Posted by Paul Duffy
Dogs were a common feature of life in Dublin throughout the Viking Age and in the medieval period in general. We sometimes get glimpses of dogs in the medieval sources and we know that Irish dogs were highly prized for their size and intelligence. They were not always treated kindly however as a late medieval Dublin law suggests:
‘Any man killing his neighbour's dog, unless in self-defence, is liable to a fine and is also answerable for the damage entailed on the owner by the loss of the animal.’
That packs of wild dogs ran rampant through the town is also suggested in the records, one of which states that a part of Christchurch Cathedral Was damaged by dogs in 1550s!
A dog played a role in the conquest of Dublin by the Anglo-Norman lord Strongbow in the 1170s. of One of the main protagonists in this violent episode of the city’s history, the Leinster King Diarmuid McMurrough, led the Normans across the Wicklow Mountains to attack the city. Diarmuid was motivated, in part, by his hatred for the Viking descendants of the city who had murdered his father and buried him with the corpse of a dog not far from Dublin Castle.
During archaeological excavations near Dublin Castle, we found evidence for a Viking suburb outside the town, a large medieval cemetery and the remains of one dog that was very obviously loved and cared for in its lifetime. This dog was buried just outside the cemetery boundary in what was probably someone’s back garden. This large adult dog was placed carefully within a grave very close to the graveyard for St Peter’s Parish, suggesting, unlike the dog buried with Diarmuid’s father, that this dog was held in high esteem. The size of this animal may suggest it was a hunting dog that possibly doubled as a guard dog in a medieval suburban household. Dating to the late 12th or early 13th centuries, this hound may well have prowled the floor for bones and scraps during mealtimes in the household of one of Dublin’s new wealthy settlers from Bristol following the Anglo-Norman takeover of the city in the 1170s.
Figure 1: Excavations along Stephen Street showing the location of the dog burial in the upper levels of a large ditch, facing northeast
Figure 2: Close-up of medieval dog burial
Figure 3: A dog eats scraps from a feast in John Derrickes ‘Image of Ireland’ 1581