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The native Irish population was in centuries of decline before the Vikings came along

Scientists from Queen’s University Belfast have analysed data from over 800 years.

It's fair to say the Vikings brought trouble, but they also brought people.
It's fair to say the Vikings brought trouble, but they also brought people.
Image: Rollingnews.ie

NEW RESEARCH HAS found that the population of Ireland was decline for 300 years before the Vikings came here.

Scientists from Queen’s University Belfast have analysed data from the years 400 to 1200 and found that human activity in Ireland varied greatly during the period.

The data comes from radiocarbon dating taken from archaeological objects found during the construction of motorways and other projects.

Published in the Journal of Agricultural Science, the research has formed along-term population model has been developed for Ireland and found that the arrival of Vikings came following three centuries of population decline.

This model challenges the previously held understanding that population in Ireland grew steadily until the Famine in the 1840s.

Speaking RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, one of the lead researchers Rowan McLaughlin of QUB’s School of Natural and Built Environment says the Irish population went into decline around the year 700 before the first Viking settlements came around the turn of the new millennium. 

“What we do know is that the decline happened very gradually. It was a serious decline but it happened year-on-year and so there was no one cause. So it wasn’t like the potato famine or a catastrophic war or any one-off event,” he explains.

But rather there was a whole series of different things that worked in society that really reduced fertility rates and reduce the number of children that women were able to have and made society in general go into a kind of downturn that was gradual but nonetheless series and persistent.

McLaughlin outlines that Vikings built settlements and brought new technology to Ireland and that their population growth was both among themselves and with native people.

“When the native society was in recession, so to speak, the Vikings enabled a different kind of growth and steered society in a different society altogether,” he says.

There was definitely trouble with these new settlers but there was also a degree of cooperation. The Vikings were perhaps more successful than the native Irish in having children of their own but there’s also plenty of evidence to state that they intermarried with the native population and really caused quite a big splash over the next centuries.

Guarding against giving all the credit to Vikings, McLaughlin added the native Irish population was always “relatively healthy” and had survived other population declines previously.

He also noted that there are also Irish genes in Scandinavia due to the “dark history” of Irish slaves being brought back by Vikings.

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Rónán Duffy

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