The oak implement was decorated with beautiful carvings. The Weaver’s Sword is a Viking artefact, believed to date to the late 11th century, that was discovered in the course of an archaeological dig at the Beamish & Crawford site in Cork city in the spring of 2017.
It was well known that the Vikings had established a settlement in this part of the city centre, but the find confirmed that the notoriously warlike Scandinavians could actually be quite domesticated. In fact, the delicately carved wooden implement, which is 38.2cm long, was not designed for battle at all.
“The sword was actually used as part of a weaving loom, and most likely by a woman,” says Daniel Breen, Curator of Cork Public Museum, where the object is now part of the collection. “The Viking loom was a vertical contraption, with the same design that continued right through medieval times and up to the modern era. The sword would have been used to hammer in the threads.”
The sword was one of a number of wooden Viking-era implements discovered on the site. “We also have the lid of a box and the pummel from a saddle, which would be very rare, along with about twelve other bits and pieces," says Breen. "But the sword is the most extraordinary, and beautiful, object from that find. It’s made of oak, with two carved heads on the handle, and an interlacing pattern all along the blade.”
The earliest Viking raid on the settlement that is now Cork city was recorded in 820. “The Vikings raided the monastery associated with St Fin Barre, where the cathedral is today. The monastery would have been very wealthy, and an easy target. But within a century, the Vikings were settling in Cork, at least for the winter months, and trading goods with the Gaelic Irish. And a few hundred years later they would have been well-established in the area.”
Over the past twenty years or so, archaeological digs around the city centre have deepened our understanding of the Vikings and their culture. “The historical sources are scarce, but the digs have let us know a great deal more about what they ate, for instance, and how they built their houses. The Gaelic Irish tended to live on the high ground, up along what is now Barrack St, but the Vikings settled lower down, in around what is now the city centre, along North and South Main St.”
Dr Maurice Hurley, who led the three-year dig at the Beamish & Crawford site, anticipated finding Viking artifacts. “Other evidence of Viking settlement had turned up around South Main St before,” says Hurley. “But you never know what to expect when you start digging, and the amount of digging we do depends on the level of development planned for the site.
"In this case, there were plans for a basement, so we dug down to that level. We found the sword, and a lot of other items, on what had been the floor of a house on the south side of the site. The house may have burned down; at any rate, the roof seems to have collapsed, and that helped preserve the material.
“The sword seems to date to what we call the Late Viking or Hiberno-Norse era. The Vikings would have been Christian by then, and their days of raiding up and down the coast were long behind them.”
Far from being barbarians, the Vikings were, Hurley says, “a people who liked to ascribe aesthetic and personal meaning to mundane objects. They would go to a lot of trouble to decorate their hair combs, for instance.”
He believes the designs on the sword are evidence of what he calls “a cultural fusion” between the Vikings and the native Irish. “Stylistically, you wouldn’t find something like this in Norway, or in any part of Ireland that had not been settled by the Norse.”
He was particularly taken by the carved heads on its handle, one of which has survived better than the other. “There’s a high level of craftsmanship. The face is quite distinctive, with a very stoical expression.”
Hurley is currently working on a book on his finds at the Beamish & Crawford site, which he hopes will be published in 2023.
Meanwhile, the Weaver’s Sword, and other artefacts from the dig, are on prominent display in the foyer of Cork Public Museum, where they have proven hugely popular with visitors, particularly since the institution reopened last June. While it was closed due to Covid-19 restrictions in 2020/21, museum staff upgraded its website, and the sword attracted a great deal of international interest.
“We get a lot of email enquiries about its dimensions and design,” says Breen. “Mostly from people making replicas for historical re-enactments and the like. There’s always great interest in the Vikings.”
SOURCE: Irish Examiner
Vallig, M. O’ Sullivan. “Cork In 50 Artworks, No 48: The Viking Weaver's Sword, found at the Beamish site”. Irish Examiner. Dublin. 04 apr. 2022. 08 apr. 2022. <https://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/artsandculture/arid-40842209.html>.
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