Magnus Barefoot, Viking King of Scotland and Ireland

Jun 5, 2014 by

Viking influence in the Celtic lands goes back to the very beginning of the Viking Age, when bold and brave men from Scandinavia decided to make the perilous journey across the seas to take what treasures they could from the British Isles.  One of the boldest of these Viking raiders was Magnus Olaffson (Magnús Óláfsson) , better known as Magnus Barelegs or Barefoot (Old Norse: Magnús berfœttr) , the king of Norway from 1093 until his death in 1103. His aggressive military campaigns during his kingship would leave his mark on the Celtic countries of Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man and Wales.



After consolidating his rule in Norway upon the death of his father, Magnus immediately began a campaign in the Irish seas, intent on taking control of parts of Scotland and Ireland.  Historians are undecided as to whether King Magnus intended to create his own Scottish and Irish empire, or simply take control of the territories in Scotland and Ireland that were already under some form of Norse influence. He arrived in Orkney in 1098, and began negotiating with Scottish and Irish kings of the lands he sought, while also killing or imprisoning any Viking nobles in control of those lands. Interestingly, Magnus adopted the attire of the Scottish locals, essentially a short tunic that was the forerunner of what we now call the kilt. His new tunic exposed his legs (as kilts do), earning him the nickname “Magnus the Bareleg, (or Barefoot)”.
After establishing his son, Sigurd, on the throne of Orkney, Magnus began raids on Scotland, the Southern Isles, Lewis, the Hebridean isles of Uist, Skye, Tyree, Mull and Islay, the peninsula of Kintyre and Iona.
In 1098, Magnus may have received a call for help from Welsh nobility fighting against the Normans. The king sailed for Anglesey, and at Puffin Island, joined in what would become known as the Battle of Anglesey Sound. It was during this battle that Magnus shot an arrow through the eye slit of the helmet of Norman earl Hugh of Montgomery, killing him and ultimately routing the Normans. Wales was thence considered a territory of Norway under Magnus’ rule, but it was essentially governed by Welsh lords. Magnus returned to the Isle of Man with his ships and men immediately after the battle.




King Magnus in the marsh at Downpatrick, by Meridith Williams, circa 1911

King Magnus in the marsh at Downpatrick, by Morris Meridith Williams, circa 1911


In 1101 or 1102, Magnus returned to Ireland, intent on securing rule over the territory and obtaining provisions for his men. He and his men were ambushed near the River Quiole by the Ulaid (men from Ulster); during the battle, Magnus had a spear pierce his upper thighs, but was not killed until an axe-wielding Irishman struck a fatal blow to the king’s head. Magnus was the last Norwegian king to die in battle abroad. According to the Chronicles of the Kings of Mann and the Isles, Magnus was “buried near the Church of St Patrick, in Down”.  The grave site is today marked with a runestone monument, erected in 2003 to commemorate the 900th anniversary of his death.  It is believed that his soldiers are also buried in the area.




The Grave of King Magnus Barefoot in Northern Ireland; image by Johnathan Wilcox

The Grave of King Magnus Barefoot in Northern Ireland; image by Johnathan Wilcox



Downpatrick and County Down Railway

The Vikings in Ireland

The Grave of Magnus Barelegs, Finbar McCormick; Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Volume 68, 2009

National Tartan Day Society of Washington

Chronicles of the Kings of Mann and the Isles



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  1. Leah Weller

    Loved the article!