The first record of the arrival of Galloglas mercenaries is in 1259 AD(1). Ireland was not one nation but a geographic location of five Gaelic kingdoms; (Chonnacht, Laighean, Uladh agus a dó Mhumhain - Deasún or Desmumu Tóirmún or Tuadmumu ). Thus in Gaelige the word for 5 is "cúig" and the term given in modern Gaelige for province is "cúige". Uí Néill. In contemporary Irish history books much is made of the position of "Ard-rí na h'Éireann" or High King of Ireland. No such title or concept exists in Brehon Law(2). Brehon Law can rightly claim to be the oldest surviving codified legal system in Europe. They are the ancient laws of Ireland, named from breitheamh(3). The concept of a High-kingship first emerged in the 7-9th century espoused by The Uí Néill. From 123AD till this time Ireland was divided into 2 spheres of influence and control(4) - Leth Cuinn, the northern half under The Uí Néill, and Leth Moga the southern half under the Eóghanachta.
The Uí Néill's half contained the kingdom of Tara, and Uí Néill variably described himself as "An Rí na tUí-Néill" - king of the Uí 'Néill's or "An Rí na Teamhair" - king of Tara. The Uí Néill had been kings at Tara, but had pushed north and by conquest seized the lands that are now Tyrone and Donegal. Both halves contained many under-kings giving allegiance to either Uí Néill or The Eóghanacht depending on where their territories lay. By his death in 980 AD we find Domnall, an Uí Néill being described as "High-King of Ireland" in his obituary in the Annals of Ulster. Brehon Law recognised only a King who was "An Rí bunaidh cach cinn"- the king who makes fundamental decisions over all people as the most superior. The ruler of the Eóghanacht was such a king, and the Eóghanacht did not subscribe or submit to The Uí Néill's illusion of themselves as rulers over all of Ireland. The term Ireland or Éire came from the Greek term "Ierne". Greek traders had encountered the Érainn people in what is now called Kerry and Cork. A Phoenician trading colony was established from ancient times at Great Island, Cork (now Cóbh) by Niemheidh, and in the "Annals of the Four Masters" Great Island is called "Oileán-Ardaneimheidh"(5). Indeed the remains of a Phoenician cemetery was uncovered on Great Island. Ptolemy, an Alexandrian Greek writing in 100 AD, speaks of the Érainn as the Iverni. The Romans named Ireland - "Ivernia" or "Hibernia" again after trading contacts with the Éirainn people of Munster. From the foreigners' perceptions this island became Érainn-land, corrupted to Ireland or in Gaelige "Ériu" then finally "Éirinn" or "Érin". By the 7th century the Érainn had been eclipsed by the powerful federation of dynasties called the Eóghanachta after their founder Éóghan Caomh (gentle) or Eóghan Mór (great), eldest son of Olioll Olum, King of Munster(6). The capital of the Eóghanachta was at Cashel (Caisil) from 4th century, in the centre of their kingdom. Cashel derives from the Latin "castellum," a fortified place or castle. Warfare continued periodically between the Gaelic kings, underkings and lords in the following centuries, mostly over land title and cattle raiding.
However, during the period Europe describes as the dark ages (due to the ravages of Huns, Goths, Visigoths and the general mayhem that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire), Ireland enjoyed a time of prosperity, with advances in culture, learning and construction that is called the Golden Age. This led to Irish missionaries from the distinctive Celtic church of Byzantium tradition evangelising in Wales (Cymru), Briton (Albain), Scotland (Alba), Cornwall (Kernow), Britanny (Breizh) and as far out in Europe as Kiev by the early 12th century in modern Ukraine (by the Eóghanachta).
