Portal to the Past – You’ll be surprised what you find in the Archives

Taking up from Emma Horgan’s post last week I’d like to introduce some of the thought-processes behind our choice of images.

From past experience when I introduce the idea of what archival material is, some people can look blankly at me….”what did she say?“, some will answer “old stuff”, or else it’s “dusty things”, which I’ll grant you is usually the case.

So, when Elaine, Emma and I sat down to discuss what would we choose from the collections in Special Collections & Archives, we all agreed we wanted visual material and we wanted people to realise that “old stuff in a library” is not just books, text and paper, but memories, ideas, and maybe even a little bit of time-travel to bring you to a place or experience you’ve had that others have had before you.


Who hasn’t sat on a rock along a coastline and looked out to sea, like Frank O’Connor (see previous post) or posed awkwardly for a photograph you don’t really want to pose for and think to yourself “would you get on with it” which, if you look at the photograph of George Boole (BP/1/356), could this have been running across his mind?

George Boole (BP/1/356)

I’m often asked by visitors why isn’t George Boole smiling in that photograph or that he looks really serious. Well, maybe he didn’t feel comfortable or was thinking he should be somewhere else, but it’s more likely mid-19th century photography meant you had to hold still for a long time in order to get the exposure and image. You might look a little stiff too if you had to stand still in the alien environment that was a photographic studio with its props and mechanisms (the loud bang and after-smoke of a flash?). However, by all accounts from his letters between him, his family, friends and peers that form the majority of the Papers of George Boole held in UCC Library, George was a considerate, thoughtful individual, quick to discuss an idea introduced by himself or by others, and not just mathematical. There are even examples of Boole’s poetry, and its probably fair to say after reading them that we’re glad he concentrated on mathematical processes.


Speaking of time-travelling, one of the first annual Summer school-tours I remember from national school was a trip to Bantry and Glengarriff which included, if the weather was good i.e. not too wet, a boat-trip to Garnish Island. I chose the colourful watercolour of Garnish from one of the many sketchbooks (BL/EP/B/3304) contained in the Bantry Estate Collection, as it reminds me of those school trips. Sketchbooks can show the places that people lived near or visited, and they are the pre-photographic album of their day, capturing the view of the mountain, lake, street, port or the people observed by the artist. By the way, if you haven’t been to West Cork yet, do yourself a favour and make the time.

Garnish Island, Co. Cork (BL/EP/B/3304)


If you don’t have time to go to West Cork, a place featured nearer to UCC is the Coal Quay in the centre of Cork city. The image of Paddy’s Market at the Coal Quay (BL/SC/P&E/10) is actually a postcard and looks like a colourised copy of a B&W photograph. We think this was taken around the 1900s. It shows the crowds milling about with barely room to move, the traders at their stalls, carts on the other side of the street, and lots of stacked wicker baskets. Take a closer look at the image and you’ll notice the buildings on the left side are still there if you visit the Coal Quay today, whereas the buildings on the right have been developed over the years. Postcards are found within many archival collections, or as collections in themselves, like this one from Postcards and Ephemera. They are the quick note of greetings from a writer, usually assuring the receiver of a good time being enjoyed, with all going well.

Paddy’s Market, Coal Quay, Cork (BL/SC/P&E/10)

Graphic Designs

In the blog post last week Emma wrote about a number of other images chosen for our Portal to the Past, including a bookmark design by Elizabeth Friedlander. Another image chosen from this collection illustrates Friedlander’s intricated border designs and her own custom designed font ‘Elizabeth’ (BL/VC/EF/Box 3/Folder 5).

An example of borders and ‘Elizabeth’ font from the Elizabeth Friedlander Collection

Friedlander began her foray into the world of graphic design by studying art at the Berlin Academy, specialising in typography and calligraphy, under Emil Rudolf Weiss. She then worked for the Jewish publishing house of Ullstein Verlag, Berlin, designing headings for its fashion journal Die Dame. In 1927-8 Friedlander was invited to design a typeface for the Bauer Typefoundry; which was completed in 1938. Normal practice would have named the typeface by the designer’s surname, but ‘Friedländer’ was considered too Jewish for the time and it was instead issued as ‘Elizabeth’. It was also considered unusual at the time for a woman to be commissioned to create a font.

