An Ríoga Gallóglaigh
Ardcheannasaí An Tiarna na Barúntacht na Caisleángearr

The Royal Galloglas
(An Gallóglaigh na Rítheaghlach)

"The Blue Canaries"
Composed by
Patrick Michael O'Shea

Corparáil Paul Falvey
County Cork, Ireland
7 November 1998


The Gallóglaigh (from the Gaelic for foreign warrior) are the traditional warrior class of Gaelic Ireland. The Galloglach are drawn exclusively from Irish Gentlemen who are graduates of the International Bodyguard Association, or qualified gentlemen of Irish descent. Membership is by invitation only.

The Royal Galloglas are headquartered in Ireland, with a detachment in the Americas. The Commander of the Galloglas is Colonel, Baron Shortt of Castleshort. The commanding officer of St. Brendan's Detachment is Coirnéad David Riley Stabler.


NEW YORK, March 17 - Members of the Royal Galloglas Guard were extended an invitation to, and participated, in uniform, in the 1999 New York Saint Patrick's Day Parade, held this past March 17. The Galloglas marched along with the Cork County Band and the Cork Association, leading with a color guard of the American flag, the Irish National flag, and the Munster flag. The 4-hour long parade route led them down 5th Avenue, where they stopped and paid their respects to the Parade Grand Marshal, actress Maureen O’Hara (shown below left with former Congressman Mario Biaggi and Major Robert J. Bateman, NYG, NN). The Commander, James Shortt of Castleshort, and the Galloglas Piper, Captaen Noel Whelan, were introduced, and paid their respects to John Cardinal O’Connor, archbishop of New York, on the steps of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. His Eminence made a point of walking out to the Galloglas' formation to bless their flags. From, "Other first-time marchers included the 10-member Irish Galloglas Guard, a unit that has served as bodyguards for Irish leaders since 1242 A.D. Dressed in rust kilts, gray military shirts and black berets, one member carried a massive ax he called 'a medieval attitude adjustment device.'"

The night before the Parade the Galloglas were guests of the Irish Brigade Association and the 69th New York at Fort Hamilton. There they participated well into the night in a music session with acclaimed musician David Kincaid (most recently famous for his album THE IRISH VOLUNTEER, SONGS OF THE IRISH UNION SOLDIER 1861-65). After closing down the club the group remanded to Rosie O’Neill’s pub until the wee hours of the morning. They only just had time to shower and shave in order to be invited guests of The Hon. Mayor Giuliani at a breakfast at Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s official residence. There the 10-man contingent met with the mayor, as well as NY Governor Pataki. From there they left to assemble at the controlled confusion which is the country’s largest Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.

As a matter of information, the proper spelling is Galloglas (not Gallowglas, Gallowsglas, Gallowglass, Gallowsglass, etc)

Click HERE for a detailed history of the Galloglas
 Visit the Society of the Irish Brigade site

The Weapons & Armour of the Galloglas
The weapons of the Gael, as with other Celts, were by the First century AD simply sword, shield and javelin. The Celts have served as mercenaries for many races and cultures: The Egyptian Pharaohs, The Greeks, The Romans, Alexander the Great of Macedonia, Hannibal and the Carthaginians, even King Herod the Great.1 These contacts led them to adopt weapons from their enemy and allies. However, certain trends can be detected.

We have evidence of a culture that used greatly and skillfully decorated crested helmets. Some of these were winged or horned (the Vikings never used horned helmets; rather it was the Celts who used them). The Celts made use of chain mail,2 padded clothing, swords, shields and spears, slings and archery. Two types of Chain mail has been uncovered, the first chain mail shirts and the second chains or plates attached to an existing hide or cloth garment. In Britain and Ireland, chieftains even wore highly decorated metal breastplates.

The Celts for the most part used long swords. Polybius tells us that they were cut rather than thrust weapons — little use in close combat. The swords varied from 0.74 metres (2 ft 5 Inches) to 0.66 metres (2 ft 2 inches). The swords were straight iron blades with bronze hilts, which often failed to keep an edge, and there are accounts of warriors having to straighten bent blades under foot during battle. When a warrior was buried, the warrior's sword was folded in half and buried alongside the warrior. Sabres (falcata) were also in use by mounted Celts, particularly mounted warriors in Spain. They are very similar in design to swords that were in use in near Asia where the Celts had served as mercenaries. Short "Anthropoid" swords similar to Roman swords were in use with Celts and have been found in Ireland, Britain, France and Germany.

