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Monday 22 January 2018

Dying man's 'Viking funeral' wish fulfilled as girlfriend gets ashes forged into hammer

Sent to Valhalla - man's dying wish is fulfilled with magical Viking funeral

Eric O'Neill and Jenny Gilleece with the hammer made from Patric Salo's ashes
Eric O'Neill and Jenny Gilleece with the hammer made from Patric Salo's ashes Newsdesk Newsdesk

A Limerick woman has fulfilled her late boyfriend's final wishes by commemorating him with a "magical" Viking funeral in Lough Derg.

This ancient ritual - believed to be the first of its kind in the region since the 11th century - was Patric Salo's final wish before his sudden death in December.

The metre-long boat which was set alight
The metre-long boat which was set alight

Mr Salo died from a pulmonary embolism during his recovery from colorectal cancer last year. His girlfriend Jenny Gilleece (28) ensured that the special funeral took place and that his ashes be forged into a real Viking weapon.

She asked Mr Salo's blacksmith teacher Eric O'Neill to make a "super steel" Viking hammer, using ancient forging methods mastered by the Scandinavians.

The couple first met in London in 2012, and moved to Limerick city in 2014, after her Swedish-born boyfriend was offered an IT engineering job with Viagogo.

In June 2016, Mr Salo (35) was diagnosed with cancer, but managed to tackle it early. He was the first ever colorectal surgery patient under the Da Vinci surgical robot at University Hospital Limerick and after being discharged began undergoing chemotherapy.

The couple together
The couple together

Ms Gilleece said he was passionate about blacksmithing and even participated in a workshop with his mentor Mr O'Neill on Culture Night, two months into chemotherapy.

But in early December, Mr Salo was brought to UHL for a routine check with a suspected chest infection.

He died the following morning as a result of blood-clotting in the lungs.

His sudden death came as a tremendous shock to his partner, family, and friends.

After his death, Ms Gilleece began arranging the special Viking funeral. On April 30, more than 30 family and friends gathered for the ceremony at a private harbour north of Ballina, Co Tipperary.

The funeral began with Mr Salo's ashes being placed in a metre-long boat. The boat was set alight, and then the flaming vessel was launched into the water, before it became one with the lake.

Traditionally, Vikings burned their weapons on the longboats but in the absence of a weapon, Ms Gilleece placed a Swedish Kex chocolate bar on the tiny deck.

Griffin's Funeral Homes, who assisted her and the Salo family, were so impressed with the ceremony that they are now considering offering it to other mourners.

After the burning of the funeral pyre came the forging of the weapon - Ms Gilleece's final tribute.

She said when they met five years ago, it was clear that the Karlstad native was obsessed with Viking culture. "He was from Sweden, so it was part of his heritage," she said.

Before Mr O'Neill started making the weapon, he sprinkled some of Mr Salo's ashes around his forge in Cappamore, Co Limerick.

"I smiled, and I said: 'Welcome to my forge, Patric. As a student, you're going to learn a lot over the next few hours.' And I just had a little chat with him, and that made me pretty relaxed."

Mr O'Neill forged an authentic Swedish cross pein hammer, the main body of which was a 300-year-old piece of iron which was a gift from rugby legend John Hayes in 2015. He created it using the ancient damascus method, which involves welding different metals together, and using the ashes - or sand - to act as an oxygen-barrier. He spelled Mr Salo's name using the Norse runic alphabet, finishing with a copper flame at the base of the weapon.

"As a craftsman, you're the hardest judge on yourself, but I was pretty happy with it. I sent an image of it to Jenny, and immediately she was just blown away by it," he said.

Ms Gilleece, who held the weapon for the first time last Saturday, said: "I was just lost for words. Usually what happens with ashes is that people put them in urns on the mantlepiece.

"And to be honest, Patric sitting up on a mantle didn't seem very Patric to me. He would get bored very quickly. I kind of had to go with my instincts, and this was Patric guiding me. I miss him more every day."

Inspired by his cancer treatment at UHL, she is determined to help the Irish Cancer Society in the future.

As for the blacksmith, whose workshop is blessed with the ashes of his late student, he said: "From now on, anything I forge in that fire, he will get to see it all. I know he will enjoy that."

Irish Independent

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