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Irish Gallowglass

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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Irish Gallowglass
    Posted: 14-Aug-2011 at 17:22

The Gallowglass were tough Irish mercenaries, many of whom were descended from Vikings. They hired themselves out as elite guards to the various warlords from the Dark Ages until the 16th century. This sketch by Durer shows their equipment: huge claymores, short bows, javelins, darts, and big axes. They wear padded armor as this was cheaper and easier to produce than the plate armor worn by knights.

Who can tell me more about these mighty warriors?

Edited by Nick1986 - 14-Aug-2011 at 17:22
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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15-Aug-2011 at 19:13
The Gallowglass on the near-left seems to be carrying some sort of dart. I don't know much about this weapon, but it was supposed to have been the trademark weapon of the Irish before they switched to shillelaghs
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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Aug-2011 at 11:29
One for Michael Collins
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  Quote Michael Collins Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Aug-2011 at 13:44
Interesting fellows. Typically carried a large broadsword called a claymore (from claíomh mór meaning great sword). I can't remember much about them, other than they were referred to as the foreign gaeils, - gael being the term for a person of gaelic culture (even today - and in this context foreign gaeils means Scots. So they were Scottish mercenaries in Ireland who were quite favoured by local kings and lords up onto the times of gunpowder, in fact. I'll see if I can get more detail for you later.
Is í labhairt a dteanga an moladh is mó is féidir linn a thabhairt dár namhaid.
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  Quote Chookie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Aug-2011 at 16:22

To start with they weren't Irish. They were an elite heavy armoured infantry of Norse-Gaelic origin from the Hebrides and the Western highlands. Wiki reckons they were “... an elite class of mercenary warrior who came from Norse-Gaelic clans in the Hebrides and Highlands of Scotland between the mid 13th century and late 16th century. As Scots, they were Gaels and shared a common origin and heritage with the Irish, but as they had intermarried with the 10th century Norse settlers of western Scotland, the Irish called them Gall Gaeil ("foreign Gaels").”

Yet again Wiki gets it partially right. The origins of the Gall-Oglaich lie in the Norman invasions of Ireland in the 12th century. Originally they were hired to act as bodyguards for the various Irish kings who were opposing the Normans.

As a heavy infantry they filled the same role as the man-at-arms filled in later European conflicts. Apparently they also developed a method of breaking the Norman cavalry. In battle they wore either a mail hauberk or the leine-chroich (a form of quilted linen protection which was equally effective) and metal-reinforced jackboots. Their preferred weaponry for receiving cavalry was the Claymore or the Lochaber axe.

Your engraving shows two Gallowglass and three ceitherinn (unarmoured light infantry). The man on the left wears the leine-chroich, the one with the Claidheamh mór (that's the proper spelling General), wears a hauberk, and as neither wears boots, they're posing.

In many ways the ceitherinn are more interesting as they were, in Roman terms, auxiliaries, unlike the Roman auxiliaries, they could become Gallowglass. Possible apprentices might be a better description....


Edit: That dart thingy, which was a short javelin, seems to have been called a SKOT.



Edited by Chookie - 16-Aug-2011 at 16:24
For money you did what guns could not do.........
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  Quote Michael Collins Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Aug-2011 at 18:20
Claidheamh mór


A Traditionalist, eh? I respect that, but living languages change. It may have been Claidheamh mór then, but it's claíomh mór now. Good post, by the way.
Is í labhairt a dteanga an moladh is mó is féidir linn a thabhairt dár namhaid.
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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Aug-2011 at 11:15
What did these metal boots look like? Were they a form of armor or was their primary function offensive: stomping on wounded enemies to finish them off?
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  Quote Chookie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Aug-2011 at 17:14
Originally posted by Michael Collins

A Traditionalist, eh? I respect that, but living languages change. It may have been Claidheamh mór then, but it's claíomh mór now.

