Early Irish Weaponry & tactics

Irish and European fighting styles and techniques, and the required Arms & Armour

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Early Irish Weaponry & tactics

Postby the_power on Fri Dec 05, 2008 11:05 am

Dave Mooney asked me a while ago if there was any provenance for using two spears, rather than one, in an Early Irish setting. At the time, I had no information, I was just going on the tiny shield bosses that were extant in most periods, where you can only barely get your fingers in. This meant that you were most comfortable holding the shield with another spear in your hand.

It so happens that Alan Halpin's new book (as mentioned on other forums) has a wealth of information on the subject. He details all Irish literature where weapons are mentioned, to find fans of two spears, some of whom also used a sword and/or a shield;

Fomorian King Elotha - plus sword
Cath Maige Tuired; Stokes, 1891

Fiachna Mac Reda - plus sword & shield
The adventure of Laeghaire MacChrimhthain; Jackson, K.H., 1942

Aed Allain - plus sword & shield
Fragmentary Annals of Ulster; Radner, 1978

Cú Chullain - plus sword, not always a shield
Fairy Warrior - plus shield
Illand Ilarchless - plus shield
Iliach, son of Cas mac Baicc - plus sword & shield
Reochaid mac Faithemain - plus sword & shield
The T�rious

The Tái�w� �ely written during the 11th or 12thC, the other works are 8th/9thC. Amazingly, though 80% of warriors in literature (mostly nobles) have sword, spear AND shield! It seems 90% have swords, 93% have shields, but 100% have spears. 40% of warriors are listed as using two spears! I find this fascinating. He postulates that one spear was for throwing, the other for fighting with. Though, if I was a noble and cash wasn't a problem, I'd carry two or three small javelins my off hand, rather than a single big spear.

The bow and arrow were unknown in 8thC Ireland, until re-introduced by the Vikings. Axes were also unknown as weapons till the 10thC. Sagas portray Irish as being skilled with spear & javelin, Vikings with sword and arrow. So, that second spear could still be a javelin.

John
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Re: Early Irish Weaponry & tactics

Postby the_power on Wed Dec 10, 2008 6:51 am

Hmm. Some interesting battle tactics for early Irish mentioned in Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh; in it's account of a battle between the Munstermen & the Limerick Vikings, the Munstermen "put the hooks of their sheilds over each other, and the made champion knots by attaching their broad belts to one another".

Interesting; it assumes the Irish were using much larger shields than I expected at this time, with some way of attaching them together. It also seems that the broad 'war belt' mentioned in the Tain in the late 1100s may have been around 150 years earlier.

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Re: Early Irish Weaponry & tactics

Postby frodo on Mon Dec 15, 2008 7:06 am

With reference to the "hooks of their shields" its probably a kenning meaning the overlap. Ohhh speculative... But if I remember right the Munstermen were renowned for their larger shields at the time.
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