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Pedro Paulo Gaião




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PostPosted: Tue 27 Oct, 2015 4:57 pm    Post subject: Warfare in Medieval Wales and Ireland (1100-1450)         Reply with quote

I've been researching a few things about the subject but I didn't find anything very detailed on the military society of the Welshmen and the Irishmen.

The geopolitical isolation of them may have contributed to a 'delay' in terms of evolution of weapons and armor? There was even some chivalric culture in these regions? If they have changed little in relation to their Celtic ancestors, why the normans and the english didn't conquered these kingdoms earlier?

From the few references I found on equipment, information seem to induce that Ireland possessed little or no supply of armor in their island, with most of the heavy infantry is composed of scottish mercenaries wearning mail hauberks or camails with gambersons. Is there any reason for this? If they had knights and noblemen in Ireland, what kind of armor they would use, for example, at 1200, 1300 and 1400 years?

What were the specializations of the Irish and Welsh armies? There was some kind of "elite"?



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Gallowglasses at 16th century
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Tue 27 Oct, 2015 6:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Pedro. I don't know much about medieval Wales, but you might find this link of interest.

http://warfare.altervista.org/WRG/Feudal-48-Welsh_Uchelwyr.htm

As for Ireland. During the centuries that you have asked about, Irish nobles fought as light cavalry, and were known as hobilars. Typically they rode ponies, without the use of stirrups, or proper saddle. Their arms and armour consisted of conical helms, mail, aketons, shields, spears, javelins, swords, and knives.

As to why the Irish continued using this "old fashioned" style of arms and armour even up to the late 16th century. I think it had a lot to do with the terrain. Ireland was not well suited to large pitched battles in the open field, so small hit and run style skermishes was the preferred method of war. When the Normans came to Ireland they brought both heavy cavalry, and large numbers of longbowmen. These two types of troops proofed very effective against the Irish during larger pitched battles. The trouble was that, as I said, Ireland's terrain is not well suited for this kind of warfare, so these battles were few and far between.

Irish cavalrymen didn't need to adopt new advancements in armour because they never intended to face the weapons that these advancements were designed to defend against. For example, the coat of plates original purpose was probably to better protect against the couched lance, Irish ponies were much faster over rough boggy ground than Norman war horses, and so the Irish would simply retreat from a heavy cavalry charge.  Another example is the houndskull visored bascinet.  This type of helm is well designed to protect the wearer while charging into a volley of arrows.  As I said above though Ireland doesn't have very good terrain for heavy cavalry charges, so the Irish were unlikely to need this kind of helm.

Éirinn go Brách
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Kevin P Molloy




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PostPosted: Tue 27 Oct, 2015 7:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Because Ireland was Vietnam and Afghanistan before Vietnam and Afghanistan but the Irish were superior fighters to them since it took 400 years to overcome the Gaels (Remember the Normans were the most advanced military machine in Europe at that time) and then it took another 400 years to get it back, they were never pacified. Those two wars and even the American revolution are lauded as military and tactically superior victories yet they all used tactics perfected by the Irish hundreds of years before (Think costly Quagmire). The Irish also defeated the Vikings more than any other people or nation in Europe. But the Irish get no credit for any of this that I can see. The Irish elite were superbly outfitted to fight in the bogs and woods of the country at that time, that's also why the English and Europeans copied there light cavalry style. So the question should be why is this? I have my opinion but I will not get into that here but I will say I strongly believe many clear cut Irish victories were suppressed pre 15h century since the winner writes the history and you can win many battles and still lose the war (ie Kinsale). I also believe that they destroyed all the native Irish weapons and armor they could in order to pacify the population that is why we only find them in bogs and rivers now.

Now that I got that out of my system you can find much of what you are looking for by using the search program on here. I will add some later since I don't have time tonight to get into details.