Not in Scotland it ain't. LOL
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  Quote Chookie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Aug-2011 at 17:19
Originally posted by Nick1986

What did these metal boots look like? Were they a form of armor or was their primary function offensive: stomping on wounded enemies to finish them off?

They looked much like today's wellie's (rubber boots for the yankees here) with greaves attached on the outside, as far as I know they were primarily defensive.

Besides if you have a sharp pointy thing in your hand, stomping is unnecessary.....


Edited by Chookie - 17-Aug-2011 at 17:36
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  Quote TheAlaniDragonRising Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Aug-2012 at 03:51

Irish gallowglass and kern. Drawing by Albrecht Dürer, 1521.

The gallowglass or galloglass (also spelt gallowglas or galloglas) – from Irish: gallóglaigh (plural), gallóglach (singular) – were a class of elitemercenary warriors who principally were members of the Norse-Gaelic clans of Scotland between the mid 13th century and late 16th century. AsScots, they were Gaels and shared a common background and language with the Irish, but as they had intermarried with the 10th century Norsesettlers of western Scotland, the Irish called them Gall Gaeil ("foreign Gaels").

Large numbers of gallowglass septs settled in Ireland after being dispossessed of their lands in Scotland for choosing the wrong sides in the Wars of Scottish Independence. The first and probably most famous of these were the MacSweeneys, (who unlike most were said to be of native Irish ancestry) settled originally by the O’Donnells in west Donegal. These were followed by MacDonnellsMacCabes and several other groups settled by powerful Irish nobles in different areas. The gallowglass were attractive as a heavy armour trained aristocratic infantry to be relied on as a strong defence for holding a position. Unlike most Irish foot soldiers, who were lower class and less well armoured than the typical Irish noble who fought as cavalry. In time there came to be many native Irish gallowglass as the term came to mean a type of warrior rather than an ethnic designation.

They were a significant part of Irish infantry before the advent of gunpowder, and depended upon seasonal service with Irish chieftains. A military leader would often choose a gallowglass to serve as his personal aide and bodyguard because, as a foreigner, the gallowglass would be less subject to local feuds and influences.


The term is an anglicisation of the Irish gallóglaigh (lit. "foreign young warriors"), with the English plural -s added to the end. The singular of gallóglaigh is gallóglach. The word óglachcomes from Old Irish oac (meaning "youth") and Old Irish lóeg (meaning "calf" but later becoming a word for a hero). Encarta specifies the plural of gallowglass to be "gallowglasses", but this article assumes that the singular and plural terms are both "gallowglass", as the English term comes from an Irish plural. Shakespeare uses the form "gallowglasses" in the play Macbeth.


The first record of gallowglass service under the Irish was in 1259, when Aedh Ó ConchobairKing of Connacht, received a dowry of 160 Scottish warriors from the daughter of the King of the Hebrides. They were organised into groups known as a "Corrughadh", which consisted of about 100 men. In return for military service, gallowglass contingents were given land and settled in Irish lordships, where they were entitled to receive supplies from the local population.

In 1569 Turlough O'Neill married Lady Agnes MacDonald of Kintyre. Her dowry consisted of at least 1200 galloglass fighters. Along with support of two young men as support and friends on top to assist or fight this could easily have numbered over 5,000 current and future Gallowglass coming into the area.[1]

By 1512, there were reported to be fifty-nine groups throughout the country under the control of the Irish nobility. Though initially they were mercenaries, over time they settled and their ranks became filled with native Irish men.

They were noted for wielding the massive two-handed sparth axe (a custom noted by Geraldus Cambrensis to have derived from their Norse heritage) and broadsword or claymore("claidheamh mór"). For armour, the gallowglass wore mail shirts over padded jackets and iron helmets; he was usually accompanied by two boys (like a knight's squires), one of whom carried his throwing spears while the other carried his provisions.

