Denmark & Ireland Cultural Comparisons
As we thankfully resume pre-covid activity we will engage in a week long promotional trip to Denmark where Cormac along with our Danish Friend and colleague Claus Hebor will host a series of workshops in a range of Gymnasiums. The workshops will encourage students and teachers to engage in discussion about the connections and contrasts between Modern Irish and Danish Culture and how they’re influenced by Gaelic and Viking histories.
In this blog, Cormac briefly reflects on the topic. Spoiler alert he never once mentions Alcoholic Beer brands, Lego, Leprechauns or Danish pastries!
Viking/Gaelic Connections have a long and interesting history. Indeed our Viking influences in Ireland predate our more modern Anglo Norman influences.
Everywhere you travel on our small Island particularly around our coasts we witness traces of the Danish and Viking influences.
Influences that include our iconic round towers in our monasteries to the narrow streets of our Viking founded coastal cities of Dublin, Waterford and Limerick.
Here in Dublin they’ve left the place names too – like Harolds Cross, Sitric Road you just can’t avoid their legacy. Even before you land in Dublin by plane you’ll pass over the small Island of Irelands Eye.
As a young child travelling to picnic on the Island in Dublin Bay, I always thought of it as the Eye of Ireland looking out to the east but the origin of the name is not related to our eye sight but to our Danish Visitors whose name for Island is ø. The corresponding word is spelled ö in Swedish and øy in Norwegian. So as those intrepid traders and explorers first came from the great settlements of Roskilde and Ribe as they made their way to the new city of Dublin in the 800’s they passed Ireland’s Island – now know to us as Ireland’s Eye.
They made their way up the River Liffey and established a settlement around the black pool where two rivers met – in our Gaelic language the area was named An Dubh Linn – the Black Pool which provides the origins of our modern city’s name of Dublin.
While history reflects much on the raiding parties of Viking culture – in reality the Vikings were primarily great traders who brought with them new technologies and serious Scandinavian craft and design.
While we had our odd battle or two here in early Viking days – they were rarely solely Gaelic v Viking but more commonly complex alliances of Viking and Gaelic groupings feuding over power and influence. But while the trading and domestic ties increased over time some differences in our cultural outlook remain.
Today one of the best examples of the contrasts between our cultures is the Danish concept of Hygge and the Irish concept of Craic.
Hygge – Craic
Hygge is about quiet cozy time with close friends or family while the Craic is about having very public fun and merriment in good company- very often new or unknown company.
Modern Danish society is far removed from the marauding image of the ancient Viking – and it’s striking how important consent and collective agreement appears central to our visiting groups from Denmark. Our Danish visitors tend to be reserved, extremely polite and respectful and love this concept of Hygge – the enjoyment of quiet reflective cozy time in the company of family or very close friends. They tend to be more cautious about interacting with new individuals outside their immediate family or friend group.
On the Irish side – the contrast could not be greater we still love the passion of meeting new people and living out the quote attributed to Ireland great poet WB Yeats – that here there are no strangers just friends you haven’t met yet.
Now post covid (that dreaded c word!) – I’m looking forward more than ever to meeting new friends in Denmark and to spending time in the company of young Danes. It’s a pleasure to explore with them their thoughts on the differences and similarities of our cultures and sharing stories of our long and fruitful historical ties.
Thankfully this time it will be with hurls and helmets rather than axes!
Cormac will be visiting Denmark in the last week of January 2023 when he’ll tour a range of Gymnasiums and present to groups on the topic of Gaelic Games as a representation of modern Irish cultural expression.