Cork-based Galloglas gathering at Ballyhealy Castle, including the Commander's sons Edward (front left) and Anthony (seated)

Archaeologists have found two main types of Celtic Shield: an infantry pattern, invariably oblong, elongated oval or hexagonal, and a cavalry pattern that was rounded. Both types were made of wood, usually oak covered with hide and embossed or decorated with metal, and usually with iron or bronze fittings with a central boss. The earliest shields used by the Celts, found in Central Europe, Italy and Greece, were little different from the Gaelic Targe or targets in use till 200 years ago.3 At some point during the 6th Century BC, the infantry full body shield was introduced, probably after contacts with Italian peoples.

It was the Celts who gave the word "lance" to the world, their spears being called "lanciae." The Celts also had throwing javelins called "madaris." The spearheads varied in design but were principally designed to create large entry wounds and tear the flesh when withdrawn. Spears have been found which are over 8 feet in length, the spear shafts being made for the most part of Ash wood.

The Celts were much admired by their enemies for their horsemanship and were in fact recruited by both Rome and Rome's enemies as Cavalry. The Celt on horseback used short sword or sabre, targe shield, and spear. The spear or javelin was couched overhand for jabbing and throwing and the Celtic horseman made no use of stirrups.

Great use was also made of chariots, though this was primarily as a means of transport to combat. Once at the site of the combat the Celt normally dismounted and fought on foot whilst the charioteer withdrew to the rear.

The situation described above is also as it was in Ireland. Women as well as men fought as warriors, and in fact the Celt Goddess An Morrigu, or "The Morrigan,"4 was the goddess of War, Death & Procreation. An Morrigu appeared in different shapes.

Young men were often apprenticed to women warriors to learn martial skills and the ways of the warrior. The Army of Connaught was led to battle by their Queen Medb against the men of Ulster. The warrior woman Scathach trained the Champion Cuchulainn and he defeated the warrior women Aoife.

War music
As in other Celtic cultures, warriors were called to battle by great metal horns, the warpipes, which were brought to Ireland from the Middle East. They were passed to Scotland as the Bagpipes. The original pipes found in Galicia in Spain and Estonia have a bag, mouthpiece, chanter and single bass drone. The Irish Warpipes have an additional tenor drone. The Scottish and Northumbrian pipes have two tenor drones and a bass drone. When the English forces of occupation banned the warpipes, the native Gaels developed the Uilleann (elbow) pipes. Drums were introduced to Gaelic armies in the 16th century by The O'Neill, the Irish Bodhrán is a bequest from Spain where it was the Tambor, a military hand drum from which was developed the tambourine.

The Gaelic word Bodhrán is from the verb Bodhraigh meaning to make a noise or deafen someone. A deaf person in Gaelic is also called A Bodhrán. Whilst on the subject of music. The author, in a social meeting with Johnny Colon (Hispanic band leader) in Puerto Rico was told by Señor Colon that the "bones" played in Ireland originated in Spain as the Clavicula (animal collar bones) and were brought to Ireland by shipwrecked sailors of the Spanish Armada in the 16th century.

War Banners
Gaelic Warriors had Bratach or banners; not dissimilar to those used in Asia by Japanese warriors.5 These banners were given names and carried sacred symbols, such practice predating medieval heraldry. The Sagas of the Fianna (from Gaelic Fiáin meaning wild or savage) include notation of the banners of the heroes:


Squab Ghabhaidh (The Terrible Sheath)

3 spears/snake

Goll MacMorna

Fulang Doghra (Prop of lamentation)

Hanging tree

Diarmuid O'Duibne

Loch Luinneach (Lively light)

Star over water


Dun Naomhtha (Sacred fort)

Ringfort & sun

Raighne Clan

Aoincheannach Oir (The single golden head)

A spear


Dealbh Ghreine (The sun)

