Axes in early Ireland

Viking, Saxon, and Early Christian Irish cultures

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Axes in early Ireland

Postby Neil on Wed Sep 03, 2008 4:14 pm

I've heard it said that the Irish did not use axes in combat until the arrival of the vikings. Now assuming this statment is true does anyone know if there was much difference between the axes used by the Irish for combat and those used by the vikings? Namely would the Irish have used bearded axes too?
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Re: Axes in early Ireland

Postby the_power on Thu Sep 04, 2008 4:06 pm

Check out the illustrations on the Giraldus Cambrensis' manuscripts (Specifically MS 700) on http://www.isos.dias.ie/english/index2.html - there are images of Irish lads with axes. These are all 12thC. You can also check out my 12thC kit for a more complete idea of what I think they looked like;

http://picasaweb.google.com/john.looney ... 4541105410

Irish Arms' website used to have some items, like the 11thC axe found in Dublin.

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Re: Axes in early Ireland

Postby Neil on Thu Sep 04, 2008 7:41 pm

Was thinking of doing early irish for magnus but was gonna fight with an axe. Would that be too early then to be accurate?
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Re: Axes in early Ireland

Postby the_power on Thu Sep 04, 2008 7:53 pm

Not at all. Magnus is 11thC, so there were a few hundred years of Viking influence. I'm sure axemen were quite common on both sides.

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Re: Axes in early Ireland

Postby Cuda on Sun Nov 09, 2008 1:29 am

Hello one and all, i am a new member to this form, and a stray novice reenactor from Australia.
I am trying to gather ideas on Irish arms and amour from early 13th cen so that i can ge a kit together, and get out onto the battle field (after some serious training!)

The main reason i am posting here is that i saw somewhere online that the Irish of the time were useing 6' axes at the time but the source did not seem as well read on the topic as most of the posts i have seen in these forums.
Any info would be great, specificly on what swords, axes, daggers were used by the Irish at the time (25 year bracket either side of the fourth Crusade).
I remember seeing a picture online recently of a mountd Irish worrior wearing what looked, to my inexperienced eyes, a form of short sword sheathed. Suspended on a sword belt, but with another sheath on the outer face of the sword sheath with a dagger in it.
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Re: Axes in early Ireland

Postby the_power on Sun Nov 09, 2008 10:04 am

Cuda wrote:Hello one and all, i am a new member to this form, and a stray novice reenactor from Australia.
I am trying to gather ideas on Irish arms and amour from early 13th cen so that i can ge a kit together, and get out onto the battle field (after some serious training!)


Sources for Gaelic arms & armour in the 13thC is very very thin on the ground. I can't think of *any* pictorial sources at all, off the top of my head.

The main reason i am posting here is that i saw somewhere online that the Irish of the time were useing 6' axes at the time but the source did not seem as well read on the topic as most of the posts i have seen in these forums.


He's likely right; certainly they were using axes in the late 12thC - Cambrensis says that in 1180 the Gaels made their Norman neighbours nervous by carrying such large axes (handles over a meter...but not likely much more) around towns when they came to visit, much like nobel normans would wear a sheathed sword. Carrying an unsheathed weapon - never mind a axe - in polite company was veru uncouth. There are no descriptions of native gaels using axes that you couldn't carry around on a shopping trip to the nearest Norman settlement though. I spent five minutes flicking through my copy of Expugatio Hibernica, though despite having copious index, I couldn't find the charming descriptions of the gaels in it.

Any info would be great, specificly on what swords, axes, daggers were used by the Irish at the time (25 year bracket either side of the fourth Crusade).
I remember seeing a picture online recently of a mountd Irish worrior wearing what looked, to my inexperienced eyes, a form of short sword sheathed. Suspended on a sword belt, but with another sheath on the outer face of the sword sheath with a dagger in it.


If it's for crusader stuff, I'm not aware of any native Irish interested in going on crusade. It might have happened, but given that Norman invasion only 50 years earlier was somewhat under the cover of correcting the native's idea of christianity, I don't think the pope had much influence here, outside the Norman community. There certainly were Normans who funded their crusade on the back of their Irish estates, I'm sure (no evidence, as I've never gone looking for some). The Knight's Hospitaller founded the Royal Hospital in Kilmanham in 1174. I'd be very very surprised if they weren't at least sending cash and horses out East by the mid 1200s. They were known for farming & raising tithes, and noted for not going on crusade as often as their french brethern would have liked.

