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William Jordan Harmon




Location: Idaho, USA
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PostPosted: Fri 20 Apr, 2012 4:24 pm    Post subject: Irish POV in Warfare         Reply with quote

Hello Everyone,

I am relatively new to this forum. I hover a lot but don't tend to write much.I just finished reading The Irish Wars 1485–1603 and Galloglass 1250–1600(both from osprey) and all the descriptions of the Irish were from English historians and I was just wondering if there are any descriptions of how the Irish fought, their equipment and mentality from Irish historians? and also just wondering if the Kern ever did fight in pitched battles?

Thank you very much for any help Happy

Sincerely,
William Harmon

Never retreat from the Clash of spears-
4th Regiment Irish Brigade
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Christopher Lee




Location: Sunshine Coast, Australia
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PostPosted: Fri 20 Apr, 2012 10:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are a number of Irish annals and histories but they are no more useful than perhaps any other contemporary European texts in that they list impossibly high casualties for battles involving impossibly large numbers, the locations of battles are poorly defined or not defined at all and more often than not actual military details are left out in favour of poetic license and heroic clichés. Most of what is known about the Irish way or war and their equipment comes from the English. I think that this was perhaps because the Irish way or war was somewhat different from their own and that they were on the receiving end of the Irish tactics and weapons. For example, most of what is known about the gallóglaigh comes from the English sources and one rather nice illustration by Durer. The Book of the MacSweeneys is a history of the first clan of gallóglaigh but doesn’t really tell you about their weapons or tactics, but details instead the histories of the clan heads, the successions, the intrigues and personal exploits of the great. When it does cover battles it does so in the heroic tradition without a concerning itself with facts necessarily. I’m aware that these are sweeping statements and generalisations but I don’t really want to write a fully referenced paper here - going for ‘quick and dirty’.

As for the kern they started out as the native Irish war bands that carried out the cattle raids and cross border skirmishes. If they encountered a rival war band then it is entirely likely that they did engage in a pitched battle with them, but it would have been two groups of relative equals. However the kerns were unable to face the Norman and Anglo-Irish cavalry so their role would have to have changed. With the rise of the gallóglaigh in the early 14thC there arrived on the battlefield heavy infantry who could face the English and Anglo-Irish cavalry. The kern were used as skirmishers and hit and run raiders. In the wars of the 16th and 17th centuries the role of the kern remained that of hit and run raider and ambusher. It depends upon your idea of taking part in a pitched battle - they took part in the battles of the Yellow Ford, Curliue Pass, Moyrey Pass and Clontibert but by then they had adopted firearms. They acted as skirmishers and took part in ambushes upon the strung out marching English columns, hitting hard and fast and then escaping into the forests and bogs. Their role in harrying the English was crucial in wearing down their morale and inflicting casualties. By the time of Hugh O’Neill the Irish had “drawn the greatest part of their kern to be musketeers, and their galloglass pikes, they want no furniture either of muskets, fowling pieces, calivers, swords, powder or shot.”
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William Jordan Harmon




Location: Idaho, USA
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PostPosted: Sat 21 Apr, 2012 10:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you very much Christopher, that answers alot of my questions. So the Irish annals then, because of their inaccuracies, are probably not to be as trusted as the English ones?
Never retreat from the Clash of spears-
4th Regiment Irish Brigade
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Christopher Lee




Location: Sunshine Coast, Australia
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PostPosted: Sun 22 Apr, 2012 2:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Perhaps “not to be trusted” is a little harsh because I think that the Irish annals and histories suffer from exactly the same problems that so many other historical annals of the time exhibit; the exaggeration, the ill-defined locations, and so on; I don‘t think that the English, French, Scottish histories of the same era would have perhaps been much better - accounts of battle written years or sometimes decades after the event, accounts written based upon second hand stories or sometimes outright fiction that served the ends of the author. The notion of history as an objective and accurate accounting of events was yet to be fully developed.