The sun


Tri Chosa (three legs)

Mannin/Isle of Man symbol

Mac Ronan

Lamh Dhearg (Red Hand)

Red Hand of Ulster


Coinneal Chatha (Torch of Battle)

Hand with burning torch

MacLugach Clan

Graobh Fhuileach (Bloody Tree)

Tree with 3 hanging heads

The Fianna were destroyed at the Battle of Gabhra in 297 AD. The King of Midhe Cairbri with 3000 men took as allies Fertaigh MacMorna with 1000 men, Ferlaigh MacMorna with another 1000 men. They treated with Warriors from Connaught (1000), Ulster (1000), Men of the Lion (1000), Men of the Green Swords (1000) and the Men of the Snow (1000). Each of these units were commanded by one of the 5 sons of Ureriu. Against them stood 1000 Fianna of Leinster under Oscar and 1000 Fianna of the Clan Bascna (Fionn's family) under Fionn Mac Cumhail. Fercobh, King of Munster brought with him 1500 warriors from Munster and stood with the Fionn (because they were related through marriage). King Caibrihad succeeded his father Cormac MacArt as King and hated the Fianna. He had murdered the youngest member of the Fianna, Ferdia, and thrown the body over the ramparts of Tara at the Fianna. This was the cause of the battle.

The weapons of the Gael remained unchanged until the arrival of the Scandinavians from Denmark and Norway. The Gaels of Ireland and Scotland (The Dal Riada who had settled in the Western Isles and Scottish west coast) adopted the battleaxe from these "Vikings." Like the Scandinavian "berserker" and his battle fury, the Gael had a tradition of battle fury called "riastradh." The Gaelic battle-axe was known as a "Sparth," and was copied from the Viking battle-axe. Viking Swords were copied and made of steel, as were the very durable Viking riveted spears. The Swords of the Irish were made with a hollow "O" forming the pommel of the hilt, and often with a crosspiece or quillon which ended on either side, with what looks like a letter "E" but which could be used to snap a blade. This was the Gaelic double-edged broadsword.

The main armour of the Gael lay in his shirt or Léine, which was voluminous and folded and pleated (sometimes tarred or faced with leather) to provide protection. Over this was a cotún, a waist length bolero quilted jacket with slashed sleeves.

When Edward I invaded Scotland and France he took with him Irish Horsemen called Hobbler. The Hobblers were light cavalry, small but hardy horses, slightly larger than a pony. The Hobblers carried a lance, sword and targe. They patrolled, did reconnaissance, raided and forraged. The English installed these Irish horsemen in Castles and fortified houses along the border with Scotland. Both Scots and English adopted the hobbler style on both sides of the border in what were called the Marches. The English called the Hobbler's horses "Nagg" or "Bog-trotter" (because of their Irish origin) and the Scots called them "Galloway." The use of Irish hobbler cavalry gave rise to the famous Border Reivers, or Steel bonnets, in the cross border conflicts that raged between England and Scotland between 1314 and 1603. Indeed, in what is a tremendous paradox, the Tudor Monarchs recruited English Reivers6 for their campaigns of conquest in Ireland. These Reivers raided, looted, murdered and destroyed across Gaelic lands in a manner and ferocity that almost makes the latter Black & Tans respectable.

From Scotland, in the 13th Century, the Dalriada provided the Galloglas (Gall Og Liagh) Gaels with Norse Viking blood. Fresh from fighting alongside William Wallace, and later Robert the Bruce, they brought the skills of War that had defeated the English. With them came the Sparth Axe as a battle axe or pole axe, a return to chain mail (lúirech) and helmets and the Gaelic Claíomh Mór (Claymore) or great sword - a two handed double edged sword. The Scottish schiltron (phalanx of Scottish pikes, spears and halberds) which had been used by Wallace and Bruce to defeat the heavy English cavalry gave to the Irish Bonnacht and Kern the Pike. The sixteenth century brought further refinements.

The O'Neill brought in English Captains7 to train his Irish and Scottish soldiers in modern war. Armour was imported from Spain, Germany and England so that Galloglas along with Kern and Redshanks mercenaries could be seen wearing Spanish morion and combed morion helmets, cabacette and burgonet and articulated burgonets.

