The Norse–Gaels (Old Irish: Gall-Goídil; Irish: Gall-Ghaeil; Scottish Gaelic: Gall-Ghàidheil, 'foreigner-Gaels') were a people of mixed Gaelic and Norse ancestry and culture. They emerged in the Viking Age, when Vikings who settled in Ireland and in Scotland became Gaelicised and intermarried with Gaels. The Norse–Gaels dominated much of the Irish Sea and Scottish Sea regions from the 9th to 12th centuries. They founded the Kingdom of the Isles (which included the Hebrides and the Isle of Man), the Kingdom of Dublin, the Lordship of Galloway (which is named after them), and briefly (939–944 AD) ruled the Kingdom of York. The most powerful Norse–Gaelic dynasty were the Uí Ímair or House of Ivar.

Norse settlement
Regions of Scotland, Ireland and Man settled by the Norse

Over time, the Norse–Gaels became ever more Gaelicised and disappeared as a distinct group. However, they left a lasting influence, especially in the Isle of Man and Outer Hebrides, where most placenames are of Norse–Gaelic origin. Several Scottish clans have Norse–Gaelic roots, such as Clan MacDonald, Clan MacDougall and Clan MacLeod. The elite mercenary warriors known as the gallowglass (gallóglaigh) emerged from these Norse–Gaelic clans and became an important part of Irish warfare. The Viking longship also influenced the Gaelic birlinn and longa fada, which were used extensively until the 17th century. Norse–Gaelic surnames survive today and include Doyle, MacIvor, MacAskill, and [Mac]Cotter.



The meaning of Gall-Goídil is 'Foreign[er] Gaels' and although it can in theory mean any Gael of foreign origin, it was used of Gaels (i.e. Gaelic-speakers) with some kind of Norse identity.[citation needed] This term is subject to a large range of variations depending on chronological and geographical differences in the Gaelic language, e.g. Gall Gaidel, Gall Gaidhel, Gall Gaidheal, Gall Gaedil, Gall Gaedhil, Gall Gaedhel, Gall Goidel, Gall Ghaedheil, etc. The modern term in Irish is Gall-Ghaeil or Gall-Ghaedheil, while the Scottish Gaelic is Gall-Ghàidheil.[1]

The Norse–Gaels often called themselves Ostmen or Austmen, meaning East-men, a name preserved in a corrupted form in the Dublin area known as Oxmantown which comes from Austmanna-tún (homestead of the Eastmen).[citation needed] In contrast, they called Gaels Vestmenn (West-men) (see Vestmannaeyjar and Vestmanna).[citation needed]

Other terms for the Norse–Gaels are Norse-Irish, Hiberno-Norse or Hiberno-Scandinavian for those in Ireland, and Norse-Scots or Scoto-Norse for those in Scotland.


Skuldelev II, a Viking warship built in the Norse–Gaelic community of Dublin (c. 1042)
R. R. McIan's impression of a Norse–Gaelic ruler of Clan MacDonald, Lord of the Isles

The Norse–Gaels originated in Viking colonies of Ireland and Scotland, the descendants of intermarriage between Norse immigrants and the Gaels. As early as the 9th century, many colonists (except the Norse who settled in Cumbria) intermarried with native Gaels and adopted the Gaelic language as well as many Gaelic customs. Many left their original worship of Norse gods and converted to Christianity, and this contributed to the Gaelicisation.[citation needed]

Gaelicised Scandinavians dominated the region of the Irish Sea until the Norman era of the 12th century. They founded long-lasting kingdoms, such as those of Mann, Dublin, and Galloway,[2] as well as taking control of the Norse colony at York.