Kevin Patrick Molloy
"The Prince of Firceall of the Ancient Sword is O'Molloy of the Freeborn Name"... O'Dugain(d.1372AD)


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Kevin P Molloy




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PostPosted: Tue 27 Oct, 2015 7:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you Stephen I could not have said it better myself. You have learned much padawan! LOL
Kevin Patrick Molloy
"The Prince of Firceall of the Ancient Sword is O'Molloy of the Freeborn Name"... O'Dugain(d.1372AD)
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Wed 28 Oct, 2015 3:07 am    Post subject: Re: Warfare in Medieval Wales and Ireland (1100-1450)         Reply with quote

Pedro Paulo Gaião wrote:
I've been researching a few things about the subject but I didn't find anything very detailed on the military society of the Welshmen and the Irishmen.

The geopolitical isolation of them may have contributed to a 'delay' in terms of evolution of weapons and armor? There was even some chivalric culture in these regions? If they have changed little in relation to their Celtic ancestors, why the normans and the english didn't conquered these kingdoms earlier?



Like the posters above me already said 'necessity is the mother of invention' (or adoption of invention for that matter). Few areas in Europe were so isolated that they were completely cut off from the outside world in terms of technological development, the church and trade links reached quite far.

Wales and Ireland had a different 'state' structure than neighboring England, I'm no expert but you keep hearing about these Clans/Petty Kingdoms which engaged is seasonal low intensity endemic warfare. Perhaps it's telling that one of the folk epics is about a cattle raid Táin Bó Cúailnge: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C3%A1in_B%C3%B3_C%C3%BAailnge

Wales was only conquered by Edward I through the building of Castles. These castles provided a safe base for the English occupiers and could keep the native population in check; a strategy repeated in many colonial conquests. The Dutch and German word for such a castle is Dwangburg/Zwingburg essentially just a fortified position that gives you a Strong Hold over the land and its unruly population.
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Oct, 2015 3:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another thing worth mentioning is that Ireland was not a single kingdom, but many smaller kingdoms. This meant that the Normans never got to face the "king of Ireland" and his army, in one great battle, like what happened to the Anglo Saxons at Hastings.

The native Irish lived in small farming communities, in simply built wood houses. When an invading army marched through the area they would burn the homes and crops of the Irish, but the Irish would have disappeared into the woods and bogs with their cattle, only to come home later and rebuild. This was infuriating to the Normans, who thought this behavior to be sneaky and cowardly, but it makes perfect sense. Why would you openly fight an enemy who is better equipped than you to fight in the open, when you could ambush him during his march through the woods, where you are better equipped to fight than him.

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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Oct, 2015 4:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Also the Normans quickly conquered the Norse settlements in Ireland, I.e. Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford etc. These areas were controlled by the English Crown, but the Norman Earls who took lands for themselves outside of these town had more autonomy, and eventually started to take on Gaelic Irish customs and methods of war. One writer said these Earls, and their people, had become "more Irish than the Irish themselves".. So these Earls must have had to adapt to the local terrain and found that the Irish hit and run tactics were often more useful to them than the tactics which their ancestors used. Of course some of these Hiberno-Norman Lords retained some of their old customs and methods of war, and so became a kind of hybrid.
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Neal Matheson




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Oct, 2015 6:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's just as Stephen said, Anglo Normans largely adapted to the Irish way of doing things, which strongly suggests that the Gaelic way of war was best suited to local conditions rather than a super conservative culture. There was change over time in Gaelic Ireland and Scotland and in both areas there was plenty of contact with mainstream European culture.
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Wed 28 Oct, 2015 11:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Probably worth noting that Ireland used to have large swaths of temperate rainforest (think North west pacific coast of Canada). As a result of the rather damp conditions people walked bare feet well into the 17th century if not longer for practical reasons. Not poverty or culture but practicality.

Quote:
In one dwelling, which we entered by chance, we found a woman habited in the dress of the district busily employed at her wheel, which though she turned with her bare foot, was in a neat room, lighted by a window that opened and shut, decently furnished—more than decently furnished, for a “jack-towel” actually hung on a roller behind the door, and the newly-made stairs leading to the loft were covered in the centre by a narrow strip of coarse carpeting. The young woman shook hands with both of us—a ceremony never omitted by these mountain peasants, when a stranger or an acquaintance enter their house.

After we had praised all we saw, especially a likeness of the good Father Mathew, which hung over the chimney, we ventured to inquire how it was that she, who evidently could so well afford it, did not wear shoes.

