The Medieval Review 10.06.07

Duffy, Seán. Medieval Dublin IX: Proceedings of the Friends of Medieval Dublin Symposium 2007. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2009. Pp. 250. . 35.00 ISBN 978-1-84682-172-1.

Reviewed by:

Paul Byrne
University College, Dublin

The city of Dublin was of major significance during the middle ages, not just in an Irish context, but internationally. There was an important ecclesiastical community in Dublin by the early seventh century. The establishment by the Vikings of settlements in the ninth and tenth centuries marked the beginning of urban settlement on a large-scale in Dublin. Under Norse rule, the city developed into one of the most important Viking trading settlements of its time. Dublin expanded further following the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman conquest, increasing in wealth and power. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the city went into something of a decline as a result of various disasters including the Black Death. It is fitting that a city with such a rich and varied history, reaching back into the early middle ages, should be the subject of regular, scholarly research. The collections of essays arising from the annual symposia of the Friends of Medieval Dublin, of which Medieval Dublin IX is the most recent anthology, fulfil this role admirably.

This compilation derives from the Friends symposium held in Trinity College, Dublin in 2007. The series is edited by Seán Duffy, Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at Trinity College and Chairman of the Friends of Medieval Dublin. Duffy has been organising the annual symposia of the Friends since 1999 and has edited each of the subsequent proceedings.

The current volume contains nine essays with the usual mix of archaeological and historical contributions. There are four papers reporting the results of archaeological excavations, three of a straightforward historical nature, one analysing illustrations of a medieval church over a period as evidence for architectural mutations, and one describing the reconstruction and maiden voyage of a Viking warship.

It is the last mentioned essay that is most likely to fire the imagination of readers. It is by Tríona Nicholl and is entitled "From Roskilde to Dublin: the story of the Sea Stallion from Glendalough." Nicholl's paper describes the construction of a replica Viking warship and its sailing from Roskilde in Denmark to Dublin. The genesis of this ambitious project can be traced back to 1956 when the first evidence of what were later identified as the remains of five Viking ships were found by divers on the bed of the shallow waters of Roskilde Fjord in Denmark, near the village of Skuldelev. These ships had been scuttled and their timbers used to form a blockade across the narrow, navigable channel. Analysis of the surviving timbers indicated that one of the ships--a warship given the name Skuldelev 2--originated on the east coast of Ireland. At approximately 30 metres in length, Skuldelev 2 was one of the longest Viking ships ever found.

In 1982 the Viking Ship Museum at Roskilde assembled a multi-disciplinary team to examine the remains from Skuldelev and to build replicas of the five ships on a scale of 1:1. Skuldelev 2 was the final, and most difficult, reconstruction. The reconstructed ship was named the Sea Stallion from Glendalough in recognition of its Irish origin. Construction began in September 2000, using replica Viking tools and techniques and, following the input of 50,000 man-hours, the ship was completed in September 2004. The construction of the Sea Stallion has enhanced our understanding of the economic infrastructure required to support the Viking ship-building industry in Dublin. As Nicholl has observed, the project:

has afforded an terms of the numbers of people, hours, and resources involved, and opens up a great many questions concerning society and the wider hinterland surrounding the town... It is immediately clear...that woodland management within the hinterland and beyond would have been essential for the construction of ships in Dublin... Finished components such as nails, tar, sail and the time involved in their manufacture represent the collective efforts of many in terms of gathering and processing raw material beyond the walls of the city (226).

Following a period of testing, the Sea Stallion set sail from Roskilde, bound for Dublin, on Sunday July 1, 2007 with a crew of sixty-five. The chosen route was across the North Sea, around the northern tip of Scotland, through the Western Isles and across the Irish Sea to Dublin. The ship stopped at three ports in Norway, five in Scotland and its islands and, finally, at the Isle of Man, before arriving at Dublin on 14 August, 2007.

While the construction of the ship adhered to Viking techniques, and the ship was powered by sail and oar, the crew wore modern clothes, used modern navigation and communications equipment, and observed strict safety standards. In a further concession to the modern world, the crew were supplied with large quantities of coffee and chocolate to maintain energy and alertness. In addition, the ship was accompanied by a support vessel at all times. Nonetheless, the crew learned important lessons about the challenges that must have faced the Vikings as they roved across the seas. For example, significant delays could arise in the absence of the required easterly winds. They also learned that, with the rowing benches only 72 cm apart (replicating Skuldelev 2), a larger crew could be accommodated, but the length of the rowing stroke was reduced. Using all sixty oars involved a short, sharp rowing stroke which necessitated the rowers using their arms, rather than their backs. As the oars are 4 metres long, tiredness set in very quickly. Early trials demonstrated that it was more efficient to use only half or one third of the oars at any one time.

The the Sea Stallion project was a most enlightening exercise in living history and archaeological reconstruction. Tríona Nicholl's essay describes the stages of the venture in a clear and entertaining way. This excellent paper would have been further enhanced by the inclusion of more information about the challenges arising at construction stage from the use of Viking-style tools and techniques.

"Dublin's most unusual medieval church" is Peter Harbison's assessment of St Doulagh's, located in Balgriffin, on the northside of Dublin, reflecting on the curious mixture of castle, dwelling house, and chapel incorporated in the structure. His paper is entitled "Some old illustrations of St Doulagh's church, Balgriffin, Co. Dublin" and makes creative use of illustrations of this medieval church ranging from the drawing by Gabriel Beranger in 1772 to an early photograph, dating from the 1850s. During the period covered by the illustrations, and right up to the present day, St Doulagh's has remained a place of worship. Strictly speaking, the subject of Harbison's article is modern, rather than medieval, dealing as it does with the architectural changes to a medieval church made during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as evidenced by these illustrations.