Archival Collections at UCC Library

The images chosen from these featured archival collections are only a sample of the type of material we hold across the personal, business, landed estate and visual collections in UCC Library Archives Service. We’d like you to consider that any material can form part of an archive and that more than likely, you or your family have these.

In the final blog post for Portal to the Past next week, our colleague Elaine Harrington will explain her choices of images from publications in Special Collections.

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Portal to the Past- Discover what you’ll find in the Archive

In a follow up to Elaine Harrington’s previous post, I will be examining in more detail, the first of the images from the archival collections, outlining why we chose them to be displayed on the wall.

Firstly, the criteria underlying the choices was simple- to reflect both the range of collections held by the archive, and our collection policy. UCC Library Archives Service is a repository for archival collections from the Province of Munster, and currently has sixty-nine collections open for research, which fall under one of fourteen different topics.

The images depicted on this side of the wall are from the; Bantry Estate, Woodford Bourne, Nancy McCarthy, and Elizabeth Friedlander Collections. These images were ultimately chosen by both Emer Twomey and myself as we felt they represented a good cross reference of the type of collections that the archive holds.

Bantry House Collection

The Bantry Estate Collection is both one of the largest in the archive, containing some four thousand items, and was one of the first collections donated to the archive, in 1997. The image chosen to represent the collection is an early 20th century photograph of Bantry House and gardens. The current owners of the estate, the Shelswell- White family, have owned land in the Bantry area since the 1690s, and at one point were the largest land owners in east cork. Since the destruction of the public records in Dublin, private estate collections, such as Bantry Estate, provide an invaluable resource to researchers. Here in the archive the collection is used by the archivists in teaching classes for modules as varied as History of Art and Architecture.  

Woodford Bourne

The next images on our wall come the Woodford Bourne collection. The first features a drawing of the company’s building on their headed notepaper. This building facade can still be recognised today as the McDonalds restaurant on Patrick Street. The second is a label for a rich fruit cake. An example of many from the Collection.  The Woodford Bourne Collection is the business archive of Woodford Bourne & Co. Limited, Cork (wine and tea importers). The company can trace its origins back to a firm of wine merchants named Maziere and Sainthill which was trading in Cork as early as 1750. Woodford Bourne was for generations one of the icons of business in Cork City, occupying one of the premier sites on the corner of Patrick Street and Grand Parade (currently Macdonald’s). The firm also owned extensive warehouse premises on Sheares Street (currently the Mardyke bar). In the 1980s, the shop was converted to a fast-food outlet named ‘Mandy’s’ and the premises was taken over by McDonald’s in the mid-1980s. The collection is a wealth of resources on Cork commercial history, and ethnography.

Nancy McCarthy

The above photograph is of the famed Irish author Frank O’Connor and is from the Nancy McCarthy Collection. Ms McCarthy was a lifelong friend of Frank O’Connor, and they corresponded widely during their relationship.  A pharmacist, she managed her own chemist shop in Douglas and was active in the cultural and literary life of Cork up until her death. Her papers are a testament to her wide-ranging interests and contain much important material relevant for the study of women’s history, quite apart from the insights into the Irish literary world at that time. In 1927 she had been cast by O’Connor to play the lead in a production by the Cork Dramatic League, and she retained her interest in the theatre until her death. She corresponded with many of the leading Irish literary and artistic figures of her day (FOC , Eric Cross, Bill Naughton, Cyril Cusack and Seamus Murphy).

Elizabeth Friedlander

The final item featured in this week’s post is a vellum bookmark featuring an Irish proverb, from the Elizabeth Friedlander Collection. Elizabeth Friedlander was a Jewish, German born, graphic designer. She was forced to flee Germany at the beginning of the second world war and went on to work in Italy and the UK settling in Ireland in her later years. She is most famously known for her designs of the iconic penguin for Penguin Books, and her Friedlander Boarders- which can be seen further along the wall and will be discussed by Emer Twomey in next week’s post. This bookmark was made by Friedlander in Kinsale, under her Kinsale Crafts company, as part of a range which she sold to tourists. The Friedlander Collection is the largest visual collection in the archive and has been featured in exhibitions in both UCC and the Ditchling Museum UK.

