Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sailing. . .

Today's post is a quick one as I'm restricted to library computers for a while. "20 minutes remaining," the little box at the top of the screen is cautioning.

One of the neatest classes I ever took was Viking Archaeology. The teacher, a Dane, by way of Saskatchewan, knew a good deal about all aspects of the life and times of ancient Scandinavians, but the subject that most brought out his infectious enthusiasm was that of boats. One evening he introduced us all to a wealth of new words, like "clinker-built," "strakes," (in a clinker-built boat, the strakes, or planks, overlap somewhat like shingles) fantastic names like Roskilde, where the remains of several medieval vessels were recently found under the mouth of the harbor. He loved good carpentry, and that enthusiasm, too, was terribly contagious.

When it came time to write a paper for that class, I had a notion to do something on the Hebridean/Scandinavian connection. Language, if I recall aright, was my first focus, something generally relevant, such as examining Norse loan-words in Gaelic. But, as I said, the professor's interest in boats was contagious, and I caught it bad. I ended up in a compromise and wrote about birlinns, the longships of the Hebrides. Despite its wonderful subject-matter, it ended up being an inexcusably dry paper. . .but I ramble.

The main point being, although I have forgotten all too much of what I learned in the class, birlinns still hold a good deal of fascination. A good introduction to the subject (in the absence of an enthusiastic professor) is the Comunn Birlinn website. In addition, you can browse through the website for the galley Aileach, a modern birlinn built to old designs.

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