This Golden Age was disturbed by the first Vikings raids in 795 AD by a raid on Rathlin Island. Norseman and Danes ravaged the monasteries of Scotland (Alba), The Isle of Man (Mannin), Briton (Albain) and Ireland (Éirinn) for the next 200 years. In 820 AD Cork was attacked and plundered. In 840 AD the Vikings started to establish colonies, usually taking over places which had been trading posts on the coast. Vikings settlements were established at Limerick, Cork, Youghal, Waterford, Wexford, Dublin, Annagassan, Carlingford, Strangford, Lough Neagh and Lough Foyle. In Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Wexford and Dublin hinterlands were created for the settlements. Battles with, and raids upon, the Gaelic kingdoms continued from 795 AD till 902 AD. In many cases Gaelic Kings made alliances with the Vikings enlisting them as mercenaries in minor wars of conquest against other Gaelic kings. Chief amongst those allying themselves with the Norse were the Dál Cais of Thomond. In 902 AD the Norse of Dublin were beaten and expelled, and there was no further activity till 914 AD, when Vikings fleets attacked and re-occupied Dublin, and attacked Munster and Leinster from a base in Waterford. The Vikings were already in decline in Ireland when they were defeated at the Battle of Clontarf 1014 AD. However the presence of the Vikings gave Rome a foothold in Ireland, as the Vikings who had become Christian swore canonical obedience to the Archbishop of Canterbury which supported Rome against Byzantium. By the start of the 11th century Munster was Desmumu and Tuadmumu. Other Kingdoms of prominence were Connachta, Breifne, Airgialla, Mhíde, Laigin, and Ulaid (split between the O'Neills and the O'Donnells and their allies).
Perhaps the most renowned in legend are the Fianna ("fiáin-ainmhí - meaning wild animals), supposedly established in 300 BC. They were based at Tara and at their height said to have numbered 25 battalions. Most Arthurian scholars agree that the concept of the "knights of the round table" is taken from the stories of Gaelic knightly orders. One of the earliest accounts of elite organised bands is given by Polybius, recounting the battle of Telamon in 225 BC between Celts and Romans. Special groups of spearmen called "Gaestae" threw themselves naked into battle for religious reasons. From this account grew the fable Celtic warriors going naked into battle as a rule.
"Both classical and vernacular literary sources describe a Celtic society based on a warrior élite where displays of combative prowess and individual feats of bravery were an important feature of life," states Dr Miranda Green of the University of Wales, Ireland(9). Scotland and Wales were at this time perhaps the last surviving Celtic nations.
A writer in the 2nd century AD wrote of the Celts, "The whole race ... is madly fond of war, high spirited and quick to battle."(10) Great pride was set in single combat to the death and in the taking of heads of slain enemies; which practice had a religious and spiritual value. The primary weapons of the Celt were a shield, a sword and javelins. The Celtic soldier was a much sought after mercenary. Celtic religion was one of the first to evolve a doctrine of immortality. Philostratus of Tyana (170-249 AD) observed that the Celts greeted birth with mourning and death with joy, and Caesar cynically stated that this would account for their deeds of reckless bravery in battle.(11) In the period before the rise of Rome, Celtic mercenaries were avidly sought after. The Egyptian pharaohs used them as bodyguards and to suppress rebellions. Queen Cleopatra had a bodyguard of 10,000 Celts. The Greeks from the 4th Century BC started recruiting Celtic Mercenaries in the thousands. Xenophon, disciple of Socrates, records the Celtic mercenaries fighting for Sparta were great horsemen. Xenophon served in the Spartan cavalry in a war against Thebes. What he describes echoes the commentary of Tudor commentators nearly 1900 years later in describing Irish horsemen.
"Few though they were, they were scattered here and there. They charged towards the Thebans, threw their javelins, and then dashed away as the enemy moved towards them, often turning around and throwing more javelins. Thus they manipulated the whole Theban army, compelling it to advance or fall back at their will". In 334BC Alexander met with Celtic warriors on the banks of the Danube and asked them what they feared most, expecting a reply that they feared him. Instead they stated "We fear only that the skies will fall on our heads." Cross the paths of ancient history and you will find the footsteps of the Celts fighting for the Carthaginians against Scipio and holding the center of their line, while Numidians and Carthaginians fled the Roman slaughter; in Spain and Italy with Hannibal; with Alexander the Great in Asia. The Romans, according to Livy, feared the Celts and always dealt harshly with them, slaughtering them or selling them in to slavery when the Romans were victorious. Celts preferred single combats between leaders rather than pitched battles.
