The story of Ireland’s capital is a fascinating one. Here we offer a bite-size history of Dublin.
The word Dublin comes from the Gaelic word Dubh Linn, which translates to “black pool.” This is in reference to the River Poddle, which once existed at Dublin Castle.
The city has a colourful history, with those in power changing drastically over centuries. As the capital of Ireland, Dublin has played a pivotal role in shaping the country’s history.
While heaps of people come from far and wide today to share in the fruits of the capital city, many—including locals and residents—may overlook Dublin’s dense history.
For all of you out there keen to understand a little bit more about the city in question, here is the story of Ireland’s capital: a bite-size history of Dublin!
837 AD – 1014: Viking invasion
Previous to Viking invasion, Dublin was a primitive place. In 837, a whopping 60 Viking ships attacked the city. Targeted areas included churches and infrastructure around the city’s central waterways, the River Liffey and Poddle.
By 841, Viking groups had made a permanent settlement in Dublin city. The city thrived under their rule to become the largest Viking city in the world at the time.
So impressive was its network that the Viking settlers would trade from Ireland all the way to Constantinople (then the capital of the Roman Empire) as well as Iceland.
The battle of Clontarf in 1014 proved a hugely significant time in ancient Irish history as Brian Brou—the first high king of Ireland—slayed the Vikings, before dying himself.
1014 – 1170: Growth and Norman invasion
Remaining Vikings adopted Christianity, and impressive buildings that today boast iconic status were erected. These include the likes of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, one of Dublin’s must-see attractions.
Another seize was on the horizon, however. In 1169 Welsh Normans invaded the capital city and ruled until 1171.
1171 – 1399: More invasion and the plague
In 1171, again Dublin was chosen as a target for invasion. English Henry II landed in the Norman territory and swiftly gained control.
While there were various attempts to take control of Dublin during this time, such as from Scottish King Robert the Bruce in 1317, none succeeded.
More so, the city was ravaged by the plague (also known as the black death) in 1348—a pandemic that is estimated to have killed over 200 million people worldwide.
1399 – 1798: The English Civil War and more
While English control subsided somewhat during the 14th century, in 1603 the Crown won power over the entire island of Ireland. Deciding that all Irish should become protestant, this was a tumultuous time in Irish history.
When the English Civil War broke out in 1642 many Irish nationals joined the war and in the wake of its end, Oliver Cromwell arrived on the island. The English militant leader began his mission to rule the country with an iron fist.
Between 1610-1683 Ireland’s population made a miraculous recovery post-plague and jumped from around 26,000 to 58,000 people.
There were few attempts to gain control of power, the most notable being James II in 1689 but Ireland’s British rulers remained undefeated.
As Dublin carried into the 18th century, the population continued to grow as the city became the British Empire’s second largest conquest.
Majestic buildings were erected, such as parliament house (now the Bank of Ireland on College Green) in 1728 and the enchanting entrance to Trinity College in 1759.
1798 – 1923: Famine and rebellion
In 1798, nationalist activist group the United Irishmen rebelled against British rule. The Dublin Parliament closed due to threat and slowly but surely English aristocracy abandoned the capital.
As economic difficulties spiralled, next came a dark time in the history of Dublin. The city was to be hit by the Great Irish Famine, which held its grip from 1845 to 1849. During this time, the population decreased by 20-25%, with the deaths of approximately one to 1.5million people.
On Easter Monday 1916, Irish freedom fighters (which consisted of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Citizen Army) rebelled. Their efforts were squashed and severe damage was done to the capital city including to the Dublin GPO.
The War of Independence began in 1919, as rebels once more tried to push out British colonists.
Success was finally found in 1921 when the Anglo-Irish Treaty listed Dublin as the capital of the Irish Free State. Disagreement over terms, however, sparked more political unrest. Finally, in 1923, the anti-Treaty IRA called a truce.
1923 – 1991: The Republic of Ireland and trade agreements
In the wake of freedom, Dublin existed free from British rulers, although it was a poor city.
In 1949, the Republic of Ireland was established. Six counties of Northern Ireland remained under British rule.
Impressively, Ireland’s first Taoiseach (or Prime Minister) Eamon de Valera proudly kept state “neutral” during WWII.
As troubled waters calmed, trade agreements between Ireland and Britain led to the joining of the Common Market in 1973.
In 1985 the Anglo-Irish Agreement instated that the Republic of Ireland would have a voice in the Northern Irish government.
1990s – present: Progress and pride
In 1990 Mary Robinson became the first female president of the country, and 1991 brought great pride as Dublin was listed as the European Capital of Culture.
The 1990s were greatly defined by the Celtic Tiger—a time of economic boom in the capital and across the island.
Between 2000 and 2010, free movement in the EU meant Dublin and other cities around the country became increasingly multi-cultural.
A global financial crash forced Ireland into an economic recession which held its grip for many years.
Major referendums also defined this decade. In 2015 Ireland made history by being the first country in the world to vote same-sex marriage into law by public referendum.
2018 also marked a progressive time as the public voted to change abortion laws to give equal rights to both the mother and that of the unborn.
The history of Dublin is fascinating: Over centuries, power has changed hands, wars have been fought, and many lives have been lost. Today we find ourselves stronger than before, having learned from the past, more socially responsible and culturally proud.
Dive in and explore the city like a local.
Read our tips on where to go, what to do and what not to miss…
In compact Dublin, you can easily cover a lot of ground on your own
From nocturnal pub crawling (for educational purposes) to high-adrenaline outdoor activities to fun family-friendly pursuits, choices abound.
You might start with the capital’s supremo tourist attraction, the Guinness Storehouse. Most people do.
Prefer being under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable guide?
There are tons of tours – walking, traveling by bicycle or bus, amphibious vehicle or horse-drawn cart…or even by boat or kayak.
However you choose to get about, you can also experience the true spirit of traditional Irish culture and history through architecture, dance, storytelling, music, theatre, museums and galleries.
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