Questions about some early-irish info

Viking, Saxon, and Early Christian Irish cultures

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Questions about some early-irish info

Postby the_power on Fri Jan 02, 2009 9:34 pm

Hey guys, can those who are good at ... you know, books and things, have a look at this ?

http://magister.olympe-network.com/foru ... f=39&t=124

It has some.. interesting bits & pieces that I would love to know if it's accurate or not.

However, the position of a 'high king' [...] was effectively filled from about 600 - 720 AD; [...] most of the island was still under the ostensible hegemony of a single series of kings; it was part of an attempt at reunification (since the island had also been unified in the pre-Christian period, but had collapsed toward the end of it).


Was there any evidence that Ireland was a united island in pre-history ?

It wasn't until the lesser king of Leinster determined he'd make a better high king did the island collapse; it had been effectively a single kingdom since Brian Boru (some people think the island just collapsed after his death, which is entirely false; his successor, Mael Sechnaill, was called 'The Great' for a reason; he was an excellent king who controlled the whole island). Sub-kings still existed in this, but they weren't that different from 'dukes' in feudal kingdoms (Gaelic law wasn't very feudal, it was more like a republic, with mounting tiers of elected officials and 'senates' where laws would be discussed, volunteer armies, and the like).


I assume the "lesser king" was MacMurrough. From anything I've read, there was never anything approaching a high-king for much more than a few decades after Clontarf...and 'senates' is really pushing it. I'd never thought of the parallels between Irish armies & early Roman Armies till now.

He details some interesting bits on early Irish clothing and arms, though he skips from 4thC to 13thC without pointing this out, mixing 15thC saffron tunics & bronze age short mantles.

fur-lined boots that came over the ankle, and usually a padded coat called an acton, or cuton, worn over this; some wealthier soldiers might have overlapping iron scale armor, or chain.


Fur lined ? Iron Scale is..not provanenced, as far as I can tell.

kilts didn't exist, but they did use similar decoration on cloaks


Really ?

They would often wear fancier shoes, or even greaves with iron plates riveted over them; essentially plated metal boots


This sounds..um..crazy to me. Splint boots ?

in some regions of Ireland it was actually against the law not to have enough darts for ALL militia to carry at least three


Sounds good...if it were true.

Longswords also often had polished bone grips


Umm...surely no one could confuse the ballinderry-style swords with longswords ?

Two-handed hammers were sometimes in use by captains (this was an old pagan thing that held on for a while)


That sounds cool - anyone heard of it ? Or the 'pagan' link ?

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Re: Questions about some early-irish info

Postby Gaelknight on Fri Jan 02, 2009 10:06 pm

It wasn't until the lesser king of Leinster determined he'd make a better high king did the island collapse; it had been effectively a single kingdom since Brian Boru (some people think the island just collapsed after his death, which is entirely false; his successor, Mael Sechnaill, was called 'The Great' for a reason; he was an excellent king who controlled the whole island).


Could have sworn Mael Sechnaill the Great was High King before Brian Boru (and one was the youngest ever High Kings in his early 30s) and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Hiberno Norse at the Battle of Tara in 980 AD.

Correct me if I'm wrong, anybody?

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Re: Questions about some early-irish info

Postby Morcant on Fri Jan 02, 2009 10:35 pm

Just to put a bit this in context. This small synthesis was made by a contact I had who helped us two years ago on a Rome Total War mod called "Arthurian Total War", set up in the British Isles from 481 to 685 AD. Ranika, and afterwards Anthony his cousin were our "Irish specialists", both told us they had some history degrees and from I have read of them they both seem to have a very deep knownledge of iron age and medieval Ireland. They also helped a lot another mod, Europa Barbarorum.

This synthesis was made to give a global view of irish society and warfare in the early medieval era, for "modders", not re-enactors, so people wanting historical advices yet not precise references about finds and so on, that may explain the shortcuts in the text.

Unfortunately I losted contact with Ranika and Anthony. It is maybe still possible to get in touch with Anthony on total war forums.

Here some quotes from a discussion we had with him, mostly about the medieval irish.

It's an odd thing, but for many, Giraldus Cambrinensis and his similar ilk, that is to say, non-Irish with an axe to grind against the Irish, have formed more of a view of the medieval Irish than the native Irish own writings and archaeology of Ireland, which paint a vastly different picture. In Irish accounts of battles and military campaigns, we can clearly see advanced tactics, the use of elaborate siege equipment like torsion catapults and ballista, and a clear ability to face and fight a supposedly superior enemy (the Vikings and Normans both) and win with surprisingly regularity, even when outnumbered at times.

