|House of Ímar|
The Raven Banner
(Ivar Ragnarsson, disputed)
Ímar, also referred to in Irish sources as Imhar and in Old Norse as Ívarr, was a 9th-century Norse ruler active in the west of Scotland and Ireland who founded the Uí Ímair dynasty that dominated the Irish Sea and environs in the early Medieval period. On his death, a contemporary source described him as "king of the Norwegian Vikings of the whole of Ireland and Britain". Some historians consider him to be identical with the Norse saga character Ivarr the Boneless who was active at a similar time in Denmark and England.
Norse contacts with Scotland predate the first written records in the 8th century, although their nature and frequency are unknown. Excavations on the island of Unst in Shetland indicate that Scandinavian settlers had reached there, perhaps as early as the mid-7th century and from 793 onwards repeated raids by Vikings on the British Isles are recorded. "All the islands of Britain" were devastated in 794 with Iona being sacked in 802 and 806. The Frankish Annales Bertiniani may record the conquest of the Inner Hebrides by Vikings in 847. Scholarly interpretations of the period "have led to widely divergent reconstructions of Viking Age Scotland" especially in the early period and Barrett (2008) has identified several competing theories, none of which he regards as proven. As Ó Corráin (1998) notes, "when and how the Vikings conquered and occupied the Isles is unknown, perhaps unknowable".
The Norse of this period are frequently referred to as "Lochlanns". The location of Lochlann is a matter of some debate, although there is no dispute that Lochlanns was a generic description for Norwegian-based warriors and/or insular forces of Norse descent based in the Norðreyjar or Suðreyjar and latterly in Ireland itself.
The main historical sources for this period are the Norse sagas and the Irish annals. The Annals of Ulster are believed to be a contemporary source, whereas the sagas were written down at dates much later than the events they describe and some Irish documents such as the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland and the Annals of the Four Masters were also complied at late dates, in part at least from more contemporary material.
Father and brothers
According to the Fragmentary Annals for a date c. 871-872:[Note 1]
"In this year, i.e. the tenth year of the reign of Áed Findliath, Ímar son of Gothfraid son of Ragnall son of Gothfraid Conung son of Gofraid and the son of the man who left Ireland, i.e. Amlaib, plundered from west to east, and from south to north."
Ó Corráin states that this reference to Ímar's genealogical ascent is a "construct without historical value". Nonetheless, he accepts the existence of Ímar's father Gofraid (also Goffridh or Gothfraid), stating of an entry for 873 that "we may infer from this that he may have been in his sixties when he died" and that "it is likely that the father of ... Ímar (Ívarr) is Gothfraidh (Guðrøðr) and that he is a historical person and dynastic ancestor." The Fragmentary Annals also state that Ímar had two brothers. According to this source for the year 853
"In the sixth year of the reign of Máel Sechlainn, Amlaib Conung, son of the king of Lochlann, came to Ireland, and he brought with him a proclamation of many tributes and taxes from his father, and he departed suddenly. Then his younger brother Ímar came after him to levy the same tribute."
"The king had three sons: Amlaib, Ímar, and Óisle. Óisle was the least of them in age, but he was the greatest in valor for he outshone the Irish in casting javelins and in strength with spears. He outshone the Norwegians in strength with swords and in shooting arrows."
However, the text continues
"His brothers loathed him greatly, and Amlaib the most; the causes of the hatred are not told because of their length. The two brothers, Amlaib and Imar, went to consult about the matter of the young lad Óisle; although they had hidden reasons for killing him, they did not bring these up, but instead they brought up other causes for which they ought to kill him; and afterwards they decided to kill him.
When Óisle visited Amlaib the former said:
‘Brother, if your wife, i.e. the daughter of Cináed, does not love you, why not give her to me, and whatever you have lost by her, I shall give to you.’ When Amlaib heard that, he was seized with great jealousy, and he drew his sword, and struck it into the head of Óisle, his brother, so that he killed him. After that all rose up to fight each other (i.e. the followers of the king, Amlaib, and the followers of the brother who had been killed there); then there were trumpets and battle-cries on both sides.
