Boomeresque:Definition
1. Adj.: Describing a person born between 1 Jan. 1946 and 31 Dec. 1964
2. Adj.: Description of a person, place or thing possessing Baby Boomer je ne sais quoi
3. See also, Boomer, Esq.: A Baby Boomer who is also a licensed attorney (See, e.g., About).

Wassup with the Vikings?

by Suzanne Fluhr on June 16, 2012 · 13 comments

No, not the Minnesota American football team.  I mean the real Vikings, like Erik the Red (Leif Erikson’s father) who sailed across the north Atlantic in long boats from Iceland in the 980’s, beating Christopher Columbus to the New World by over 500 years.

Viking Long Boat

Then there’s that unfortunate raping, pillaging and burning thing.

We recently returned home to Philadelphia from a European trip that included visits to the Republic of Ireland and Copenhagen, Denmark.  One of the things they have in common is the Vikings.

Although I went to law school to learn a trade, I have not lost my fascination with the past that made me a history major in college.  When we think about Irish history (which I mostly do when I’m actually in Ireland), it’s a lot about the well-earned Irish antipathy toward the British.  It turns out that in 1167 (or thereabouts), an Irish chieftain (Diarmait Mac Murchada) asked Henry II of England to help him in a war he had started by abducting another chieftain’s wife.  Henry II was otherwise engaged fighting somewhere in France, but he authorized Mac Murchada to hire some English mercenaries to assist him.  Henry II was a Norman king of England; that is, he was descended from William the Conqueror of Normandy (in France) who defeated the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  And, “Who were the Normans?”, you ask — none other than assimilated Vikings!

Apparently, the Anglo-Normans (i.e. the English) did not get the memo about mercenaries leaving when their services were no longer required.  Fast forward through 755 years of Irish history and one gets the message that the British done them wrong and they have not gotten over it.  They were softened up a tad by a visit from Queen Elizabeth earlier this year, the first visit by a British monarch since Irish independence in 1922.  She even wore a green coat — with a matching green hat, no less.

Infamous Kilmainham Gaol – Dublin

During our visit to Dublin, we took a “history tour”.  Our guide was a newly minted Ph.D. in Irish medieval history who was supplementing her waitress job earnings by giving walking history tours.  (Yes, the Celtic Tiger has been laid quite low by the recession.)   From her we learned that before the British made Irish Catholic lives miserable for seven or so centuries, in 795, marauding Vikings first showed up doing their raping and pillaging thing through Ireland.

As an Island, Ireland’s Coast Was Perfect for Marauding Vikings

It was the Vikings who actually started the settlement at Dublin in 841 as a place to rest from their depredations.  When we expressed ignorance surprise  at the Viking connection to Dublin, she told us that she actually tones the Viking part down when there are Danes in her tour group because they have a tendency to become upset, to earnestly apologize and to ask for forgiveness for the transgressions of their 1,200 plus years ago ancestors.

Dublin’s River Liffey Today Near Possible Site of Viking Settlement

With this background, we visited the Danish National Museum while we were staying at one of the hotels in Copenhagen.  We were looking forward to learning more abut the Vikings.  We walked through room after room of excellently curated artifacts with comprehensive written explanations in Danish and English.  We started with paleolithic Danish times (think cavemen) up through the Iron Age, and the Bronze Age.  Then we started getting Viking teasers like bits of ancient ships, ship amulets, ship jewelry and ship carvings.  We got it.  Ships were very important.

We finally arrived at a room that was actually labelled, “The Vikings”.  What, only one room?  The bilingual written introduction to the room basically said something to the effect of:

Okay, so we know our forebears, the Vikings, did some really bad stuff, like raping, pillaging and burning throughout the known world, but they don’t get enough credit for the good things they did, like Leif Erikson and his settlement in Greenland which, by the way, he named “Greenland” as a marketing ploy.

Apparently, the Vikings did not have truth in advertising laws.  We left the Viking room feeling disappointed that this seemingly important period in Danish history had been glossed over.