“Ah,” she replied, in half English, half Irish, “that is what all English quality say; but his honour the captain, and Miss Mary know better than that. Shoes would give me my death of cold. I could afford one pair or two, and some stockings. If I go out, to look after a pig, or fowl, or to cross to a neighbour, I cannot go forty feet without getting wet beyond my ancles. If I have shoe and stocking, I must change them, or sit in them. I could not afford to have (like the English quality) so many pairs, then I must sit in the wet; but if I run out in my natural feet, all the time I’m on the batter, my feet though wet are warm, and the minute I come in I put them before the fire on the warm hearthstone, and they are as dry as the heart of a rush in a minute. Oh, lady, it is not because you get wet foot that you catch cold, but because you sit in wet foot. The good captain understands this now, but he did not at first.” Indeed we found this was considered to be reasonable, and though we can hardly separate even now, the idea of bare feet from poverty, yet we believe that in mountain districts, habituated as the peasantry are to go without shoes, the uncertainty of the climate, the necessity for herding cattle, traversing bog and long grass, and crossing rivulets, the fashion is not only wise but necessary. If anything could reconcile us to their appearance, it was the neat, well dressed, and orderly appearance of this woman; and afterwards we saw many in Glenfin who, despite their bare feet, would have been considered respectably dressed even in England. It is no uncommon thing to meet a group of mountain women and girls, washing their feet in a brawling river after sunset, just before they go to bed.


https://ahcuah.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/irish-bare-feet/
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sat 31 Oct, 2015 8:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One more thing that I'd like to say is that often people think that the Gaels used inferior/outdated arms and armour because they think of the Gaels as a poor people.
This is untrue. Even John the last of the Lords of the Isles is recorded as being equipped with an aketon, mail shirt, pisane, helm, sword, and axe. The lords of the Isles were one of the most powerful men in Britain and Ireland, and all that distinguishes John's equipment from that of a gallowglass, is it's quality and decoration. For example, his aketon was of silk and richly embroidered, his mail and his helm were said to be the highest quality steel, the mail with golden links at the hems, and all his gear was said to be set with precious stones.

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Graham T. W.





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PostPosted: Sat 31 Oct, 2015 4:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In addition to what has been stated above, the majority of military histories on the subject are written from a very Anglocentric perspective, often depending on rather biased sources (such as Gerald of Wales, and other later commentators in the same tradition) that have a pretty clear rhetorical purpose in their description of the Irish as inferior to the English in matters of war. Even within that tradition, the English writers (or Anglo-Norman/Cambro-Norman if you really wish to be specific), there was a general trend that emphasized the difficulty of fighting the Irish in Ireland, and the different conditions that necessitated a different sort of warfare: Gerald of Wales, who is generally incredibly derogatory toward the Irish, notes that armor is more of a hindrance in Ireland than it is an aid, and that the key to victory would essentially involve using a lot lightly armed and armored cavalry (i.e. the Irish way of war) and lots of archers. In many ways, that is in and of itself a rhetorical statement meant to argue for the primacy of his relatives in Irish affairs--Gerald was a close relative of many of the first Norman mercenaries in Ireland, and many of them either died fighting the Irish or were displaced by later Norman nobles more amenable to the King--and he wished to emphasize that their unique skill set honed on the Welsh Marches was more appropriate to an Irish context than the more conventional "French" method of war involving heavy cavalry charges over relatively stable terrain.

It's also worth noting that the Irish enjoyed quite a bit of military success against the English, and many of the early English successes were probably not influenced overly much by military differences between the two nations, and more due to the political situation of the time: Irish regional kings, seeing the advantage to be gained by hiring English mercenaries and appealing to the English Crown (who was more French than English at this point), often collaborated with Anglo-Norman mercenaries, who took advantage of dynastic struggles to ingratiate themselves into the political landscape. Certain kingdoms of the Irish remained more or less unthreatened by English encroachment, or after some initial misfortune, soon regained their authority to the extent that they remained unconquerable until the Tudor era.

