Irish Weapons for St. Patrick's Day

This weekend is one of our favorite holidays, St. Patrick's Day!  The medieval Kern and Gallowglass warriors of Ireland are remembered today for their characteristic saffron robes and ring-pommeled swords, but there was a lot more to them than that.


1521 Painting by Albrecht Durer of Gallowglass (left) and Kern (right) warriors

The Kerns were lightly armed and unarmored foot skirmishers often armed with axes, bows, light spears, daggers, and swords.  These forces probably have their origins in cattle raiding between clans, but also evolved into later household guards.  The Gallowglass were more heavily armed and armored mercenaries that had their origins in the Norse/Norman invasion of Ireland.  They seem to have been similarly armed, but with the addition of heavy spears and two handed swords, as well as some armor.  

irish sword

Arms and Armor Irish Sword

The ring-pommeled sword is the traditional form of Irish sword from the medieval period.  Similar to the hollow disc-pommeled swords common across Europe, but without the covered sides that enclosed the tang, these Irish swords were typically fast, light, and maneuverable, as might be expected of a sword designed for use by unarmored combatants.  Below is a closeup of our Irish Sword with blued furniture.  One of the most iconic features of this sword is the exposed tang that emerges from the grip, passes through the ring, and is peened on a block at the end.  The tine that runs down the blade from the cross is related to those seen on Scottish swords typically referred to today as a Claymore or Scottish "Twa-handed" Sword.  

ring pommel

Note how the tine is similar to the Claymore below.

Scottish two hander

Scottish Two-handed "Claymore"

The spears wielded by these Irish warriors included both those used in two hands, and those that were cast, but the thrown varieties and most closely associated with the Irish way of war.  Our Celtic Spear is a style that was in widespread use in Ireland throughout the medieval period.  Featuring a ~9.5" hardened and tempered head with an overall length of ~68", this 1.5 lb spear can be used in one hand while holding a shield in the other, or can be easily and accurately thrown as a missile.  Irish warriors would frequently carry several of these spears when going into battle.  The spears are both cheaper to produce than a sword, and provide superior range, making them a common choice for part-time warriors defending their homes or engaging in a raid.  

Celtic Spear

Celtic Spear

Our Irish Axe is an excellent example of the preferred pole arm of the Irish warrior.  Contrary to modern perceptions, battle axes were usually light and nimble, with a fearsome cutting ability and prodigious reach - they also made an awesome walking staff for mobile fighting units.  With a ~6.75" hardened and tempered cutting edge, an ash haft, overall length of 56" and a weight of less than 2.5lbs, our Irish Axe is a beautiful and elegant example of the Irish warrior's arsenal. 

Irish Axe

Irish Axe

 Here in the US, Saint Patrick's day is when we celebrate the contributions of Irish migrants to America, and the close cultural relationship many Americans feel toward Ireland.  So, take a look at these awesome products that we hand-make in our shop in Minneapolis, MN. USA.  Our passion is making weapons that look, feel, and function just like the historical originals on which they are based.  So, grab yourself a pint or a dram, take a look at our products, and listen to some great Irish music this weekend.

divider swords

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


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