Where the English sources are better (I think anyway) is for the later Irish wars, the 16th and 17th centuries. Because the English viewed the gallóglaigh as somewhat exotic and unusual (compared to English fighting men anyway) the writers of the time took note of them and their weapons and armour. I think that the same can also be said of the Irish style of fighting - because the English really disliked the hit and run, ambush tactics of the Irish they wrote a lot about it - usually in disparaging terms. I suppose its somewhat like modern, conventional, military attitudes to insurgent tactics and the frustration that the enemy won’t just stand and fight. So much modern ink has been wasted on this very problem so I think that it is somewhat analogous to the English attitude to the Irish way of war. However, when the Irish did stand and fight in the “English manner” they usually came off second best, so its probably understandable that there really wasn’t that many major pitched battles throughout the centuries of conflict in Ireland. Once again, several generalities in the above post coupled with some sweeping statements, though I hope nothing that is actually outright factually incorrect.
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William Jordan Harmon




Location: Idaho, USA
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PostPosted: Sun 22 Apr, 2012 9:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Christopher, So instead of describing history as we would today(with facts) they kinda wrote their history in a more heroic Cu Cuchulain like way?
And so since the Irish way of fighting and the gallóglaigh were different then what the English were used to they documented it. But, since the Irish were used to it they didnt describe it(or at least as much)?
Also are there and accounts of pitched battles between two armies of irish?
Sorry dont mean to be asking too many questions here.

Never retreat from the Clash of spears-
4th Regiment Irish Brigade
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Christopher Lee




Location: Sunshine Coast, Australia
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PostPosted: Mon 23 Apr, 2012 5:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I haven't read all the various annals and texts, just a selection as i've been researching stuff - but for example, the book of the MacSweeneys has magic mists, fairy women, prophecies and sea monsters. Another interesting aspect of the book is that the family rewrote history to suit its own ends:

"Then there arose dispute and war between them, so that the King of Scotland collected great, numerous hosts, and immense, select troops, and the noblemen of his family, and his great household, and it was proclaimed by him that Murchadh Mear should accept battle, or depart out of Scotland. When Murchadh Mear heard that, he gathered all his followers in Scotland, and each assailed the other swiftly and stoutly, and with fierceness and violence. Then on bones there was many a sword's rattle, and many a crash of maimed limbs, and bodies wounded, and eyes left sightless. Mothers were bereft of sons, and wives of husbands, and on either side it were impossible to describe or enumerate the slain. Sruibhshhabh in Scotland is the name of the place where that battle was fought….As for the opposing armies just described, they continued to destroy and slaughter each other, and the end of the engagement was that the King of Scotland was defeated, and his people slain in great numbers. And that, so far, is the Battle of Smibhshliabh.

As for Murchadh Mear, after the battle of Smibhshliabh he proposed setting out to avenge his brethren and kinsfolk in Ireland. He collected a great splendid fleet, and he and his followers launched their immense capacious ships, and their long surpassing-swift galleys, and their beautiful easily-managed boats, on the surface of the expansive deep, and on the high storm-swept sea, and on the blue-horizoned limitless abyss. They rowed with might and main, and they rested not until they reached the calm beautiful haven of Swilly. They sent out scouting parties in all the districts on every side of them, and they slew their kings and princes and lords, so that their nobles all perished, and their hostages were taken by Murchadh Mear and his son, Murchadh Og. These were the territories first conquered by Murchadh Mear in Ireland, namely, the middle third of Inis Eoghain, and Fanad, and Ros GuiU, and O Maolgaoithe's tuath, and the two tuaths of Tír Baghuine. And on these lands he distributed his family and his people, and they have occupied ever since all that conquest, save only the middle third of Inis Eoghain.
"


The Battle of Smibhshliabh has been identified as the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297) which was most emphatically not a defeat for the Scottish - also the king of Scotland wasn't actually at the battle (John Baliol had been in English custody since the previous year and had been obliged to abdicate). The rewritten history was probably to disguise the fact that the MacSweens took the English side in the Scottish War of Independence and as a result Robert Bruce deprived them of their ancestral lands and castle at Knapdale obliging them to seek shelter in Ireland and carve out new lands where they became the rootstock for the MacSweeney Galloglaigh.

On a totally different note, i found an interesting passage in the Book of the MacSweeneys:
These were the names this Eoin had, namely, Eoin na Láimhe Maithe, “Eoin of the Good Hand”, Eoin na nlngnadh, “Eoin of the Wonders”, and An Ridere Buidhe, “The Yellow Knight”. He was a noble wondrous man who travelled many lands in all the world because of his greatness, his deeds and his exploits. For no sword or weapon ever drew blood of him. He always carried two swords, and with equal dexterity he smote every opponent. He made three portions of everyone he hit, and he was the last man in Ireland and in Scotland who employed two swords as with two right hands.

