Wednesday, February 12, 2014

1014 & All That

A combination of Clontarf and Raheny Heritage Societies are running a series of talks on the Battle of Clontarf as part of the 1014-2014 programme.

On 10/2/14, the talk was on Viking Dublin and the Excavation of Wood Key and it was given by the former Director of the National Museum, Pat Wallace, who, as a more junior employee of the Museum, had been in charge of the excavations.

Pat Wallace in full flight

He hit us with a lively story-telling account in two parts.

In the first part he dealt with the combatants. He started with the military line up for the Battle, pointing out that there were Vikings on both sides and that they were all Christians. He outlined the evolution of the various alliances, not sparing anyone's modesty, and he roundly defended King Sitric's decision to keep his own troops enclosed within the city walls. Sitric knew that whoever won the battle would then have a go at taking over Dublin (his patch) and he was making sure he would still be in a position to do something about it.

Pat's colleague Andrew Halpin
published on excavated weaponry

He then took us through some of the weapons that were involved. The armour piercing arrows sounded pretty exciting, though you had to be a bit back and out of the thick of it to be able to draw the bow. His own favourite symbol for this period/commemoration was the sword, and as you can see above that's what's in the logo.

In the second part, he spent a fair while taking us through photos of different stages of the excavation and speculating on how the original setup might have looked. He reassured those of us without the archeological background that we could catch up with what he was saying next year when he will be publishing his book on the subject.

With Kay Lonergan, Clontarf Historical Society

There was a lively Q&A after the talk. In response to a query about whether corn might have been stored on the site, he said it most certainly was,and the evidence was the beetle. Beetles were specialists and if you could identify the type then you knew what he ate. The two beetles in question here had been stamped on by Vikings, but no matter, the dedicated archeologist is not easily deterred.

He was quite critical on two fronts. At the time of the excavations his advice had not been heeded and this adversely affected the acquisitions and documenting of the site. A more modern criticism was that many experienced and specialist staff had been let go, and this has contributed to the almost total undermining of the Museum. It must be very hard for someone to see their life's work casually brushed aside like that.

With Douglas Appleyard, Raheny Heritage Society

I asked if he could give any estimate of what percentage of the total potential of the site had actually been realised in the relatively short window allowed to the excavation. He didn't venture a percentage but said that all he had wanted was to spend the rest of his life excavating the site.

It was, apparently, the best site of its type and period in Europe and he implied that there would have been no end to the exciting finds.

Since following up my family history I have taken more of an interest in the area. My great grandfather, Christopher Burgess, started his shoemaking career in the 1860s in No. 10 Wood Quay.

Link to Cathy Swift's lecture (10/3/14) in the series

On a supplementary note, Hugh Frazer's 1826 depiction of the Battle of Clontarf has been repatriated and will be on display, free of charge, in the Casino in Marino, from 15 March to 24 April 2014.

Battle of Clontarf (1014), by Hugh Frazer (1826)
Click for larger image

Link to other 1014 related posts, including two other talks in the series.

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