Irish Nobility c.1576 English woodcut (Derricke)
"No mounted man at arms, however good his horse, can ride so fast they cannot catch him."
.for previously they had felt well enough dressed in an Irish cloak; and they rode a kind of saddle used for pack-horses, without stirrups. It was only with great difficulty that I got them to ride on the kind of saddles we have."
the Irish held their own knighting ceremony for boys as young as seven.
"The young aspirant has to joust with light lances, such as he can easily hold, against a shield set up in a meadow on a post. The more lances he breaks, the greater the honor for him."
1399. Creton describes a meeting which took place between Art MacMurrough and Thomas, Earl of Gloucestor.
"Between two woods, at some distance from the sea, I beheld Macmore [sic] and a body of the Irish, more than I can number, descend the mountain. He had a horse without housing or saddle, which were was so fine and good that it had cost him, they said, four hundred cows; for there is little money in the country, wherefore their usual traffic is only cattle. In coming down it galloped so hard that, in my opinion, I never in all my life saw hare, deer, sheep or any other animal, I declare to you for a certainty, run with such speed as it did. In his hand he bore a great long dart, which he cast with much skill."
He was a fine, large handsome man, marvellously agile, yet stern of countenance indomitable mien. He wore a high conical cap covering the nape of the neck and parti coloured cloak, long coat and undercoat of gay yellow, crimson and blue. He rode a very swift horse of great value, four hundred milch cows, with neither saddle nor house? but could rush down a hill faster than hare or deer. Fter various discourse Art told my Lord "I am rightful King in this land, thereby it is unjust to deprive me of what is my land and country by force of conquest. He bid the King withdraw from what he claimed be his realm.
Sir john Froissart
they would cause their minstrels, varlets and servants to sit with them and eat in their own dishes, and to drink of their cups, and they showed me that the usage of their country was good for they saiid that in all things they worked and lived as common ,men
(he goes on the fourth day to split them into three tables with which they were displeased and would not eat)
Áire The Nobles
One Anglo-Irish squire who had participated in Richard II's first expedition described the frustrations of Irish warfare to the French chronicler Jean Froissart as follows:
...Ireland is one of the worst countries to make war in, or to conquer; for there are such impenetrable and extensive forests, lakes, and bogs, there is no knowing how to pass them, and carry on war advantageously. It is so thinly inhabited that, whenever the Irish please, they desert the towns and take refuge in the forests, and live in huts made of boughs, like wild beasts; and whenever they perceive any parties advancing with hostile dispositions, and about to enter their country, they fly to such narrow passes, it is impossible to follow them. When they find a favorable opportunity to attack their enemies to advantage, which frequently happens, from their knowledge of the country, they fail not to seize it. (4)
around 1375. Barbour describes how, on the eve of the Battle of Faughart, Edward Bruce's Irish allies tried to dissuade him from fighting until nearby reinforcements had arrived. When Edward rejected their advice, the Irish 'kings' warned him that they were not willing to participate "...for our tactics are those of this land, to pursue and fight, and to fight while retreating, and not to stand in open battle until one side is defeated."
In Irish aristocratic society the martial tradition of the nobility was paramount. As the Elizabethan Englishman Fynes Moryson reported "they bewail those that die in battle, but they think this death the happiest", an attitude that, if we believe him, is a sure sign of a warrior culture.
The poets sang of the exploits of a peoples ancestors going back more than a thousand years.
Described by the adventurous knight De Perellos as like Saracens in weapons, dress, manner of riding horses.
The warriors hair may be braided in this picture.
We can see the grades of rank rising from left to right
Irish nobility fought mainly on horseback and were excellent horsemen.
When arrayed for war bright colours, flags with wolves and dragons armies were organised at tuath level where each tuath retained a number of horsemen and kern and equipped including the kings personal bodyguard, which it was said should be made of men who owe their freedom to the king.
Called buidhean an army was organised into units of three and nine. A sparre consited of 80 heavy galloglass each with two kern to carry equipment but they also fight as a unit with galloglas front to the enemy and the faster kern to the right and left rear of the warrior to cover his back.
the pointed cap
Horses and Chariots
Horse warriors since the Bronze Age chariots the name Cairbre means the charioteer
each maintained a string of horses the horses were small and fast, effective in the terrain of Ireland with its forests, mountains and bogs.
used withe gead or hobbles of twisted straw to restrict horses movement while grazing
horse was mounted at a leap, no stirrups being used, those who used them were laughed at.
The Irish horseman rode on a pad or saddle cloth often beautifully decorated with a girth strap and rear strap decorated with tassles. Very similar to modern Berber Amazigh horsemen.
horses were equipped with bit and bridle.
Armour when worn was chosen for lightness, the primary concern being speed and manuevrability rather than weight or shock. Initially wore no armour but relied entirely on speed.
