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Understanding the Origins of Dublin

Updated 04 October 2020

Archaeologists have found an important new clue to the origins of Dublin on a construction site in the city centre. The Vikings first settled here in 840 CE near Dubh Linn.1 And this dark tidal pool turns out to be much larger than previously believed.

To get an idea of the area, see the map below. Or better yet, see the Ordnance Survey map on the blog Battle of Clontarf.2

Dublin c. 800 (Source: Wikipedia / Brendan K. Ward)

St Michael Le Pole

A few hundred metres from the pool, between Great Ship Street and Chancery Lane, is an ecclesial site dating back to pre-Christian times. Here are the remains of the church of St Michael Le Pole. The church stood until the eighteenth century, along with its round tower and a graveyard. When the tower crumbled, the rest of the church was cleared away, too. The remains were only found during excavations in 1981.3 Today, only a plaque refers to its location.4

Plaque of St Michael Le Pole, Dublin (Source: Flickr / William Murphy).

Who was Saint Michael? He may have been bishop Mac Thail of Kilcullen who lived in the sixth century. The Annals of the Four Masters shows he was still revered as patron saint of Dublin in the tenth century.5 The addition ‘Le Pole’ seems to refer to the pool – some think as an Anglo-Normand adaptation. It would suggest the church stood close to, or on, the banks of the pool.

The 2020 Excavation

The most recent excavations have taken place near Great Ship Street. According to the lead archaeologist, the results confirm that the pool was much larger, probably reaching up to the ecclesial site, making the name ‘Le Pole’ rather apt. The newly estimated size of the pool also fits the idea that the Vikings could have had around 200 ships here! For several great videos of the excavation, see the Facebook page of Archaeological Projects Ltd.

The original article ‘Dublin’s earliest Viking settlement seen in a new light was last updated on RTÉ on 11 March 2020. I found it via the summary on Archaeology. And from the looks of it, more online news sources are picking up on it in the past few days.

Update September: another discovery

RTÉ reports on 25 September 2020 that during the excavations on Ship Street, arcaheologists found the skeleton of a child from the ninth or tenth century who possibly did not die peacefully.


  1. Maeve Sikora, ‘The City of Dublin,’ Last Accessed 15 March 2020.  ↩
  2. Viking–Age Dublin,Battle of Clontarf. Last Accessed 15 March 2020.  ↩
  3. Mary McMahon, et al., ‘Early Medieval Settlement and Burial outside the Enclosed Town: Evidence from Archaeological Excavations at Bride Street, Dublin,’ in: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature Volume 102.4 (2002), pp. 68 [pp. 67–135].
    George A. Little, ‘The Provenance of the Church of St. Michael De Le Pole,’ in: Dublin Historical Record Volume 12.2 (1951), pp. 2 [pp. 2–13].  ↩
  4. 12th C. – St Michael le Pole, Dublin,’ Published in 2013. Last Accessed 15 March 2020.  ↩
  5. Annals of the Four Masters. Corpus of Electronic Texts Editions (CELT). Published in 2002. Last Accessed 14 March 2020.  ↩

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