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The Waterford man who's carving a 20-metre-long wooden Viking sword

The Hope Tree, Marty Morrissey, and the Ploughing Championships all sparked this Guinness World Record attempt.

King of the vikings Source: King of the Vikings/Twitter

RIGHT NOW, FOUR men at a Waterford workshop are carving a 23-metre long tree into what could become the longest carving in the world.

John Hayes, a talented carver who dreamt up the design about three years ago, is one of the handful of professional wood carvers from around the country. He and his team of three are now working towards surpassing the Guinness World Record.

And, would you believe, it was Marty Morrissey who planted the first seed in John’s head at the Ploughing Championships last year.

The carving

Everything about this project is local, historic, and requires a lot of heavy machinery.

“We wanted to use a native tree, something that had fallen in a storm,” John said.

In six months of searching for the perfect carving canvas, all the trees they found were either down a valley or another awkward nook.

Finally, in July of this year they found the giant douglas fir tree John and his team are working on now – fallen in the middle of a forest. They got Coillte to help them out with a 120-tonne crane that could swing the fallen tree out of the forest.

IMG_1429 The massive douglas fir tree being lifted out of the forest. Source: John Hayes

Keeping the nine-and-a-half feet high roots of the tree intact to prove that the tree fell, and wasn’t cut down, they then cleaned and sanded them down – later they’d integrate the roots into a part of the story.

Next is the hard part: the actual design that they would carve. The design John first envisaged was of a wooden Viking sword, engraved with the tale of the Norman warriors first arriving in Ireland, and the tales of their battles since.

“That was difficult because usually with carvings, you’d have an angel or a bird, but with this I had to make sure I had all the facts right,” John said.

To beat the world record, the carving has to be made of one continuous piece of wood and be at least 1 metre wide: “it can’t be a foot wide and long like an ESB pole,” John clarifies. It also has to tell a story comprehensively – it can’t be a set of random panels.

As of yet, the tree is 23-metres long (and 14 tonnes heavy), but they only need it to be 20-metres long to beat the record.

“I want to shave around 3 metres off it,” John says. “I only have to make it 20 metres long to beat the record.

“The lads are telling me I should leave it, but I want it to look right. A Viking sword is usually five times the length of the handle, so by that measurement were about 3 metres too long.

“I can’t let the ego to get the better of me!”

Messaging1503416154715 John and his team have carved 60% of the tree so far. Source: John Hayes

The Viking Triangle

Eamonn McEneaney, director of Waterford Museum of Treasures said that John came to them with the idea, but they gave him the storyline to map out.

Among the 18 or 19 panels that tell the story of Waterford, is the Viking’s journey from Norway to Waterford, Reginald’s Tower, the romance of Aoife and Strongbow, and the link between Waterford’s Vikings and the town of York.

Eamonn says that it was clever of John to leave the roots on the tree, to prove that it had fallen naturally, but it also forms a beautiful part of the design.

“The Vikings would see a comet in the sky, and think that something terrible was going to happen – they thought the comets were dragons. So the roots on the tree form the tail end of the comet, which then turns into a dragon’s head that’s biting the handle of the sword.”

Messaging1503416146083 The dragon design and the sanded-down roots of the tree. Source: John Hayes

Once the sculpture is finished, it will be placed in Waterford city near Reginald’s tower – the only structure in Ireland named after a Viking.

John’s also drawn inspiration from a Viking sword that’s kept in the museum in Reginald’s Tower, which was made in 860s in Norway.

When in place, it will form part of Waterford’s Viking Triangle – an area marked by three core Viking monuments: Reginald’s Tower, the Medieval Museum and the Bishop’s Palace Museum, collectively known as the Waterford Museum of Treasures.

“The whole point is to reconnect people to their history,” Eamonn says. “We have the King of the Vikings tour, the museum… people are transfixed by the whole thing.

“We’re very proud of our Viking heritage here in Waterford.”

The chainsaw craftsman

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

After hopping between around 20 different joineries at the start of his working life, John got a go at the chainsaw-carving trade where he started getting work doing community projects, like building a playground.

But after he ‘recycled’ a 300-year-old tree that was leaning dangerously close to a church, and turned it into a ‘Holy Tree’ of angels and doves, he started gathering attention.

It was through a chance meeting that he was sponsored by Paul Carey’s CamSaw Distributors: which meant he had access to professional tools rather than “amateur tools that cost €20″.

“I was very lucky – there’s no point telling you that I’m a genius,” he says, saying it was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Messaging1503416167290 Talent also helps: a panel that shows the Vikings' journey from Norway to Ireland. Source: John Hayes

After that, a showing at the Ploughing Championship and a stint on RTÉ’s Nationwide elevated his profile as a skilled creative craftsman further.

And it was at the Ploughing Championship that a small carving John did of Marty Morrissey led John to make the commitment to carve out the mammoth-sized sword.

I carved out a small figure of Marty Morrissey and presented it to him, and he came up to me afterwards and said ‘You’ll never do a piece better than that’. And I said I would, and he said ‘Oh ya, what are you going to do?’ And I said I was going to break the world record.

John plans to finish the final elements of the carving at the Ploughing Championship this year, as a thank you for their support for him before.

“Coillte are coming down on 12 September to pick it up for the Ploughing, so I’ll be taking a few paracetamols!”

Until then, he just hopes he can finish it in time.

“We’re about 60% there,” he says, “a lot of the groundwork is done but there’s a bit of detail left. Going into the eyes and the fingers and the horses takes time – I’ll still be working on them right up until the last minute”.

Read: Ireland’s top chainsaw craftsman gave us a masterclass in carving

Read: Fancy yourself as a bit of an Indiana Jones? Now you can experience what he did on his day job

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