The timeframe would have been about the 1280's to early 1300's if I’m not getting my Eoin's mixed up (there were a lot of Eoin's). But I have digressed.....

I think that you're right; the Irish would probably not have described their way of war as thoroughly as perhaps the English who were attempting to adapt to the unfamiliar military situation which confronted them. I suppose that its analogous to the amount of text dedicated to Afghan insurgent tactics by American writers and commentators versus the amount written within Afghanistan itself, by Afghan writers and commentators - not as much I suspect.

As for battles between Irish armies, this is a little interesting. The problem is that essentially for most of its early history Ireland was not a single kingdom, let alone a nation. The island was made up of several large kingdoms which were more or less constantly at war with one another throughout the 9thC and 10thC. The vast majority of the combatants involved in these wars were native Irish and there are numerous accounts of battles between the opposing kingdoms. But the Irish kings were certainly not above employing Viking mercenaries if they thought that it would give them an edge over their neighbours. For example, the famous Battle of Clontarf has been characterised as Brian Boru triumphing over the Dublin Vikings, but the reality was that the majority of the army that opposed Brian Boru was made up of the forces of the King of Leinster, reinforced by the Dublin Vikings and the mercenary Viking forces from the Orkneys and the Isle of Man. Brian’s forces consisted of those drawn from the Kingdom of Munster as well as Viking mercenaries from Limerick.

Interestingly, despite the formidable reputation of the Vikings as a fighting force they seemed to be consistently on a loosing streak when they fought in Ireland. While their raids were successful, whenever the native Irish forces had time to muster and met them in pitched battle, the majority of the time, the Vikings were defeated. I haven’t seen any discussion about why this may have been the case. In contrast to England, where the Vikings carved out huge territories and claimed kingdoms for themselves, in Ireland the Vikings were confined to a few fortified ports such as Dublin, Limerick, Waterford and Wexford – they were never able to conquer large territories.

Anyway, I think that’s enough from me for the moment…
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Apr, 2012 7:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Christopher,

Some very interesting information. I have to admit my understanding of Irish Warfare tends to be drawn from English sources. I will certainly have to have a look at the Book of the MacSweeneys. I am familiar with the men forced from Scotland to Ireland but it sounds like it is full of some interesting accounts.

The account about using two hands as if they were both right hands is interesting as well.

RPM
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Christopher Lee




Location: Sunshine Coast, Australia
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PostPosted: Mon 23 Apr, 2012 7:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
The account about using two hands as if they were both right hands is interesting as well.


Yes, I found that interesting as well as there are seemingly not many accounts of ambidextrous swordsmen.

I could well imagine, given the time period, location and the Hiberno-Norse influences in the MacSweeneys that the swords that he could have used would perhaps have been similar to the Albion Caithness? Of course, only wild and utterly unfounded speculation on my part. Anyone who has a couple Caithness laying around, give it a try and see how it works for you and let us know if you can cut your opponents into three easy pieces Wink

Given that the person in question is supposed to have lived in the 1280's to early 1300's it is an interesting image and one that we more often think of as belonging in a fantasy novel or manga. Hmm, now there's an idea.....

Also I wonder if the "Yellow Knight" reference refers to the saffron dyed tunics which were a feature of Irish fashion?
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William Jordan Harmon




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PostPosted: Sat 05 May, 2012 7:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sorry it took so long for me to reply. That info about stirling bridge is quite interesting. thats some interesting family history lol. Is there any other evidence of irish families rewriting history like that? thanks very much christopher are there any other good books besides osprey that talk ab out irish warfare?
Never retreat from the Clash of spears-
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Len Parker





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PostPosted: Mon 07 May, 2012 11:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here's Froissart's tale of Squire Henry Castide who was held prisoner in Ireland for seven years http://www.nipissingu.ca/department/history/m...reland.htm
Lots of interesting tidbits here: boys being made knights at seven, their training (which Henry calls childish), and also the lack of saddles and stirrups in the 14th century is surprising. Even the ancient celts of Britain and Gaul used them.
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Christopher Lee




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PostPosted: Mon 07 May, 2012 2:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've not seen any other revised versions of Irish family histories, but as i mentioned, i've not yet read a fraction of the available sources, merely dipped into a few.