However, according to Downham "none of these details can be relied upon" as "there is no contemporary evidence to support the statement that [Amlaib's] father was called Gofraid" the Fragmentary Annals having been compiled at an uncertain date, possibly as early as the 11th century.
The Annals of Ulster also note that there was a king of "Laithlinne" whose heir, Thórir, brought an army to Ireland in 848 and who died there in battle. Although there is no specific suggestion that this king was Gofraid this is only shortly before the Fragmentary Annals first record Amlaib as the king's son.
Activities and death
Although all of the information about Ímar's immediate kin comes from later sources, his activities in and around Ireland were recorded in contemporary texts.
The Annals of Ulster relate that in 857 a Caittil Find was defeated in battle in Munster: "Ímar and Amlaib inflicted a rout on Caitil the Fair and his Norse-Irish in the lands of Munster."[Note 3]
The following year a victory was gained by Imhar and Cerball mac Dúnlainge, Lord of Osraighe in the territory of Aradh Tire (in the modern County Tipperary) over the Cinel Fiachach and the Gall Gaeidhils (literally "foreign Gaels") of Leath Chuinn. "Four hundred above six thousand was the number which came with Cearbhall and Imhar." Aradh Tire i In 859 Ímar, Amlaib and Cerball launched an attack in Meath at the head of a "great army".
In 870 Dumbarton was besieged by Amlaib Conung and Ímar, "the two kings of the Northmen", who "returned to Dublin from Britain" the following year with numerous captives. The Fragmentary Annals record that Gofraid died in 873[Note 4] and he may have been succeeded as king briefly by Ímar who also died in 873. His death is recorded in the Annals of Ulster: Imhar rex Nordmannorum totius Hibernię & Brittanie uitam finiuit (Ímar king of the Norwegian Vikings of the whole of Ireland and Britain ended his life.) Amlaíb died campaigning in Scotland, either the following year or perhaps prior to 872. On all previous occasions in the annals where Amlaib and Ímar appear together, the former is recorded first which suggests that he was already dead by 873.
Ímar's progeny included Bárid (d. 881), Sichfrith (d. 888) and Sitriuc (d. 896). Ímar's grandsons Amlaíb ua Ímair (died 896), Ímar ua Ímair (died 904) and Ragnall ua Ímair (died 920/1), all played an important role in 10th century Britain and Ireland although their relationship both to one another and their grandfather is unknown. Ragnall, for example, was a ruler of Northumbria and Mann. Ímar's later descendents include: Sitric Cáech (d. 927) who was a King of Dublin and of York; his successor Amlaíb Cuarán; probably the later Crovan dynasty of the Isles  and thus also Clann Somhairle, the rulers of Argyll and their descendents the Clan Donald Lords of the Isles.
Ivar the Boneless
Ímar has been identified as the saga character Ivar the Boneless (Ivarr inn beinlausi), also known as Ingvar. The former is referred to in late 11th century Icelandic saga material as a son of the powerful Ragnar Lodbrok: "The most cruel of them all was Ingvar, the son of Lodbrok, who everywhere tortured Christians to death."
This Ivar had 11 brothers including Halfdan Ragnarsson and Ubba (but not including an Amlaib or Óisle) and is also believed to have died childless. Nor is there any indication in the Irish annals that Ragnar Lodbrok had any Irish connections.
Woolf (2007) supports the connection between these two "Ivars" and writes of the Great Heathen Army that invaded East Anglia in 865 that "it is now generally agreed that they arrived in Britain directly from Ireland where Ivarr, the senior partner by 865, had been active for at least a decade." Clarkson's view on this statement is that "the jury is still out" and three decades earlier Ó Corráin (1979) noted that "There is nothing new in the suggestion that Ímar of Dublin and Igwar/Ingwar/Iuuar of English history are identical. It has frequently been put forward....and has equally frequently been rejected or treated as a mere possibility". "To take but one example, if Ivarr of Dublin is identical with Inguar, how are we to give any credence to Smyth's reconstruction of Brompton (p. 229) which shows Ivarr in East Anglia in 871 when we know from contemporary Irish sources that Ivarr of Dublin was besieging Dumbarton for four months in 870 and returned to Ireland in early 871 with the takings?... Taken all together, the genuine material on Inguar in contemporary English sources is slight."
