Uí Ímair

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House of Ivar
File:Raven Banner.svg
Founded 9th century?
Founder Ímar
Ivar Ragnarsson (disputed)
Ivar Vidfamne [2] (alt.) [3]
Dissolution disputed
Cadet branches

The Uí (h)Ímair [iː ˈiːvˠaɾʲ], or Dynasty of Ivar, were a royal Norse dynasty whose members ruled much of the Irish Sea region, the Kingdom of Dublin, the western coast of Scotland, including the Hebrides and some part of Northern England, from the mid 9th century.

The dynasty lost control of York in the mid 10th century, but reigned over the other domains at variously disputed times, depending on which rulers may be counted among their descendants. This has proved a difficult question for scholars to determine, because reliable pedigrees do not survive. Additionally, for between three and four decades, the Uí Ímair were probably overkings of the Kingdom of Scotland itself,[1] distinct from the Kingdom of Strathclyde, of which they may also have been overkings, and later briefly the Irish province of Munster, dominated from Waterford, and later still, briefly the English kingdom of Mercia. In the west of Ireland, the Uí Ímair also supplied at least two kings of Limerick, from which they may have attempted to conquer Munster again.

On the female side, two members are styled Queens of Ireland in the Irish annals (they were also Queen of Mide and Queen of Munster, respectively), while another was Queen of Leinster (and Osraige). In the Norse sources, another was Queen consort of Norway. Finally, another may have been Queen of Brega. The name Uí Ímair is Old Irish, and means "grandchildren" or Descendants of Ivar, but the dynasty includes its progenitor and his sons. Ivar is described in the Irish annals as the brother of Amlaíb Conung and Auisle, and his obituary is recorded in the Annals of Ulster under the year 873, reading Imhar, rex Nordmannorum totius Hibernie & Brittanie, uitam finiuit., or "Ivar, king of all the Norse of Ireland and Britain, ended his life".[4] Probably the senior leader of the Great Heathen Army,[5] Ivar may thus have become the inspiration for the legendary Ivar the Boneless, son of Ragnar Lodbrok. In any event, Uí Ímair dynasts may also have exercised power as overkings of East Anglia during their career in Britain.

Alex Woolf points out it would be a mistake to view the lordship as a "unitary empire";[6] it was, rather, a collection of lordships ruled by the same kindred, with only varying degrees of unity depending on the political circumstances of the moment and the charisma of individual leaders. Especially in the early period, a great portion of the dynasty's wealth, probably the majority, came from the international slave trade, both as slavers themselves and from the taxation of it,[7] for which they were infamous in their time. In this role they star as the principal antagonists in the early 12th century Irish epic political tract The War of the Irish with the Foreigners, although the account is exaggerated.[8]

One of the greatest dynasties of the Viking Age, the Uí Ímair were at their height the most fearsome and wide-reaching power in the British Isles and perhaps beyond.[9] However, unlike the contemporary Rurikids in the East they ultimately failed to make any long-lasting territorial gains of significance and are considered a strategic failure, despite their considerable economic and political influence.[10]

Ancestral homeland

Some historians believe Ímar and Ivar the Boneless to be identical, others claim they are two different individuals. According to Irish annals, Ímar was the son of Gofraid (also Goffridh, Gothfraid or Guðrøðr), who was the king of Lochlann. The Norwegians at this point were often referred to as Lochlanns by the Irish. Lochlann was widely accepted among scholars as being identical to Norway, recently however this has been questioned, among others by Donnchadh Ó Corráin. His and others' theory is that Lochlann was the "viking Scotland" (Norse/Norwegian settlements on the Scottish islands and northern mainland). Whether the Irish annals referred to Lochlann as Norway or to the Norse settlements is Scotland is still a matter of debate, however by the 11th century the term had come to mean Norway.[11] According to Donnchadh Ó Corráin there is no evidence that any branch of the royal Danish dynasty ruled in Ireland. He also claims that Ímar´s brother, Amlaíb Conung (the name "Conung" is from the Old Norse konungr and simply means "king"), who often has been identified as part of the royal Norwegian dynasty (Ynglingene), was in fact not. He strongly argues for that both Ímar and his brothers were part of a Norse dynasty centered in and around the Scottish mainland.[11]

The Norwegian historian Kim Hjardar and archaeologist Vegard Vike claim that Ímar is the same person as the Dane Ivar the Boneless, and that he and the Norwegian chieftain Amlaíb Conung (Olaf the White) arrived in Ireland as leaders of a coalition of Vikings whose goal was to take control over the Viking settlements in Ireland. When the Irish annals describe Ímar and Amlaíb Conung as brothers, Hjardar and Vike claims that this has to be interpreted as a metaphor for "warrior brothers" or "brothers in arms".[12]


The following list contains only members mentioned in the Irish annals and other reliable and semi-reliable sources, such as the Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib, and among those only the ones who can be placed in the pedigree with relative confidence. Thus it is by no means complete. Among recent developments in scholarship it has been argued that the historical king of Northumbria contributing to the character of Eric Bloodaxe was actually an Uí Ímair dynast.[13]

First proposed by James Henthorn Todd in 1867,[14] and most recently considered by Alex Woolf and Clare Downham, it is possible the Uí Ímair were peculiar in that some early members, and possibly the entire known later dynasty, descended from the founder via the female line.[15]

After various authors. Birthdates are unknown. mac = son of; ingen = daughter of; ua = grandchild of; Ua (h)Ímair = surname (descendant of Ímar).