To prevent this in 340 BC it was decreed that no Roman commander would settle military disputes through single combat with a Celt. Celtic Mercenaries were recruited by Carthage, Syria, Bythinia, Macedonia, Palestine, Syracuse, Sparta, Egypt, and eventually Rome.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) dismissed Celtic valour, writing, "It is not bravery to withstand fearful things through ignorance ... and again even if one understands how great the danger is, it is not bravery to withstand it through high-spiritedness as when the Celts take up arms to attack the waves; and in general all the courage of the barbarians is compounded with high-spiritedness." The Greeks gave the Celtic Race their name, "Keltoi,"(12) from the Celts only name for themselves, Celtillos. Caesar wrote "Who are called Celts in their own language, and Gauls in ours."(13) The terms Gaul, Gallitian, Celts or Gael were interchangeable. The Celts regarded the Romans as barbarians due to their practice of murdering prisoners or selling prisoners, including women and children, into slavery.
The Warriors found in Ireland before 1167AD were in attitude, languages, social customs and ways of war the Celts that had fought history's ancient wars in Europe, Africa and Asia.
Saxons (Sassenacht in Gaelic/ Sasseneg in Welsh) had invaded Celtic Briton. In 449AD The Celtic King Voltigern (Vawr-tighern) of Southern Britain hired Saxon mercenaries from the Rhineland under the command of two brothers Horsa and Hengist. After a year the mercenaries rebelled and put Southern Britain to the torch, murdering and seizing land.
The Saxon invasion began and continued virtually unchecked for till 937 AD when the Celts with Vikings allies are defeated finally in Battle at Brunanburh (near Chester).(14) In 1066 AD however the Saxons are defeated by an invasion of Normans from France. Following a disastrous civil war (1130-1140s AD), 100 years later a group of Norman knights who had backed the wrong side (King Stephen instead of King Henry II) found themselves without the Norman King's patronage.
In 1166 AD King Diarmait MacMurchada of Leinster was expelled from his land by allies of the King of Tara Ruaidrí Ua Conchobhair. Diarmait fled to Bristol and from there to London, where he swore homage to Henry II of England in return for permission to recruit a mercenary army to restore him to his throne. With this act MacMurchada repeated the folly of Voltigern; he recruited The Earl of Pembroke (otherwise known as Strongbow or Richard FitzGilbert de Clare) and his knights (Maurice FitzGerald, Robert FitzStephen, Meiler FitzHenry, and Robert de Barry), who were getting a difficult time from the Celts of southern Wales (whom they were trying to subdue). The promise of rich reward lay across the sea in Leinster. The first targets were all Vikings settlements. Robert FitzStephen landed with his force on 1st May 1169 at Bannow and went on to burn, pillage and take Wexford. A year later Raymond le Gros landed with a force at Baginbun, Dundonald. Strongbow arrived on 23 August 1170 and then Waterford was taken. In September 1170 Dublin fell, and all Vikings settlements were then in Norman hands. Diarmairt gave his daughter Aoife in marriage to Strongbow. Dairmairt assembled his army of 3,000 men. It comprised of 2,600 Leinster men and Vikings and 400 Normans. Dairmairt then invaded the lands of Irish chieftains who had refused to accept his over-lordship. The King of Tara intervened and Dairmairt promised to expel the Normans, but did not - instead he released them to the King of Thomond. Dairmairt died on 1st May 1171 and Strongbow claimed the Leinster Kingship. Suspicious that Stongbow might set up his own Kingdom in Ireland, Henry II landed with a large military force at Crook, Waterford on 17 Oct 1171, and stayed till the following spring. Henry II claimed the lordship of Ireland.
Here we meet an interesting dilemma for the English crown. It is normal for an English Monarch to display in their personal coat-of arms their properties - the arms of England, of Scotland if it is the case, and/or of territories in France, as was the case with the Plantagenets. However, the first English monarch to display the arms of the lordship of Ireland was James I, in the 17th century. The Norman adventurers, now calling themselves English, used the Vikings ports they had seized for raids against various Irish Chiefs and Kings. When the ports were seized it did not unduly trouble the Gaelic kings as it was simply Norman fighting their kin - Norsemen over land the Vikings had seized from Gaelic chiefs and kings. The lands of MacMurchada, which were ceded to Strongbow through his marriage to Princess Aoife, were divided by Henry II and dispersed to Norman knights. What was happening in Leinster held little interest for Desmond, Thomond, Connaught or Ulster; no more than fighting in Germany would have troubled Holland, Denmark or Sweden.