Ó Corráin (1979) argues that the "evidence in favour of the identification of Imar and Inguar consists of three points: the identity of the names, the absence of any mention of Imar in the Irish annals between 864 and the Irish account of the siege of Dumbarton in 870, and the subsequent close connections between the dynasties of Dublin and York...The evidence against is the paucity of contemporary reference to Inguar in England and the contradictory nature of what little evidence there is."
Kirsten identifies Ivar the Boneless and Ivar Vidfamne as the same person in his self-published work "Vikingeætten". Amlaib has also been identified as a saga character—Olaf the White (Olafr inn hvíti), described in the Eyrbyggja Saga as "the greatest warlord in the Western Isles". This connection between Amlaib and Olafr has also "frequently been proposed and frequently been rejected".
Dark and fair foreigners
The Annales Cambriae refer to the Heathen Army as "Black Gentiles" and although Dubgaill and Finngaill meaning ""dark foreigners" and "fair foreigners" are terms used in the Irish Annals to denote rival groups of Vikings, the distinction sometimes made between the former as Danes and the latter as Lochlanns is questionable, especially at this early date. Nonetheless, Ivar the Boneless is clearly a leader of a Scaldingi Danish force.
More specifically, it has been stated that these dark Vikings "who are first mentioned in 851 were led by Ivarr". The notion that Ivar is an associate of some kind both of Amlaib (rather than his brother) and of "Asl and Halfdan" has also been suggested.[Note 6]
However, the former suggestion is problematic. Downham quotes various references to the Annals of Ulster in a footnote after the statement "were led by Ivarr and his associates",[Note 7] which provide convincing evidence of the conflict between the two camps of the dark and fair but in these sources, only "Albann, king of the dark heathens" is mentioned by name from amongst the "associates" in conjunction with the "dark" grouping. Downham goes on to note that the heirs of Ímar are identified as leaders of the dark group, although this does not occur until 917, more than fifty years after the arrival of the Great Army.
Etchingham (2010) takes the opposite view, suggesting that after the death of the Lochlainn Thorir in 848 the Dubgaill/Danes were briefly triumphant in Dublin 851-2 but that the Norwegian/Laithlinn/Finngaill hegemony was restored by Amlaib and Ímar. He also notes other evidence such as that:
- Dubgaill is not used of the Dublin leadership after 853;
- the Finngenti are responsible for the death of Haldan, chief of the Dubgenti in 877, thus revenging the death of Amlaib's son Ausile at his hands in 875;
- the Finngenti leaders in Dublin are the sons of Amlaib and Ímar including Barid mac Ímair who ruled until 881 and who was at loggerheads with the Dubgenti;
- in the next generation Ragnall ua Ímair is described as king of both the Dubgaill and Finngaill as are his kinsmen Sitric Cáech and Amlaíb mac Gofraid.
More recently Downham has called into question the ethnic "stereotypes" associated with these two groups and suggests the terms Dub and Finn "may be interpreted to mean 'New' and 'Old' " in this context and that the various Viking factions were not primarily drawn from distinct geographical areas.
The options for Ímar and Ivar are therefore:
- that Inguar/Ivarr inn beinlausi (who is Danish) is synonymous with Ímar the progenitor of the Uí Ímair.
- that Ímar and Inguar/Ivarr are different individuals with the former having Norwegian ancestry and being the progenitor of the Uí Ímair.
As Downham (2007) has suggested, "while medieval writers seem to have been as interested as modern historians about Ívarr’s origins, it is perhaps wiser to accept that we do not know what these really were."
- the Norse sources make Rognvald a grandson of another "Ímar"— Ívarr Upplendingajarl.
- that Rognvald's son Ivar died battle in Scotland[Note 8] as did Ragnall's brother or cousin Ímar ua Ímair (d. 904).
If correct, this correspondence would make the Ímar of the Irish annals a son of Halfdan the Old in the Norse legends.
