The Ballinderry Sword – Joe Malenchini

17 Sep

While in the National Museum of Ireland, a sword in the Viking exhibit caught my eye. It was only labeled as (5. Iron Sword) but it was obvious from the well-preserved silver hilt and semi-legible inscription on the blade that this sword surely must have been a fine weapon. The description to the left of the sword said that it and the other items in the display case were found in Ballinderry, County Westmeath. At this location, a crannog – which is an artificial lake dwelling – was excavated in the drainage area of a local bog between the late 1920’s and the early 1930’s. The settlement dates from between the late 9th and early 11th century and the collection of artifacts uncovered appears to fit the profile of a wealthy farmer or of a local ruler.

Among the collection found on the floor of one of the houses excavated was an iron Viking sword. The sword’s pommel is coated in a sheet of silver and consists of five distinct sections that slowly rise to a rounded tip in the middle. Below these sections is a band of silver decorated with a recessed pattern of swirls that loop around the pommel. The handle between the pommel and hilt is iron, meaning that the sword was crafted for combat with a full tang – which is when a sword or knife consists of one solid piece of metal from end to end. The hilt of the sword is also coated in silver and bears the same swirl pattern as the band on the pommel.

The blade on the sword is very wide, which seems typical of Viking swords based upon the rest of the Viking collection at the museum. The blade tapers to a point and is 79 centimeters long. The blade still has most of its edges, compared to the weathered condition of many other swords from this period. The blade has an inscription of +ULFBERHT+ but I was not able to read this clearly at the museum. Five swords from the same time period have been found with this inscription, indicating that they were made by the same blacksmith or armorer.

This unique artifact gives modern people insight into the weapons of Ireland during the times of the Vikings because it is in better condition than almost any other sword from the period. Many other swords in the Viking exhibit at the museum were missing their hilts and pommels, missing part of their blades, or so corroded that they only represent the general shape of the fine weapon they once were. Many of these broken and withered swords require speculation in order to guess their full dimensions from when they were used, but the Ballinderry sword still retains its original shape and size with limited damage.

The design of the iconic one-handed, broad-bladed Viking sword is easily identifiable to many people worldwide and it is perfectly represented in the Ballinderry sword. Viking weapons like this sword gave them superiority in combat against native Irish warriors, who needed to reassess their weapons and tactics in imitation of the Vikings in order to survive. The Irish warriors and their warriors were forced to adapt in order to combat the Vikings with any degree of effectiveness. The Vikings continually raided Irish communities and forced the Irish to settle into a lifestyle of constant awareness.

In addition to causing the Irish to live an often-bloody life of wariness, the Vikings also influenced great changes in Irish art and craftsmanship. Art from this period gradually shifted into a blend of Celtic and Viking styles. This blend could be seen in the bowls, rings, crosses, and other small artifacts from the period that I saw in the National Museum. This influence of style also penetrated the world of weaponry – more so for function rather than form. Irish arms and armor developed to mirror that of the Vikings, since the Irish rulers knew they had to fight fire with fire.

Overall, I concluded that the Ballinderry sword embodied the impact that Vikings had on the Irish. The Vikings brought bloodshed and forced the Irish to adapt and improve rapidly. They also brought cultural diffusion to the island that was expressed in art and in weaponry. The Vikings certainly made a lasting impression on Irish society that can still be seen today. In this same way, the Ballinderry sword has lived on from these times to offer modern people a glimpse back into the age of the Vikings in Ireland. As long as this beautiful sword endures, so will the legacy of the Vikings and of the Irish people whose lives were so changed by the arrival of these fierce Nordic warriors.

076

Bibliography

“Viking Collection Details.” Collection-detailsviking.aspx. National Museum of Ireland, n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2013. <http://www.museum.ie/en/collection/list/collection-detailsviking.aspx&gt;.

Peirce, Ian G. Swords of the Viking Age: Catalogue of Examples. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2002. Print.

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