In next weeks blog post, my fellow archivist Emer Twomey will write about the remaining images from the archival collections featured on our Portal to the Past wall.

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Portal to the Past! You’ll Be Surprised By What Can Find!

Have you spotted the new wall design outside Special Collections & Archives? In an age where people use and rely on the web and digital content we wanted to show we are more than old text-based documents or old and rare books. We wanted to showcase a variety of primary sources in a tangible manner and to do that we used different images of people, places and things. These images give a snapshot of the range of what UCC Library’s unique and distinct collections encompass. Any library can have a copy of George Boole’s An Investigation of the Laws of Thought. After all it has been printed numerous times by numerous publishers. However no other library has George Boole’s personal copy of An Investigation of the Laws of Thought or his personal papers. UCC Library has unique and distinct George Boole collections. However it’s not all about Boole!

Wall outside Special Collections & Archives' Rare Books Reading Room, Q-1, UCC Library.
Wall outside Special Collections & Archives’ Rare Books Reading Room, Q-1, UCC Library.

Thematic Choices

We deliberately haven’t chosen obvious material from the collections as Special Collections & Archives is more than JUST treasures. We chose items we thought anyone might be interested in. Special Collections & Archives isn’t for learned scholars alone but for everyone. Once we had this frame of mind we brainstormed to the theme “You’ll be surprised by what you can find.” We adapted Mitchell, Seiden & Taraba’s book title Past or Portal? to form the other part of the tagline: Portal to the Past.

Selecting Items

We deliberately chose visual examples – who reads text?! We weren’t creating an exhibition so we selected individual images rather than using panels on the wall. We wanted the objects to talk to the viewer: a ‘speed-dating’ with the object as it were. All the captions for the images are quite short but are present, so if you like the look of something and would like to see more then you know the call number to request it.

When selecting we always have more possibilities than space. We considered using an Elizabeth Friedlander border along the wall’s edge to show the end to the display but instead used one part of a Friedlander graphic design.

 Examples of borders from the Elizabeth Friedlander archival collection which contains the working papers of a graphic designer famed for her intricate boarder designs, and her custom designed font 'Elizabeth'.
Examples of borders from the Elizabeth Friedlander archival collection which contains the working papers of a graphic designer famed for her intricate boarder designs, and her custom designed font ‘Elizabeth’. 

We considered using George Boole as a ‘tour guide’ for the wall but instead chose to reverse a photo of Frank O’Connor and now it seems as if George and Frank are having a conversation across time. We wanted to show the depth of the business archives and could have used items from Murphy’s Brewery but ultimately the advertising produce labels of Woodford Bourne won out.

Graphic design on outside wall of Special Collections & Archives: Frank O'Connor and George Boole chatting to each other across history.
Frank O’Connor and George Boole chatting to each other across history.

Design Choices

In some instances our choices were limited by which images we had copyright clearance on and others where we couldn’t get a high enough quality image and this was important for the graphic designers. We worked with Babelfís over a six month period from initial assessment on site to installation. During this time a number of preliminary proofs were proposed and we distilled various parts until we had a working proof. Babelfís incorporated the windows looking from the corridor in Q-1 into the Rare Books Reading Room into the design as the eponymous ‘portals.’ We liked using an image as if it were a watermark for the background but swapped the image initially used for William Beauford’s 1801 map of Cork. At one point the fonts for ‘Portal to the Past’ and ‘You’ll Be Surprised By What You Can Find’ were reversed. As the graphic design proofs grew more detailed we realised that the captions on the top part were harder to read: white text against an orange map background. The next version saw the captions in black on white transparent boxes. Towards the end of the design process we finalised captions and stylistic choices: using italics for titles, and Babelfís wrapped the design around the wall to the entrance to Special Collections & Archives.

Outside wall of Special Collections & Archives showing a graphic design with images from the collections.
Outside wall of Special Collections & Archives showing a graphic design with images from the collections.

