A glance at this map should persuade most people of Ireland’s pivotal maritime position from ancient times.
There were close contacts between the Irish and the entire Atlantic and Mediterranean seaboard from ancient times that are little reported in modern history text books. This is just one of hidden aspects of Irish history that in the story of the Hare’s Vision I want to shed light on.
The Irish and the Phoenicians
This Phoenician seal from the 8th century BC was found in Dundrum, Co. Down. The Phoenician inscription reads: ‘Belonging to ʿAbdʾeliʾab son of Shibʿat servant of Mittitti son of Ṣidqâ’ (British Museum).
The Phoenicians were a maritime culture based in the Mediterranean from 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is highly likely that Ireland traded with the Phoenicians as this seal strongly suggests.
This 9th century cross was inscribed in Arabic: ‘Bism’llah’. ‘As God wills (or In the name of Allah?)’ or ‘We have repented to God’. It was found in Co. Cork.
In 1834 the Dublin Penny Journal reported that the language spoken by Tunisian sailors could be understood by County Antrim peasants (The Atlantean Irish, Quinn, B. 2005).
In 2003 the skull of a Barbary ape (native to north Africa) was found in Navan Fort, Co. Armagh – the ancient site of the kings of Ulster. The skull was dated to the fourth century BC.
Similarities in traditional boat design between the oak built Irish hucaer and the Arab dhow are noticeable with the use of an angled lanteen sail design which allowed closer sailing to the wind. This enabled the Irish naval fleet to out-manoeuvre and defeat the Vikings at sea with their square rigged dreki on numerous occasions. The square rig restricted the Vikings to sailing with the wind behind them.
The Irish and the Vikings
These ancient Irish maritime connections were not confined to north Africa. For example the similarities between ancient Norse and Irish cultures are remarkable.
In both pagan cultures trees were at the heart of their beliefs – the ash, oak, rowan and elm were worshipped as highly sacred objects. They used a very similar written language – Ogham and Runic – and had strong oral myths regarding celestial gods of dubious morals. They had no central authority: the family or tribal unit was the source of all authority and loyalty. Yet they both had sophisticated legal systems agreed among the people and democratically enforced by legal assemblies.
The similarities in Irish and Viking cultures may have greatly contributed to the assimilation of the Vikings in Ireland in the 9th and 10th centuries. The Vikings never conquered Ireland as they did large areas of England and Scotland. They could only ever achieve toeholds in Dublin, Waterford and Limerick. But they did assimilate and inter-marry to create the Hiberno-Norse or Gall-Ghaeil. Their presence was tolerated by the Irish kings (to whom the Vikings paid tribute) because they brought trade and with it wealth and perhaps because they were not that dissimilar in culture and outlook.
The popular reports of the cruel Vikings pillaging Irish monasteries are largely myth. The Irish Annals report there were 26 such attacks in the first quarter of the 9th century. That’s one a year on average. Bear in mind that the Irish also plundered their own monasteries and frequently partnered the Vikings in such activity.
Irish trading empire
Because of its maritime connections Ireland should be seen at the epicentre of a huge and ancient Atlantean culture where it traded peacefully over thousands of sea miles for millennia. Ireland influenced and was influenced by many cultures bordering the littoral from Norway all the way south to North Africa.
Sadly many of these ancient records have been lost in the mists of time, misinterpreted or deliberately destroyed leaving Irish ancient history to be viewed as backward and isolated, passively soaking up influences from ‘superior’ cultures such as England, France or Rome.