It's also worth remembering that the Irish military system was not really all that different from its contemporaries in other nations. Regional kings, later styled chiefs of their name, maintained a household of warriors on their own land. They in turn held the fealty of other, smaller chiefs with their own retinues. They would generally be equipped as mail-clad light horsemen, but for pitched battle would also frequently dismount and fight on foot in ranks. Mercenaries, both domestic and foreign, were common, and became more common over time. Essentially, lords retained professional warriors, and were given military service by lesser lords who in turn retained professional warriors of their own; as time went on, many nobles became itinerant mercenaries. Skirmishing tactics were common, but they were common in other regions of Europe as well: Spain, the Baltic, the Balkans, etc. So Ireland wasn't really that much of an outlier, but rather consistent with certain other trends in European history, Just not the Anglocentric ones typically privileged in the historiographical tradition.

One last thing to consider: almost all military battles in post-Norman invasion Ireland (calling it the Norman conquest is an outmoded misnomer, since they did not conquer Ireland by any stretch of the term) would involve Normans and Irishman on both sides of the battle. Nearly every Irish king went to war with some Norman allies at his side, and nearly every Norman noble went to war with Irish allies. These alliances were often tenuous, and it can be hard to tell who was the "senior partner" so to speak in many cases, but the lines between Gael and Gall were at once ironclad and extremely fluid. Ironclad in the sense that even if a Burke or a FitzGerald spoke Irish fluently, adopted Irish manners of dress and warfare and such, they still considered themselves English/Norman (and were considered as such by the Irish); but fluid in the sense that it was local and regional conditions that often dictated one's political allegiance in practical terms, even if in theoretical terms ultimate fealty was owed to the English Crown and its representatives in Dublin.

EDIT: I should cite sources. "Irish and Anglo-Norman Warfare in the Twelfth Century" by Marie Therese Flanagan and "Gaelic Warfare in the Middle Ages" by Katharine Simms, both from A Military History of Ireland, ed. by Thomas Bartlett and Keith Jeffrey. Both good secondary resources. "Images of Warfare in Bardic Warfare" by Katharine Simms also provides some valuable information on how the Irish portrayed themselves in war.

For primary sources, I recommend "The Triumphs of Turlough", and Viscount de Perellos account of his visit to the O Neill Mor here.
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sat 31 Oct, 2015 5:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very well said Graham.
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Graham T. W.





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PostPosted: Sun 01 Nov, 2015 9:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you Stephen. For reference, here are some descriptors from contemporary Irish sources of the equipment of an Irish nobleman:

From the Chase of Sid na mBan and the Death of Finn: this scene, though obviously fantastical to some extent (it describes a mythological hero, Finn mac Cumail, who here is imagined as a mighty warrior king) does provide a useful description of the kind of armor a medieval Irishman might expect a nobleman or king to wear. The manuscript survives from the sixteenth century, but like many Irish texts, is based upon earlier legends and texts. It is difficult to know to what extent such a description reflects earlier realities, and to what extent it reflects the sixteenth century, and to what extent it reflects the fantastical imagination of its author. Still, I think it provides a tantalizing image of the sort of harness an Irishman might conceivably employ

Quote:
Then rose the royal chief of the fiana of Ireland and Scotland and of the Saxons and Britons, of Lewis and Norway and of the hither islands, and put on his battle-dress of combat and contest, even a thin, silken shirt of wonderful, choice satin of the fair-cultivated Land of Promise over the face of his white skin; and outside over that he put his twenty-four waxed, stout shirts of cotton, firm as a board, about him, and on the top of those he put his beautiful, plaited, three-meshed coat of mail of cold refined iron, and around his neck his graven gold-bordered breastplate, and about his waist he put a stout corslet with a decorated, firm belt with gruesome images of dragons, so that it reached from the thick of his thighs to his arm-pit, whence spears and blades would rebound.


