A Brooch in Finglas or a mini-skirt in Baghdad?
International Women’s Day at the National Museum of Ireland.
Brian Fleming, a Project Manager with The National Neighbourhood, a Dublin’s Culture Connects programme, talks about a visit to the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology on Kildare St with the women of the CDETB Forever Young Chorus from Finglas on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2018
Joe Lynch, a stocky, chatty, middle-aged man in a Dublin jersey is passing around photographs, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with a queue of women in the middle the Kildare Room, at the museum of archaeology, on Kildare St, while Maeve Sikora, Director of Antiquities with the National Museum of Ireland is taking questions from a small crowd of her own. Gradually she makes her way towards Joe. They have a lot to talk about.
Siobhán Pierce, Education Officer, Archaeology and Natural History at the National Museum of Ireland introduces Maeve Sikora’s lecture on International Women’s day at the Museum of Ireland -Archaeology, Kildare St. Dublin. Photo Brian Fleming 2018
Maeve has just delivered a lecture to a full house of mostly women, as part of International Women’s Day 2018, about the Viking woman’s remains found in Finglas in 2004. Joe’s father was and his brother is now the keeper of St Canice’s graveyard in Finglas, where the Viking woman’s remains were discovered. Now surrounded by a busy bypass and apartment blocks (‘eyesores’ according to Joe), St Canice’s graveyard and Dublin’s only standing medieval high cross remain incongruously wedged between apartment blocks and a pedestrian bridge, separated from Finglas Village by the dual carriageway. However, they can still be accessed any day by knocking on Joe’s brother’s cottage door and borrowing the key.
Like all good archaeologists, Maeve appreciates the value of reliable local knowledge and is delighted to meet Joe again, 14 years after the original dig.
Maeve Sikora, Director of Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland with Joe Lynch, local Finglas historian at the museum of Archaeology, Kildare St. Photo Brian Fleming 2018
Siobhan Pierce, Education and Outreach Officer at NMI Archaeology and Natural History asks singer-songwriter Susan McKeown if it’s ok to invite Joe to join our special private tour, arranged for the women of the Forever Young Chorus from Finglas in an hour’s time. The Forever Young Chorus is a singing group for the over 65s, which favours punk rock classics over more ‘age appropriate’ repertoire. It is run by the City of Dublin Education and Training Board, led by Kevin Smullen and directed by musician Brendan Creagh. The women of the chorus have been telling Susan all about women’s lives in the old days in Finglas, as part of a song-writing process with the National Neighbourhood. Now, with the help of the museum staff they are about to discover what the really old days were really like.
Thanks to Maeve’s lecture, the public have just enjoyed a fantastic insight into the context of the first intact female Viking burial to be found in 100 years in Ireland. As part of the National Neighbourhood, the women from the Forever Young Chorus are about to have a private viewing of the amazing brooch and other objects that were buried with this woman, who walked their streets 1000 years ago.
Fran Crosbie’s coach from Finglas arrives at the museum café with Hannah Pinckheard from Dublin’s Culture Connects and the women of the Forever Young Chorus, direct from their rehearsal in Finglas. Tea and coffee has been arranged, but like seasoned touring artists, they have also brought their own sandwiches, and they tuck in, un-phased by the attentions of photographer Enda O Brien and videographer Johnny White. I ask who is going to wear the Viking dress and there’s a chorus of ‘Me!’
Joe Lynch arrives into the cafe to a tirade of slagging from the women. They’re all old friends and the banter is unrelenting. There isn’t even a break in the conversation when I rattle my pen on a cup to try and announce the arrival of Siobhan and Annie from the museum to take us upstairs to the education room. They just rise form their seats and carry on the conversation up the stairs.
To my surprise, when we reach the education room, the actual brooch itself is laid out on the table, along with fragments of the antler comb that was buried with the woman.
Having seen slides of the brooch at Maeve’s lecture and pictures of it online, I’m slightly star-struck to see it in the flesh. It’s an amazing piece of work for 1000 years ago; an oval dome, like a baby tortoise, decorated with little bronze, gold and silver glass-eyed bears.
The oval brooch found with the Viking woman in Finglas in 2004, dating from the 9th Century at the National Museum of Ireland. Photo Brain Fleming 2018
On a nearby table, there are museum quality replicas of the objects buried with the woman; Viking brooches, a dress, an antler comb and kind of a Viking glass iron.
Susan Kelly was a seamstress and she’s not impressed with the quality of the workmanship on the dress;
“We’ve come a long way in 1000 years”
Lilly Howard tries on the replica brooches, similar to those found with the Viking woman who lived in Finglas 1000 years ago. Photo, Brian Fleming 2018
Patty Ankers is impressed by the whale vertebrae, while, Lilly Howard tries on the brooches.
Patty Ankers with a whale vertebrae. Lilly Howard looks on with Joe Lynch in the background. Photo by Brian Fleming 2018
Meanwhile Joe never leaves the table with the brooch.
“It’s 14 years since I seen her.”
He has brought his own picture of the woman’s remains at the graveyard in Finglas that has been kept in his family since 2004 and it is even better than the one in Maeve’s slide show. You can see exactly how she was lying.
Joe Lynch’s picture of the Viking woman as she was found in Finglas in 2004. Photo courtesy of the Lynch family.
He’d give anything to be able to hold the brooch but that’s out of the question. Eventually Maeve offers him the box of fragments of the second brooch to hold and his international women’s day is complete.
Some of us had been hoping to hear stories of Viking women warriors, buried with their swords, but that’s not this woman’s story. Clearly the woman was of very high status, to have been buried on sacred ground with these precious belongings to accompany her to Valhalla.
Maeve explains that this brooch, imported from Scandinavia and this style of dress would have seemed extremely unusual to the native population. She must have been making a bold statement about her cultural identity by wearing them here
Maeve tells us that Dr Pat Wallace, the former director of the National Museum of Ireland would say that for a woman to wear those brooches in Finglas at that time was akin to a woman now wearing a mini-skirt in Bagdad. The Finglas women give her her dues. She was a kind of a warrior after all.
With the National Neighbourhood, we want every neighbourhood to know and “own” their city’s cultural resources so we build cultural projects in community settings. We connect artists, groups and villages with libraries, museums and creative places to deepen their understanding of each other and themselves.
The National Neighbourhood spans the Dublin City Council region, and brings together Dublin City Council’s City Library & Archive, the area offices, the City Arts Office and Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, in partnership with National Cultural Institutions (The Abbey Theatre, The National Museum of Ireland, The National Library of Ireland, The National Gallery of Ireland, The National Concert Hall, The Chester Beatty Library, The National Archives and The Irish Museum of Modern Art).