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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Portrayals of Vikings in “The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland”

Clare Downham

The Medieval Chronicle, vol. 3 (2005)

The ‘Fragmentary Annals of Ireland’ contains a lively pseudo-historical narrative which has been dated to the eleventh century. I explore how the portrayals of different groups of vikings in this text were engineered to preserve and enhance thereputation of its Irish royal hero: Cerball of Osraige (r. 842-888). This studyhighlights how ninth-century history was re-written to suit eleventh-century politicalcircumstances. I also analyse the structure of chronicle, and question how it has influenced historians’ perceptions concerning the identities of different viking-groups in Ireland.

The lacunose compilation known as ‘The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland’ survives only in a seventeenth-century transcript kept at the Royal Library inBrussels (MS 5301-5320 [4641], fols 3-38: Van Den Gheyn et al.1901-48:VII, 48-50). The text survives in five fragments. It begins with the year A.D.573 and ends at 914. The chronicle as a whole is characterised by a com-bination of short annalistic entries and longer pseudo-historical narratives. Inthis paper I shall examine the portrayals of vikings in the pseudo-historicalaccounts found in the fourth section of this chronicle, which covers the yearsfrom 849 to 873. The text exhibits interesting variation in the ways in which different groups of vikings are portrayed

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