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The History of the Royal Galloglas

The History of the Royal Galloglas

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Published by Gallg Baron
An Galloglaigh
An Galloglaigh

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Gallg Baron on Jun 27, 2011
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The Wapenshaw
by Guy SheldonThe Galloglaich ("Galloglas") were Scottish mercenaries inIreland, forming the backbone of the Irish armies from the late1200s through the early 1600s. They were drawn from the bestfighters in the Hebrides, mostly MacDonalds but also including theMacRorys, MacSwineys (or MacSweeneys), MacSheehys,MacDowells, and MacCabes. The word galloglaich means "foreignyoung warrior", and refers not only to the fact that they were fromoutside Ireland, but that they were of mixed Scottish-Viking stock,the result of many centuries of Viking raids on the Western Islesand Scotland's western coast.During this time period, the Anglo-Normans (the "English" or, tous Scots, the "Sassenachs") were constantly invading Ireland,trying to take it over as they had Britain, and the Irish were havinga hard time fighting them off. The English had many heavilyarmored, mounted knights; their charge, with lances couched,could usually break up the lightly armored Irish troops. They werealso better equipped for, and more experienced with, longcampaigns and large set-piece battles, where the Irish were moreused to short, small-scale clan conflicts.The Scots had experience in dealing with the mounted Englishknights, and the heavily armed and armored galloglaich put thatexperience to good use, which is why they were so valuable to theIrish. While the average Irish warrior wore only padded or leatherarmor, the galloglaich were well-armored with a hauberk (mailcoat) and helmet. Their favored weapon was a large axe, about sixfeet long, variously described by foreign observers as a halberd orbardiche, but generally what we now call a sparth axe; it had along, narrow, curved blade about 18" long, attached by its centerand bottom to the pole. Other designs have also been illustrated, of course, but it was the sparth axe for which they were famous.Otherwise, they carried a sgian (knife, not unlike a ballock daggeror dirk), and as time went on they adopted various Irish-styledswords, some as large as claymores. With their axes, they couldbreak a knight's lance, or bring down rider and horse. They werenoted for their courage and fierceness in battle; they were placed inthe van (lead, front and center) of the Irish armies, with the lighterarmed Irish footmen and cavalry guarding their flanks. In typical
Royal Galloglas(
 An Gallóglaigh na Rítheaghlach
 An Ríoga Gallóglaigh
Ireland before the Galloglas
The first record of the arrival of Galloglas mercenaries is in 1259 AD
.Ireland was not one nation but a geographic location of five Gaelic kingdoms;(Chonnacht, Laighean, Uladh agus a dó Mhumhain - Deasún or DesmumuTóirmún or Tuadmumu ). Thus in Gaelige the word for 5 is "cúig" and the termgiven in modern Gaelige for province is "cúige". Uí Néill. In contemporaryIrish history books much is made of the position of "Ard-rí na h'Éireann" orHigh King of Ireland. No such title or concept exists in Brehon Law
Brehon Law
can rightly claim to be the oldest surviving codified legal systemin Europe. They are the ancient laws of Ireland, named from breitheamh
. The concept of a High-kingship firstemerged in the 7-9th century espoused by The Uí Néill. From 123AD till this time Ireland was divided into 2 spheresof influence and control
- Leth Cuinn, the northern half under The Uí Néill, and Leth Moga the southern half underthe Eóghanachta.The Uí Néill's half contained the kingdom of Tara, and Uí Néill variably described himself as "An Rí na tUí-Néill" - king of the Uí 'Néill'sor "An Rí na Teamhair" - king of Tara. The Uí Néill had been kings at Tara, but had pushednorth and by conquest seized the lands that arenow Tyrone and Donegal. Both halvescontained many under-kings giving allegianceto either Uí Néill or The Eóghanachtdepending on where their territories lay. By hisdeath in 980 AD we find Domnall, an Uí Néillbeing described as "High-King of Ireland" inhis obituary in the Annals of Ulster. BrehonLaw recognised only a King who was "An Rí bunaidh cach cinn"- the king who makesfundamental decisions over all people as themost superior. The ruler of the Eóghanacht wassuch a king, and the Eóghanacht did notsubscribe or submit to The Uí Néill's illusionof themselves as rulers over all of Ireland. Theterm Ireland or Éire came from the Greek term"Ierne". Greek traders had encountered theÉrainn people in what is now called Kerry andCork. A Phoenician trading colony wasestablished from ancient times at Great Island,Cork (now Cóbh) by Niemheidh, and in the"Annals of the Four Masters" Great Island iscalled "Oileán-Ardaneimheidh"
. Indeed theremains of a Phoenician cemetery wasuncovered on Great Island. Ptolemy, anAlexandrian Greek writing in 100 AD, speaksof the Érainn as the Iverni. The Romans namedIreland - "Ivernia" or "Hibernia" again aftertrading contacts with the Éirainn people of Munster. From the foreigners' perceptions thisisland became Érainn-land, corrupted toIreland or in Gaelige "Ériu" then finally"Éirinn" or "Érin". By the 7th century theÉrainn had been eclipsed by the powerfulfederation of dynasties called the Eóghanachtaafter their founder Éóghan Caomh (gentle) orEóghan Mór (great), eldest son of Olioll Olum,