Shield slung from the shoulder leather on a wooden frame, circular slung and worn to the front when advancing and over the back when retreating.
corselet of padded cotton,
his variant is usually referred to as padded jack and made of several (some say around 18, some even 30 layers of cotton, linen or wool. These jacks were renowned to stop even heavy arrow and their design of multiple layers bears a striking resemblance to modern day body armour which substituted at first silk, ballistic nylon and later Kevlar as fabric.
Occasionally chain mail, or more commonly laminar (scale armour) of iron squares or studs sewn into leather.
Helmet of often with a feather headdress
Spear carried when at rest point down (the English carried lances point upwards) spear was used over arm (European lance underarm). Often used backwards, the rider turning to strike over the rear of the horse.
sword described by De Perellos as Saracen or Genoese in type slung to the left hip sometimes with slightly flared blade
javelins or Irish darts sometimes flighted 2 or 3 feet long and cast with great accuracy it seems using a twisted thong as a spear thrower.
no heavy equipment like maps tables cases were necessary All functions were carried out by the poets who retained detailed mental maps of the entire country tuath by tuath. interrogation of prisoners as well as genealogical knowledge to ascertain identity
Tracking they were taught to track the path of cattle and follow
Nobles as Commanders
The logic of Irish tactics in warfare is generally the opposite to what we might term classical European traditional military orthodoxy. Taking and holding positions in the open landscape of Ireland, without towns, made little sense and so Irish battles tended to be ones of motion, running battles, often of pursuer and pursued, sometimes over great distances.
are what would be classed on the continent as light cavalry would try to gain advantage or else fly.
particularly effective fighting backward much experience in covering the rear of cattle raids. This was the position of honour.
masters of Ambush and counter ambush many victories from routing an overconfident pursuer.
at speed as in Gerald of Wales witness an ambush on a heavily armoured Norman knight leg severed by axe on a narrowpath in which heavy horse was vulnerable
It has often been claimed that this put the Irish horse at a disadvantage against their English enemies did not wait to recieve the charge but preferred the ability to go with it by leaping from the horse.
Psychological warfare, silence, noise
Logistics and Supply
The caoruigheacht or moving herds of cattle were used to resupply Irish field armies would be sent by different route to the army often over the high ground, but rendez vous at a specified point highly mobile cattle would be bled but not killed.
trains of garrans or pack ponies were used to carry supplies wheeled transport was not generally used the roads being designed for caravans of pack animals rather than carts.
Use of terrain
Mountains and route
deliberate use of forest for defence plashing of trees to create fences and
camouflage of buildings with hedges planted on the banks
the hidden fortresses and castles purposefully hidden
Crannogs and hidden causeways
Passes or narrows and fords
Hurling: A Martial Art
Warriors grew up playing hurling, an ancient military training game, the style of fighting relies on speed of attack, agility and surprise.
There may be a clue in an ancient law concerning childs toys, these mention the time period in which childrens toys must be replaced. Hoops, balls and sticks. In the great literature Cuchulain the hero of Ulster kills his masters dog with a sliotar a hurling ball.
An Irish messenger carries a heralds staff in a
woodcut from the 1570's.
types of warriors
The rest of Critan in Noendruim, and of Aodh the Black, abbot of Kildare, at first king of Leinster.
Extract from "The War of the Irish and the Foreigners", 13th Century.
"Above their heads, spears glittering, well riveted, em-poisoned, with well-shaped, heroic, beautiful handles of white hazel ; terrible sharp darts with variegated silken strings; thick set with bright, dazzling, shining nails,to be violently cast at the heroes of valour and bravery.
They had on them also, long, glossy, convenient, handsome, white, neat, well-adjusted, graceful shirts. They had on them also, beautiful, many-coloured, well-fitting, hand-some, well-shaped, well-adjusted, enfolding tunics, over comfortable long vests.
They had with them also warlike, bright, beautiful, variegated shields, with bosses of brass, and elegant chains of bronze, at tlie sides of their noble, accomphshed, sweet, courteous, eloquent clansmen.
They had on them also, crested golden helmets, set with sparkling transparent brilliant gems and precious stones, on the heads of chiefs and royal knights. They had with them also, shining, powerful, strong, graceful, sharp, glaring, bright, broad, well-set Lochlann axes, in the hands of chiefs and leaders, and heroes, and brave knights, for cutting and maiming the close well-fastened coats of mail.
They had with them, steel, strong, piercing, graceful, ornamental, smooth, shaip-pointed, right-sided, keen, clean, azure, glittering, flashing, brilliant, handsome,straight, well-tempered, quick, sharp swords, in the beautiful white hands of chiefs and royal knights, for hewing and for hacking, for maiming and mutilating skins, and bodies, and skulls.
Mottoes of the Fianna
They are based on historical bands of landless young men in early medieval Ireland.
Grades of Warrior