As for books, there are, as you mention, the two Osprey books - they're alright and a good place to start; aside from that there is "Irish Battles - A Military History of Ireland" by G A Hayes-McCoy (This is out of print now); but it depends upon what era of warfare as well - the wars in pre-norman Ireland, the battles of the Norman invasion, the various english invasions of Ireland, the god awful invasion by Edward and Robert Bruce, the wars between the Irish and Anglo-Irish nobles with/against/for the english crown, the Earl of Tyrone's rebellion and the 9 years war, the english civil war in Ireland, and so on (and on).

Len, the way i read that passage about boys being made 'knights' at age 6 wasn't that the training wasn't childish, but that the process, the bestowing of the title was childish or immature in the eyes of the commontator, that the english do it differently by wrapping it in a religious service:

"and the young knight begins to learn to tilt with a light lance against a shield fixed to a post in a field, and the more lances he breaks the more honour he acquires. 'By this method,' added they, 'are our young knights trained, more especially kings' sons.' Although I asked this, I was before well acquainted with the manner of educating their children to arms. : made no further reply than by saying, this kind of childish knighthood would not satisfy the king of England, and that he would create them in another mode. They asked, 'In what manner?' 'In church, with most solemn ceremonies;' and I believe they paid attention to what I said. "

I think the Irish version of knighthood is a little bit more pragmatic - fewer ceremonies, more breaking of lances.

As for stirrups, the Irish still weren't using them well into the 1600's. Irish cavalry acted as a hit and run skirmishing and ambushing force that avoided combat with other heavier cavalry - there was no equivalent of the armoured english or norman knight - so in that respect they didn't really need stirrups. The lighter Irish horses and riders could escape into the forests, hills and bogs if they were pressed by cavalry. So the training mentioned above would be unlikely to be for a 'knight' in the armoured english knight sense, but more of a light cavalry type role. Also the Irish have an ancient tradition of being consumate bareback horsemen, still do; saw a doco on Dublin just recently and in the lower socio-economic housing estates in the outer suburbs the kids and teenagers ride their horses bareback from an early age through the streets and wastelands and even bring them into the building foyers at night to keep them safe.
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Ryan S.





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PostPosted: Mon 07 May, 2012 4:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think it is also important to note, that the Irish knew how they fought, so they weren't concerned with describing it.

Also, I think most armies avoided pitched battle, they were very risky and if you were just stealing cows why bother. The idea of raiding is to attack and leave before your enemy responds. Pitched battles however are often necessary for wars of conquest, there the goal is to actually defeat your opponent.
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Kurt Scholz





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PostPosted: Tue 08 May, 2012 12:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Scottish and the Welsh had a similar military heritage due to a shared military influence from the Irish Dark Age invasions and Norman/Viking settlers. Why did the Scots unlike the Welsh and the Irish develop methods for much more success in pitched battle?

Could it be that the Irish way of war was raiding and for this reason their idea of pitched battle might have been unusual so to say that they were better able to catch other raiders on the wrong foot. The Vikings in my opinion were just as well raiders with good maritime mobility, fortified bases on land and a solid regular combat concept. But how did these "regular" combats - battles develop? If it's rather a mix between regular and irregular then the better raider and counterraider on land might win - the Irish (who just lacked the outstanding ships to become as well known as the Vikings).
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Fri 11 May, 2012 4:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kurt Scholz wrote:
The Scottish and the Welsh had a similar military heritage due to a shared military influence from the Irish Dark Age invasions and Norman/Viking settlers. Why did the Scots unlike the Welsh and the Irish develop methods for much more success in pitched battle?


Not really. The major Scottish successes against non-Scottish forces at Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn were exceptions rather than the rule once we take a look at the bigger picture. After Robert the Bruce established his ascendance with his victory at Bannockburn, most Scottish campaigns returned to the age-old pattern of raiding expeditions into Northern England, though the expeditions were perhaps somewhat larger and better organised than before. And then remember that the Scots lost most of their battles against the English throughout the rest of the 14th century.
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