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 10th century, but resistance to them increased. 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 term Ostmen was used between the 12th and 14th centuries by the English in Ireland to refer to Norse–Gaelic people living in Ireland. Meaning literally "the men from the east" (i.e. Scandinavia), the term came from the Old Norse word austr or east. The Ostmen were regarded as a separate group from the English and Irish and were accorded privileges and rights to which the Irish were not entitled. They lived in distinct localities; in Dublin they lived outside the city walls on the north bank of the River Liffey in Ostmentown, a name which survives to this day in corrupted form as Oxmantown. It was once thought that their settlement had been established by Norse–Gaels who had been forced out of Dublin by the English but this is now known not to be the case. Other groups of Ostmen lived in Limerick and Waterford. Many were merchants or lived a partly rural lifestyle, pursuing fishing, craft-working and cattle raising. Their roles in Ireland's economy made them valuable subjects and the English Crown granted them special legal protections. These eventually fell out of use as the Ostmen assimilated into the English settler community throughout the 13th and 14th centuries.[3]



The Lords of the Isles, whose sway lasted until the 16th century, as well as many other Gaelic rulers of Scotland and Ireland, traced their descent from Norse–Gaelic settlements in northwest Scotland, concentrated mostly in the Hebrides.[4]

The Hebrides are to this day known in Scottish Gaelic as Innse Gall, 'the islands of foreigners';[5] the irony of this being that they are one of the last strongholds of Gaelic in Scotland.

The MacLachlan clan name means 'son of the Lakeland' believed to be a name for Norway. It has its Scottish clan home on eastern Loch Fyne under Strathlachlan forest. The name and variations thereof are common from this mid/southern Scottish area to Irish Donegal to the extreme west.

Iceland and the Faroes


It is recorded in the Landnámabók that there were papar or culdees (Gaelic monks) in Iceland before the Norse. This appears to tie in with comments of Dicuil and is given weight by recent archaeological discoveries. The settlement of Iceland and the Faroe Islands by the Norse included many Norse–Gael settlers as well as slaves and servants. They were called Vestmen (Western men), and the name is retained in Vestmanna in the Faroes and the Vestmannaeyjar off the Icelandic mainland.[citation needed]

A number of Icelandic personal names are of Gaelic origin, including Njáll, Brjánn, Kjartan and Kormákur (from Niall, Brian, Muircheartach and Cormac).[6] Patreksfjörður, an Icelandic village, was named after Saint Patrick. A number of placenames named after the papar 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:[7]

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 caused the anchorites to leave... the nickname Kamban is probably Gaelic and one interpretation is that the word refers to some physical handicap (the first part of the name originating in the Old Gaelic camb crooked, as in Campbell Caimbeul Crooked-Mouth and Cameron Camshron Crooked Nose), another that it may point to his prowess as a sportsman (presumably of camóige / camaige hurley – where the initial syllable also comes from camb). 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.



Heinrich Zimmer (1891) suggested that the Fianna Cycle of Irish mythology came from the heritage of the Norse–Gaels.[8] He suggested the name of the heroic fianna was an Irish rendering of Old Norse fiandr "enemies", and argued that this became "brave enemies" > "brave warriors".[8] He also noted that Finn's Thumb of Knowledge is similar to the Norse tale Fáfnismál.[9][10] Linguist Ranko Matasović, author of the Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic, derives the name fíanna from reconstructed Proto-Celtic *wēnā (a troop),[11] while linguist Kim McCone derives it from Proto-Celtic *wēnnā (wild ones).[12]

Modern names and words


Even today, many surnames particularly connected with Gaeldom are of Old Norse origin, especially in the Hebrides and Isle of Man. Several Old Norse words also influenced modern Scots English and Scottish Gaelic, such as bairn (child) from the Norse barn (a word still used in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland).[citation needed]


Gaelic Anglicised form "Son of-"
Mac Asgaill MacAskill, McCaskill, Castell, Caistell Áskell
Mac Amhlaibh
(confused with native Gaelic Mac Amhlaidh, Mac Amhalghaidh)
MacAulay, MacAuliffe, Cowley, Cawley, MacCamley, McCamley, Kewley Óláf
Mac Corcadail McCorquodale, Clan McCorquodale, Corkill, Corkhill, Corkell, McCorkindale, McCorkle, McQuorkell, McOrkil Þorketill
Mac Coitir Cotter, MacCotter, Cottier Óttar
Mac DubhGhaill, Ó DubhGhaill, Doyle, McDowell, MacDougal Dubgall
Mag Fhionnain Gannon “the fair” (possibly in reference to someone with Norse ancestry)[13]
Mac Ìomhair MacIver, Clan MacIver, MacIvor, MacGyver, McKeever, etc. Ívar
Mac Raghnall Crellin, Crennel Rögnvald
Mac Shitrig[14] MacKitrick, McKittrick Sigtrygg
Mac Leòid MacLeod Ljótr[15]


