Amlaíb Conung

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Amlaíb Conung
Siblings Ímar
Father Gofraid of Lochlann
Died c. 875

Amlaíb Conung (died c. 875) (Old Norse: Óláfr) was a Norse or Norse-Gael leader in Ireland and Scotland in the years after 850. Together with his brothers Ímar and Auisle he appears frequently in the Irish annals. The name "Conung" is from the Old Norse konungr and simply means "king".[1]

Amlaíb has often been seen as the same person as Olaf the White of the Landnámabók and other Icelandic sagas. The Irish annals, and the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, are much older than these, and in some respects are source materials for the Icelanders. These say little about Amlaíb's kin, and what they do say contradicts the Icelandic accounts.


The Annals of Ulster report the arrival of Amlaíb in Ireland in 853:

The Fragmentary Annals expand on this:

Lochlann, originally Laithlinn or Lothlend, the land where Amlaíb's father Gofraid, or Guðrøðr, was a king, is often identified with Norway, but it is not universally accepted that it had such a meaning in early times.[4] Several historians have proposed instead that in early times, and certainly as late as the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, Laithlinn refers to the Norse and Norse-Gael lands in the Hebrides, the Isle of Man, the Northern Isles and parts of mainland Scotland.[5] Whatever the original sense, by the twelfth century, when Magnus Barefoot undertook his expedition to the West, it had come to mean Norway.[6]


Amlaíb returned to Ireland by 856 when he and Ímar are presumed to have aided Máel Sechnaill. "Great warfare between the heathens and Mael Sechnaill, supported by Norse-Irish" is reported by the Annals of Ulster.[7] In 857 Amlaíb and Ímar "inflicted a rout on Caitill the Fair and his Norse-Irish in the lands of Munster.[8]" Although there is no certain evidence to suggest that this Caitill is the same person as the Ketill Flatnose of later sagas, it has been suggested that they are the same person.[9]

By 859 Amlaíb and Ímar were allied with Cerball mac Dúnlainge, King of Osraige, against Máel Sechnaill, and plundering in Meath.[10] They may also have joined with Áed Finnliath mac Néill, who succeeded Máel Sechnaill as High King of Ireland, in raiding Meath again in 862, by which time Amlaíb was married to a daughter of Áed. In 864, Conchobar mac Donnchado, the King of Mide (Meath), was put to death by drowning on Amlaíb's orders.

Amlaíb and his brother Auisle "went with the foreigners of Ireland and Scotland to Fortriu, plundered the entire Pictish country and took away hostages from them" in either 864 or 866. The Chronicle of the Kings of Alba appears to say that they overwintered in Scotland.[11] Áed Finnliath, at about this time, was engaged in destroying Viking "longphorts", or encampments, along the north coasts of Ireland, a campaign that may have been made easier by the absence of Amlaíb and Auisle's army, then in eastern Scotland. A family dispute resulted in Auisle's death in 867, apparently killed by Amlaíb, and this may have encouraged Cennétig mac Gaíthéne, king of the Loígis of modern County Laois, to destroy a longphort at Clondalkin that year, and then to raid Dublin itself.[12]

Dumbarton Rock, Alt Cluath, captured by Amlaíb and Ímar after a four-month siege in 870.

In 870, Amlaíb returned to Scotland with Ímar and laid siege to Dumbarton Rock, chief fortress of the Britons of Strathclyde. They captured it after a siege of four months, returning to Dublin in 871 with 200 ships and they "brought with them in captivity a great prey of Angles, Britons and Picts.[13] A siege of this duration was exceptional, and the captives may have included the king of Alt Clut (Strathclyde), Artgal, who according to the Annals of Ulster the next year was "slain by the counsel of Causantín mac Cináeda", or Constantine I, probably meaning that Constantine refused to pay ransom for the captured king of Strathclyde. These informative entries in the Annals of Ulster help to understand the short reference in the Chronicle of the Kings of Scotland, version A, which says that Amlaíb returned "at the head of 100 [ships?],[clarification needed] [and was] killed by Constantine". According to the Annals of Ulster it was Artgal who was killed by Constantine.[14]"