Funny thing, the most favorable later English accounts of the Irish in the middle ages actually came from Edward the 1st and his chroniclers. He loved his Gaelic Irish soldiers. They were given favorable positioning in battle, awarded more, paid more, and he trusted them implicitly with much of the hardest fighting (quite the opposite of his displayed attitude toward the Irish in Braveheart, but, that wasn't really remotely historical to begin with). He praised them consistently as his bravest, most skilled soldiers, and valued them in his fights with the Scots especially, especially against Gaelic Scots and Gaelic Irish allies of the Scots, as they were familiar with their tactics better, and knew how to scout for them (as Gaels had a pretty famous ability for setting up camps in utter secret surprisingly close to an enemy, with said enemy being none-the-wiser; as such, Gaelic scouts were valued for finding their hidden camps).

Another myth is very, very often repeated, that the Irish 'never campaigned'. That's just flatly, quite frankly, bullshit. From the earliest written accounts of Irish warfare (by the Romans, refering to larger 'Scotti' raids), it is apparent they campaigned. Niall's invasion of Britain was quite an impressive campaign, that saw him capturing cities and forts and defeating numerous armies before his return to Ireland. Given how quickly he did it all, and how much he did, quite to the contrary of 'never campaigning', it was obvious he was an experienced campaign-leader. During the invasions (both Norse and Norman), counter-campaigns were extremely common in the early phases. For example, after the Normans captured Casiel, the king of Munster began a campaign of his own, starting with the recapture of Casiel, and then Cork, ultimately driving the Normans back out of his kingdom after a series of skirmishes, large battles, and sieges (complex sieges, no less, complete with sapping and complex siege equipment). He defeated Strongbow in multiple engagements, and annihilated large numbers of Cambro-Norman knights. They continued campaigning, even, in the dead of winter, due to excellent skill with logistics AND organization (the Irish actually maintained standing armies, for Christ's sake! Not just levies + knights and men-at-arms, but elaborate hierarchies of specialized, organized soldiers, semi-standard pay, etc.), which also accounted in large part for their ability to move quicker than their enemies.

I think a large part of the issue is also, people often view the Irish in a post-1450s light usually, as if that was what they were always like. In the late 1400s, Irish soldiery experienced its sharpest decline, with the old, more complex armies, replaced with mercenary bands (mercenary Ceitherne and Galloglaich; while neither were new, their use completely overwhelmed the old system), with the local nobles fighting as cavalry, and only small contributions of local soldiers. The complexity and organization declined sharply. Gallowglass went from supplementary heavy infantry trained to fight in wall-breaches and line-breaking manuevers to the mainstay of shock infantry, with their 'kerns' as their support.

This ignores that a large part of feudal militarism (as well as much of 'broad' medieval culture in Europe) was a product of Irish missionaries, specifically those in the court of the Carolignians, who favored them exceedingly and adopted many practices they brought with them, and blended them with their own Romano-Germanic worldview, creating the earliest vestige of a medieval feudal society. The Irish contribution to the development of the western world is ever understated, and the Irish get passed off as an uninfluential people, which is plainly ignorant of how much pull they had in the world during their golden age. Anyway, I've babbled long enough.


CELT does never put anything in context, but, of course, that's not what they're there to do, they're giving translations. It's up to the reader to realize things, such as "Numbers, when so disparate, probably aren't anything approaching realistic". For example...5000 men ambushing 50 is insane. There is no reason to believe that ever occured with anything approaching that wide a numerical gap. It doesn't make sense. Why would 5000 men ambush 100 times fewer men? If there are 5000 of these men, reasonably they'd just detach some to go and ambush them. The 5000 there, if correct, likely simply refers to the size of the force from which the ambush extended (there are a number of references to ambushes like that). And even then, there are battles the Irish won when badly outnumbered against Normans, which are mentioned in the annals, as well as descriptions of the burnings of many of the new castles Normans built (I say new castles because we know the Irish already had castles of their own; over time, they've been torn down or built over, some remain in ruins; the only two surviving in any reasonable capacity are the Rock of Cashel, but even thats had most of its walls and the like replaced, and the still lived-in, cozy block castle of the MacCarthy's, which predates Norman intervention in the region).


That, and a disturbing number qoute Giraldus and his 'attention to detail', who, serious scholars of the Irish, have pointed out is a terrible source. His so-called 'attention to detail' said the Irish regularly hewed eachother with axes out of boredom. He only drew nobles, but he always drew them in tights like a poor class man (to the Irish) to try and depict them as more similar to the English, not because nobles wore them. We know from first hand descriptions, by the Irish themselves, what was considered appropriate for an Irishman of any rank to wear.