Gaelic Anglicised form Norse equivalent
(confused with native Gaelic Amhlaidh, Amhalghaidh)
Aulay (Olaf) Ólaf
Goraidh Gorrie (Godfrey, Godfred), Orree (Isle of Man) Godfrið
Ìomhar Ivor Ívar (Ingvar)
Raghnall Ranald (Ronald, Randall, Reginald[16]) Rögnvald
Somhairle Sorley (or Samuel) Sumarliði (Somerled)
Tormod Norman Þormóð
Torcuil Torquil Torkill, Þorketill

See also



  1. ^ Clare Downham. Hiberno-Norwegians and Anglo-Danes:anachronistic ethnicities and Viking-Age England. University of Aberdeen.
  2. ^ Charles-Edwards, T. M. (2013). Wales and the Britons, 350–1064. Oxford University Press. p. 573. ISBN 9780198217312. The Gallgaedil of 12th-century Galloway appear to have been predominantly Gaelic-speakers...remained a people separate from the Scots...Their separateness seems to have been established not by language but by their links with Man, Dublin, and the Innsi Gall, the Hebrides: they were part of a Hiberno-Norse Irish-Sea world
  3. ^ Valante, Mary (2008). Snyder, Christopher A. (ed.). Early People of Britain and Ireland: An Encyclopedia, Volume II. Greenwood Publishing. pp. 430–31. ISBN 9781846450297.
  4. ^ Bannerman, J., The Lordship of the Isles, in Scottish Society in the Fifteenth Century, ed. J. M. Brown, 1977.
  5. ^ Hunter, James (2000) Last of the Free: A History of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Edinburgh. Mainstream. ISBN 1840183764. p. 104
  6. ^ Scott, Brian M. (2003). "Old Norse Forms of Early Irish Names". Retrieved 22 September 2021.
  7. ^ Schei, Liv Kjørsvik & Gunnie Moberg (2003) The Faroe Islands. Birlinn.
  8. ^ a b Zimmer, Heinrich (1891). Keltische Beiträge III, in: Zeitschrift für deutsches Alterthum und deutsche Litteratur (in German). Weidmannsche Buchhandlung. pp. 15ff.
  9. ^ Scowcroft (1995), p. 154
  10. ^ Scott, Robert D. (1930), The thumb of knowledge in legends of Finn, Sigurd, and Taliesin, New York: Institute of French Studies
  11. ^ Matasović, Ranko (2009). "wēnā". Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Brill Academic Publishers. p. 412.
  12. ^ McCone, Kim (2013). "The Celts: questions of nomenclature and identity", in Ireland and its Contacts. University of Lausanne. p.26
  13. ^ "Surname Database: Gannon Last Name Origin". The Internet Surname Database. Retrieved 29 April 2024.
  14. ^ McKittrick Name Meaning and History Retrieved on 23 April 2008
  15. ^ Mcleod Name Meaning and History Retrieved on 23 April 2008
  16. ^ the option favoured by early Scottish sources writing in Latin


  • Downham, Clare (2009). "Hiberno-Norwegians and Anglo-Danes". Mediaeval Scandinavia. 19. University of Aberdeen. ISSN 0076-5864.
  • Haywood, John (1995). The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. London: Penguin. ISBN 0140513280.
  • McDonald, R. Andrew (1997). The Kingdom of the Isles: Scotland's Western Seaboard, c. 1100 – c. 1336. East Linton: Tuckwell Press. ISBN 1898410852.
  • Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí (1995). Early Medieval Ireland, 400–1200. London: Longman. ISBN 0582015669.
  • Oram, Richard (2000). The Lordship of Galloway. Edinburgh: John Donald. ISBN 0859765415.
  • Scholes, Ron (2000). Yorkshire Dales. Ashbourne, Derbyshire: Landmark. ISBN 1901522415.