The Norse-Gaels were a people who dominated much of the Irish Sea region and western Scotland for a large part of the Middle Ages, who were of Scandinavian and Gaelic origin and as a whole exhibited a great deal of Gaelic and Norse cultural syncretism. They are generally known by the Gaelic name which they themselves used, of which "Norse-Gaels" is a translation. This term is subject to a large range of variations depending on chronological and geographical differences in the Gaelic language, i.e. Gall Gaidel, Gall Gaidhel, Gall Gaidheal, Gall Gaedil, Gall Gaedhil, Gall Gaedhel, Gall Goidel, etc, etc. The terminology was used both by some Irish and some Scots who wished to alienate them, and by the Norse-Gaels themselves who wished to stress their Scandinavian heritage and Gaelic heritage and their links with Norway and other parts of the Scandinavian world and Gaelic world. The nativised presence of Norsemen in Ireland also lent at least one self-reference, that of Ostmen. Other modern translations used include Scoto-Norse, Hiberno-Norse and Foreign Gaels.

The Norse-Gaels originated in Viking colonies of Ireland and Scotland who became subject to the process of Gaelicization, whereby starting as early as the ninth century, most intermarried with native Gaels (except for the Norse who settled in Cumbria) and adopted the Gaelic language as well as many other Gaelic customs. Many left their original worship of Norse gods and converted to Christianity, and this contributed to the Gaelicization. Gaelicized Scandinavians dominated the Irish Sea region until the Norman era of the twelfth century, founding long-lasting kingdoms, such as the Kingdoms of Man, Argyll, Dublin, York and Galloway. The Lords of the Isles, a Lordship which lasted until the sixteenth century, as well as many other Gaelic rulers of Scotland and Ireland, traced their descent from Norse-Gaels. The Norse-Gaels settlement in England was concentrated in the North West


The Norse are first recorded in Ireland in 795 when they sacked Lambay Island. Sporadic raids then continued until 832, after which they began to build fortified settlements throughout the country. Norse raids continued throughout the tenth century, but resistance to them increased. They suffered several defeats at the hands of Malachy II, and in 1014 Brian Boru broke the power of the Norse permanently at Clontarf. [Ruth Dudley Edwards, An Atlas of Irish History]

The Norse established independent kingdoms in Dublin. Waterford. Wexford, Cork and Limerick. These kingdoms did not survive the subsequent Norman invasions, but the towns continued to grow and prosper. The Norse became fully absorbed into the religious and political life of Ireland.

Iceland and the Faroes

It is recorded in the Landnamabok that there were papar or culdees in Iceland before the Norse, and this appears to tie in with comments of Dicuil. However, whether or not this is true, the settlement of Iceland and the Faroe islands by the Norse would have included many Norse-Gaels, as well as slaves, servants and wives. They were called "Vestmen", and the name is retained in Vestmanna in the Faroes, and the Vestmannaeyjar off the Icelandic mainland, where it is said that Irish slaves escaped to. ("Vestman" may have referred to the lands and islands "west" of mainland Scandinavia.)

A number of Icelandic personal names are of Gaelic origin, e.g. Njáll Þorgeirsson of "Njáls saga" had a forename of Gaelic origin - Niall. Patreksfjörður, an Icelandic village also contains the name Padraig. A number of placenames named after the papar, Irish monks, exist on Iceland and the Faroes.

According to some circumstantial evidence, Grímur Kamban, seen as the founder of the Norse Faroes, may have been a Norse Gael.:"According to the Faereyinga Saga... the first settler in the Faroe Islands was a man named Grímur Kamban - "Hann bygdi fyrstr Færeyar", it may have been the land taking of Grímur and his followers that cauysed the anchorites to leave... the nickname Kamban is probably Gaelic and one interpretation is that the word refers to some physical handicap, another that it may point to his prowess as a sportsman. Probably he came as a young man to the Faroe Islands by way of Viking Ireland, and local tradition has it that he settled at Funningur in Eysturoy." [Schei, Liv Kjørsvik & Moberg, Gunnie (2003) "The Faroe Islands". Birlinn.]

Modern names

Even today, many surnames connected particularly with Gaeldom are of Norse origin, especially in the Western Isles and Isle of Man.


GaelicAnglicised form"Son of-"
MacAmhlaighMacAulay, MacAuliffeÓláfr
MacCorcadailMacCorquodale/Corquadale, Corkill, McCorkindaleÞorketill
MacIomhairMacIver, MacIvor Ívarr (Ingvar)
MacShitrig [ [ McKittrick Name Meaning and History] Retrieved on 2008-04-23] MacKitrick, McKittrickSigtryggr
MacLeòidMacLeodLjótr (lit. "the ugly one") [ [ Mcleod Name Meaning and History] Retrieved on 2008-04-23]


GaelicAnglicised formNorse equivalent
Amhlaibh (confused with the Gaelic name Amhlaidh/Amhalghaidh)Aulay (Olaf)Óláfr
GoraidhGorrie (Godfrey, Godfred), Orree (Isle of Man)Godfriðr
IomharIvorÍvarr (Ingvar)
RaghnallRanald (Ronald, Randall)Rögnvaldr
SomhairleSorley (sometimes Englished as "Samuel")Sumarliði (Somerled)
Tormod NA (Englished as "Norman")Þormundr
TorcuilTorquilTorkill, Þorketill

ee also

*Earl of Orkney
*Kings of Dublin
*List of Kings of the Isle of Man and the Isles
*Diocese of Sodor and Man
*Lord of the Isles
*Lords of Galloway



*cite book|last=Haywood|first=John|title=The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings|year=1995|publisher=Penguin|location=London|id=ISBN 0-14-051328-0
*cite book|last=McDonald|first=R. Andrew|title=The Kingdom of the Isles: Scotland's Western Seaboard, c.1100-c.1336|year=1997|publisher=Tuckwell Press|location=East Linton|id=ISBN 1-898410-85-2
*cite book|last=Ó Cróinín|first=Dáibhí|title=Early Medieval Ireland, 400-1200|year=1995|publisher=Longman|location=London|id=ISBN 0-582-01566-9
*cite book|last=Oram|first=Richard|title=The Lordship of Galloway|year=2000|publisher=John Donald|location=Edinburgh|id=ISBN 0-85976-541-5
*cite book|last=Scholes|first=Ron|title=Yorkshire Dales|year=2000|publisher=Landmark|location=Derbyshire|id=ISBN 1-901522-41-5

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