Precious jewelry and religious objects robbed during a Viking raid 1,200 years ago and since kept in Scandinavia have just been returned to Ireland for the first time to be put on public display.

Viking Age Women has just opened at the Dublinia in the heart of Ireland's capital, to run until February 2024. Subtitled Connecting Ireland and Norway, the exhibition focuses on objects of Irish origin excavated in Rogaland, Western Norway, and held by the Archaeological Museum at the University of Stavanger.

The Dublin-Stavanger connection

The museum at the University of Stavanger has the largest collection of Viking treasures from Great Britain and Ireland, after the Norse raids from the eighth century onwards. Several hundred objects, which were transported across the sea in Viking ships, comprise the regular collection.

In fact, not all of these items were taken by force, as museum director Ole Madsen, explains: "Many of the objects were looted during Viking raids, and others may be gifts, bribes or trade goods".

The first Viking raid on Ireland was in the year 795 on the island of Lambay. But gradually, the contact between the Norse of Rogaland and Ireland changed character, and by 841, Vikings had founded Dublin and established themselves there on the East coast. 

This led to Scandinavian settlers and the original Irish population becoming more closely integrated, a trend confirmed by the significant element of Scandinavian DNA in many grave finds in Ireland.

Director Ole Madsen and Professor Kristin Armstrong-Oma of the Archaeological Museum, University of Stavanger, opened the exhibition at Dublinia. The two are photographed with the Irish museum's director, Denise Brophy. Photo: Kate Syvertsen / Rogaland Fylkeskommune

Women in focus

Many religious treasures from monasteries and churches have been found in women's graves in Rogaland. They were turned into jewelry that the women wore, together with its Norse equivalent made in Rogaland. Powerful women from the Viking Age took this exotic jewelry with them to the grave – literally.

The current exhibition now hones in on this particular link between Rogaland and Ireland, and especially on the women of the Viking Age. The Archaeological Museum has lent a total of 128 objects, ten of which are of Irish origin.

At the recent opening of Viking Age Women in Dublin, presentations were given by Stavanger Museum director Ole Madsen and his colleague, Professor Kristin Armstrong-Oma. 

As she explained, "The graves tell that the women had prominent roles in society, as housewives who decided and managed the farm. Maybe some of them went on a Viking expedition and were buried with things they themselves helped to loot".

One of the women found buried on Håland in Time, Rogaland, had only Irish jewelry around her, said Armstrong-Oma. "She has been given a prominent role in the exhibition, and I speculate that she may have been an Irish woman. New DNA studies show that Irish DNA came to Scandinavia in the Viking Age".

"This is the first time the objects have returned to the country where they were made," continued Armstrong-Oma. "Those of us who worked on the exhibition thought it was both poignant and emotional to return them."

An artifact made of gold and bronze, found in a Viking Age grave in 1900 in Suldal, Norway. Photo: Annette Øvrelid / Arkeologisk museum / UiS

A non-profit heritage center at what was the medieval crossroads of today's Irish capital, Dublinia offers nothing less than a living history of Viking and medieval Dublin, allowing you to walk in the steps of the city's previous Norse occupants. 

Here you can feel what it was like to be on board a longship, enter a cramped Norse homestead and test out your skills as a real Viking warrior, weapons, clothes, and all. Read and write runes, listen to a saga, and dander down a noisy Viking street. 

The center is set in the historic Synod Hall, built by the same architect, George Edmund Street, who reconfigured the Viking-founded Christ Church Cathedral. 

Integral to the building is St Michael's Tower, intertwined with sections of its previous medieval iteration, whose 96 steps you can climb for wonderful views over the city. It was recently reopened for St Patrick's Day weekend this March.

The exhibition Viking Age Women – Connecting Ireland and Norway will be in Dublin until February 2024. When the exhibition is over, the precious treasures will return to Stavanger.

Dublinia, St Michael's Hill Christ Church, Dublin 8. Open daily 10am-6pm.

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