On our way out, we decided to stop by the children’s wing of the Danish National Museum.  We were impressed.  It was a lovely children’s museum where tots can clamber around on a pretend Viking ship, drive a pretend tram, visit a pretend school, play dress-up, buy spices in a pretend Pakistani bazaar and other fun stuff that our sons would have loved doing when they were children.  But, I’m not sure we would have taken them there because right smack at the entrance to the children’s museum is a greater than life size sculpture of a monster multi-armed Viking, draped in trophy heads—stomping on a half naked pregnant woman.   Sweet Viking dreams, Kiddies.

Viking Statue – Children’s Wing of the Danish National Museum (What Were They Thinking?)

Copenhagen was a bustling, multi-cultural, handsome city, but I’m thinking that the Danish national psyche could use some therapy for their obvious Viking “issues”.

Have you learned any history on your travels?  Did anything you learned surprise you?  

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Just One Boomer June 16, 2012 at 3:21 am

If you are interested in learning more about Irish history, I recommend “A Brief History of Ireland: Land, People, History” by Richard Killeen (2012).

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Roz Warren June 16, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I too became interested in Irish history when I visited Ireland. I read many books and learned a lot of interesting things, all of which I’ve since forgotten. So thanks for the Irish history lesson! And for the photo of the cool statue.

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Suzanne (Just One Boomer) June 16, 2012 at 5:16 pm

“Cool” is one way to describe it. Another, is “grotesque”.

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maddy fluhr June 16, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Very interesting, Suzanne, not to mention humorous (something we can all use more of these days! – ie humor). How about you and Jen head on out to Cal – i- for-nie- ai! and write up some Gold Rush history or somethin’ (we have some very nice missions, as well – where the indigenous people were coerced into abandoning their native faiths and ways…). Your California sister would really enjoy such a visit and your blog readers would enjoy some West Coast history!! Just sayin’….

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Just One Boomer June 16, 2012 at 5:21 pm

I’m sure a visit to California would provide grist for the Boomeresque mill. However, since I’m just returned from absenting myself from my home turf for 25 days (!)–in a row— your white fluffy nephew might feel hurt (I might be anthropromorphizing here)—not to mention your mother.

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Andrea O'Driscoll June 16, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Andrea O’Driscoll
I enjoyed your article, it reminded me of a story. My mother was half Danish, my father Irish and English, my husband is all Irish . When my son was young he had auburn hair. He went to a school where the librarian was Danish. She used to say to me that he looked so Danish. One day I said that I thought he had the map of Ireland on his face. She responded that she thought the face came from the Vikings and Eric the Red.

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Just One Boomer June 17, 2012 at 5:06 am

There’s certainly no doubt that there was Viking (Norse and Danish) and Irish (Gaelic) mixing in Ireland after 795. We certainly saw plenty of red-headed folks in Ireland. They had a mini-heat wave in Dublin while we were there and they were laying out in the parks getting sunburned.

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Jason June 22, 2012 at 11:28 pm

The tour company should really only hire aging men with big white beards that speak with a Morgan Freeman voice to give a history tour. Otherwise, i can’t imagine having the attention span for it. Nice post 🙂

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Just One Boomer June 23, 2012 at 3:04 am

Actually, Jason, I think you and Josh would have been quite happy to pay rapt attention to the young woman who was our history guide, going so far as to even feign an interest in history—specifically, the history of medieval Dublin, her area of particular expertise ; – )

P.S.: thanks for taking the time to comment—unlike another Millenial travel blogger who shall remain nameless and linkless.

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Steven Albelda March 13, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Am watching the new History Channel show on the Vikings. You were right- not real nice people. Not a good day when they knock on your door (more like knock down your door).

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exploramum March 18, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Wow – that is a really interesting article. Like you, I had no idea about the vikings – not too proud of my heritage at this point – but I have learnt a lot! Thanks

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