Viking longship crew celebrate end of voyage in Denmark


The 'Sea Stallion from Glendalough' has completed its tough, six-week trip from Dublin to Roskilde

IF THEY had been guided by track of sun and light of stars, the great Norse god Odin or sea god Njord couldn't have planned it better. Salt-soaked, sun-singed and sea-weary, the crew of the replica Viking ship Sea Stallion from Glendaloughshipped oars for the last time over the weekend in the Danish port of Roskilde.

Ashore there were cheers and roars as over 10,000 people gathered under the Danish and Irish colours. Aboard the Sea Stallionwere several Irske among the multinational complement which had been held captive by one of the most ambitious marine archaeological projects of its type.

Dubliner Triona Nicholl and fellow UCD post-graduate student Sinead Quirke endured the six-week voyage from Dublin to Denmark, while fellow archaeologist Brian Dolan, Fiona Reilly of the National Museum of Ireland and compatriot David Murphy, completed about half of the 1,400 nautical miles.

The Irish contribution to last year's sailing from Denmark to Ireland to test the longship's abilities was also highlighted during the weekend celebrations hosted by Roskilde's Viking Ship Museum.

"They have been brave without question or qualification," Minister of State with responsibility for the Arts Dr Martin Mansergh said, leading an Irish official welcoming party that included Lord Mayor of Dublin Cllr Eibhlín Byrne, Irish Ambassador to Denmark Joe Hayes and National Museum of Ireland director Dr Pat Wallace.

Roskilde harbour had been transformed into a Viking market. The crew could only have anticipated the excitement ashore as skipper Carsten Hvid tacked the last few miles down the fjord.

Filling in a fresh westerly, the distinctive red ochre and yellow squaresail could just be glimpsed as the choir of Dublin's St Patrick's Cathedral took to the plinth in the waterside Roskilde museum.

June O'Reilly, mother of one of the 12 younger choristers, James, may have caught the moment on video camera. "I don't think I will ever forget it," she said.

Copenhagen teacher Claus Laage-Thomsen has been with the project since its inception.

"This was real sailing," Laage-Thomsen said of the Sea Stallion's home journey. On the worst leg down the Irish Sea to Land's End in early July, some 10,000 litres of water had to be hand-pumped out during four-hour watches, as the ship found itself caught broadside in a gale.

"Last year's storm in the North Channel and the breaking of our rudder was bad, but it was a shorter challenge," he told The Irish Times. "This year, on one of those worst wet nights, I had to force myself to relax and think about my wife, my two sons and what I would do when I was at home again."

UCD archaeologist Triona Nicholl also recalled the difficult Wicklow-Land's End passage, when up to 60 per cent of the crew were seasick in the notorious Bristol Channel swell.

Waiting for wind during 11 long days in Lowestoft was also a low point, she said. However, the ship had performed very well, she added.

There in Roskilde to greet her at the weekend was her father John Nicholl, who spent time on board last year, along with close friends from Dublin.

"Don't forget to mention that both her parents, including her mother, Marian, back home, are very very proud," Mr Nicholl emphasised.

To mark the occasion, the Danish Royal Lifeguards' brass quintet played the premiere of Odyssey of the Sea Stallion, written by Irish composer Shaun Davey and Danish counterpart Palle Mikkelborg.

Participating musicians included Mikkelborg, piper Liam O'Flynn, Padraigín Ní Uallacháin, Helen Davies, Gert Sorensen, Lena Willemark and Poul Hoexbroe.


SEA STALLIONis a replica of a Viking ship named Skuldelev 2, one of five found near Roskilde in Denmark in 1957. Skuldelev 2was carbon-dated to 1042.

The 30m original was built in Dublin of oak from Wicklow's Glendalough. It represented the "absolute pinnacle" of Viking shipbuilding. Sea Stallionwas initiated as a research project in 1996 and launched in September 2004. The 2007-08 voyage was designed to test the vessel under "original" conditions.