Patric Salo’s blacksmith teacher, Eric O’Neill, presents Jenny Gilleecewith the special viking hammer he made using Patric’s ashes Picture: Dave Gaynor
A LIMERICK woman has fulfilled her late boyfriend’s wishes by commemorating him with a “magical” Viking funeral at Lough Derg.
Patric Salo, aged 35, who resided in the city centre, died on December 6 during his recovery from colorectal cancer at University Hospital Limerick.
In his will, written before his untimely passing, the Swedish-born IT engineer wanted to have an official Viking funeral in his memory — arguably the first of its kind in the region since the 11th century.
After carrying out his final wish on April 30, his girlfriend of five years, Jenny Gilleece said: “Everything about it was unusual, but it all worked out brilliantly and it was absolutely magical.”
From a private harbour in Lough Derg, a score of loved ones gathered to watch the flames rise in a longboat urn, in memory of their dear friend who had passed away before Christmas.
This ancient Viking ritual — arguably the first of its kind in the region since the 11th century — was Patric Salo’s wish when he wrote his will before he died.
On December 6, Patric died from a pulmonary embolism during his recovery from colorectal cancer.
After he passed away, his girlfriend Jenny Gilleece’s wish was for his ashes to be forged into a real Viking weapon.
And through her dedication, and the dexterity of Patric's blacksmith teacher, Eric O’Neill, the 35-year-old had become immortalised in a uniquely made Viking hammer.
When the couple first met in London in 2012, it was clear that Patric, a Swedish-born IT infrastructure engineer, was an avid fan of old Scandinavian culture, 28-year-old Jenny says.
“He was obsessed with Vikings and Viking culture. He was from Sweden, so it was part of his heritage. When we started dating, he would just go Viking this, Viking that.”
Jenny from North Circular Road says that he enjoyed watching, with a critical eye, the likes of the Viking television series and Viking-related documentaries.
When Patric was being interviewed for a London-based job with Viagogo in 2014, it was a moment of serendipity, as the role entailed looking after its Limerick base.
“It was Patric who brought me back home,” she says, and soon thereafter, the young couple resettled in the city centre.
Jenny says that she is grateful that Patric came to live in Limerick, as elsewhere, he may not have received the same level of medical treatment after his diagnosis.
Patric was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in June 2016, and one month later he was to be the first patient with the new €2.6m Da Vinci surgical robot, at University Hospital Limerick.
Being an IT expert, Patric was “delighted and excited” to be part of local medical history, and even started doing his own research on the software of the robot.
After Patric was discharged a short time after the successful surgery, he commenced his road to recovery undergoing chemotherapy, during which he built a special relationship with his “amazing” consultant surgeon, Prof Calvin Coffey.
But in early December, Patric was brought to UHL for a routine check with what he thought was a chest infection.
“It’s not unusual for someone doing chemo to get a cold, and what they do, as a precaution, is have them stay overnight,” she explains. “He was having chemo in the depths of winter, so we brought him into the hospital as a routine, he was there all day, he was tested for everything.”
Patric died the following morning as a result of blood-clotting in the lungs, and his sudden death came as a tremendous shock to his partner, family, friends, and the medical community.
After the cremation on December 8, Patric’s ashes were divided between his family in Karlstad, Sweden, and his loving girlfriend.
She didn’t forget the will.
“We had actually written wills before he died,” she tells the Leader, “just as a practice exercise. And he had written in that he wanted a Viking funeral, and the solicitor was like: ‘This is a real document — a real legal document, you know that?’ And Patric goes: ‘Yep!’”
And so she set the funeral date for Sunday, April 30.
Jenny chose to hold the special ceremony at a private harbour in Garrykennedy, north of Killaloe-Ballina, on the lands of Larkin’s Pub, who hosted the guests afterwards.
“And planning that ceremony, I think it was everyone’s first time, including my own. And they were like: ‘What? You want to burn ashes on a river? In a little boat?’ And I was like ‘Yup’,” she laughs.
The funeral comprised placing the ashes in the metre-long boat, setting it alight, and watching the flaming vessel drift softly along, before it becomes one with the lake. Traditionally, Vikings had their weapons on the longboats. So, in the absence of a weapon, Jenny placed a Swedish Kex chocolate bar on the tiny deck.
“Everything about it was unusual, but it all worked out brilliantly and it was absolutely magical.”
Even Griffin’s Funeral Homes, who assisted her and the Salo family, were so impressed with the ceremony, that they may consider it as an option for future clients, she adds.
After the ceremony, Jenny then approached Eric O’Neill, who was one of Patric’s top blacksmith students in the Limerick College of Further Education, in Cappamore.
Nervous, when she asked him to use Patric’s ashes to create a viking weapon, Eric simply replied: “I just need two tablespoons of ashes.” Just like a recipe book, Jenny says.
A talented craftsman of many trades including photography, Jenny says that “when Patric touched anything, it turned to gold”. She says that he loved forging so much that he offered to help Eric in his Thomas Street workshop for Culture Night — two months into chemotherapy.
“The reasons why Vikings conquered the world was because of their navigation, the ships they built, and also their knowledge of metallurgy,” Eric explains. “They were pretty up there with warfare at the time, and their smiths’ knowledge was big part of that.”
Before he began this task, he took some of Patric’s ashes out of the bag and sprinkled it around the forge. “I smiled, and I then 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.”
In order for Eric to forge an authentic Swedish cross pein hammer, he had to apply ancient Viking methods to the process. This, he illustrates, meant creating the Damascus ‘super steel’, where layers of different metals are forged in a fire and welded together. Sand is then used to prevent oxygen from interfering with the welding.
“And having done that a couple of times, I knew that I could incorporate Patric’s ashes, and use his physical ashes as a barrier to oxygen, to combine these steels.”
The main body of the weapon is a 300-year-old piece of iron, a gift from rugby legend John Hayes, after Eric crafted for him a monumental bench in the heart of the village in 2015.
Eric didn’t stop at the hammerhead; he turned to the Norse runic alphabet to spell out Patric’s name on the handle. He then meticulously finished with a copper flame at the base of the weapon, and scorched the handle in order to highlight its metallic shine.
“As a craftsman, you’re the hardest judge on yourself, but I was pretty happy with it. I then sent an image of it to Jenny, and immediately she was just blown away by it,” he says delightedly.
Remarking on the runic design, an emotional Jenny, who held it for the first time last Saturday, says: “It was really, really sweet, and I didn’t request for that. I thought I would be getting a very simple hammer, and he went completely above and beyond. It was absolutely lovely, and I was just lost for words.”
Before immortalising her boyfriend of five years in a super steel Viking weapon, Jenny had placed some of Patric’s ashes in a teardrop shaped urn necklace, bearing the face of a wolf – his favourite animal.
“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.”
Now, she says she is considering displaying the ornament in the house “so that people may visit him whenever they want”.
Still, she says, it is hard to believe that Patric is gone. “I miss him more everyday.”
In September, Jenny raised €1,000 in aid of the Irish Cancer Society by hosting a game of binocular soccer, as part of the Today FM Dare to Care initiative. And inspired by Patric’s world-class cancer treatment at UHL, Jenny says she is determined to help the charity’s cause in the future.
As for the blacksmith, whose countryside workshop is blessed with the ashes and memories of his late student, he says: “From now on, anything I forge in that fire, he will get to see it all. And I know he will enjoy that.”