Danish minister apologizes to Irish over Viking raids

The Guardian, London

Fri, Aug 17, 2007 - Page 6

More than 1,200 years ago hordes of bloodthirsty Viking raiders descended on Ireland, pillaging monasteries and massacring the inhabitants. On Wednesday, one of their more mild-mannered descendants stepped ashore to apologize.

Danish Culture Minister Brian Mikkelson, who was in Dublin to participate in celebrations marking the arrival of a replica Norse longboat, apologized for the invasion and the destruction inflicted.

"In Denmark we are certainly proud of this ship, but we are not proud of the damages to the people of Ireland that followed in the footsteps of the Vikings," Mikkelson declared in his welcoming speech delivered on the dockside at the river Liffey in the capital. "But the warmth and friendliness with which you greet us today and the Viking ship show us that, luckily, it has all been forgiven."

The boat, Havhingsten ("sea stallion") sailed across the North Sea this summer with a crew of 65 men and women in what was described as a "living archeological experiment."

The reconstructed longboat was based on a ship found at the bottom of the Roskilde Fjord, south of Copenhagen. The original vessel was believed to have been built in Dublin -- then a Viking city -- in 1042 and to have sunk 30 years later.

The wreck was discovered in 1962 and tests on the timbers enabled archeologists to trace the wood to trees from Glendalough, County Wicklow.

The first Viking raiding parties arrived in Ireland in 795, targeting wealthy monasteries on outlying islands such as Rathlin, County Antrim and Inishmurray, County Sligo. By 841, Vikings were over-wintering in fortified settlements such as Dublin, Wexford and Waterford and over the next two centuries these cities were then gradually absorbed into the local Irish kingdoms.

The replica ship -- built using tools of the era -- is 30m long and the largest reconstructed longboat ever built.

Guile rather than brute strength was needed to ensure that the boat would completed its voyage from Roskilde to Dublin in time for the celebrations. But while the Vikings relied upon sail and rowing power, the longboat was towed part of the way when winds failed this summer. However, archeologists advising the project insisted that the experiment had proved the seaworthiness of the Viking vessels.

Diarmuid Murphy, 34, from Bantry, County Cork, one of the sailors on the ship, admitted he almost gave up at the outset.

"About 18 hours into it I was just so cold and wet and I said there's no way I'll do this," he said.

The crew survived on a diet of dried food and had to sleep in the exposed and cramped conditions of an open boat for six weeks -- with occasional respite on a support vessel.

"There was cold, lashing rain on some days from the morning until the following morning," the ship's project manager, Prieben Rather Sorensen, said. "We did not have the time that the Vikings had as we had to be here today. That was one of the challenges."

The longboat is due to make the return voyage next summer.