So a few things to note. The "twenty-four waxed, stout shirts of cotton, firm as a board" almost certainly describes a cotun or aketon, which as noted above were one of the primary form of armor employed across the Gaelic world. As Dan Howard could undoubtedly tell you, padded armor such as the aketon, when properly constructed and quilted, was really quite effective. The "breastplate" around his neck is probably a pisane of mail: in other similar texts, the Irish word of pisane gets translated as "breastplate" or "collar." I am very much a beginner when it comes to speaking and writing modern Irish, and these texts are generally in Middle Irish or Classical Irish, neither of which I can read very well at all. I can, however, use a dictionary! The "stout corslet" about his waist that "reached from the thick of his thighs to his arm pits" is less clear. The general Irish word of armor is lúirech, and it generally refers to coats of mail. Here is mail is already described. I would not wish to speculate overly much on this, and I know of no one else well versed in the Irish of the time who has tried to decipher this terminology. It could be a coat of plates, it could also be a fantastical invention of the author, it could be some other piece of armor with which I am unfamiliar.

Here is one from the less fantastical Triumphs of Turlough. The Triumphs purports to be a history of the conflict between two rival branches of the O'Brian clan fighting over the chiefship of Thomond in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. It is notable in several respects, including its description of the battles themselves which give some clue to the tactics employed by native Irishmen of the time: feigned flights, ambushes, raids, skirmishing, as well as dense formations of spearmen and swordsmen, frontal charges, and the use of dismounted cavalry as heavy infantry. Its also noteworthy for its language describing the Irish nobles: "mailclad men" or "mailed gentlemen of the clan" and similar statements abound, suggesting mail was now considered a ubiquitous element of the Irish noble's attire in warfare. The capture of mail and helms after battle with fellow Irishmen (and Englishmen) is also frequently mentioned. What follows is similar to the above description of Finn: the armoring of an O'Brian dynast, preparing for battle against his rivals in the clan.

Quote:
Donough's harangue to his followers being ended, on the same spot he set about harnessing of himself. The first piece brought to him was a trusty well-made acton, dense, close-ridged; easily he assumed it, and the extent to which it protected him was from his lower throat to the point of his round knotted knees. Over which integument again he was invested with a loose mailshirt of hard and glittering rings that made a rough surface; close of texture it was, with gilded border ornamented variously. A fighting belt he took now, that was moderately thick and fitted with a chased buckle; it was saffron-coloured and smooth-selvaged. Over his mail he drew tight this same round-star-studded belt, in which was hitched a long blue-gleaming dirk hanging ready to hand; it was strong in the point, wide in the fiat, smooth-channelled, thick-backed, thin-edged, and had a decorated wooden halt. Over the mail's upper part went a fine-textured white tippet of proof. He set on him a strong-plated conical helmet; took to him a broad sword, deeply fluted, having golden cross-hilt and tracery-embellished scabbard, which he girded to his side. In his right he took the handy dart, to hurl among the enemy; in his left he grasped the thickshafted solid-riveted great spear that abode with him, to bore with and to push.


So here you see an image very similar to that of the Galloglas: a long aketon, a mail coat over it, cinched with a belt, and a tall conical helm with a pisane. I will also quote the section right after, just to give an idea of some Irish battle tactics beyond the oft-cited "throw javelins and run away" that I often see commentators on the internet (and in academia, sadly enough) cite.

Quote:
At the same time great was the stout tribesmen's commotion as they required their crimson-broidered actons, bright mail, flashing blades and far-reaching spears; as they handed over to their horseboys their horses to lead them to the rear, pursuant to their resolve that never would they desert their chief;


Here his direct followers assume the same sort of armament as Donough: aketons and mail (and helms, mentioned elsewhere though not here), and then they hand their horses to their horseboys (squires/pages, more or less), "pursuant to their resolve that they would never desert their chief." Meaning they meant to stand and fight, necessitating they form ranks on foot rather than fight from horseback. Irishmen fought on horseback without the deep saddle and stirrups of knights, and typically skirmished with javelins or with their long spears, wielded overarm. They were effective as light cavalry, striking unformed foot troops or other light cavalry, or for hit-and-run attacks on heavier troops. But, as this text indicates, the Irish were not idiots (few warriors in the middle ages were, to be honest) and they knew that pitched battle does not favor such tactics. So, similar to knights in other cultures who would dismount to fight on foot (the English themselves were quite known for it, though for different reasons), they formed ranks and fought as heavy infantry alongside their chiefs and fellow clansmen.