What Didn’t Make It?

So what didn’t make the cut? What didn’t make the brief of ‘Portal to the Past. You’ll Be Surprised By What You’ll Find’? Over the next few blog posts Emer Twomey, Emma Horgan and I will describe each of our choices and talk to you about what we would have included if we could have:

“Portal to the Past – Discover what you’ll find in the Archive” by Emma Horgan

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HI6091: Work Placement in Special Collections (2019)

The River-side welcomes this guest post from Patrick O’Dwyer, a student on the 2018/2019 MA in Medieval History in UCC, that includes the HI6091: Skills for Medieval Historians module. HI6091 is taught by Dr Malgorzata  Krasnodębska-D’Aughton and Elaine Harrington. Dr Krasnodębska-D’Aughton was selected for a President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2016/2017 award and this module featured as part of the application illustrating a teaching approach that combines traditional skills of a historian with a creative use of technology. Part of the HI6091 module, Dr D’Aughton designed, includes specifically tailored work placements that focus on public outputs. Patrick O’Dwyer spent six weeks in Special Collections sorting a donated collection and creating indices to manuscript recipe books. Patrick has previously written posts for The River-side as part of The Luttrell Psalter student exhibition hosted on The River-side.


Behind the scenes the Special Collections team works to make collections and information related to the collections available. Over the next few months information relating to catalogued collections, similar to what is present for library archival collections, will be published on the library website. Stay tuned to the Special Collections Guide for these as they’re released over the next few months! I asked Patrick to write about his favourite book in a recently acquired collection: the Duncan Lunan Collection, and his favourite recipes from the manuscript recipe books.

Duncan Lunan

In 2017 a Scottish author, Duncan Lunan (b. 1945) donated his entire collection of books, magazines, journals, manuscripts, notes and records to UCC Special Collections. Lunan attended Marr College and Glasgow University, and completed his MA with Honours in English, Philosophy with Physics, Astronomy and French, as well as obtaining a Diploma in Education. He is an author, researcher, critic, editor, lecturer and broadcaster, and maintains his research interests in astronomy, space travel and science fiction.

Duncan Lunan wrote five books and contributed to thirty-three books; his other publications include over 1250 articles and thirty-eight short stories. Lunan’s collection donated to UCC contains works that date from the early 1950s to 2005, including The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, 1688-1744 published in the nineteenth century. The collection covers a wide variety of subjects and exciting topics, and includes some of the most fascinating scientific works that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. Most books in the collection deal with science fiction, astronomy and space flight. What is shown on the photo above, is a small fraction of the entire Lunan collection in UCC. This collection is now sorted by subject area in preparation for cataloguing and listing.

While working on the Lunan collection, I stumbled upon two books that caught my attention: a book of The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, 1688-1744, and a volume by Konrad Lorenz dealing with scientific matters and titled King Solomon’s Ring. I became curious about these books and wished to study them a bit more.

The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope

Cover to the Poetical Works of Alexander Pope

Book cover to The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, Lunan Collection, Special Collections, UCC Library. Photo: Patrick James O’Dwyer.

A volume of The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope was published in 1872 by William P. Nimmo Publishing House, based in Edinburgh and London. The book provides a description of the life of Alexander Pope and his notable works, while also critiquing his poetry and essays. The volume includes Pope’s poems, translations of Ovid and Homer, An Essay on Criticism, The Rape of the Lock, An Essay on Man and his Moral Essays.

What attracted me to the book was its appearance, with all pages including golden print around their edges, and with pages being fragile and light to touch. The entire layout of the book enhances its appearance of richness, yet this book was inexpensive to print, and the cost of the volume is displayed inside the copy.

Portrait of Alexander Pope.

Portrait of Alexander Pope in The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, Lunan Collection, Special Collections, UCC Library. Photo: Patrick James O’Dwyer.