The History of the Royal Galloglashttp://home.earthlink.net/~rggsibiba/html/galloglas/gallohist.html1 of 1418/11/2009 16:11
Celtic fashion, they would close quickly with their opponents in aferocious and violent attack; they would either win quickly or diein the attempt. The English quickly learned to fear the galloglaich.The galloglaich were well-paid for their efforts. In a society thatvalued cattle as wealth, they received 3 cattle per quarter-year, aswell as all the grain and butter they needed. A consapal (captain)was paid even more, of course, and many became quite wealthy,owning large tracts of land. They were also fairly independent, andthe MacDonalds had territory in the Glens of Antrim, where theywere independent of both the Irish and the English. There, theymaintained a continual military presence for several centuries.They got their start in 1259, when Aed O'Connor married aMacDonald princess; she was accompanied to Ireland by 160MacDonald warriors. In addition to the battles against the English,they took part in many clan squabbles as well, sometimes on bothsides. Their prominence lasted well into the 1500s, when Englandstarted another massive push into Ireland. During this time, thegalloglaich were joined by more Scottish warriors, again mostlyHebridean, and called by the English "Redshanks" (a name thathad been applied by the English to the Scots for quite some time,alluding to the Scots' practice of going bare-legged and barefoot).These new warriors carried claymores, and some had firearms.This signaled a change in the styles of warfare to which thegalloglaich had become accustomed; they continued to do well fora time, but by the late 1500s, they had become an anachronism.Pike formations protected by musketeers could blunt their charges,and were less vulnerable that mounted knights. Cannons andmusket fire could carve through their ranks before they closed forhand-to-hand combat. They enjoyed amazing success in campaignsfrom 1595 through 1600, but their last appearance was at the battleof Kinsdale in 1601, where they were decimated by the English ina pitched battle.While they were an anachronism at the end, and were ultimatelydefeated, the galloglaich played a huge role in preserving anotherpart of Gaelic culture against the English for several centurieslonger than might have happened without them. And by distractingthe English with the Irish, they probably kept them out of theScottish Highlands for a time, allowing that culture to survive also,and keeping our heritage richer than it otherwise might have been.
McCain, Barry Reid, 'The Galloglaich', "The Highlander", January-February1994, Angus J. Ray Associates, Inc. Barrington, IL, USA, 1994.Newark, Tim,
Celtic Warriors
, Blandford Press, Poole, Dorset, GB, 1986.Dunbar, John Telfer,
The Costume of Scotland 
, B. T. Batsford Ltd, London,GB, 1981.
King of Munster
. The capital of theEóghanachta was at Cashel (Caisil) from 4thcentury, in the centre of their kingdom. Cashelderives from the Latin "castellum," a fortifiedplace or castle. Warfare continued periodicallybetween the Gaelic kings, underkings and lordsin the following centuries, mostly over landtitle and cattle raiding.However, during the period Europe describesas the dark ages (due to the ravages of Huns,Goths, Visigoths and the general mayhem thatfollowed the collapse of the Roman Empire),Ireland enjoyed a time of prosperity, withadvances in culture, learning and constructionthat is called the Golden Age. This led to Irishmissionaries from the distinctive Celtic churchof Byzantium tradition evangelising in Wales(Cymru), Briton (Albain), Scotland (Alba),Cornwall (Kernow), Britanny (Breizh) and asfar out in Europe as Kiev by the early 12thcentury in modern Ukraine (by theEóghanachta).This Golden Agewas disturbed bythe first Vikingsraids in 795 ADby a raid onRathlin Island.Norseman andDanes ravagedthe monasteriesof Scotland(Alba), The Isleof Man (Mannin),Briton (Albain)and Ireland(Éirinn) for thenext 200 years. In 820 AD Cork was attackedand plundered. In 840 AD the Vikings startedto establish colonies, usually taking over placeswhich had been trading posts on the coast.Vikings settlements were established atLimerick, Cork, Youghal, Waterford, Wexford,Dublin, Annagassan, Carlingford, Strangford,Lough Neagh and Lough Foyle. In Limerick,Cork, Waterford, Wexford and Dublinhinterlands were created for the settlements.Battles with, and raids upon, the Gaelickingdoms continued from 795 AD till 902 AD.In many cases Gaelic Kings made allianceswith the Vikings enlisting them as mercenaries in minor wars of conquest against other Gaelic kings. Chief amongstthose allying themselves with the Norse were the Dál Cais of Thomond. In 902 AD the Norse of Dublin were beatenand expelled, and there was no further activity till 914 AD, when Vikings fleets attacked and re-occupied Dublin, andattacked Munster and Leinster from a base in Waterford. The Vikings were already in decline in Ireland when theywere defeated at the Battle of Clontarf 1014 AD. However the presence of the Vikings gave Rome a foothold inIreland, as the Vikings who had become Christian swore canonical obedience to the Archbishop of Canterbury whichsupported Rome against Byzantium. By the start of the 11th century Munster was Desmumu and Tuadmumu. OtherKingdoms of prominence were Connachta, Breifne, Airgialla, Mhíde, Laigin, and Ulaid (split between the O'Neillsand the O'Donnells and their allies).