Other attempts have also been made in the modern era to link the Kings of Lochlann with historical figures in Norway. For example Smith (1977) suggested that Amlaib could be identified with Olaf Geirstad-Alf, King of Vestfold, (who was the son of Gudrød the Hunter and half-brother of Halfdan the Black), but speculation of this nature has not received much support. Ó Corráin (1998) states that there is "no good historical or linguistic evidence to link Lothlend/Laithlind with Norway, and none to link the dynasty of Dublin to the shadowy history of the Ynglings of Vestfold."
- All dates are from Downham (2007) pp. 258-59 unless otherwise stated.
- Amlaib lacks a patronymic in Irish sources and is often referred to as "Amlaib Conung". The name "Conung" is from the Old Norse konungr and simply means "king".
- The name Caittil may be a Gaelicisation of the Old Norse Ketill and some historians have considered him to be identical to Ketill Flatnose, a prominent Norse sea-king who had strong associations with the Hebrides and whose descendents were also active in the Northern Isles according to the Norse traditions.
- Ég righ Lochlainne .i. Gothfraid do tedmaimm grána opond. Sic quod placuit Deo. (The death of the king of Lochlann i.e. Gothfraid of a sudden and horrible fit. So it pleased God.) O' Corrain (1998) concludes on p. 37: "This much-emended entry appears to be the death notice of Gøðrøðr, king of the Vikings in Scotland." This is supported by the 1977 CELT translator who offers "The Norwegian king, i.e. Gothfraid, died of a sudden hideous disease."  However the Gaelic is translated as simply "The King of the Lochlanns died of an ugly, sudden disease." by O'Donovan and James Henthorn Todd believed this entry referred to the death of Ímar in his translation of Cogad Gaedel re Gallaib. The entry "has caused a great deal of trouble for historians".
- "The dark heathens came to Áth Cliath, made a great slaughter of the fair-haired foreigners, and plundered the naval encampment, both people and property. The dark heathens made a raid at Linn Duachaill, and a great number of them were slaughtered."
- Downham calls him a "brother or associate" and Woolf states that "Amlaib also seems to have been working in close collaboration with Ímar" implying a non-kin relationship. Etchingham calls him "associate (brother?)".
- These are: AU 852.3 "The complement of eight score ships of fair-haired foreigners came to Snám Aignech, to do battle with the dark foreigners; they fought for three days and three nights, but the dark foreigners got the upper hand and the others abandoned their ships to them. Stain took flight, and escaped, and Iercne fell beheaded."; AU 853.2 "Amlaib, son of the king of Lochlann, came to Ireland, and the foreigners of Ireland submitted to him, and he took tribute from the Irish"; 856.6 "Horm, chief of the dark foreigners, was killed by Rhodri son of Mervyn, king of Wales."; 867.7 "The dark foreigners won a battle over the northern Saxons at York, in which fell Aelle, king of the northern Saxons."; 875.3 "The Picts encountered the dark foreigners in battle, and a great slaughter of the Picts resulted."; 877.5 "A skirmish at Loch Cuan between the fair heathens and the dark heathens, in which Albann, king of the dark heathens, fell." AU 851.3 refers directly to the "dark heathens" (see above note) and 853.2 does not. The footnote may refer to the latter in error.
- The Landnámabók specifies that Ivar Rognvaldsson was killed in the Hebrides.
- Downham (2009) p. 168
- Graham-Campbell and Batey (1998) pp. 2, 23
- Ballin Smith (2007) p. 289, 294
- Thomson (2008) p. 24–27
- Woolf (2007) p. 57
- Woolf (2007) pp. 99–100, 286–289
- Anderson (1922) p. 277
- Graham-Campbell and Batey (1998) p. 45
- Barrett (2008) p. 412
- Barrett (2008) pp. 419, 422
- Ó Corráin (1998) p. 25
- Fragmentary Annals of Ireland FA 401
- Ó Corráin (1998) p. 3
- Ó Corráin (1998) p. 37
- Fragmentary Annals of Ireland FA239
- Ó Corráin (1998) p. 2
- Annals of Ireland (1860) p. 195
- Ó Corráin (1998) p. 34
- Fragmentary Annals of Ireland FA 347
- Downham (2007) p. 253
- Downham (2007) p. 240
- Ó Corráin (1998) p. 24
- Annals of Ulster 857.1
- Muir (2005) p. 6
- Smyth (1977) pp. 116–126
- Downham (2007) pp. 258-59
- Annals of the Four Masters M856.8
- Annals of Ulster 859.2
- Woolf (2007) p. 109
- Ó Corráin (1998) p. 36
- Fragmentary Annals of Ireland FA 409
- O'Donovan (1860) p. 199.
