The Last Vikings in Ulster

by Colin Urwin
Audio version recorded by Colin Urwell

                        A thousand years ago the Danish Viking hold on Ireland was finally broken at the Battle of Clontarf. The great High King and warrior chieftain Brian Boru died that Good Friday, the 23rd of April, 1014. Some said he fell in combat, others said that as he knelt to pray in his tent he was murdered by a fleeing Viking mercenary called Brodir.

            In any case, the Danes were either driven out of Ireland or, if they stayed, they converted to Christianity and were absorbed into Irish life. All ties with Scandinavia were severed as the purge of the Danish Vikings swept northwards.

            Eventually, the only two defiant Danes left in Ulster, an old man and his son, were cornered on the Antrim Plateau at Garron Point just north of the village of Carnlough. They were the last guardians of an ancient, secret recipe for sweet heather mead, or as the Irish called it, Bheóir Lochlannach – Viking Beer. The recipe had been passed down from father to son for generations and was known only to a very few Viking brewers.

            The old man and his son were told by their captors that they would be spared if they taught the Irish brewers how to make their beer. The son looked at his father. “I would rather die than betray the secrets of our ancestors.” He said. His words were bold and there was no fear in his eyes. His father knew, however, that if they did not submit to their captors wishes they would endure a slow and painful death. Even if they did give up their secrets they would be killed once they were of no further use.

            With time and patience running out, the old man asked to speak with his captors alone. “My son will never tell you how to make the heather beer.” He said. “And I cannot bear to have him look into my eyes as I divulge the secret to you. Slay him and I will tell you everything you wish to know.”

            The young man was taken out and, as his father looked on, he was executed by one blow from a battle axe. It was a brutal, but mercifully quick and painless death. The old man cried out in agony, “Forgive me my son.” And the tears rolled down his old, careworn cheeks.

            Then he turned to his captors and spat in their faces. “You will learn nothing from me except, perhaps, that there is no love in this world greater than a father’s for his son.” Then the old man leapt from the precipice to his death taking his secrets with him to Valhalla.

Colin Urwin