The early (late 13thC) gallowglass did use long-hafted axes, maybe up to 2 meters long. I'd read some fiction on some of the highlander nobles who went on crusade..but I don't know how accurate they were. If they went, they certainly would have brought gallowglass with them. So, if you *really* wanted a gaelic persona for any reason, and didn't mind stretching the limits of 'what was possible', you could check out some of the descriptions of the 13thC gallowglass. They weren't really Irish yet - the vast majority were guys coming to Ireland looking for short-term mercenary contracts, to be back in the Isles & Argyll for harvest time. I'm sure some stayed here, even then though.

There are no known 'Irish styles' of swords for the 13thC. You can guess if you want; the scottish islanders had a number of styles in the 13thC that look disturbingly like a viking 3-lobe pommel with a quillion that curved away from the hand. I have no doubts that 13thC Gaelic nobles would have acquired fashionable weapons from France and Spain; but I've no evidence. Due to the prevalence of axe & spear here, it's possible swords were considered quite unusual, perhaps even effeminate. I'm not aware of any specific Irish designs for knives here, until the nasty long pointy scians of the 16thC. Though, someone had linked to some really cool knives of the first millenium a while back. There was a post a while back discussing medieval Irish knives. Seems "The Archeology of Celtic Britain and Ireland" by Lloyd Laing" has been taken off books.google.com now. Shame, as that's the reason I bought it - it's nice to have an online searchable version of books you've bought.

I had considered doing 13thC Irish kit. In the end, I decided that there just wasn't the evidence, and went for 13thC Hospitaller kit instead. And then got distracted halfway through and finished 14thC hospitaller instead. And have never used it at a gig :)

John, thinking dumping out every post ever made to these, and looking for URLs, and cataloging them...
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Re: Axes in early Ireland

Postby Cuda on Sun Nov 09, 2008 11:37 am

The only real reason for wanting Irish kit of that period is that i am half Irish, my father was born in Dublin. Very proud of that fact and drink Jamersons whenever the wife lets me buy the stuff (guess it's a form of patriotism (sp?)). I guess i will have to stray from my Irish roots, may go for a Norseman IF the group i am involved with dose not like me trying to stretch the limits by allowing me to do a Galowglass kit. I have spent a few man hours researching them out of sheer intrest and also their earlier form from where they derived, though i'll not attempt to spell it! I'm sure it was then that i saw the sword sheath with a dagger sheath on it's outer face, though it could have as easily been a Kern...

Thank you for pointing out that i may be barking up the wrong tree, I dare say that you just saved me a #$&! load of time, and i would hate to be discouraged from this facinating new hobby (to me at least).
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Re: Axes in early Ireland

Postby the_power on Sun Nov 09, 2008 4:11 pm

:roll: Heh, glad to be of assistance. most of the kit I made in my first year or three had to put down out of kindness. The internet was a lot less useful then. I spent four years making a hauberk from 8mm spring steel washers..only to find out such butted mail was stupid heavy (20kg), it's square rings not authentic and it looked ugly. spend the time and money to do it right the first time.

After eight years, today is the first day I've worn a proper riveted mail shirt to training. It feels wonderful to look right for once. not to mention that I can finally sprint in it barefoot! Oh, I took photos of the spear work we were doing for the tutorial section. I'm kinda 11thC Irish. not that different to 14thC irish you see in drawings...bare legs, wool tunic, mail and dodgy cap.

Ah. chicken roll arrived. eating, then more training, and I'll try post photos later.

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Re: Axes in early Ireland

Postby vlasta on Sun Nov 09, 2008 6:13 pm

Good news for everyone interested in Irish weapon - the book of Andrew Halpin Weapons and warfare in medieval Dublin, 900-1300 was just edited. As I heard, it was delivered to Archaeological Museum bookstore, but for some reason they will start sell it only in 2-3 weeks :roll: , so keep asking.
Greetings
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Re: Axes in early Ireland

Postby Cuda on Mon Nov 10, 2008 10:03 am

That sounds awesome!!! Alas I believe that I too will have to make my mail. I'm getting married on the 15th and we have our second child due in Jan, so i really can't justify spending that sort of money right now, though depending how things look mid next year, i would rather buy 'real' mail. I'd assume the riverted mail to be stronger but i don't understand how it would be lighter. Always enjoy being enlightened though!

I'll be sending off an email shortly to my friend and ask for his suggstions, i really am torn between axe and sword. The axe would be great but id worry about the practical side of training. The sword on the other hand would bring me up to par with the other people in my group and would make training easy... But it's not an axe... No even going to open the can of worms in my head labled 'Shields', yet. It's all going to do my head in, i swear, and i haven't even got a full picture of what is avaliable to me in the time period i have been given to work with! maybe that will help, at least then i can start ruleing things out rather than continually gathering info and not wanting to dismiss any of it lest it be what i wanted after all.
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