Albion Armorers Next Generation Gallowglass Sword
A hands-on review by Greg Griggs
From the mid 13th century through the late 16th century elite warriors born in the Western Isles and Highlands of Scotland hired out their skills to Irish lords. These soldiers of fortune were known to the Irish as Gallóglaigh, or in our Anglicized modern English: Gallowglass.
The Gallóglaigh were known for their ferocity and for the large weapons they used. We have few plates depicting these warriors, but in virtually every one there is a very prominently "Irish" style of sword shown sporting the now well known ring-pommel. It is also during this specific timeline that Ewart Oakeshott notes the proliferation of the Type XIX blade. Oakeshott describes the Type XIX as having a broad, flat blade that has clearly chamfered edges which run nearly parallel, a fuller that runs through the upper third, and a flat ricasso section at the base of the blade. The blade is of hexagonal cross-section. He goes on to say that a fair number of blades found at the Alexandria Armory must have been made by the same workshop, for the ricassos are defined by neatly engraved grooves on each side, coming to a sort of cusp at the lower end against the deep, narrow fuller, which in turn is inscribed by narrow lines outlining the length of the fuller (Records of the Medieval Sword, pg 197).
It is this marriage of this unique style of blade to a distinctly Irish hilt and pommel which gives us such a beautiful sword: Albion's Gallowglass.
It appears that with the ever-increasing diversity of sword types in its Next Generation lineup, Albion Armorers is attempting to eventually produce every form of blade in Ewart Oakeshott's Typologywith various hilt and pommel combinations. To say that they have done an exceptional job of replicating historical aesthetics, feel, and performance with their blades, would be somewhat of an understatement.
The Gallowglass is just one more truly fine example of Albion's dedication to providing the sword collecting community with accurate historical representations. Although not based upon any particular single historic sword, with an Oakeshott Type XIX blade mated to an Irish ring pommel, Albion's chief designer, Peter Johnsson, has given us an amazingly unique visual example and feel of the 14th-16th centuries.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
The Gallowglass is the first of a full array of Type XIX blades Albion plans on producing, in both longsword and single-handed forms. With a 37 3/8" blade attached to a 10" grip and pommel, this one definitely meets the criteria for longsword styling. Yet, with a weight of only 2.6 pounds, it is light and agile and quite easy to use single-handed, unlike many typical longswords.
The most surprising part during the cutting routine wasn't the fact of how well the tip tracked, combined with the complete control available, but how well controlled it was when used single-handed. In fact, single-handed cuts, when done properly, were smooth, effortless, and an absolute joy. When held in a two-handed grip, it was found that the sword's grip was long enough so both hands could be placed fully on the grip. The large, round pommel could be rested comfortably in the palm for better fulcrum placement, with either grip feeling quite natural. I also noticed that the ricasso made placing the forefinger over the guard very comfortable and allowed for the total control mentioned earlier, especially with a single-handed grip.
A compliment of drills in the style of the Master Johannes Liechtenauer, as described in Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship by Christian Henry Tobler, was performed to get a feel for the speed and mobility of the sword. Guard changes, stances, and combinations all seem to be quite effortless, with the blade moving and stopping at whatever point I wished. As I see it, this is a blade not necessarily meant for the cutting novice, but one which when used with proper technique handles and cuts very nicely, making a mediocre guy seem like a pro.
Fit and Finish
When the box is first opened, this is one of those swords that just makes the jaw drop for its unusual aesthetic appeal. The first thing noticed, of course, is the beautifully done ricasso with its engraved grooves, and the incised lines outlining the narrow, deep, and smoothly ground fuller. The lines are crisp, clean, and extremely well proportioned to the overall dimensions of the blade. The cross piece is a modified Type 6 with a shamrock punched through on each end, and a center point dipping into the ricasso area.
This all leads to the Irish ring pommel which is not quite round, is wider than one would think from the photos on Albion's site, and in conjunction with the rest of the sword, matches perfectly with the styling and theme I believe Peter was trying to give. The blade is six-sided, with a definitive chamfered edge coming off a flat center, which is smoothly finished without scratches or blemishes. The fit of the entire sword is tight and straight. Though it wasn't designed after any particular historical weapon, it is easy to visualize how this sword could fit into a specific category and timeline.
Over the past couple of years, Albion Armorers, with the meticulous designs of Peter Johnsson, has brought sword collectors a new level of production swords, and with continued offeringsespecially with blades like the GallowglassI believe they will only continue to impress a discerning group which has come to expect only the best from this company. In my opinion, the Gallowglass Sword is an impressive design, which combines many distinct parts into a beautiful whole which should be enjoyed by anyone privileged enough to own such a piece of art.
About the Author
Greg Griggs has been running the family gasket manufacturing business in Kansas since 1988. Like most of the people who get involved with this sort of thing, he has had a passion for history since his childhood, with an emphasis on the weapons and armour of the Dark Ages through the Renaissance periods. He is not too proud to admit that he’s learned more about swords and historical use in the past few years than with all the previous 40 years worth of misconceptions.
Records of the Medieval Sword, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship: Sigmund Ringeck's Commentaries on Liechtenauer, by Sigmund Ringeck, Henry Tobler, Johann Liechtenauer
Photographer: Patrick Kelly