- Todd (1867) p. 270
- Ó Corráin (1998) p. 35
- Woolf (2007) p. 110
- Downham (2007) p. 259
- Woolf (2007) p. 301
- Downham (2007) p. 4
- Woolf (2007) pp. 141, 144
- Duffy (1992) p. 106
- Woolf (2005) pp. 13-14
- "The History". clandonaldeurope.org. Retrieved 27 Nov 2011.
- Woolf (2006) p. 95
- Ó Corráin (1979) p. 296
- Adam of Bremen (1959) I xxxvii (§ 39)
- Woolf (2007) p. 113
- "In the Footsteps of Ivarr the Boneless". The History Files. Retrieved 18 Nov 2011.
- Ó Corráin (1979) p. 294
- Woolf (2007) p. 71
- Clarkson, Tim (2011) "The Vikings in Scotland and Ireland" Senchus. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
- Ó Corráin (1979) p. 314
- Ó Corráin (1979) p. 319
- Ó Corráin (1979) p. 323
- Møller, Kirsten (1997) Vikingeætten: brudstykker til et mønster.
- Crawford (1987) p. 192
- Muir (2005) p. 8
- Ó Corráin (1979) p. 298
- Downham (2007) pp. xv-xviii
- Woolf (2007) p. 107 fn36
- Annals of Ulster 851.3
- Downham (2007) p. xvii
- Woolf (2007) p. 108
- Etchingham (2010) p. 86
- Annals of Ulster 877.5
- Etchingham (2010) p. 87
- Downham (2009) p. 139
- Downham (2009) pp. 155-56, 166
- Downham (2007) p. 16
- Woolf (2007) pp. 300–303
- Ó Corráin (1979) p. 283
- Ó Corráin (1979) pp. 296-97
- Ó Corráin (1998) p. 4
- Ó Corráin (1998) p. 10
- General references
- Primary Sources
- Adam of Bremen. Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum in Francis J. Tschan (tr.) (1959) History of the Archbishops of Hamburg–Bremen. New York.
- "Annals of Ulster". CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts. (English translation). Retrieved 13 March 2009.
- Fragmentary Annals of Ireland. CELT. Translation by Joan Newlon Radner (c.1977). Retrieved 15 November 2011.
- Annals of the Four Masters. CELT. Translated by John O'Donovan. Electronic edition compiled by Emma Ryan 2002. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
- O'Donovan, John (translator) Annals of Ireland. (1860) Three fragments, copied from ancient sources by Dubhaltach MacFirbisigh; and edited, with a translation and notes, from a manuscript preserved in the Burgundian Library at Brussels. Dublin Irish Archaeological and Celtic Society. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
- Todd, James Henthorn (1867) Cogadh Gaedhel Re Gallaibh, or The War of the Gaedhil With the Gaill. London. Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
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- Ballin Smith, Beverley, Taylor, Simon and Williams, Gareth (eds) (2007) West Over Sea: Studies in Scandinavian Sea-borne Expansion and Settlement Before 1300. Brill. ISBN 9004158936
- Barrett, James H. "The Norse in Scotland" in Brink, Stefan (ed) (2008) The Viking World. Abingdon. Routledge. ISBN 0415333156
- Crawford, Barbara E. (1987) Scandinavian Scotland. Leicester University Press. ISBN 0718511972
- Downham, Clare (2007) Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014. Edinburgh. Dunedin Academic Press. ISBN 9781903765890
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- Ó Corráin, Donnchadh (1998) Vikings in Ireland and Scotland in the Ninth Century. CELT.
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