The book opens with a portrait of Alexander Pope as a young man. From his young age, Pope had health issues and suffered from what is known as Pott’s disease, a type of tuberculosis that affects the spine. His body became deformed and his growth stunted with the effects of TB manifesting themselves throughout his life. Despite his poor health, Pope started to write and his passion for the craft of writing grew stronger when he learned Latin and Greek by himself. In 1704 at the age of sixteen, he wrote his first Pastorals that brought him an instant literary recognition. Pastorals were followed by publications of satirical verse such as An Essay on Criticism, The Rape of the Lock and his translation of Homer’s Iliad.

Decorated title page

Decorated title page to The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, Lunan Collection, Special Collections, UCC Library. Photo: Patrick James O’Dwyer.

This volume contains a fully decorated page that displays the artistry of calligraphy and vegetal marginalia which enrich the overall appearance of the book. The page shown above also presents the name of the institution that published the book. Throughout the book, there are ten full-page images. A fine example of imagery features in An Essay on Man that discusses a person’s liberation from the teachings of God. A black-and-white image displays a native Indian family and possibly the image helped the reader to appreciate the text.

Image accompanying excerpt from 'An Essay on Man'.

Image accompanying excerpt from ‘An Essay on Man’ in The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, Lunan Collection, Special Collections, UCC Library. Photo: Patrick James O’Dwyer

The entire book is in a perfect condition and shows the care given by Duncan Lunan towards his collection.

King Solomon’s Ring

Dust-jacket to King Solomon's Ring, Lunan Collection, Special Collections, UCC Library.

Dust-jacket to King Solomon’s Ring, Lunan Collection, Special Collections, UCC Library. Photo: Patrick James O’Dwyer.

King Solomon’s Ring is another book I found while working on the Lunan Collection. Written by an Austrian zoologist, Konrad Z. Lorenz (1903-1989), this volume is a scientific study on attachments within the animal kingdom. Lorenz is viewed as a founder of the study of modern animal behaviour (ethology); he established ideas and principles behind the animal behaviour and noted the transmission of behavioural patterns between animals. Lorenz’s research won him a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973, which he shared with a biologist and ornithologist, Nikolaas Tinbergen and an ethologist, Karl von Frisch. The Prize recognised the importance of his discovery of the principle attachment that newborns of some species display towards a caregiver. Lorenz’s studies furthered the development and advanced the modern scientific understanding of the basics of animal instincts.

King Solomon’s Ring discusses the animals that Lorenz kept and studied, as he observed their behaviour on his own property. While this is a scientific book, it is more humorous than one would expect.

King Solomon’s Ring, p. 65, Lunan Collection, Special Collections, UCC Library. Photo: Patrick James O’Dwyer.

King Solomon’s Ring, p. 166, Lunan Collection, Special Collections, UCC Library. Photo: Patrick James O’Dwyer.

Throughout the book, Lorenz showed himself to be an amazing artist: he depicted animals on almost every single page and also portrayed himself, often in an amusing manner.  Here are three examples of his illustrations from the book. 

King Solomon’s Ring, p. 66, Lunan Collection, Special Collections, UCC Library. Photo: Patrick James O’Dwyer.

Cooking Recipes, 1783

As part of my work experience in UCC Special Collections, I also had an opportunity of working with two volumes of the eighteenth-century recipe manuscripts. Both books are slightly worn on the outside, and their writing although beautiful, was difficult to read. Some of the recipe names were illegible, to the point where I could not decipher the words. A note in the first book, suggests that this volume was passed down from a grandmother, to a mother and to a daughter, and the handwriting differs accordingly. It is difficult to identify who owned these books. In the first volume, the words ‘Mary Connell Sept 15 1829’ feature inside the front cover. In addition to this note, there are multiple names throughout the recipe book. The book was presented to the UCC Library by Mr Denis O’Leary, BA and a Cork University Library stamp can be seen inside the front cover, identifying that it was held in UCC Library c. 1930s. The second volume was auctioned in 2011 and was bought by the UCC Library. The auction catalogue describes the book as ‘a late 18th /early 19th-century manuscript recipe book’. In addition to handwritten recipes, printed recipes are glued onto a few pages, and small handwritten pieces of paper are also added. The two volumes contain interesting recipes that I have tried out, as I was a chef before my BA Degree and MA in Medieval History.