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Irish Warriors
Prior to the arrival of Norman mercenaries in 1167 AD, Irish Kings retained the equivalent of knights appointed from amongst their kin and nobles. This was supplemented in time of warby conscription of Kern (catharnach, meaning friendship or mutual benevolence)
, whoserved as basic infantry in any conflict. Long before the advent of Christianity and theconcept of European chivalry evolved, Canon Bourke, examiner in Celtic History at theRoyal University of Ireland, identifies 5 separate military orders
 An Niagh Nasc
- knights of the golden chain , in modern Gaelige "niachas" is used as analternative for the word chivalry
 An Curraidh na Craoibhe Ruaidhe
- knights of the Red Branch, lit. Champions of the redbranch or bough
 An Clanna Deagha
- knights of Munster, lit. Family of Deagha
 An Clanna Baoisgne
- knights of Leinster, lit. Family of Baoisgne
 An Clanna Morna
- knights of Connaught, lit. Family of Morna. (There existed in Connaught theGamhainride - literally knights of the calf, perhaps one and the same)
Perhaps the most renowned in legend are the Fianna ("fiáin-ainmhí - meaning wild animals),supposedly established in 300 BC. They were based at Tara and at their height said to havenumbered 25 battalions. Most Arthurian scholars agree that the concept of the "knights of the roundtable" is taken from the stories of Gaelic knightly orders. One of the earliest accounts of eliteorganised bands is given by Polybius, recounting the battle of Telamon in 225 BC between Celts andRomans. Special groups of spearmen called "Gaestae" threw themselves naked into battle forreligious reasons. From this account grew the fable Celtic warriors going naked into battle as a rule."Both classical and vernacular literary sources describe a Celtic society based on a warrior élitewhere displays of combative prowess and individual feats of bravery were an important feature of life," states Dr Miranda Green of the University of Wales, Ireland
. Scotland and Wales were at this time perhapsthe last surviving Celtic nations.A writer in the 2nd century AD wrote of the Celts, "The whole race ... is madly fond of war, highspirited and quick to battle."
Great pride was set in single combat to the death and in thetaking of heads of slain enemies; which practice had a religious and spiritual value. The primaryweapons of the Celt were a shield, a sword and javelins. The Celtic soldier was a much soughtafter mercenary. Celtic religion was one of the first to evolve a doctrine of immortality.Philostratus of Tyana (170-249 AD) observed that the Celts greeted birth with mourning and deathwith joy, and Caesar cynically stated that this would account for their deeds of reckless bravery inbattle.
In the period before the rise of Rome, Celtic mercenaries were avidly sought after. TheEgyptian pharaohs used them as bodyguards and to suppress rebellions. Queen Cleopatra had abodyguard of 10,000 Celts. The Greeks from the 4th Century BC started recruiting CelticMercenaries in the thousands. Xenophon, disciple of Socrates, records the Celtic mercenariesfighting for Sparta were great horsemen. Xenophon served in the Spartan cavalry in a war againstThebes. What he describes echoes the commentary of Tudor commentators nearly 1900 years laterin describing Irish horsemen."Few though they were, they were scattered here and there. They charged towards the Thebans, threw their javelins,and then dashed away as the enemy moved towards them, often turning around and throwing more javelins. Thusthey manipulated the whole Theban army, compelling it to advance or fall back at their will". In 334BC Alexandermet with Celtic warriors on the banks of the Danube and asked them what they feared most, expecting a reply thatthey feared him. Instead they stated "We fear only that the skies will fall on our heads." Cross the paths of ancienthistory and you will find the footsteps of the Celts fighting for the Carthaginians against Scipio and holding the centerof their line, while Numidians and Carthaginians fled the Roman slaughter; in Spain and Italy with Hannibal; withAlexander the Great in Asia. The Romans, according to Livy, feared the Celts and always dealt harshly with them,slaughtering them or selling them in to slavery when the Romans were victorious. Celts preferred single combatsbetween leaders rather than pitched battles.To prevent this in 340 BC it was decreed that no Roman commander would settle military disputes through singlecombat with a Celt. Celtic Mercenaries were recruited by Carthage, Syria, Bythinia, Macedonia, Palestine, Syracuse,
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