The quays of Ireland’s oldest city were thronged for a re-enactment of the Vikings’ arrival at a place they eventually called Vadrarfjordr — pronounce it out loud to hear how Waterford is the only city to hold onto its Viking name.
Before a spectacular firework display which lit up the clear night sky, the centrepiece of the Vadrarfjordr event was a display of three stylised Viking ships which were built at the workshops of Spraoi, the street theatre group which was the driving force behind Saturday’s celebration.
Spoken word passages written by Adam Wallace were narrated on the night by Pádraig Ó Gríofa and Joe Meagher to a backdrop of recordings of instruments of the medieval era. Sights and sounds conjured up included waves lapping against boats, flames over and to the fore of the craft, sails unfurled, and smoke on the water as the crowds watched and listened. Mobile phones were then raised to the sky as the firework display progressed and thousands captured images of the pyrotechnics.
Spraoi artistic director Mike Leahy said it was “a great honour” to be asked to create the piece and said it was the group’s aim “to capture a sense of the Vikings’ arrival and their subsequent founding of today’s city”.
Meanwhile, the ‘Vikings’ on board the longships were played by a cast from re-enactment group Déise Medieval, featuring ‘Ragnall’, who led a Scandinavian fleet into what became Waterford in 914 AD.
Ragnall became King of Waterford in 917 and Reginald’s Tower, still standing at the point where the quays meet The Mall, is named in his honour — the only building in Ireland, according to Eamonn McEneaney, director of the Waterford Treasures museum, to be named after a Viking.
“This is basically a fiery spectacular to recreate the atmosphere and the drama of these great Viking sea-pirates who arrived in Waterford in 914, establishing Ireland’s first settlement to become a city,” said Mr McEneaney
Reflecting on Saturday’s crisp, clear weather amid the storms of recent days, he said it was “a lovely Scandinavian evening” with the North Star — “which the Vikings used to navigate” clearly visible.
Reginald’s Tower is just one part of Waterford’s Viking heritage, which also includes the recently transformed Viking Triangle, a cultural and historical quarter containing the Bishop’s Palace and Medieval Museum. The event is one of a number over the next eight months marking 1,100 years since Waterford’s foundation.