Below are two recipes transcribed from the manuscript. The first recipe that I have chosen is for the Snow Cheesecake and is included in the first volume on page 82, and the second recipe is for making the noyau, a French liqueur with an Irish twist, and features in the second volume on page 49.

Note: These recipes are exact word-by-word descriptions from the original volumes.

Snow Cheese or Snow Cheesecake

A recipe for the Snow Cheese is in fact a recipe for the Chinese Snow Cheesecake.

“Snow Cheese” U.59, p.82. Manuscript Collection, Special Collections, UCC Library.

The recipe itself: one pint of good cream, juice of two lemons, rind of one lemon, ¼ lb of loose sugar. Whip all together till it is very thick, then put a piece of fine muslin in a hair sieve and let it stand 24 hours to drain. The lemon peel is best rubbed on the sugar and the sugar should be grilled afterwards.

Recipe for Making Noyau

“Receipt for making Noyau.” U.368, p.49. Manuscript Collection, Special Collections, UCC Library.

The recipe itself: one quart of the best whiskey, put the rind of three lemons pared as thin as possible. A pound of lump sugar pounded. Four ounces of bitter and an ounce of sweet. Almonds blanched and pounded. When all are mixed add three spoonfuls of boiled milk (let cool), put them into a jar, shake it every day for three weeks. Filter through whited brown paper. It is then fit for use.


Deichmann, Ute, Biologists under Hitler, Harvard University Press, 1996.

Lorenz, Konrad, King Solomon’s Ring, Routledge, 2002.

Moody, T. W., F. X. Martin and F.J. Byrne, ed., A New History of Ireland: Volume III: Early Modern Ireland 1534-1691, Oxford University Press, 1987.

O’Malley, Eoin, Contemporary Ireland, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Pope, Alexander, The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, William P. Nimmo Publishing House, Edinburgh and London, 1872.

Website of Duncan Lunan.

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Viking Cork: A Case Study in Objects and Text

The River-side welcomes this guest post on Viking Cork from Liam O’Driscoll, a student on MA in History specialising in Medieval History. Liam completed his undergraduate degree at UCC in History and Archaeology. His research focuses on medieval cartography, medieval travel texts, Viking history and archaeology. 

Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae, An Account of the Danes and Norwegians in Scotland, England and Ireland, 1852.

Between 1846 and 1847, an accomplished Danish archaeologist and a founder of scientific archaeology, Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae, visited Ireland in search of evidence for the Viking presence here. The result of the trip was an important study of the culture of the North Sea area titled An Account of the Danes and the Norsemen in England, Scotland and Ireland. A copy of this publication printed in 1852 is now housed in Special Collections, University College Cork.

A 1000-year-old Viking sword recently found in Cork. Photo: Courtesy of BAM Ireland, reproduced in The Irish Times

More than a century and a half later Viking artefacts are still being found by the archaeologists in Ireland. An artefact discovered in September 2017 on the site of the Cork Crawford Beamish Brewery and described by The Irish Times as a ‘1000-year-old Viking sword’ is a tangible witness to the presence of the Vikings in Cork. This item was originally used in looming or weaving activities that were essential for the Viking settlers in the production of cloths, sacks or sails for their boats.

Vikings in Ireland

The Vikings originated in the regions of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The term ‘Viking’ possibly derives from the Vik territory that lies by the channels of Kattegat and Skagerrak running from the North Sea into the Baltic Sea. The term ‘Viking’ can also come from the Old Norse word ‘vik’ meaning ‘creek’, or ‘wic’ meaning in Old English ‘a camp’ or ‘a dwelling place’.

Numerous factors explain the movement of the Vikings out of Scandinavia. The major reasons include population growth, a demand for land, civil strife which involved the consolidation of royal power and the loss of traditional rights, and economic issues, with the latter related to silver influx into Scandinavia. As the influx of silver from the Middle East and the western Russian territories decreased, the Viking raiding increased into the west. The ability to construct ships that could navigate both open sea and rivers meant that the Vikings had the means to raid and conquer many areas and peoples.

