23 Nov 2015

Wood Quay, Dublin and Discovering My Viking Heritage

On a Saturday afternoon in September 1978, myself, still a young school boy, took part in my first ever involvement with activism in the form of a protest march comprised of tens of thousands of ordinary Irish people from all walks of life with one singular aim; to stop Dublin city bureaucrats from building an edifice their own importance (and impotence) upon a recently uncovered Viking city at Wood Quay on the bank of the river Liffey.

Looking back now, I honestly had no idea why I was even at the march, or what forced me to nervously walk - with thousands of strangers around me - so as to defend a muddy hole in the ground filled with excited college students holding a trowel in one hand, and an unearthed coin in the other? Alongside me in the march to save Wood Quay were housewives with their children in hand, bearded, tweed-encrusted academics and every other type of person one could possible imagine in between. Pipe smoke was as heavy in the air that day as songs and chants. This was a time when Irish college professors still mingled with unemployed brick layers and respected their combined passion to do the right thing.

Especially noteworthy on the day, was the much higher representation of women at these marches than men. Why? Did they subconsciously feel that a return to being an Irish woman living as Vikings offered them more freedom and respect that their present state - as it was then in the late 1970's - under the yoke of Irish-Catholic "morality" which denied them access to well, just about everything at the time? 

All I knew at the time was that I had an instinctual compulsion to support, and be a part of this campaign to save a Viking archaeological site. I had even wrote a three chord protest song about Wood Quay on my Woolworth's guitar entitled 'You Can Beat City Hall' thinking it might save our Viking ancestor's cultural footprint on the banks of the Liffey from being entombed for another thousand or more years beneath bureaucracy's cold, dead and brutalistic architecture.

That Saturday afternoon protest march in September 1978 was the culmination of a growing anger which first came into manifestation in 1974 when large scale excavations of the site began to reveal what was potentially the largest Viking city anywhere in the world. As the nature and immense importance of the Wood Quay archaeological digs began to come to light, so too did the determination of the Dublin City bureaucrats to build their new civic offices on the location. Something momentous was beginning to happened in the gap between this schism; as more and more Viking artefacts and buildings were uncovered, the ordinary Dubliner looking at the digs, went from casual interest and fascination, to literally having a dormant part of their own heritage being reactivated.

Along with the thousands of everyday, domestic items used by the Vikings of Wood Quay, large numbers of weapons and artwork, even entire urban landscapes, workshops, stores and markets emerged from the mud with each draw of the archaeologist's trowel. More significantly; it was not just swords and deer anther hair combs which were being excavated from the past, but the lives of people just like myself and many other Dubliners. 

Old archetypes were also emerging from the submerged consciousness. Along with the material, social and cultural resurrections of Wood Quay, our old gods Odin, Thor and Freya were also stepping out of the darkness and back into the light. On the bus home after the protest, I should have checked to see if two ravens were perched upon the trees in the courtyard of the Papal Nuncio's residence in Drumcondra. Even if I now regret not looking to see if Huginn and Muninn - the two information gathering ravens perched upon the shoulders of the god Odin - were present at the time, I would not be surprised if they had have been squaking their findings back to Odin in Valhalla.

On an archetypical, and perhaps even genetic memory level, what took place with the Wood Quay preservation movement between 1974 and 1979 was an almost metaphysical re-inaction of the Battle of Clontarf which took place on the 23 of April 1014 when Brian Boru, the King of Munster engaged with the Norwegian Hiberno-Vikings of Dublin for possession of the city. Perhaps this is why I, and tens of thousands of other Dubliners felt compelled to fight Dublin City bureaucrats for the ownership of Wood Quay; we were sub-consciously, and unknowingly honouring our Viking ancestors. On that archetypal battlefield, it was a re-match of sorts.

The campaign to save Wood Quay was not only emotional and passionate, but surprisingly complex and even sophisticated. Near riotous council meetings on the fate of the Wood Quay site were complimented with public relations campaigns, legal challenges and what seemed like weekly protests in Dublin city centre focussed upon the Wood Quay dig like a growing army on the march. At one point, the site was even held hostage by a motley group comprising of poets, cultural activists and incredibly enough, even the Lord Mayor of Dublin himself, who sided with the Vikings against the bureaucrats.

Tragically the series of protests to save Wood Quay from being buried alive under a modern office building, came to naught and the architecturally horrific monoliths of the new Civic Offices for Dublin Corporation were built on one of the most significant Viking settlements ever unearthed. Our ancestors had been defeated once again. 

The final protest was one late night in 1979 when thousands of Dubliners descended on the construction site as the building machines were moving in, and together in unison, they all sang Molly Malone as a lamentation for their Viking ancestors. However, that five years of the sun shining upon the old Viking city of Wood Quay had forever reawakened the soul and culture of our Dublin Viking ancestry and this flame was never going to be extinguished.

The same effect was repeated the following year in York, England when another major Viking site was unearthed during the construction of a shopping centre. This together with the growing number of major Viking archaeological sites; from not only Scandinavia, England, Scotland, and other parts of Ireland, but also Iceland, Greenland, Russia and even Canada had resulted in more people asking question about their Viking past from their Christian institutions. 

It was, and remains akin to a child asking an abusive and domineering father "why mother left us"? The only answer to that question one of guilt and lies.

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