The precise lineage of one of the very last widely agreed upon members of the dynasty, Echmarcach mac Ragnaill, is uncertain. He was either a descendant of Ivar of Waterford (died 1000) or Gofraid mac Arailt (died 989). That of Cacht ingen Ragnaill, Queen of Donnchad mac Briain, may or may not depend upon Echmarcach's.

Later Waterford and Limerick

The independent dynasty of Waterford founded or continued by Ivar of Waterford (died 1000) cannot be linked genealogically to the 'central' line of Dublin kings, but James Henthorn Todd gave him a descent from Ragnall ua Ímair, who never ruled there.[16] Their claim to Dublin and the names of their dynasts suggest they did belong to the dynasty.[17]

Like in the case of the late Waterford dynasty, the pedigree of the last Norse to rule in Limerick is also uncertain. Ivar of Limerick (died 977), and surnamed Ua hÍmair, features prominently in the early 12th century saga Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib, although he appears less in the annals, which are lacunose and in general poorer for western Ireland. In any case he and/or the Waterford dynasty are probably survived today through intermarriage with the O'Donovan family, verifiably associated with both and known for their use of Uí Ímair dynastic names in medieval times. A notable sept of the O'Donovans known as the Sliocht Íomhair or "Seed of Ivor" survived into early modern times. It is also periodically claimed that some of the family may even be male line descendants of Ivar of Waterford, a variant of which (through his son Donndubán) actually appeared in the Encyclopædia Britannica for a few decades.[18] This remains unverified and the family do not make this last claim themselves. All (surviving) septs profess a Gaelic lineage.

Loss of Dublin

How long the Uí Ímair remained in Dublin after losing it to the Uí Cheinnselaig in 1052 is unknown. Following the death of Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó in 1072 the kingship appears to have been held by one Gofraid mac Amlaíb meic Ragnaill, who may or may not have been a candidate supported by Toirdelbach Ua Briain. While it has been argued he was installed by Toirdelbach,[19] the annals themselves make no such statement, which but for one only briefly report Gofraid's death in 1075, and variously style him King of the Foreigners and King of Dublin. But according to the Annals of Inisfallen "Gofraid grandson of Ragnall, king of Áth Cliath, was banished over sea by Tairdelbach Ua Briain, and he died beyond the sea, having assembled a great fleet [to come] to Ireland."[20] So Gofraid, regardless of how he took the throne, thought he had some chance of reestablishing the dynasty independent in Dublin in spite of the Gaels. Godred Crovan may have been successful for a period after him.

Later Ireland in general, and intermarriage

Certainly the Uí Ímair, an enormous dynasty, were once survived by a number of Gaelic families, or in their own right in Ireland, but the combination of the Norman invasion of Ireland and later Tudor conquest destroyed the vast majority of the medieval Norse-Irish and Gaelic aristocracy alike. Dense clusters of given names strongly associated with the Norse dynasty can be found in professedly Gaelic families in the great genealogical compilations of Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh and Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, and in various other sources. However, a strange phenomenon becomes apparent, that while the dynasty were concentrated in Dublin, Waterford and Limerick, and thus in the southern half of Ireland, these professedly Gaelic families later using their given names with great frequency are found mainly in the northern half of the island, their pedigrees associating them with the Connachta, Uí Maine, and Northern Uí Néill. On top of this, none of these northern dynasties have a documented history of willing association with the Uí Ímair, or in the case of the first two any association at all. The Uí Ímair are only documented intermarrying with the Osraighe (the FitzPatricks), Laigin, O'Brien dynasty, the Southern Uí Néill Clann Cholmáin and Síl nÁedo Sláine and the aforementioned O'Donovans. In any event, the one long surviving source that might have contained pedigrees of surviving septs of the Uí Ímair themselves was a section in the Great Book of Lecan. This section, specifically focused on the pedigrees and doings of the Norse families of Ireland, was still in existence in the 17th century, as reported by Mac Firbis himself, but has since become lost.[21]

From his daughter Máel Muire the FitzPatricks of Ossory are descendants of Gofraid mac Arailt, probable grandson of Sitric Cáech, King of Dublin. Their ancestor Cerball mac Dúnlainge counted Ímar I (died 873) as an ally.

