Viking centre discovered in Cork city predates Waterford settlement

Items including swords and foundations of buildings found at site of the planned events centre

Cork was a significant centre for Vikings in Ireland with an urban centre that predates the Viking settlement in Waterford, a new report on the excavation of the city's event centre has revealed.

According to the report by Cork City Council executive archaeologist, Joanne Hughes, the latest discoveries at the South Main Street site confirm Cork's significance in the Hiberno-Norse world.

In the report presented to members of Cork City Council, Ms Hughes said that excavation of the site by archaeologist Dr Maurice Hurley for developers BAM, was highly revealing about Cork's past.

She explained that the site of the former Beamish and Crawford Brewery adjacent to the south channel of the Lee had been divided into three separate sections for excavation purposes.


Dr Hurley had found stone foundations representing approximately two -thirds of St Laurence’s Church and evidence of land reclamation from 1120-1150AD in the area adjacent to the river.

Ms Hughes said it was questionable whether the surviving stone walls and foundations will ever be capable of being put on display due to the unfavourable tidal and environmental conditions.

Dr Hurley had also found evidence of house building on low mounds and limited available land above the water level in a section of the site nearest to the North Main Street, said Ms Hughes.

Well preserved items

“Dendrochronological or tree ring dating samples from this area have yielded evidence for the earliest urban layout archeologically proven for Cork,” said Ms Hughes in her report.

According to Ms Hughes, the first house dates from 1070 which places the development approximately 15 years before an urban layout began to emerge in Waterford.

“The main phase of land reclamation at this part of the site dates to around 1100AD and the suggestion is that within approximately 20 years, the settlement has expanded,” she said.

The walls, which are considered to be of archaeological significance, have been preserved at the site and will require changes to the design of the planned events centre as a result, she added.

Ms Hughes said that the Norwegian Ambassador to Ireland, Else Berit-Eikeland had visited the Cork Public Museum in September to explore evidence for Cork’s Hiberno-Norse origins and links.

“Some finds from the excavation were shown at this meeting including an impressive wooden weaver’s sword, a wooden saddle pommel and a distinctive wooden thread winder.

“All of these items are extremely well-preserved and elaborately decorated with known parallels for each across the Viking world,” said Ms Hughes, adding these finds could be put on display in Cork.

It is envisaged the conservation of the finds will be completed by early summer this year and the possibility of staging an exhibition was mooted as part of the discussion with Ms Berit-Eikeland.

“It was suggested that perhaps late May 2018 would be the earliest possible time for staging any such exhibition - subject to availability and scheduling at Cork Public Museum,” said Ms Hughes.

There was also a willingness to see some sort of cultural heritage exhibition housed in the redeveloped Beamish & Crawford centre as had been suggested by Dr Hurley, she added.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times