Also worth noting is that it is clear the Irish employed armor before the Norman invasion. Less armor than their contemporaries in France and Normandy, yes, but armor nonetheless. In certain twelfth-century narratives such as the War of the Gael with the Gall, and the Battle-Career of Cellachan of Cashel, we see a few interesting developments: both texts purport to be histories of the Irish defeating the Vikings (the Gall) but are in reality propaganda texts meant to aggrandize the descendants of the great kings depicted in these texts. To that end, they create a rather interesting mix of fantasy and history. Both date from the early-to-mid 1100s, and describe events 100-150 years prior. As always, their descriptions of tactics and dress and such perhaps reflect more of the early-mid 1100s than they do the history they claim to tell, and fantasy always plays a (often rhetorical) role. Still, they provide a useful glimpse into how the Irish conceived of themselves as warriors, and what aspects of war the Irish privileged.

The Battle-Career of Cellechan of Cashel provides the following description of an Irish force:
Quote:
And as they were there, they saw five battalions drawn up in the middle of the plain with choice shields, and swords, and coats of mail, and with shining spears, and targets, and helmets. And he who was there was Murchadh, son of Finn, king of Leinster.


So again, the Irish are described as having mail, shields, helms, etc. In other words, virtually indistinguishable from their Norse opponents. An oft-cited passage earlier in the text is, ironically, often used to demonstrate that the Irish did not use armor. Here it is:
Quote:
For the heroes had neither blue helmets nor shining coats of mail, but only elegant tunics with smooth fringes, and shields, and beautiful, finely wrought collars to protect bodies, and necks, and gentle heads.
. However, the context of the passage is thus: Cellachan, in order to cement his newly-acquired kingship and demonstrate his right to rule, leads his clans on a hasty assault of Limerick. The lack of armor of the Irish is used as a rhetorical tool by the author: the battle goes against the Irish at first, who in their haste to attack Limerick have done so without donning their armor. However, the day is saved by Cellachan and his closest nobles, who become enraged at their losses and lead a berserk charge into the Norse ranks, where they slay the Viking leaders and rout the army, thereby saving the day. The rhetorical purpose is somewhat obvious: the valor of Cellachan and his closest companions/relatives is emphasized by their willingness to fight without armor, and their skill as warriors is confirmed by their ability to prevail even though they fight against Norsemen whom are totally encased in mail. This is meant to aggrandize their living descendants (the same people who commissioned the text in the first place), demonstrating them to be the heirs of great warriors. The lack of armor is not the Irish characterizing themselves as typically fighting without armor (since in later passages they use it without any hesitation) but rather is meant to highlight the bravery and skill of some specific clan chieftains.
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sun 01 Nov, 2015 12:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Again excellent post Graham. IMO Fionn mac Cumhaill's armour is a mix of contemporary armour, fantasy, and bardic tradition. The cotún, mail shirt, pisane (i agree that breastplate is a misinterpretation), and helm were all contemporary with the time of writing. The "stout corset" reminds me of Cu Chulainn's "cathchriss", so it could be an earlier piece of equipment which lived on in the bardic tradition. The fantasy element is someone wearing all of this gear at once. A cotún made of 24 layers of linen is substantial enough to be worn as a stand alone piece of armour. Such a cotún would be too thick, and too stiff to be worm under other layers of armour. A cotún made to be worn under armour would have been made of far fewer layers.
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Sun 01 Nov, 2015 2:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Welcome to the forum Graham and thanks for your incredible reply.

Quote:
Gerald of Wales, who is generally incredibly derogatory toward the Irish, notes that armor is more of a hindrance in Ireland than it is an aid, and that the key to victory would essentially involve using a lot lightly armed and armored cavalry (i.e. the Irish way of war) and lots of archers.


Does he just note that armor would be a hindrance or does he cover that topic more specifically? I'd be interested in learning how the environment affects armor usage and development.

