Portadown's Viking Festival brings to life the 400 years when the Vikings inhabited the area

They make their way down the river to the landing in Portadown. Longboats filled with Vikings dressed in tunics and pelts and carrying colorful shields are on a mission.  They dock, and head for the encampment just up the hill, where Vikings of all ages welcome visitors to their world.

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It is a tent-city complete with a blacksmith, jewelers, crafters, artists and musicians, all in braids, tattoos, and dress from the 400 years when Vikings inhabited this are in Northern Ireland. And they return every year to celebrate.

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Portadown is actually one stop in what has become a summer-long circuit of Viking celebrations tracking where Vikings lived across Europe and into Scandinavia.  Many of the participants travel the circuit as a summer’s adventure. Some make a living at their craftwork and art pedaling it as they go, as the interest in Vikings has grown with the History Channel’s series called Vikings, with other documentaries about the times and with the fantasy series Game of Thrones that touches on Viking art, dress and jewelry.

“We’ve definitely seen a rise in interest in these festivals,” says Viking Paul Kavanagh who puts on the annual Viking Festival in Portadown. “The village is growing every time we do this, and so is the audience for what we do and what we sell.”

Kavanagh is a boat builder and his team of craftsmen built the longboats used at the Village which are also used in Vikings.

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“One day we got a call asking if we had Viking boats, and if we could build larger ones for the show the History Channel was putting together. We did, and many of those here taking visitors for rides do exactly this in the show. They make sure the actors are safe and that the boats are historic and run as they would have been centuries ago.

“A lot of people come in asking for the jewelry designs they’ve seen on Vikings, or in Game of Thrones. They know what they mean and they know what they want. And everything here is authentic,” says Conner Sweeney who travels the circuit with Valhallas Silver. 

“We’ll be here a week, and then head through Germany to Denmark and then on to Sweden. And there is time in between each festival to visit rock formations and historical sites we want to see along the way,” he says.

Sweeney casts all his own bronze and silver and he says demand for it has never been higher.

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There are battles where leaders and armies trade-off with strategies, some very organized in their attacks… and others appearing to be complete chaos. Viking music plays in the background setting the stage, crowd cheer for different factions. It’s a lot like the civil war reenactments in the United States.  And those taking part shop for chainmail, have their swords sharpened, show off their shields and take pride in their heritage.

Even the music sounds and looks authentic. 

It’s an exchange between Vikings, a revival of Viking crafts and an immersion into history all at once.

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Visit Erin Meehan Breen's blog 'Erin's Isle' to learn more about the Vikings in Portadown.

Have you ever attended a Viking festival? Tell us about it in the comments!

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