Slaying, knitting, musical Vikings: Beware!

St Anne’s Park was invaded by Viking fans re-enacting the Battle of Clontarf

Sun, Apr 20, 2014, 16:13

Iain Barber is narrating an unfolding battle with the melodramatic enthusiasm of Mícheál Ó Muirhceartaigh. A warrior falls to his knees, “He has been sent to,” he pauses dramatically, “Valhalla!” “The people on the ground are dead,” a small girl behind me explains. “In real life there’d be guts and stuff.”

Five hundred warriors from Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, Russia and America are re-enacting the Battle of Clontarf in St Anne’s Park amid a Viking village of tents and tradesmen. Thousands have come to the park to watch (the battle was re-enacted twice on Saturday and twice yesterday). Spears and swords rattle off shields and warriors outdo one another with dramatic death scenes. One impressively hammy swordsman staggers, clutching his stomach in Shatneresque consternation for half a minute. Children are hoisted on to parental shoulders to view it all and add to the narration.

“Ireland won? YES!” says the child behind me, punching the air at the end of the first pitched battle.

“Let the dead arise!” says Barber and the corpses jump to their feet.

“They’re zombies now,” explains the child.

This is the largest-ever re-enactment event in Ireland. As families picnic, fully costumed Vikings mint coins, sell weapons and weave clothes. There are incongruous sights. A tall, bearded warrior walks an Irish wolfhound by a woman pushing a Yorkshire terrier in a pushchair. A bespectacled little girl fires arrows at a range depicting a deer and a tiger and a rhino (did Vikings hunt rhinos?).

English Viking Paul Cronan tells me that while they aim for historical accuracy, in the rehearsal the Vikings kept nearly winning by accident. After the initial fight, he says, there’ll be some “free fighting.” “That’s when we get to rewrite history,” he says.

Neil Byrne from the Dublin Living History Society says it wouldn’t really be rewriting history to say the Vikings won. “Boru won the battle, but he died and his sons died . . . while Sitric died an old man still king of Dublin. We get told Boru drove the Vikings out of Ireland but that isn’t what happened at all.”

Byrne says that some people get into re-enactment for the fighting, but for others it’s all about crafts. His friend, Liga Gulbe, a trained archaeologist, has perfected an ancient Viking form of knitting. Byrne’s wife, on the other hand, “is one of the combatants and has no interest in crafts or living history”.