Another thing you mention is Irish cavalry, do you know if they used a saddle at all or just a padded piece of cloth? Do you know why they never adopted stirrups and other associated tack?
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sun 01 Nov, 2015 3:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

For those here who aren't aware of the CELT project (linked below), it's a great resource for those interested in reading translated versions of Irish texts, and text related to Ireland.

https://www.ucc.ie/celt/publishd.html

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Graham T. W.





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PostPosted: Sun 01 Nov, 2015 4:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:
Welcome to the forum Graham and thanks for your incredible reply.

Quote:
Gerald of Wales, who is generally incredibly derogatory toward the Irish, notes that armor is more of a hindrance in Ireland than it is an aid, and that the key to victory would essentially involve using a lot lightly armed and armored cavalry (i.e. the Irish way of war) and lots of archers.


Does he just note that armor would be a hindrance or does he cover that topic more specifically? I'd be interested in learning how the environment affects armor usage and development.

Another thing you mention is Irish cavalry, do you know if they used a saddle at all or just a padded piece of cloth? Do you know why they never adopted stirrups and other associated tack?


Thank you, Stephen, and I think you're right in your interpretations and corrections. I have not worn armor in a long time, and I daresay it was never historically accurate in the first place, so I know little of such things from a practical standpoint. And yes, the UCC's CELT database is an absolutely incredible resource, it's obviously where I get much of sources and I can only hope they continue to translate works into English for us poor Anglophone monoglots. Archive.org is also another amazing resource; you can get pdfs of Gerald of Wales' work there as well as the Battle-career of Cellachan of Cashel and other works.

As to Pieter's question: Gerald of Wales was not, to my knowledge, a military man himself. He was a cleric, and a close relative (brother, nephew, cousin and uncle) to many of the first Normans in Ireland. Indeed, much of his work is not so much a history of the invasion of Ireland as it is a hagiography of his relatives, whom he casts in the most glowing light possible at all times. His advice, therefore, must always be viewed in that light: he wants his family to succeed, and so he suggests, more or less, that they be elevated above others. That being said, here is a relevant quote from his Expugnatio Hibernica:

Quote:
The Normans, who are newly come among us, may be very good soldiers in their own country, and expert in the use of arms and armor after the French fashion, but everyone knows how much that differs from the mode of warfare in Ireland and Wales. In France it is carried on in champaign country, here is is rough and mountainous; there you have open plains, here you have dense woods. In France it is counted an honor to wear armor, here it is found to be cumbersome; there victories are won by serried ranks and close fighting, here by the charges of light-armed troops; there, quarter is given, prisoners taken and admitted ransom, here their heads are chopped off as trophies, and no one escapes. Where armies engage in a plain country, that heavy and complex armor, whether shirts of mail or coat armors of steel, is both a splendid ornament of the knights and men-at-arms, and also necessary for their protection. But where you have to fight in narrows passes, and in woods, and bogs, in which lighter troops are more servicable than horsemen, a far lighter kind of armor is preferable. In fighting against naked and unarmed men, whose only hope of success lies in the impetuosity of their first attack, men in light armor can pursue the fugitives, an agile race, with more activity, and cut them down in narrow passes and among crags and mountains. The Normans, with this complex armor and deeply curved saddles, find great difficulty in getting on horseback and dismounting and still greater when occasion requires that they still march on foot.


He does have a few inaccuracies evident even here: the Irish were neither naked nor unarmed, as we saw in the above posts they used and valued armor, though it seems clear that they wore less of it than their Norman counterparts, they still wore it. Furthermore, they obviously had weapons. Gerald continuously characterizes the Irish as having a special affinity for the battle-axe, which he praises for its ability to cut through armor. He does this for rhetorical purpose rather than historical: for one, it provides him with a rhetorical characterization of the Irish as savages, compared to the "true" Christians of Wales, England, and Normandy, who of course wield swords. The Irish, he writes, use their axes in lieu of walking sticks, so that they may always be ready to murder and rob each other on the road. The sword, with its cruciform hilt and associations with knightliness, provides a useful rhetorical counterpoint to the image of the savage axe: so, the axe becomes the national weapon of the Irishman, and the sword the weapon of the English and the Normans. Also, it continuously reinforces his above point: armor is not an advantage in Ireland, and even if one wears it, the axe of the Irish often proves effective in rendering it useless anyways. The implicit argument here is that more of his fellow Cambro-Normans should be sent to Ireland, for they are used to fighting in lighter armor against the native Welsh, and so would be less disadvantaged by the axes of the Irish.