The first English accounts of Irish Knights and nobles are recorded at meetings. Irish knighthood is recognised as "an ancient custome of knighthood before they received the manners of English civility."(15) In 1385, Richard II visited the English colony of the Pale (Dublin and the area of Leinster and Meath). Visiting Irish Kings and noblemen were placed under the care of Henry of Castille, of Richard's household. Castille asked them:
"... if they would receive the Order of Knighthood and that the King of England should make them Knights according to the usage of France and England and other countries. They answered how they were knights already and that that sufficed for them. I asked where they were made knights, and how, and when? They answered that at the age of 7 years they were made Knights in Ireland and that a King maketh his son a Knight, and if the son have no father alive them the next of kin maketh him a knight."(16)
The Niadh Nask, founded by King Muinheamhoin, back in the mists of time, is known as the Military order of the Golden Chain. Keating, writing in 1633, tells us that King Muinheamhoin "ordered that all should wear about the neck a chain of gold to show their rank and to distinguish them from the common people."(17) The Niadh Nask became the Royal Bodyguard of Munster. King Olioll Olum of Munster had a Niadh Nask Royal Bodyguard who "wore green cloaks with silver brooches and every one of them wore a collar of gold"(18)
Seven hundred years later, in the 10th century, we read of King Cellachan of Munster (20th in descent from King Olioll Olum(19)): "And there was arrayed bravely by the heroes an ever beautiful very strong banner of the battle surrounded by standards, and strong princely ensigned tower of chiefs and a skilful phalanx of blue blades and a handsome enclosure of linen cloth around the heroes. For the heroes had neither blue helmets, nor shining coats of mail, but only elegant tunics with smooth fringes and shields and beautifully, finely wrought collars of gold". This fine linen shirt was the Léine Croich, examples of it can be seen as worn by Irish Warriors in a 16th century print in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford in England. Similar sketchings by Lucas de Heere in 1547 and 1575 show the Léine as worn by warriors. In fact the Léine was often a substitute, as from 20-25 yards of linen could be used in excessive pleating to provide protection from cuts and thrusts. In 1537 an Act of Common Order was passed seeking to reduce the linen used in the Léinte to a mere 7 yards. The garment is recorded in texts by Major in 1521, and Derricke in 1577. Nobles (and later - pipers who were noble by occupation) wore Saffron to denote their standing. According to Gordon of Straloch 1594: "As for their Apparel; next the skin they wear a short linen Shirt, which the great men among them sometimes dye of saffron colour. They use it short that it may not incumber them, when running or travelling." Major in 1521 writes: "From the middle of the thigh to the foot they have no covering for the leg, clothing themselves with a mantle instead of an upper garment and a shirt dyed with saffron." The Niadh Nask are often referred to as Munster Champions, and this description of the Royal Bodyguard comes from the 12th century Lebor na Cert: "Eight score cloaks, eighty bright shields on goodly arms, the King of Munster of heroic battles distributes these to his valiant champions."
"There was an order of Chivalry, the distinguishing mark of which was what was called Nasc-Niad. Neither the order nor the course of the decoration, was conferred except won on the field of battle. And the person who won the Nasc-Niad was called Nia-Naisc or Champion of the Collar like the English Knight of the Garter"(20)
The Irish knights were well regarded by the English
Similarly in 1543, Sir Anthony St Leger wrote in a dispatch to Henry VIII: "I think for their feat of war, which is for light scourers, there are no properer horsemen in Christian ground, nor more hardy, nor yet that can better endure hardness." Later in the same century, Sir Edmund Spenser would write: "I have heard some great warriors say that in all the services which they have seen abroad in Foreign countries they never saw a more comely horseman than the Irishman, nor that cometh on more bravely in his charge."(22)
In 1600, Fybnes Moryson states: "Their horsemen are all gentlemen (I mean of great septs or names, how base soever otherwise". Richard Stanihurst in 1577 writes: "These horsemen when they have no stay of their own gad and range from house to house like errant knights of the round table, and they never dismount until they ride into the hall and as far as the table."
