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St Magnus Conference

'Axe wielding Halgeirr Bjørnevik (left) demonstrating traditional boat building techniques to PhD student Marc Chivers.

Last week Shetland hosted the 2nd International St Magnus Conference. This is the biennial, three day international conference organised by the Centre for Nordic Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands.

Its theme was the Northern Isles and the Sea, a celebration of maritime heritage in all its manifold forms. In particular there was a focus on the maritime connections between Shetland and the Nordic world, past and present.

Shetland is fast becoming a hub of cultural and historical research, which international scholars are keen to visit. Sixty delegates attended, some from as far away as the USA.

At this conference, Shetland found itself at the centre of Vest Norden as a large Nordic contingent of experts from Norway and Iceland met here halfway between their respective countries.

Highlights included the keynotes speeches from James Barrett, from Cambridge University, on the maritime connections of the Orkney Jarldom, a wonderfully spontaneous talk on Norway’s ship-building tradition by Arne Emile Christensen, the greatest expert on the Viking Ship, and a dramatic and humorous talk by Professor Terry Gunnell, from Iceland, on the monstrous creatures folklore suggests have been washed up on Icelandic shores, such as the Hairy Man of Skarði and the Beach-Creeps of Iceland’s North West coast.

Special mention must be made of the excellent contributions by Shetland’s growing number of scholars and researchers, from Shetland College, UHI, from Shetland Museum and Archives, from the Centre for Nordic Studies, both lecturers and postgraduates, from NAFC Marine Centre and from three local independent experts John Goodlad, Deborah Lamb and Charlie Simpson.

The conference was held in the Islesburgh Community Centre, which proved itself an ideal venue. There was a beautiful exhibition of art from students of Shetland College – fabrics on a maritime theme – which was much admired by the international delegates.

Traditional boat building techniques were also on show from the axe wielding Norwegian Halgeirr Bjørnevik and many people from the community came to Islesburgh specially to watch him.

Shetland is an outstanding venue, having both the people and resources to host international conferences. Shetland Amenity Trust’s highly successful hosting of the 17th Viking Congress last year is another case in point.

The conference presentations were recorded and will be made available soon for everyone to enjoy via the Centre for Nordic Studies webpage www.nordic.uhi.ac.uk. The proceedings will also be published in due course.

Dr Andrew Jennings
(Lecturer at the Centre for Nordic Studies)