Silver terminal of a ring brooch, c.950 © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This silver terminal of a ring brooch, dated to c. 950 illustrates the use and appreciation of silver among the Vikings. It highlights the fact that the Vikings were not merely ‘savages’.

The first reference to an assault on Cork ‘by the foreigners’, which was a term used to describe the Vikings, comes from the 820 entry in the Irish Annals of the Four Masters. The attraction for the raiders was possibly the monastery of St Finbarr that had been founded some two hundred years earlier. In 838 the Vikings burned Cork, as reported by the same Annals. Soon after a Viking settlement was established, it was attacked in 846 by the king of Munster, Olchobhar.

Cork’s Viking settlement. Image: Cork Heritage, blog by Kieran McCarthy

In Ireland and Britain, the Vikings established temporary settlements, with some later becoming permanent. The above illustration depicts a possible layout of the Viking settlement on the site of Cork’s South Main Street around the year 1000. The importance of the sites selected by the Vikings was reiterated by the Welsh writer, Giraldus Cambrensis (c. 1146 – c. 1223), who stated that the Norse had settled and based themselves in Ireland’s best harbours. These settlements would have smithies, weavers, butchers, and several other trades. They were often cramped places, as was the case in Cork, where the settlement was built on marshland and therefore land was limited.

Replica of the Clonmacnoise crozier, © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This replica of the Clonmancoise crozier from the Metropolitan Museum, with the original housed in the National Museum of Ireland, is a rather beautiful example of the crossover between Irish and Viking artistic traditions known as the Hiberno-Norse style. The object illustrates the Irish adaptation of foreign cultural influences. It is inspired by the Viking Urnes art style.

Viking artefacts in the Cork Public Museum

Among the Viking artefacts discovered in Cork and now housed in the Cork Public Museum are many objects that illustrate the daily life and activities of the Vikings. Objects discussed below have been selected for the purpose of this blog with the help of the Head Curator, Daniel Breen. The artefacts represent medieval material culture from the ninth to the twelfth centuries, and reflect a wide range of economic and social aspects present in Viking Cork during that time. They are fundamental to our understanding of people’s day-to-day activities during this period. For anyone interested in the wider Viking influence in Ireland, the Waterford Treasures Museum, arguably the best museum in Ireland for Viking material, offers a wonderful wealth of comparative information.


A Viking coin, Cork Public Museum. Image: Liam O’Driscoll

This small item, while perhaps unimpressive at first glance, sheds light on the Viking economy and religion.  It was the Vikings who introduced a currency and minting to Ireland. This type of coin dated to around 1170 and executed in a Hiberno-Scandinavian style is known as a ‘braceate’. The coin displays a cross which suggests the presence of Christian beliefs among the Irish Vikings, who converted to Christianity c. 1000. There is also a personal aspect to this object: it was placed in a pouch and handled regularly.

The Cork coin displays one variant of Viking coins found in Ireland. Viking coins are discussed by Worsaae in his Account of the Danes and Norwegians, as he writes: ‘they are of silver, and undoubtedly coined in various towns of Ireland besides Dublin, as in Limerick, Cork, Waterford and several other towns where the Ostmen had settled’.

Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae, An Account of the Danes and Norwegians in Scotland, England, and Ireland, Special Collections, UCC.

The above illustration represents an eighth- or ninth-century coin found in the Dublin area. The inscription reads ‘Canute in Dublin’ and possibly displays a profile of one Canute, who died in a siege of Dublin and was most probably the son of Gonno, a king of Denmark. The letters present a mix of Latin and Futhark-runic alphabets. This coin, possibly imported, is a particularly early indication of the use of coinage in Ireland.

Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae, An Account of the Danes and Norwegians in Scotland, England, and Ireland, Special Collections, UCC.

This drawing represents a coin from around the tenth century with two inscriptions that read: ‘Olaf in Dublin’ and ‘Olaf made me’. A portrait of the ruler is absent here and the coin displays religious imagery that reflects the importance of Christianity in the Viking society at this time. It is difficult to discern to which Olaf the inscription refers. Olaf Tryggvason, although not a king of Dublin, was the king of Norway around the year 1000. The coin is perhaps a mint celebrating him and his attempts at conversion of the Norse to Christianity. The second inscription suggests that the minter had the same name as the Viking ruler.

Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae, An Account of the Danes and Norwegians in Scotland, England, and Ireland, Special Collections, UCC.

Another image of a coin reproduced by Worsaae bears the inscription ‘Sigtryg king of Dublin’. It displays a profile of a leader, most likely Sigtryg II Silkbeard Olafsson, who reigned in Dublin between 995 and 1036. The name on the reverse can be that of the minter. Sigtryg’s reign coincided with the Vikings’ conversion to Christianity and the Christian religion is expressed by the image of the cross on the coin.

The coins are important in providing an approximate date for the introduction of a monetary economy into Ireland. Varieties in coin dates and designs also illustrate trade links between the Irish Vikings and other regions, and their interest in silver and bullion.

The Cork coin fits into the period of the Viking conversion to Christianity reflected in material culture. To read more about the Viking and Hiberno-Norse coinage see this  article on the BBC History website.


An amber bead, Cork Public Museum. Image: Liam O’Driscoll

This amber bead dating to c. 1100-1150 originally belonged to a larger chain of beads such as a bracelet or necklace. Amber was imported by the Vikings from the Baltic region, and this small object illustrates a wide ranging Viking or Hiberno-Norse trade and culture.

Stick pins and ringed pins, Cork Public Museum. Image: Liam O’Driscoll

The above image displays stick pins that date from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries, and ringed pins dating from c. 600 onwards into the Viking period. The ringed pin shape was used by the Vikings, and examples of such items are found across the North Atlantic in the context of Viking settlements. The stick and ring pins were used as hair ornaments and in fastening items of clothing. The Cork pins show varied designs:  Object 1 is club headed stick pin with vertical lines and decorative dots, Object 2 is a baluster-headed ringed-pin with radial patterns on the ring, Object 3 has horizontal designs on the head, Object 4 has a club head and the shaft with an incised ‘x’ pattern, Object 5 is a ringed pin with lozenge shaped motifs on its upper shank, while Object 6 has a spatula head.

See here for more examples of beautiful details of Hiberno-Norse pins.


The Vikings left an important legacy in Ireland: they contributed to the urbanisation process, introduced Scandinavian place names and personal names, established a monetary economy and minting, and affected Irish politics for a period of approximately 400 years, between 800 and 1200. The Viking artefacts found in Cork are but a chip in the large block that is Viking archaeology. These everyday pieces illustrate the Viking economy and fashion and display a real human and practical aspect of the Viking society which is usually portrayed as violent.


I would like to thank Elaine Harrington and UCC Library‘s Special Collections for hosting this blog post as part of The River-side blog. I am grateful to Daniel Breen for overseeing my work placement Cork Public Museum and allowing to use the Museum’s Viking material in this blog. My thanks also go to Dr Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton for supervising the process of creating the blog, and to Drs Damian Bracken, Diarmuid Scully and John Ware for their comments on the various stages of the blog.

Further reading

Bartlett, T., Ireland: A History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010.

Birkett, T. and Lee, C. (eds.), The Vikings in Munster, Nottingham: Centre for the Study of the Viking Age, University of Nottingham, 2014.

Blackburn, M.A.S, Viking Coinage and Currency in the British Isles, Spink, London, 2011.

Fitzhugh, W., Ward, E.I., Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga, Smithsonian Institution Press in association with the National Museum of Natural History, London, 2000.

Hall, R., Exploring the World of the Vikings, Thames and Hudson, London, 2016.

Henry, D., ed., Viking Ireland: Jens Worsaae’s Accounts of His Visit to Ireland, 1846-47, with afterword by R. Ó Floinn, Balgavies, Angus, Pinkfoot Press, 1995.

Jefferies, H.A., “Viking Cork”, History Ireland, Vol. 18, No. 6, 2010, pp. 16-19.

Lawton, B., “Heathens, pagans, Danes… Vikings?”  Medieval Manuscripts Blog – British Library. January 2019.

Roche, B., “Cork Viking Site Predates Waterford”, The Irish Times, January 2018.

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