when Michael Collins took possession on behalf of the new Irish Free State.
An exhibition of sand statues is now held every August in the upper yard. It has become a favourite with locals and tourists alike, with different characters and themes being addressed. While taking a photograph of Samuel Beckett a man beside me commented that ‘Becket was not only a sound man, but now he was a sand man, too.’ The striking image of the ‘Feet of Sand’ seemed very appropriate in a place with such sensitive political overtones.
Feet of Sand
Also in the upper yard are the State Rooms which were originally constructed for the Lord Lieutenant’s personal accommodation and entertainment. Nowadays, these lavishly furnished rooms – St Patrick’s Hall, Throne Room, State Drawing Room and State Corridor – are used for Government engagements including the inauguration of Presidents and State visit ceremonies.
St Patrick’s Hall
As famous dates in Irish history go, the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 is one of the best known. It is part of our national DNA, and Brian Boru is rightly lauded for his victory over the Vikings. And now, a thousand years after the fateful day, it is being celebrated with a full programme of events.
An overcast Dublin Bay at Clontarf
The battle itself took place at different locations during the day (Good Friday), with fierce fighting at ‘The Fishing Weir’, what is now Richmond Road, and around Cross Guns. Late in the day, Brian Boru’s men drove the Vikings back to their longships at Clontarf, and in their desperation to escape, the Vikings were slaughtered to a man – there were no survivors! Brian, however, did not live very long to enjoy his greatest victory as he was attacked and killed by Brodir, the Viking leader from The Isle of Man. After the battle there followed a century and a half of uneasy peace between the Celtic chieftains and the ‘local’ Vikings, that was finally ended by the Norman Invasion with the arrival of Strongbow (Earl of Pembroke, Richard de Clare) in 1169. There are many different events celebrating the momentous day with mock battles, lectures and walking tours all adding to the festivities. When I was in Clontarf recently I couldn’t resist visiting ‘Restaurant 1014’, a fine place to spend a little time and enjoy the magnificent view over Dublin Bay. While sipping a coffee outside it was not difficult to imagine the Viking longships, with their colourful sails billowing in the breeze, sail to the shore, the warriors tense and ready for battle. The restaurant is owned and operated by CASA (Caring And Sharing Association) which supports people with disabilities. And upstairs, you can read a book (or buy one for €2) while having something to eat or drink. It will be holding a Gala Evening on Wednesday 23rd April (the date of the battle), and in the week before the Big Day the restaurant will offer a special menu with a fusion of Nordic and Irish cuisine. And if you’re lucky you might even see a few Vikings. You’ve been warned!
PS – Check out Battle of Clontarf and the excellent exhibition in Trinity College for more Battle/Viking details.