In the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, it is said that Amlaíb returned to Lochlann to aid his father in a war in 871.[15] With this, he disappears from the Irish annals. According to the Pictish Chronicle, he died around 874 during a protracted campaign against Constantine I in Scotland:

Marriages and children[edit]

Olaf the White was said to have been married to Aud the Deep-Minded, daughter of Ketil Flatnose, with a son, Thorstein the Red, being born of the marriage. In the Annals of Ulster for the year 875, Thorstein is referred to as Oistín in the following excerpt: "U875.4 - Oistín son of Amlaíb, king of the Norsemen, was deceitfully killed by Albann." Aud however does not appear in the Irish sources.[17]

Amlaíb Conung is said in the Fragmentary Annals to have been a son-in-law of Áed Finnliath. Elsewhere the Fragmentary Annals, when reporting the death of Óisle, refer to "the daughter of Cináed" as Amlaíb's wife. It is suggested that the reference to Áed is mistaken, and that Amlaíb's wife was a daughter of Cináed mac Conaing, who had been drowned by Máel Sechnaill in 851.[18] An alternative suggestion is that the Cináed in question is Cináed mac Ailpín (known in English as Kenneth MacAlpin, which would have made Amlaíb a brother-in-law of his killer Constantine I, a son of Kenneth).[19]

A number of sons of Amlaíb are known. Of these, Carlus was killed at the battle of Cell ua nDaigri in 868, fighting alongside Flann mac Conaing, brother and successor of Cináed, who is suggested to have been Amlaíb's father-in-law. Therefore it is likely that Carlus was fighting alongside his maternal relatives.[20] Oistin was killed in 875 "by Halfdan, by stratagem."[21]


  1. ^ Ó Corráin (1998) p. 2
  2. ^ Annals of Ulster, s.a. 853.
  3. ^ Fragmentary Annals, § 239; Anderson, ESSH, pp. 281–284. Ó Corráin, p. 7, dates this to 852–853.
  4. ^ Ó Corráin, pp. 9 ff.
  5. ^ Ó Corráin, pp. 14–21; Cambridge History of Scandinavia, p. 204.
  6. ^ Ó Corráin, pp. 22–24.
  7. ^ Annals of Ulster, s.a. 856; Ó Corráin, p. 29.
  8. ^ Annals of Ulster, s.a. 857.
  9. ^ Anderson, ESSH, p. 286, note 1; Crawford, p. 47.
  10. ^ Downham (2007) p. 239
  11. ^ Anderson, ESSH, pp. 292, 296–297 & 353–353.
  12. ^ Ó Corráin, pp. 32–33.
  13. ^ Anderson, ESSH, pp. 301–303.
  14. ^ Anderson, ESSH, p. 304.
  15. ^ Anderson, ESSH, pp. 303–304.
  16. ^ Pictish Chronicle
  17. ^ For a statement of the evidence, accepting that Olaf and Amlaíb are one and the same, see Crawford, pp. 57–58 & 192.
  18. ^ Anderson, ESSH, pp. 305–312.
  19. ^ Smyth, p. 192.
  20. ^ Recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters, 866.9.
  21. ^ Anderson, ESSH, p. 350–352; Halfdan was killed in 877, probably by Oistin's foster-father Barid.


  • Anderson, Alan Orr, Early Sources of Scottish History A.D 500–1286, volume 1. Reprinted with corrections. Paul Watkins, Stamford, 1990. ISBN 1-871615-03-8
  • Byrne, Francis J., Irish Kings and High-Kings. B.T. Batsford, London, 1973. ISBN 0-7134-5882-8
  • Crawford, Barbara, Scandinavian Scotland. Leicester University Press, Leicester, 1987. ISBN 0-7185-1282-0
  • Downham, Clare (2007) Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014. Edinburgh. Dunedin Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-903765-89-0
  • Helle, Knut (ed.), The Cambridge History of Scandinavia. Volume 1: Prehistory to 1520. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003. ISBN 0-521-47299-7
  • Ó Corrain, Donnchad, (1998) "The Vikings in Scotland and Ireland in the Ninth Century", Peritia, vol 12, pp296–339. (etext (pdf)
  • Smyth, Alfred P., Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD 80–1000. Reprinted, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1998. ISBN 0-7486-0100-7

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