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Ragnall ua Ímair

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Ragnall ua Ímair

Ragnall ua Ímair
"King of the Fair Foreigners and the Dark Foreigners"
Reign c. 921
King of Mann
Reign c. 914–921
King of Northumbria
Reign 918–921
Predecessor English control
Successor Sitric Cáech
Died 921
Issue Mac Ragnaill
House Uí Ímair

Ragnall ua Ímair (Old Norse: Røgnvaldr, died 921) was a Viking[nb 1] leader who ruled Northumbria and the Isle of Man in the early 10th century. He was a grandson of Ímar and a member of the Uí Ímair. Sitric was most probably among those Vikings expelled from Dublin in 902, whereafter he may have ruled territory in southern Scotland or the Isle of Man. In 917, he and his kinsman Sitric Cáech sailed separate fleets to Ireland where they won several battles against local kings. Sitric successfully recaptured Dublin and established himself as king, while Ragnall returned to England. He fought against Constantín mac Áeda, King of Scotland, in the Battle of Corbridge in 918, and although the battle was not decisive it did allow Ragnall to establish himself as king at York.


The ruling Vikings of Dublin were expelled from the city in 902 by a joint force led by Máel Finnia mac Flannacán, overking of Brega and Cerball mac Muirecáin, overking of Leinster.[2] Those Vikings that survived the capture of the city split into different groups; some went to France, some to England, and some to Wales.[3] Archaeological evidence suggests Dublin remained occupied in the years immediately following this expulsion, perhaps indicating only the ruling elite were forced to leave.[4] However, Viking raids on Irish settlements continued, and in 914, a large Viking fleet travelled to Waterford.[5] The arrival of this fleet marked the re-establishment of Viking rule over parts of Ireland, and was followed by more Vikings settling in Limerick the following year.[6]

The main historical sources for this period are the Norse sagas and the Irish annals. Some of the annals, such as the Annals of Ulster, are believed to be contemporary accounts, whereas the sagas were written down at dates much later than the events they describe and are considered far less reliable. A few of the annals such as the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland and the Annals of the Four Masters were also complied at later dates, in part from more contemporary material and in part from fragments of sagas.[7] According to Downham: "apart from these additions [of saga fragments], Irish chronicles are considered by scholars to be largely accurate records, albeit partisan in their presentation of events".[8]


Ragnall is presumed to have left Dublin with the rest of the ruling Vikings in 902.[9] It appears he settled in southern Scotland or the Isle of Man, and is described by some scholars as a King of Mann.[nb 2][11] He may or may not have ruled territory in western and northern Scotland including the Hebrides and Northern Isles, but contemporary sources are silent on this matter.[12] The earliest mention of him in the Irish Annals is in 914 when he is described as defeating Bárid mac Oitir in a naval battle off the Isle of Man.[13] Bárid may have been a son of Otir mac Iercne, the man who killed a son of Auisle in 883, or a son of Jarl Otir, who later accompanied Ragnall and fought alongside him in England.[14] Ragnall is mentioned in the annals again in 917 when he and Sitric, another grandson of Ímar, are described as leading their fleets to Ireland.[15] Sitric sailed his fleet to Cenn Fuait in Leinster, and Ragnall sailed his fleet to Waterford. Niall Glúndub, overking of the Northern Uí Néill saw these Vikings as a threat, and he marched an army south to repel them. The Vikings fought against the men of the Uí Néill at Mag Femen in County Tipperary and claimed victory, though only through timely reinforcement by Ragnall and his army.[16] This was followed by another at the Battle of Confey (also known as the Battle of Cenn Fuait), against Augaire mac Ailella, overking of Leinster, who died in the battle. Augaire's death marked the end of effective opposition to the Vikings' return to Ireland, and Sitric led his men on a triumphant return to Dublin, where he established himself as king.[15]

The Annals of Ulster record Ragnall, with his kinsman Gofraid and two earls, Ottir Iarla and Gragabai, leaving Ireland in 918 to fight against Constantín son of Áed, the king of Scotland. Constantín, according to northern Anglo-Saxon sources, was assisting Ealdred son of Eadwulf, ruler of all or part of Northumbria. The battle, known as the Battle of Corbridge, was indecisive, but this appears to have been enough to allow Ragnall to establish himself as king at York.[17] Ragnall moved quickly and soon imposed his authority on the Vikings there.[18] His position as King of Northumbria was immediately challenged by a group of Christian Vikings (York was mostly Christian by this time) who opposed Ragnall's paganism. This faction approached Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, an Anglo-Saxon and a Christian, with an offer of submission, but negotiations were ended by her premature death in June 918.[19]

Ragnall had three separate issues of coins produced while he ruled York, showing that the machinery of government in Northumbria continued to function, though it is possible that the day-to-day working of mints and collection of taxes rested with the Archbishop of York, Hrotheweard, rather than with Ragnall.[20] The southern Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Elder, made some manner of agreement with Ragnall and the other northern kings in about 920, the exact nature of which is unclear. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that they "chose Edward as father and lord", perhaps indicating that Ragnall acknowledged Edward's overlordship, although many scholars have contested this as unlikely.[21] Ragnall died in 921, and is described as "king of the fair foreigners and the dark foreigners" by the Annals of Ulster. It may be that he was already dying in 920 when the Irish annals note the departure of Sitric from Dublin, replaced there by Gofraid. Sitric succeeded Ragnall as king of the Northumbrians at York.[22]