Gaelic chieftains still by tradition wore the Cathbarr, a decorated helmet more in keeping with ancient Greece. The O'Neill is credited with the introduction of the Caubeen (Caibín), the large Basque-like headwear of the Irish soldier.

The O'Neill also introduced wheel-lock firearms and cannon, and even imported specialists to manufacture them in Ireland. Many Scots and Irish mercenaries had been recruited to fight in the Wars of Religion in Holland and Germany and brought back innovations with them. One such was the Irish basket-hilted broad sword, a single or double-edged weapon with a protective basket, as was found on many rapiers and German basket hilted swords. The Irish Basket Sword8 (most probably developed in Scotland) had an inner leather liner. This was to protect the user's hand from injury on the basket during a fight. This was because the Gaels were not noted for wearing gloves and gauntlets like the "genteelmenne" of France, England, Germany and Spain. The liner was, in effect, a pre-installed glove. It gave the look that has set it apart as the Highland broadsword (often erroneously referred to as a Claymore). From French chroniclers we also know that the Irish of the mid-17th century still carried a Scion (or einnach from the Gaelic éineacht, meaning "together" or "paired" as the scion was paired with the sword). Scots now call the Scion a "Dirk." We know from the same chronicler that the Irish were well practiced at throwing the Scion accurately from a distance of 3-5 feet. In Ireland, with the ban on Gaels carrying weapons, the Irish took to carrying sticks of blackthorn wood, referred to some as Sílleleagh after the river in Waterford from which this form of stick has its origin. The stick has a mace like quality and was used with deadly effect in faction fight in the 19th century. The blackthorn stick has become the hallmark of the Irish officer and gentleman.

Weapons in use by the Royal Galloglas in their traditional duties

  • The Warpipes (the pipes are a weapon war, not a musical instrument)

  • The Irish basket hilted single edged broadsword with Royal Irish blue glove

  • The Scion worn by the Sparán (purse)

  • The Targe

  • The Spárth tua, Galloglas battle-axe (carried by the Galloglas commander)

  • The Blackthorn carried by officers of the Galloglas.

The Galloglas still wear the Caibín, a saffron kilt (filleadh) with a saffron shawl (seál) [having replaced the saffron léinte] over the right shoulder fastened with a penannular brooch. A tunic has replaced the cotún, with a léinte mor or great shirt underneath. Nothing more than the léinte mor is permitted beneath kilt and tunic, with brogues worn upon the feet.

Insignia of the
Royal Galloglas Guard

Khaki Shirt Sleeve
(warm weather) Order

  1. The Celtic Empire by Peter Berresford Ellis (Constable. 1990)

  2. Celtic Warriors by W.F. & J.N.G. Ritchie (Shire Archaeology. 1997)

  3. Rome's Enemies (#2) Gallic & British Celts by Peter Wilcox (Osprey. 1985)

  4. Cuchulainn, Hound of Ulster by Bob Stewart (Firebird Books. 1988)

  5. Fionn Mac Cumhail by John Matthews (Firebird Books. 1988)

  6. Reivers by Keith Durham (Montlight Publications. 1998)

  7. Celtic Warriors by Tim Newark (Blandford Press. 1986)

  8. The Border Reivers by Keith Durham (Osprey. 1995)

Photos of the Galloglas Guard during recent events in Charleston, South Carolina. The Guard served during a visit by Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile Selassie of Ethiopia during their visit to that city, as well as at a charity function (for their Imperial Highnesses' charity) at the Mills House Hotel, sponsored by General and Mrs. William C. Westmoreland

(top, then l-r) The Commander; Piper for the Galloglas is Captain Noel Whelan (Nollaig O'Faollain), shown piping in Charleston, SC, with an Irish Wolfhound, and at the battlements of Ballyhealy Castle during a Galloglas St. Stephen's Day gathering; Dalta Noel McCarthy at Ballyhealy Castle, holding targe and sparth axe

The Honourable Society of the Irish Brigade

This page under constant construction.
Last update: 24 April 2001
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Baron James Shortt of Castleshort,
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