Shakespeare mentions gallowglass in his play Macbeth, although along with other aspects of the play it is an anachronism, as the historical Macbeth lived in the 11th century:

The merciless Macdonwald,
Worthy to be a rebel, for to that
The multiplying villainies of nature
Do swarm upon him, from the Western isles
Of kerns and gallowglasses is supplied

The importation of gallowglass into Ireland was a major factor in containing the Anglo-Norman invasion of the 12th century, as their ranks stiffened the resistance of the Irish lordships. Throughout the Middle Ages in Ireland, gallowglass troops were maintained by Gaelic Irish and Hiberno-Norman lords alike. Even the English Lord Deputy of Ireland usually kept a company of them in his service. (See Also: Norman Ireland)


In a paper entitled "A Description of the Power of Irishmen", written early in the 16th century, the Irish forces of Leinster are numbered at 522 horse, 5 battalions of gallowglass (gallóglaigh) and 1432 kerne, and those of the other provinces were in like proportion. Mac Cárthaigh Mór commanded 40 horse, 2 battalions of gallowglass, and 2000 kerne; the Earl of Desmond 400 horse, 3 battalions of gallowglass, and 3000 kerne, besides a battalion of crossbowmen and gunners, the smaller chieftains supplying each their quota of men.

In 1517, "when the reformacion of the countrye was taken in hand," it was reported that the Irish forces in Thomond were 750 horse, 2324 kerne, and 6 "batayles" of gallowglass, the latter including 60 to 80 footmen harnessed with spears; each of these had a man to bear his harness, some of whom themselves carried spears or bows.

Every kerne had a bow, a 'skieve' or quiver, three spears, a sword, and a skene (Irish scian or Scottish Gaelic sgian), each two of them having a lad to carry their weapons. The horsemen had two horses apiece, some three, the second bearing the 'knave' or his attendant.

The 16th century in Ireland saw an escalation in military conflict, caused by the Tudor conquest of Ireland. Gallowglass fighters were joined by native Irish mercenaries called buanadha (literally "quartered men") and by newer Scottish mercenaries known as "redshanks". The flow of mercenaries into Ireland was such a threat to English occupation that Queen Elizabeth I took steps against them in 1571 – around 700 of them were executed after the first of the Desmond Rebellions.

In spite of the increased use of firearms in Irish warfare, gallowglass remained an important part of Hugh Ó Neill's forces in the Nine Years War. After the combined Irish defeat at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, recruitment of gallowglass waned, although Scottish Highland mercenaries continued to come to Ireland until the 1640s (notably Alasdair Mac Colla). They fought under the Irish General Eoin Roe O'Neill at theBattle of Benburb when O'Neill had an overwhelming victory in 1646. The Gallowglass of the Mac Cárthaigh Riabhaigh are recorded as having attacked Mallow in County Cork as late as 1645.[citation needed]

Images of Gallowglass fighting as mercenaries in European mainland armies were sketched by Dürer in 1521 and later by French and Dutch artists. Gallowglass served in the Dutch Blue Guard, Swiss Guard, The French Scottish Guard and the forces of King Gustav Adolphus of Sweden in his invasion of Livonia during the Thirty Years War.


Though the Gallowglass were abolished as military units, their Clan names endure to this day - often concentrated in areas where their ancestors were settled in the service of Irish lordships. The 6 oldest and most famous Gallowglass clans in Ireland along with their places of origin in Argyll, Scotland were:

The town of Milford, County Donegal, retains in its Irish name, Baile na nGallóglach, a memory of a fight between the English and the MacSuibhnes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallowglass

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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Aug-2012 at 19:29
These gallowglass proved a problem for the English overlords of Ireland. The solution was to recruit them and crush rebellious clans
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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-Aug-2012 at 19:06
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  Quote Salah ad-Din Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-Aug-2012 at 07:14
Osprey has a good title on them.
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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-Aug-2012 at 19:31
Salah, the Osprey books are great. I've got several back home about the civil war
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