Halvdanshaugen at Hadeland Folkemuseum, one of the several supposed burial sites of Halfdan the Black, legendary ninth-century Yngling king of Vestfold

The historian Alex Woolf has identified Ragnall with Rognvald Eysteinsson, Earl of Møre, a figure closely associated with Harald Fairhair, the first King of Norway. Woolf provides two pieces of evidence in support of this theory. Firstly, both Ragnall and Rognvald are the grandsons of 'Ivars' - this would equate Ímar with Ívarr Upplendingajarl, a son of the legendary king Halfdan the Old. Secondly, Rognvald's son Ivar was killed while in Scotland, as was Ragnall's kinsman Ímar ua Ímair.[nb 3][24] Other attempts have also been made in the modern era to link the Kings of Lochlann with historical figures in Norway - Smyth has suggested that Amlaíb Conung can be identified with Olaf Geirstad-Alf, King of Vestfold, (who was the son of Gudrød the Hunter and half-brother of Halfdan the Black), though speculation of this nature has not received much support.[25] Ó Corrain states that there is "no good historical or linguistic evidence to link Lothlend/Laithlind with Norway, and none to link the dynasty of Dublin to the shadowy history of the Ynglings of Vestfold".[26]


In the annals Ragnall is identified by the use of "ua Ímair", meaning "grandson of Ímar", but never with a patronymic. As such, it is not possible to identify which of the three known sons of Ímar (Bárid, Sichfrith or Sitriuc) - if any - was the father of Ragnall. One possible reason for the lack of a patronym might be that Ragnall was the child of a son of Ímar who never ruled Dublin, or who spent most of his time outside Ireland, thus making Ragnall's legitimacy to rule Dublin dependent the identity of his grandfather, not his father. Another possibility is that Ragnall was a grandson of Ímar through a daughter, again with his right to rule dependent on his grandfather.[27] Sitric's kinsmen Ímar, Sitric, Amlaíb and Gofraid are the other known grandsons of Ímar identified by the use of "ua Ímair". All except for Amlaíb ruled as either King of Dublin or King of Northumbria at one time or another.[28]

An individual identified as Mac Ragnaill (son of Ragnall) by the annals may have been Ragnall's son, though no name is given.[29] In 942 Mac Ragnaill led a raid on Downpatrick, but within a week he was killed by Matudán, Overking of Ulster. The Annals of the Four Masters call Mac Ragnaill a jarl, but the Annals of Ulster call him a king.[30] The Annals of the Four Masters also suggests he and his fellow plunderers came from an island.[31]

Family Tree


  1. ^ The definition as given by Downham is used here - Vikings were "people of Scandinavian culture who were active outside of Scandinavia".[1]
  2. ^ Ashley gives the dates of his rule as 914–921. He states Ragnall "probably declared himself king of Man in 914 when he defeated a rival Viking fleet off the coast of Man".[10]
  3. ^ The Landnámabók specifies that Ivar Rognvaldsson was killed in the Hebrides.[23]



  1. ^ Downham, p. xvi
  2. ^ Downham, p. 26
  3. ^ Downham, p. 27–28; Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, § 429; Annales Cambriae, s.a. 902; Brenhinedd y Saesson, s.a. 903; Brut y Tywysogyon (Pen. 20), s.a. 903; Brut y Tywysogyon (RBH), s.a. 903
  4. ^ Downham, p. 27
  5. ^ Sawyer, p. 97; Annals of the Four Masters, s.a. 914; Chronicon Scotorum, s.a. 914; Annals of Ulster, s.a. 914
  6. ^ Downham, p. 31
  7. ^ Radner, p. 322–325
  8. ^ Downham, p. 12
  9. ^ Hart
  10. ^ Ashley, p. 423
  11. ^ Hart; Woolf, p. 148
  12. ^ Woolf, p. 148
  13. ^ Downham, pp. 267–268
  14. ^ Downham, p. 248
  15. ^ a b Downham, pp. 31, 273–274
  16. ^ Annals of Ulster, s.a. 917; Annals of the Four Masters, s.a. 917
  17. ^ Downham, pp. 91–95; Woolf, pp. 142–144 & 191.
  18. ^ Forte, Oram and Pedersen, p. 102
  19. ^ Forte, Oram and Pedersen, p. 103
  20. ^ Hart; Woolf, p. 191.
  21. ^ Hart; Woolf, pp. 145–147; Downham, pp. 95–97.
  22. ^ Woolf, p. 148.
  23. ^ Muir, p. 6
  24. ^ Woolf, p. 300–303
  25. ^ Smyth, pp. 104–105; Ó Corrain (1979), pp. 296-97; Ó Corrain (1998), p. 4
  26. ^ Ó Corrain (1998), p. 10
  27. ^ Downham, p. 34
  28. ^ Downham, p. 29
  29. ^ Downham, p. 64
  30. ^ Annals of the Four Masters, s.a. 942; Annals of Ulster, s.a. 942
  31. ^ Downham, p. 64; Annals of the Four Masters, s.a. 942

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

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External links

  • CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts at University College Cork. The Corpus of Electronic Texts includes the Annals of Ulster and the Four Masters, the Chronicon Scotorum and the Book of Leinster as well as Genealogies, and various Saints' Lives. Most are translated into English, or translations are in progress.
Ragnall ua Ímair
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Mann
c. 914–921
Succeeded by
Preceded by
English control
King of Northumbria
Succeeded by
Sitric Cáech
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