Claire Walsh discusses the results of four archaeological excavations, carried out between 2002 and 2006, of an early-medieval roadway in south-central Dublin in "An early medieval roadway at Chancery Lane: from Duibhlinn to áth Cliath." There is tentative evidence that this roadway may have been disused by the middle of the ninth-century. The discovery of an early-medieval metalled roadway is, Walsh notes, an archaeological rarity. She conjectures that the archaeological evidence from Chancery Lane may point to disparate settlements of early Viking or native Irish, perhaps existing in tandem, in the Dublin area. She considers that further refinement of radiocarbon dates may be required before one can affirm that that the earliest settlement in this area may be pre-Viking.

In "Dublins Famous 'Bully's Acre': site of the monastery of Kilmainham?", Linzi Simpson puts forward evidence, based on archaeological excavations, that Bully's Acre (beside the seventeenth-century Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, south-west of Dublin city centre), was probably the site of the medieval church of St John the Baptist, which was attached to the priory of the Order of the Knight's Hospitallers whose Dublin house was founded in the 1170s. She also adduces evidence that this church was built on the site of the early Christian monastery of Kilmainham.

Excavations, carried out in 2006, on the site of a sixteenth-century castle in Dublin's north-side suburb of Finglas are considered in Melanie McQuade's "Archaeological excavations on the site of Meakstown Castle, Finglas, Co. Dublin." This castle was, incidentally, the home of Sir James Ware, the seventeenth-century scholar and antiquarian. The discovery of a French jetton (reckoning counter), dating from the fourteenth or fifteenth century would seem to indicate that the local inhabitants were engaged in outside trade. Regrettably, there were no extant remains of Meakstown Castle and no clear evidence for the castle was uncovered during the archaeological investigations. Seemingly, the castle was demolished and its building fabric reused for later buildings.

"Archaeological excavations at the mill-pond of St Thomas's Abbey, Dublin" by Franc Myles deals with the results of excavations of a medieval site, two and a half acres in area, in the Liberties district of south-central Dublin. Myles's paper also draws on written sources from the medieval period. The location of the pond suggests that it was under the control of the abbey of St Thomas and the earliest documentary evidence for the pond dates from between 1181 and 1212. Six millstones were recovered form the site, but they may have belonged to a post-medieval mill.

The first of the historical articles is an intriguing paper by Bernadette Williams entitled "The lost coronation oath of King Edward I." The coronation oath, which is the subject of her paper, was recently discovered by Williams in the Dublin Dominican Annals. If it is genuine, this oath is the only existing record of the coronation oath of Edward I, which he swore in 1274. Williams modestly concludes that "historians better able and better qualified in this subject-matter are required to analyze, dissect and pronounce as to whether it is genuine or not." Nonetheless, she has set out plausible, if not compelling, evidence to support the case for the authenticity of the document. This evidence includes, inter alia, the fact that a Dominican issued the oath and it is found in a Dominican annal and that it is presented as a formal item and stands alone in the text. She has also suggested a number of possible means by which the oath was transmitted to Dublin. One senses that the "rediscovered" coronation oath of Edward I will be the subject of considerably more discussion amongst medieval historians in the years ahead.

Peter Crooks presents an interesting essay entitled, "Negotiating authority in a colonial capital: Dublin and the Windsor crisis, 1369-78," on the turbulent chief governorship of Sir William Windsor, who died in 1384. Crooks argues that power in medieval Dublin could not be imposed unilaterally from the centre, but rather had to be negotiated. His essay examines a period when negotiations broke down, namely the chief governorship of Windsor. Much of Windsor's unpopularity arose from his financial difficulties and his consequent attempts to exact subsidies from a reluctant Irish parliament. There was bitter resentment amongst the colonists at the detention of forty-four Dublin citizens who had opposed Windsor. It would have been worthwhile to hear Crooks's views on the extent to which Windsor's fiscal policy in Ireland may have been inevitable, given the policies of the king towards Dublin, as argued some years ago by Professor James Lydon.

Finally, Grace O'Keeffe presents an essay entitled, "The hospital of St John the Baptist in medieval Dublin: functions and maintenance." O'Keeffe draws much of her evidence from the Register of the hospital of St John the Baptist, edited for the Irish Manuscripts Commission in 1936 by Eric St John Brooks which contains five hundred and eighty-five deeds. The hospital of St John was founded by Ailred Palmer in the twelfth century and was operated by the canons regular of the order of St Augustine. O'Keeffe argues that the hospital of St John the Baptist should be viewed as part of the great wave of foundations in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. She reminds us that the Rule of St Augustine, which would have governed the activities of the hospital, stresses that "respect is to be shown for the uniqueness of each person" and that treatment would be given irrespective of social standing. The Register shows that the hospital was well-maintained financially by its patrons during the first one hundred and fifty years of its existence. She laments the fact that, despite the large collection of documents relating to the hospital in the Register, there is a lack of material dealing with those for whom the services of the hospital were intended.

Medieval Dublin IX is an eclectic mix of papers covering a wide range of issues. There is much to inform and entertain professional historians and archaeologists as well as those who have an active interest in the early development of the city of Dublin and its hinterland.