Vikings prepare for battle

The Baltimore Sun

Jeff Miller and Michael Buck dressed for battle.

Miller donned a long yellow linen shirt, a belt, a wool cloak, leather sandals with laces that he tied around his ankles, and a wool cap.

Buck dressed in a gray linen tunic, a brown wool tunic, armor with interlocking steel rings, a belt, pants with a cowhide string tied around the legs, Viking boots, a cap and a steel helmet.

"Typically only the Vikings wore steel helmets," said Miller, 52, of Havre de Grace, as he placed the gear on his head. "But everyone will be wearing steel helmets during the battles. It's a historic glitch, but we have to do it for safety reasons."

Miller is referring to a two-day, Viking-era living history and re-enactment event that will be held March 29 and 30 at the Susquehanna Museum in Havre de Grace.

Viking groups will come from around the region, across the U.S. and the United Kingdom to participate in encampments with an interpretation of 11th century day-to-day life, and in combat demonstrations of the weapons and warfare techniques of the era.

Called "Clontarf 1014," the event commemorates the largest battle fought in Ireland prior to the Reformation, Miller said.

"To the Irish, this battle was an 'Oh, My Gosh' event," said Miller, who works as a supervisor at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

On Good Friday 1014, the armies of the Irish High King Brian Boru defeated the Viking Kingdom of Dublin, and its Norse and Irish allies, Miller said.

"The event broke Viking power in Ireland forever, and temporarily sustained an Ireland united under one High King," Miller said. "However, Brian Boru was killed on the battlefield, and the O'Brien line never produced any heirs equal to the task of keeping the nation united."

Miller, a reputed Irish history expert, had the idea to hold the event at the museum.

When other re-enactors approached him last fall about the possibility of a Viking encampment at the site, he agreed, with one condition: The event had to be centered on the Clontarf battle, he said. It was his chance to educate people about the Irish and the Vikings, he said.

"Many people believe that Vikings were just slash-and-burn guys," Miller said. "But really, they built a trade empire. They gave the Irish the concept of towns, money. The Irish, in turn, gave the Vikings Christianity."

Miller put the word out to Viking groups and formed his own Irish group, called Clann na Luimneach, which means children of Limerick, he said.

"It was difficult to stitch together an ad hoc, 11th-century Gaelic re-enactment group," Miller said.

Buck of Hampstead signed on to portray an Irishman.

Although he has more than 36 years of experience at living history and re-enactment events, he focused primarily on American military history events, such as the War of 1812 and the French and Indian Wars.

He said he was ready for a change.

He liked the idea of working on a battle that wasn't as well known.

"Usually if you want to learn about a topic like Irish history, you would have to go to the university and read and study on the topic," Buck said. "So why not come here, where we have already done that for you?"

After Miller sent a mass e-mail to re-enactors, he turned up volunteers from all walks of life, including an astrophysicist, law enforcement officers and a gunsmith.

Members of Viking groups like the Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia, a group that grew out of the University of Maryland in the 1980s; Viking N; Ravensgard; Hurstwic; and the Longship Company, also signed on to participate. Although it hasn't been confirmed, one group expressed interest in bringing a Viking vessel, Miller said.

Because there were thousands of people involved in the actual battle, a true re-enactment is impossible, he said.

"We will do battle demos throughout the day with choreographed fencing, using swords and shields that were typical of the ones used during the actual battle," Miller said.

Within the camps, there will be living history interpretations that will include demonstrations of how weapons were made and used, he said.

Weapons used during the event will include spears, shields, swords and slingshots and rocks, he said. Many of the participants will bring authentic replicas of weapons that would have been used in the battle, Miller said.

The participants will also demonstrate a shield war, where both sides interlock their shields to build a wall, Miller said.

"Then the warriors will try to see who can press through the other side's shield wall," he said.

Women and children will also have presentations. The children will bring toys and talk about the way the kids played, and women will discuss their roles within the family, he said.

The re-enactors and living historians will spend the night in their tents Saturday night, Miller said.

Regardless of the weather, the event will go on, he said.

"We are portraying the Irish, after all," Miller said. "If it gets too cold, we will move into the Lock House. And if we have an electrical storm, we won't have men with metal on their heads in the middle of a field."

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