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Irish and Scottish Seafarers in the Middle Ages ?


rust

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While working on my Thule setting, I ran into a problem which my "Google Fu" seems unable

to solve: There seem to be no Irish or Scottish seafarers in the Middle Ages. =|

Both Ireland and Scotland are "neighbours" of my setting's Thule (= Greenland), and so some

encounters with ships from these lands and perhaps also some sea trade seem likely and also

would add some more "colour" to the setting.

However, despite the apparent Irish seafaring tradition of the "Dark Ages" (St. Brendan, Irish

monks on Iceland, etc.) and the very obvious Scottish seafaring tradition of the early modern

age, I was unable to find any mention of Irish or Scottish seafarers during the Middle Ages,

especially the 13th century.

Perhaps someone could tell me whether I only managed to miss such informations (and where

to look for it), or whether there really were no Irish or Scottish ships, for example whalers, on

the North Atlantic during this period ? :?

Thank you very much for any help. :)

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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Like you said, the Irish and Scots had the means to travel back and forth between the two islands, go to to Europe -- even as far as Byzantium. They even braved open waters to reach Iceland. Hmm... since Worlds of Cthulhu folded, maybe I should offer that Iceland article up for free...

There's St. Columban's Boat Song. While not heavy in detail and fact, it does evoke some nice imagery. It's also an obvious religious allegory, but does indicate the Irish knew a thing or two of boats.

Irish whaling, on other hand, consisted of keeping an eye out for beached whales.

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... to travel back and forth between the two islands ...

Thank you very much for this, it reminded me of what I had missed, because "between the two

islands" was the Lordship of the Isles, and this is the region I should have researched. :)

Now on the right track, I found some very interesting informations, and they even fit very well

into my setting.

To quote Wikipedia:

"Birlinns are known to have traversed much of the length of the Irish Sea, and to have reached Shetland. Oral history frequently refers to voyages to Rockall, Brittany, northern Norway, Iceland, and, rarely, even Greenland."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birlinn

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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I think the reason for the lack of Irish and Scottish shipping is becuase of the Vikings. By the end of the Viking age, I don't thing the Sots and Isish were doing as much seafaring as they used to.

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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I think the reason for the lack of Irish and Scottish shipping is becuase of the Vikings. By the end of the Viking age, I don't thing the Sots and Isish were doing as much seafaring as they used to.

Yes, this seems very plausible. Anyway, I am glad that there were at least some Gaelic ships

on the North Atlantic in the 13th century, this adds a number of interesting options to the set-

ting - although I obviously have to do some more research on the Lordship of the Isles and its

society and culture to understand what exactly these options could be ...

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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Check out Farley Mowat's books Westviking and Farfarers: Before the Norse. Mowat was one of the early "Vikings made it to America" scientists, and in the "Farfarers" he makes a solid case that the viking voyages west were raiding voyages, attacking Anglo or Scots settlements along the coasts of Greenland and even Eastern Canada. He's a good writer and makes a convincing case. He also provides some probable locations for colonies.

Also check out (if you haven't already) Tim Severin's The Brendan Voyage. Severin recreated a possible voyage of St Brendan the Navigator. What is useful to a gamer are the descriptions of how the leather boat was built, how it was sailed, and discussion of Brendan's points of call. St Brendan never claimed to be an explorer: He was visiting existing colonies as a traveling priest.

All three books are available used, online. So it won't damage your budget... too much.

'

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Yes, this seems very plausible. Anyway, I am glad that there were at least some Gaelic ships

on the North Atlantic in the 13th century, this adds a number of interesting options to the set-

ting - although I obviously have to do some more research on the Lordship of the Isles and its

society and culture to understand what exactly these options could be ...

The Vikingsconquered and settled some land in Eire and Scotland, and the coastal settlements would be the most likely targets.

If you want to add a bit more cultural diversity in Thule, you could simply reduce the extent on Viking activity and still have some Gaelic traders around.

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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If you want to add a bit more cultural diversity in Thule, you could simply reduce the extent on Viking activity and still have some Gaelic traders around.

This should not be too difficult. If I understand it right, the Lordship of the Isles was a vassal

state of Norway during the 13th century, and the people of the Lordship of the Isles were of

mixed Gaelic and Norse descent, so the Scandinavians could be depicted as not interfering

much with their relatives' sea trade.

The Hanseatic League, on the other hand, could well come to dislike their trade on the North

Atlantic, a nice potential source for a maritime conflict endangering Thule's sea trade routes,

especially as the Hanseatic League always had a tendency to start wars with its Scandinavian

neighbours.

