Happy St Patrick's Day to all. We thought it would be the perfect day to talk about the types of arms a Medieval Irish warrior might carry and our items replicating these pieces. From the 12th century on the warlords and chieftains who held power in Ireland used paid mercenaries often called galloglass for troops and protection. The term translates as foreign warrior as many of these professional fighters came from the coast and isles of Scotland.
These warriors contributed to the almost constant conflict that was prevalent in Ireland at the time. This took several forms from open battle to raiding of cattle between clans. The result was a constant training ground for combat and scouting, Irish mercenaries became known for their excellent skills and toughness across Europe. This is probably how Dürer came to depict them in his work in 1521.
Irish Soldiers by Dürer 1521
Light fast axes like this are almost certainly one of the elements that created Irish soldier's fierce reputations. They are devastating weapons that were noted even by commentators of the day.
[The Irish] always carry an axe in their hand as if it were a staff... This weapon has not to be unsheathed as a sword, or bent as a bow, or poised as a spear. Without further preparation, beyond being raised a little, it inflicts a mortal blow... From the axe there is always anxiety. If you are free from anxiety, you are not free from an axe.
Gerald of Wales c. 1185
The fighting knives carried by galloglass where quite impressive and practical. The blades are long with sharp tapers in both thickness and width. Many originals are very thick at the guard and end in wicked points. The hilts are usually quite simple in form but are often decorated, probably by the owners, with simple carving.
Light spears and darts are also noted as being part of the Irish armory. Often having two or three in their possesion when armed.
The Irish sword is also quite distinctive in form. The ring pommel is nearly unique in European swords, seen in art as well as surviving examples it may have had its origin in a simple wheel style pommel but became a form in its own right for the Irish makers. The guards often end in a splayed fan shape or even fins with slots carved into them. The ends will often curve slightly in the horizontal plane. These are some of our favorite swords.
16th C. Irish Warriors
Happy St Patrick's Day to all of you from all of us.
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985