The Uí Ímair (Irish: [iː ˈiːwəɾʲ] ; meaning ‘scions of Ivar’), also known as the Ivar dynasty or Ivarids, was a Norse-Gael dynasty which 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.

Ivar Dynasty
Founded9th century?
Cadet branches

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 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.

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 of Norway. Finally, another may have been queen of Brega. The name Uí Ímair in Old Irish means "grandchildren" or descendants of Ivar, but the dynasty includes its progenitor and his sons. The Irish annals describe Ivar as the brother of Amlaíb Conung and of Auisle, and the Annals of Ulster record his obituary under the year 873, reading: Imhar, rex Nordmannorum totius Hibernie & Brittanie, uitam finiuit ["Ivar, king of all the Norse of Ireland and Britain, ended his life"].[2] Probably the senior leader of the Great Heathen Army,[3] Ivar may thus have become the inspiration for the legendary Ivar the Boneless (fl. 865–860), 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";[4] 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,[5] 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.[6]

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.[7] Like the contemporary Rurikids in the East they ultimately integrated with the native population but their impact on the histories of Scotland and Ireland are still visible through the cities they founded and the Norse-Gael descendants they left behind.

Ancestral homeland


Some historians[who?] 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[who?] as being identical to Norway; recently[when?], however, this has been questioned by Donnchadh Ó Corráin and other[who?]. 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 used the term Lochlann to refer to Norway or to the Norse settlements in Scotland is still a matter of debate; however, by the 11th century the term had come to mean Norway.[8] 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 argues that both Ímar and his brothers were part of a Norse dynasty centered in and around the Scottish mainland.[8]

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".[9]



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.[10]

First proposed by James Henthorn Todd in 1867,[11] 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.[12]

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

Pedigree of the Dynasty of Ivar

The precise lineage of one of the 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.

Family tree


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.[13] Their claim to Dublin and the names of their dynasts suggest they did belong to the dynasty.[14]

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.[15] 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,[16] 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."[17] 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


The Uí Ímair dynasty was the precursor of a number of families in Ireland, both Gaelic and Norse speaking.

However, the Norman invasion of Ireland led to the destruction of a vast majority of the medieval Norse-Irish and Gaelic aristocracy alike. This destruction was completed with the later Tudor conquest.

Nevertheless, dense clusters of given names strongly associated with the Norse dynasty can be found in notionally Gaelic families, in the great genealogical compilations of Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh and Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, and in various other sources. And, while the dynasty was concentrated in Dublin, Waterford and Limerick, and thus in the southern half of Ireland, Gaelic families later using their given names with great frequency are found mainly in the northern half of Ireland: their pedigrees associate them with the Connachta, Uí Maine, and Northern Uí Néill. 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. Of the Irish dynasties, the Uí Ímair are documented intermarrying only 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.[18]

Later Mann and the Isles


Crovan dynasty


Descendants of the Dublin Uí Ímair most likely persisted into the 13th century in the line of Godred Crovan, King of Dublin and King of Mann and the Isles, even though his ancestry is not completely agreed upon.[19] He was most likely the grandson 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 Magnús Óláfsson (to 1265), or briefly his son Guðrøðr (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).[20] 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,[21] but Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard has demonstrated that the proposed line is problematic in several respects.[22]



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. ^ a b Ó Corráin 1998
  2. ^ Seán Mac Airt; Gearóid Mac Niocaill, eds. (1983). The Annals of Ulster (to AD 1131). Translated by Mac Airt; Mac Niocaill. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.
  3. ^ Woolf (2007), p. 71
  4. ^ Woolf, Alex (2002) "Age of Sea-Kings: 900–1300", in: Donald Omand (ed.), The Argyll Book, Edinburgh: Birlinn, pp. 95–96.
  5. ^ Valante, passim
  6. ^ ed. & tr. James Henthorn Todd (1867)
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ a b Ó Corráin, Donnchadh (1 January 1998). "The Vikings in Scotland and Ireland in the ninth century". Peritia. 12: 296–339. doi:10.1484/J.Peri.3.334 – via (Atypon).
  9. ^ Kim Hjardar & Vegard Vike, Vikings at War, p.224-226.
  10. ^ Downham 2004, passim; 2007, passim
  11. ^ Todd 1867
  12. ^ 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".
  13. ^ Todd, p. 294. He is followed by Valante, p. 178.
  14. ^ Downham, p. 56-7
  15. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica
  16. ^ Ó Cróinin
  17. ^ Seán Mac Airt, ed. (1944). The Annals of Inisfallen (MS. Rawlinson B. 503). Translated by Mac Airt. Dublin: DIAS. Edition and translation available from CELT.
  18. ^ Alexander Bugge (ed. & tr.), of Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh, On the Fomorians and the Norsemen. Christiania: J. Chr. Gundersens Bogtrykkeri. 1905. See Bugge's introduction.
  19. ^ Seán Duffy, "Irishmen and Islesmen in the Kingdom of Dublin and Man 1052–1171", in Ériu 43 (1992): 93–133. p. 106
  20. ^ Alex Woolf, The origins and ancestry of Somerled: Gofraid mac Fergusa and 'The Annals of the Four Masters', Medieval Scandinavia 15 (2005)
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard, "Second thoughts on Moncreiffe's theory of the origin of the 'Galley of the Isles'", Double Tressure (2022).