Another major advantage of Gaelic traders on the North Atlantic would be that they could re-

place the rather unhistorical Portuguese explorers I wrote into the early part of the setting,

a point I always disliked without seeing a convincing alternative.

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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If you really want to mix things up a bit, make the cultures of the Americas a bit more advanced, and with a thriving sea trade.

Imagine if the Aztecs had expanded and settled North America, and had thrie costal trade, perhaps even extended into the Carribean.

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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A good idea, but unfortunately my players would probably not buy it. Therefore I will not go

that far, only a part of the way: The Norse settlements on Thule were abandoned after a

conflict with the natives there caused the survivors to move to North America, where they

expected to find better conditions - not knowing that the natives over there were a lot more

advanced and better organized than those of Thule, and easily eradicated the new Norse co-

lony.

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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Have a look at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birlinn

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Mann_and_the_Isles

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norse-Gaels

The Kingdom of Mann and the Isles was a Hiberno-Norse kingdom that stretched from the Isle of Mann all the way up the Western Coast of Scotland to the Shetlands and Orkneys. They definitely traded with Iceland and Scandinavia, in fact, as you say, for a lot of the time their kings were vassals of Norway, not of Scotland.

So, the whole of the West Coast is part of an international trade network covering the north Atlantic. There is no reason why they wouldn't be able to trade with Greenland, although I'd expect them to trade with Iceland and have the Icelanders trade with Greenland. The East Coast is dominated by England and the lowland Scots, so their trade would be southwards to England rather than northwards to Scandinavia.

As for Ireland, it was in the process of being subdued by the Normans. Strongbow had come over in the 12th century and conquered the island. His successors are busy establishing trade links with England and the continent and wouldn't really be much concerned with wildernesses like Iceland and Thule. Many Gaels would have joined with Mann and the Isles, rather than staying at home.

During the 12th and 13th centuries, the Greenland climate was warmer than it is today, whic h explains why the settlements succeeded for so long.

Simon Phipp - Caldmore Chameleon - Wallowing in my elitism since 1982. Many Systems, One Family. Just a fanboy. 

www.soltakss.com/index.html

Jonstown Compendium author. Find my contributions here

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Thank you very much for these informations. :)

It seems that the pieces of this puzzle begin to fit very nicely, and that I have to rewrite the

real world history much less than expected to get the setting I imagined.

The biggest changes remain my fictional Pruthenic Order with its colony on Thule, made pos-

sible by the early abandonment of the Norse settlements there, and these changes seem to

be at least somewhat "pseudo-historically plausible", within the "bandwidth" of a possible hi-

storical development.

Of course, this is not really important for a roleplaying setting, but as a lazy referee I prefer

to stay close to the real world history, because this allows me to use much of the available

sources unchanged and so prevents me from re-writing major parts of history and making

all the unavoidable blunders this usually includes.

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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The settlements died out in the 15th century because of climate change. There's no reason whey they couldn't have hard a series of cold winters and storms cutting them off and making them abandon the settlements before then. The survivors could well lead the Order back to the settlements in order to refound them.

Simon Phipp - Caldmore Chameleon - Wallowing in my elitism since 1982. Many Systems, One Family. Just a fanboy. 

www.soltakss.com/index.html

Jonstown Compendium author. Find my contributions here

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The survivors could well lead the Order back to the settlements in order to refound them.

As it stands now, I have the abandonment of the settlements as a mystery - the Norse settlers

"just disappeared". The story behind it is a conflict with the Inuit of Greenland that finally made

the already difficult situation unbearable and caused the last Norse settlers to relocate to the

North American coast, where their last settlement was destroyed by the natives there.

This introduces a mystery that should make the player characters nervous (what happened to

their "predecessors" in this strange new land ?), includes the option to use the Greenland Inuit

as enemies if the characters fail their attempts at diplomacy and trade (in fact there are two

Inuit cultures on my Thule, a more peaceful and a rather aggressive one - the characters will

hopefully learn "who is who"), and gives the characters something interesting to discover on

the North American coast (the destroyed settlement of the Norse).

However, this is very much still a work in progress, so things may still change.

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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With all the theories of Precolimbian contact, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-Columbian_trans-oceanic_contact , could easily even still have Irish and other travellers on the ocean. Bran could be used if a wee bit of magic and otherworld journey.

Also, maybe the Irish could be a force to help or be opposed with all the Celtic Travellers, your lands could be a very busy place,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Voyagers_in_Celtic_mythology

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Thank you very much for the links. :)

Bran could be used if a wee bit of magic and otherworld journey.

Unfortunately I have a problem to understand this sentence, neither my dictionary nor Wiki-

pedia gives me any useful hint what "Bran" could mean ? :o

Edit.: Ah, now I got it - silly me.

Edited by rust

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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