Later Mann and the Isles

Crovan dynasty

Descendants of the Dublin Uí Ímair may have persisted into the 13th century in the line of Godred Crovan, King of Dublin and King of Mann and the Isles, although his ancestry is not agreed upon and may very well be different.[22] If he in fact was, then he was mostly likely a son or nephew of Ímar mac Arailt above, one of the last certain Uí Ímair kings of Dublin and a grandson of Amlaíb Cuarán. Godred's descendants, although vassals of the Kings of Norway, continued to rule into the 1260s, the last being Magnus Olafsson (to 1265), or briefly his son Godred VI (1275).

Clann Somhairle

Although their descent from Godred Crovan is through the female line, Alex Woolf believes the Clann Somhairle (Clan Donald and Clan MacDougall) or the Lords of the Isles can be regarded as a "cadet branch" of the Uí Ímair, as they apparently based their claim to the Isles on this descent (according to Woolf).[23] Their founder Somerled married Ragnhild, daughter of Olafr Godredsson, King of Mann and the Isles and son of Godred Crovan. This of course assumes these dynasts belonged to the Uí Ímair. Sir Iain Moncreiffe attempted to reconstruct a male line descent from Echmarcach mac Ragnaill himself to Somerled,[24] but this has received little attention. More recently it has been suggested by Richard Oram that Somerled may actually have been a male line descendant of the Jarl Gilli,[25] whose lineage apart from being Norse is uncertain.

Nevertheless, both the descendants of Godred and Somerled favoured and continue to favour the Uí Ímair dynastic names Ragnall and Gofraid/Godred. One great sept are the Mac Domhnaill of Clann Raghnaill.


Amlaíb mac Sitriuc (Ólafr son of Sigtrygg Silkbeard, King of Dublin) became an ancestor of the Kings of Gwynedd through his daughter Ragnhild, wife of Cynan ab Iago and mother of the famous Gruffudd ap Cynan.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ó Corráin 1998
  2. Kirsten Møller, Vikingeætten. 1997.
  3. In addition, Ivar Ragnarsson of the sagas is a descendant of Ivar Vidfamne through his daughter Aud or Alfhild, according to some traditions.
  4. Annals of Ulster, ed. & tr. Seán Mac Airt and Gearóid Mac Niocaill (1983). The Annals of Ulster (to AD 1131). Dublin: DIAS. Lay summaryCELT (2008).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Woolf (2007), p. 71
  6. Woolf, Alex (2002) "Age of Sea-Kings: 900-1300", in: Donald Omand (ed.), The Argyll Book, Edinburgh: Birlinn, pp. 95-96.
  7. Valante, passim
  8. ed. & tr. James Henthorn Todd (1867)
  9. The dynasty may have retained influence in their Scandinavian homelands, and also held some in Normandy. For both these areas our sources are very poor.
  10. Ó Corráin, Downham, Woolf, Valante
  11. 11.0 11.1 http://www.ucc.ie/celt/Vikings%20in%20Scotland%20and%20Ireland.pdf
  12. Kim Hjardar & Vegard Vike, Vikings at War, p.224-226.
  13. Downham 2004, passim; 2007, passim
  14. Todd 1867
  15. Woolf (2007) p. 131; Downham (2007) p. 34. The latter speculates that the known grandsons of Ímar, who lack a patronymic, and are referred to as "ua Ímair", may have been the "children of a daughter (or daughters) of Ívarr". She provides a note that "Alex Woolf has put forward this idea in conversation".
  16. Todd, p. 294. He is followed by Valante, p. 178.
  17. Downham, p. 56-7
  18. Encyclopædia Britannica
  19. Ó Cróinin
  20. Annals of Inisfallen, ed. & tr. Seán Mac Airt (1944). The Annals of Inisfallen (MS. Rawlinson B. 503). Dublin: DIAS.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Edition and translation available from CELT.
  21. Alexander Bugge (ed. & tr.), of Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh, On the Fomorians and the Norsemen. Christiania: J. Chr. Gundersens Bogtrykkeri. 1905. See Bugge's introduction.
  22. Seán Duffy, "Irishmen and Islesmen in the Kingdom of Dublin and Man 1052-1171", in Ériu 43 (1992): 93-133. p. 106
  23. Alex Woolf, The origins and ancestry of Somerled: Gofraid mac Fergusa and 'The Annals of the Four Masters', Medieval Scandinavia 15 (2005)
  24. Iain Moncreiffe, The Highland Clans: the dynastic origins, chiefs and background of the Clans connected with Highland history and of some other families. Clarkson N. Potter. Revised edition, 1982. p. 56.
  25. Richard Oram, The Lordship of Galloway. John Donald. 2000. p. 53
  26. Names associated with the dynasty... possible Hauteville family connections?