The first; well, not really any one thing. Most of our knowledge comes from various annals and chronicles, which mention off-hand various things, but never in a concise format. There's no 'manual' of organization known, but it is clear Ireland wasn't disorganized militarily. We know of a system of troop levying (the 'Thirty-Hundreds' system; a regional territory from which 3000 men could be raised), the use of a shieldwall (despite the common idea the Norse introduced it to Ireland, the same tactic is mentioned prior to the invasion as being used by most of the soldiers of Ireland when resisting a charge), the way cavalry was used (always situated on the left flank, with skirmishers on the extreme left, and cavalry intended to charge to their right; both used flanking manuevers), and how they campaigned (again, campaigns are mentioned earlier than most realize; Niall campaigned several times in Ireland and Britain, and other kings fought strings of battles, sieges, and so on, that could be reasoned as campaigning, and there are references to supply lines used in such campaigns). We know the equipment used because of the descriptions of what a soldier was supposed to have (such as a professional needing to own a spear, shield, and javelins, and would be given a padded coat by his employer, and sometimes a helmet).

Small engagements (clan wars, raids, etc.) we know the most about because they happened most common. Such engagements could range in size from only a dozen or two dozen soldiers on each side, to a couple hundred on both sides. These were pretty ritualistic fights, and some people erroneously assume they were all the Irish did when fighting. These fights were very different. Little was used in the way of out-right tactics, some only lasted as long as a single, sometimes non-lethal, duel between two champions. Longer fights proceeded by several champions fighting as the opposing sides approached eachother slowly, threw their javelins, then engaged in a melee. Such fights usually lacked either cavalry or missile support, though raids would often have cavalry for capturing cattle while the fight was going on.

Some one does need to write a book that compiles the bits and bobs about warfare specifically from the period. Any books that do mention the complexities of fighting are all recent books, and none of them do so at length, relegating much of it to a brief off-hand note.
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Re: Questions about some early-irish info

Postby Freebeard on Sat Jan 03, 2009 10:31 am

changed, due to not bothered actually fixing my answer properly.....sorry
Last edited by Freebeard on Sun Jan 04, 2009 2:54 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Questions about some early-irish info

Postby finnobreanan on Sun Jan 04, 2009 12:06 am

Wow! I would seriously question all the statements from this posting! There is no documentation for any of these claims and contradicts everything I have ever read. We have an old saying in Authentic Civil War Living History..."Show me, don't tell me", and that certainly applies here. Anybody can say anything on a re-enactor board, but list your sources. This is just bad history. I'm not even going to address each point by point. :evil:
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Re: Questions about some early-irish info

Postby Morcant on Sun Jan 04, 2009 9:02 am

You are right, but those messages quoted above were not intended for re-enactment purposes at all and lack sources. I still think they may be of some value and was eventually interested by some cross-checking of the sources.

Im still looking after a serious book about late iron age-early medieval Ireland, but pre-viking, something like 300-700 AD.
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Re: Questions about some early-irish info

Postby claimhteoir on Sun Jan 04, 2009 4:53 pm

It seems like complete nonsense to me. A few bits of accepted historical fact used to draw off the wall conclusions. Not even going to read the whole thing... waste of bloody time.
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Re: Questions about some early-irish info

Postby finnobreanan on Mon Jan 05, 2009 10:14 pm

Morcant wrote:You are right, but those messages quoted above were not intended for re-enactment purposes at all and lack sources. I still think they may be of some value and was eventually interested by some cross-checking of the sources.

Im still looking after a serious book about late iron age-early medieval Ireland, but pre-viking, something like 300-700 AD.

There' no substitute for doing your own research. 300-700 falls into the Early Medieval period or Early Christian periods. I would recommend the following books:

Early Christian Ireland, by Maire and Liam de Paor
http://www.amazon.com/Christian-Ireland ... 569&sr=1-3

Early Medieval Irland: 400-1200, by Daibhi O'Croinin
http://www.amazon.com/Medieval-Ireland- ... 621&sr=1-1
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Re: Questions about some early-irish info

Postby claimhteoir on Tue Jan 06, 2009 12:47 am

T.M. Charles Edwards "Early Christian Ireland" is really good too, what I've read of it.
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Re: Questions about some early-irish info

Postby Freebeard on Tue Jan 06, 2009 12:28 pm

Francis John Byrne's "Irish Kings and High Kings" is pretty good for this period too. He deals alot with the earlier parts of this period also
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