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Dublinia's first temporary exhibition launched with social distancing measures

Popular Viking museum Dublinia’s first temporary exhibition captures the lives of Viking heroes.

THE NUMBER OF visitors to the Dublinia museum, which could see up to 200,000 visitors in a usual year, has slowed “to a trickle”.

The museum of Dublin’s Viking and Medieval history, which reopened at the end of June, has had to adapt how visitors move through displays and interact with exhibits to accommodate social distancing guidelines.

“We want to make sure the visitor feels safe and secure,” Dublinia Director Denise Brophy told TheJournal.ie.

Dublinia, located next to Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral, is among culture and tourism venues that opened their doors again at the end of June under Phase Three of Ireland’s reopening.

As Ireland has moved through the phases, reopening businesses in retail, culture, and tourism, public health officials have cautioned that the risks of Covid-19 are still present.

For museums like Dublinia, the goal has been to minimise risks while maintaining an authentic experience for visitors. 

A changed experience

The museum has introduced a new one-way path for visitors to follow throughout its rooms. Markings on the floor indicate where visitors can stand to look at a display, who are encouraged to either wait for one to become free, or move on to the next one in what Brophy describes as a “rounders system”.

When visitors first enter, their name, email address and phone number are taken by staff, who are wearing face visors. Their details are held in case they need to be used for contact tracing.

The museum recently introduced interactive screens in front of some displays that allow information to be read in other languages. At the front desk, visitors are given individually-wrapped styluses which they can use to tap the screens to minimise the touching of hands to displays.

With restrictions on travel, the demographic of visitors to Dublinia has shifted. “We would always have locals, but not many,” Brophy said. “Now, we’re getting them, and it’s good.”

Phones in front of a large model of Medieval Dublin, which would play audio in a selected language, have been covered up – but the museum can switch the language which plays over the room’s speakers to suit visitors’ needs. 

Along the way, historians who specialise in areas like weaponry, herbal remedies, and experimental archaeology are stationed to tell visitors more about the Vikings from a social distance.

A display with clothes made to look like the fashions of Medieval Dublin, which visitors “would have been encouraged to try on and take photos”, has been taken out of action -  one of the only elements of the visit which has needed to be struck off rather than adapted.

In the café, a laminated notice is placed on each table that encourages the customer to turn the page over when they leave to alert staff that the table has been used and needs to be sanitised before the next visitor.

Dublinia has signed up to Fáilte Ireland’s Covid-19 safety charter, which gives businesses a seal of approval to indicate that they are following safety and cleaning guidelines.

“I’m really happy that it’s something people would be happy with,” Brophy said.

In some ways, the lower numbers and organised route can give a “better experience for the visitor” than before, allowing visitors to take a “deep dive” into the exhibits.

Bringing Viking heroes from York to Dublin

Dublinia shut from 12 March alongside schools, colleges and other venues around Ireland.

“From March through to September or October is usually the busy period,” Brophy said. 

When Dublinia reopened on 29 June,  it launched a new temporary exhibition, “Heroes of the Viking World”.

The exhibition, on loan from the JORVIK Viking Centre in York, was originally due to open in Dublinia in Spring and close at the end of June. 

Its entire run would have been eclipsed by lockdown, but the JORVIK centre has extended its stay in Dublin until the end of October. 

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Among the heroes profiled in the exhibition is King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark, a Viking king who united the tribes of Denmark in the 10th century. He’s most visibly remembered as the Viking king whose name, centuries later, was chosen to be used for Bluetooth technology as a symbol for connectivity.

DSCN9474 A Viking child plays with a model boat.

Alongside Bluetooth, visitors can learn about Vikings like Sitrick Silkbeard, a Viking King of Dublin. Wanting to drive Dublin’s wealth, Silkbeard introduced Ireland’s first indigenous coinage, putting his face on the back of the coins to remind people who was in charge.

“The exhibition brings these Viking champions’ stories to life, drawing on historical and archaeological evidence to help explore the idea of heroism in the Viking Age as well as looking at how these people were celebrated and commemorated in their time and ours,” said Brophy.

Dublin and York were trading partners during the Viking Age, and the artefacts from York are similar to ones which would have been found in Dublin. 

The exhibition combines physical artefacts, ranging from combs and keys to cracked skulls, with descriptions of the heroes’ lives. A staff member is stationed in the exhibition in a recreation of a king’s tent to talk to visitors about the heroes’ stories.

“The artifacts are an anchor,” Brophy said, “and the historians have all the records. Put the two together and you have the whole story.”

Other Viking heroes highlighted in the exhibition include, Aud the Deep Minded, who commissioned a ship to bring her, her granddaughters and her followers to Iceland; warrior woman Lathgertha, who is said to have fought alongside legendary Viking ruler Ragnar Lodbrok and later married him; and Leif the Lucky, who sailed from Greenland to Viland, a coastal area in North America, and is likely the first European to have set foot on the continent.

“Heroes of the Viking World” is Dublinia’s first temporary exhibition, which was made possible during refurbishments that involved reroofing parts of the upper floor to create the exhibition space. 

Next to the exhibition is a new audiovisual space that was also developed during the refurbishment. A seven-minute video shows visitors a recreation of Medieval Dublin, sliding past the Market Cross at Christchurch Place and panning through narrow streets marked by clotheslines hung between houses.

The museum includes real artefacts and burial remains, some from the National Museum of Ireland, including two skeletons discovered in Dublin – Gunnar and Maggie – who Brophy said the staff at Dublinia are especially fond of. 

In models and visuals recreating Medieval Dublin throughout the museum, St Michael’s tower – which crowns Dublinia today – is visible above the roofs around it, indicating the historical significance of this area of Dublin.

The view from St Michael’s tower, which can be climbed after the Viking heroes exhibition, has been a calmer one than usual over the last few months, Brophy said. “It’s a view of a quiet city.”

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