Axes are useful against armor, and the Irish did use them. However, it was by no means their "national" weapon as Gerald portrays it here: if anything, the spear was their national weapon, in all its many permutations as both missile and melee weapon. And the Irish of course used swords. Indeed, bearing a sword was a mark of nobility; so much so that the noble fighting-men of a clan (let me take a moment and clarify: when I say clan, I use it in the recognizable colloquial way we use it in English. A more proper term might be tuath, or perhaps even more generally a "people." When I say the "nobles of a clan," I mean something like when a text says "Lochlann of the Corcomruad led his people to battle, and he had 50 gentlemen with swords and 200 spears besides." The Corcomruad are a people, a tuath and of course they comprise several different lineages or "clans." But many people, for good or ill, recognize the term "clan" more readily than tuath and since this is not an academic paper, I go with the more recognizable term) might be distinguished as its "sword-bearers" and other such poetic terms. So an Irish noblemen of the time, the cognate to the Norman knight or man-at-arms, might actually not look terribly different when compared to his Norman foe: he wears a coat of mail, a helm, bears a sword, a long thrusting spear, and several javelins, a shield, and several horses. He probably wears shoes (we know they existed at this point in Ireland, and were worn by the Irish), but probably goes barelegged besides that. He may not wear chausses of mail, or other elements of the Norman knight's panoply, so he is undoubtedly less well-armored, but he is armored nonetheless.

However, Gerald does point out some things that do seem plausible. English forces in Ireland were often less-armored than those in England or France, for seemingly the same reasons he states above: warfare in Ireland depended more on mobility than it did on staying power in the field, and even if one is a well-conditioned warrior, used to wearing the 30-50 pounds of armor common in the day, you'll still move less quickly and tire more quickly than someone of equivalent conditioning wearing a lesser weight of armor. He also notes that mounting and dismounting quickly is a necessity in this type of warfare, and argues that the deep saddle of the Norman knights inhibits this. This hints at the riding practices of the Irish: they don't intend on couching lances and fighting from horseback, and so they ride on padded cushions rather than saddles so that they might mount and dismount with greater ease.
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Mon 02 Nov, 2015 4:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the great reply again.

The quote you provided is indeed something I was looking for. The saddle with a small cantle and pommel makes sense when dismounting often is necessary and light armor could indeed be more favorable in bogs, woods and narrow passes. What actually happened to the large and dense forests of Ireland? Did those disappear shortly after Tudor conquest or later?

As for the Sword motif, I believe the same symbolism is used when dealing with crusaders and the Saracen.
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Mon 02 Nov, 2015 5:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:
What actually happened to the large and dense forests of Ireland? Did those disappear shortly after Tudor conquest or later?


Yes during the the Tudor period large amounts of timber was exported to England, for shipbuilding, and the production of charcoal. Later during the plantations of the later 16th and 17th centuries, large areas of woodlands were cleared for the new planters and their livestock. Another factor was the scorched earth policy the English implemented during this time. Either during the nine years war, or the confederate war (can't remember which), The lands between the O'Neill and the English forces were said to be a barren wasteland, where not a tree could be seen.

Éirinn go Brách
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Mon 02 Nov, 2015 5:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Stephen Curtin wrote:
Pieter B. wrote:
What actually happened to the large and dense forests of Ireland? Did those disappear shortly after Tudor conquest or later?


Yes during the the Tudor period large amounts of timber was exported to England, for shipbuilding, and the production of charcoal. Later during the plantations of the later 16th and 17th centuries, large areas of woodlands were cleared for the new planters and their livestock. Another factor was the scorched earth policy the English implemented during this time. Either during the nine years war, or the confederate war (can't remember which), The lands between the O'Neill and the English forces were said to be a barren wasteland, where not a tree could be seen.


Oh that's a shame, it would be lovely if Ireland still had huge swaths of temperate rainforest. Green emerald and all that.
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