The Town of the Hurdled Ford

November 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

Once upon a time, Ireland was ruled by the High Kings of Tara.

Before that, there were the gods and heroes and mythic tales of Ireland: Fionn mac Cumhaill, the Tuatha de Dannan, Cu Chulainn, Queen Maeve and the Brown Bull of Cooley.

Later, there were the English kings and landlords, and then the Church.

And also, there were the Vikings.

Ireland has a long history of leadership switching from one hand to another. And it has been a difficult history. Right now there is anger and heartbreak and more anger about what kind of country Ireland is to be in the 21st Century, but out of respect for my young readers, I will not be talking about that today.

Instead, let’s go visit the Dublin Viking museum.

Dublinia is one of those places you always see mentioned in the tourist write-ups about Dublin, but I had never bothered to visit until now. I figured it was something that was geared more towards kids and school groups, and I was pretty much correct. I took lots of pictures, though, to use in possible future lessons. If I continue to teach Viking history, that is. Never know where I’ll wind up after this year.

If you were a student in my classroom, then you know all about the Vikings. Viking history wormed its way into my lessons despite the rather scant mention of them in the 5th grade textbook. And why? Vikings are cool, man. I was attracted to them because they were, primarily, a rather misunderstood people. There are the Vikings we imagine when we picture them in our heads…

What all Midwesterners think of when they hear “Viking Fan.”


But history will tell you they were a lot more like this:

Vikings doing that Democracy “Thing.”

Sure they raided monasteries and coastal towns and took slaves and got a bit violent. But, um, that’s pretty tame considering what other European cultures were doing at the time. The Norsemen had no standing army, practiced an early form of democracy, were excellent traders and navigators, and oh yeah, they made it to America 500 years before Columbus did. 

The Vikings were a way for me to teach kids that what you think you know about something isn’t necessarily true. That, in truth, things are a heck of a lot more complicated than the simplified way we tend to view history and current events.

The Vikings helped create Dublin into a proper city. In the beginning, it was mostly an easy place where people crossed the River Liffey. Baile Atha Cliath, the official Irish name for the city, translates as “The Town of the Hurdled Ford.” When the Vikings arrived in the 9th century, they set up a trading center near the ford and a small dark lake referred to, in Irish, as Dubh Linn, the “black pool.”

The Vikings ruled Dublin and portions of Ireland until the Normans invaded in the 12th Century. Then King Henry II and the English came and set up shop until the early 20th Century. As I mentioned above, Ireland has a long, rough history of being conquered and ruled by foreign powers, and even today, as a free Republic, there is still a resigned frustration and a deep-seated sense that the Irish people still aren’t making decisions for themselves. (Again, since I have young readers, I won’t get into the tangle of history and politics and religion that comes up when you try and explain all of this.)

So let’s just look at a few pictures of creepy Viking mannequins, yeah?

Worshipping Odin the All-Father. (Anthony Hopkins not pictured.)

“Even though you are dead, remember: I still had a better-looking shield than you.”

Helmets! Without Horns!

Inside a Viking home.

Viking woman. Just creepin’ in the corner.

The Futhark, the Viking alphabet. I love how my last name is more or less made up of the first three letters.

It was a fine Friday to get out of the apartment and forget about theatre for awhile. My great love is history, and of course teaching it, and I need to remind myself that I’m also hear to learn more about the culture and history of the different places I go to.

Oh, and also to run into a bunch of dudes singing to a cow in the middle of Temple Bar.

Reenacting the Táin Bó Cúailnge?

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