In pursuing his wars in France and Scotland, Edward I required assistance from his Norman Lords in Ireland in 1296. They brought with them Irish mercenaries, Light Cavalry as described above called by the English Hobelar or Hobelur, and some Kern. The Hobelur were used as intelligence scouts, patrols, foraging parties, garrison troops and rapid intervention troops. So impressed was Edward I in January 1300, he hired 300 hobelurs. In 1301 a mercenary force of 2,300 Irish troops was raised, including 390 hobelurs. In 1303 an Irish force of 3,400 men included 499 hobelurs. And in 1347 fifty Irish hobelurs are to be found in the English force besieging Calais. Many of these horsemen came from Ulster, and The O'Néill were handsomely paid by the English.
The foot soldier, or Kern, was equally feared and respected: "The Kern is a kind of footman, slightly armed with a sword, a target (targe) of wood or a bow & sheaf of arrows with barbed heads or else 3 darts (javelins) which they cast with wonderful facility & nearness."
Kern wore the léine croich with its many pleats, often covered in pitch or with deer skin sewn over it to further its armouring properties. Over the shirt was worn ionar (short padded jackets). When chain mail shorts were worn they were worn over a padded jacket called a cotún. The Irish Kings and lords learned that they rarely won in confrontational battles with the heavily armoured Normans, and resorted to guerilla warfare and hit & run tactics rather than pitched battles. They also resorted to building castles and tower houses across their domains. Even still the invader, operating from the Viking settlements he had seized, operated ruthlessly. The King of Breffny, Tigernán O'Rourke, was murdered on his way to a meeting, and his severed head and body were displayed on the walls of Dublin. Compromise with the English did not work, and even compliant rulers such as Feidlim O'Connor (who fought as a mercenary for the English in Wales) found that English Royal promises were not usually kept. King Brian O'Neill of Tara was killed by the colonists in battle in 1260, and his head sent to London to be spiked for display at the Tower of London. Things were to change for the Gaelic Kings and princes in the arrival of the Galloglas.
An Gall Óglaigh
A number of Galloglas families became established in Ireland primarily with the Kings of Ulster (O'Neill and O'Donnell). Galloglas was a hereditary occupation passed with family septs from father to sun. The initial settlements were in Ulster.
Lesser known Galloglas families are :
The Galloglas were at the forefront the Gaelic revival, since they presented the first tangible opportunity for Gaelic Kings to match the heavily armoured entourage of the Norman adventurer. The Galloglas became the central component of Gaelic warfare, fitting between the mounted Irish nobles and the Kern footsoldiers. Many of the Normans intermarried with the Gaelic nobility, adopting their dress, customs and religion. This last statement may seem strange, but it should be remembered that the Celtic church was Byzantine, and the English Church had followed Rome in the great schism. Rome had sent Boniface to Germany to sabotage and dismantle the work of the Celtic missionaries. St Augustine did the same in Briain. In 1367, the infamous Statutes of Kilkenny were passed in an attempt to drive a wedge between the Normans and the Gaelic people in Ireland. It enacted laws on dress, language and religion that were in some cases capital if transgressed. The Gaelic Kingdoms of Desmond, Thomond, Connaught and Ulster functioned alongside an occupied Leinster.
A Famine in 1315-1317 weakened the English settlements and deprived the English of much needed supplies for their campaign against the Scots. The Plaque known as the Black Death hit the English Colonies of Cork, Wexford, Waterford and Dublin in 1348. Outside of The Pale three Normal Earldoms existed (Butlers in Ormond, and FitzGeralds in Kildare and Desmond) which became more of a problem to the English than the Gaelic Kings.
Scots warriors came well recommended. In 1297 Wallace had beaten the forces of Edward I (Plantagenet) in battle, and in June 1314 Robert the Bruce had delivered a crushing defeat to Edward II at Bannockburn. This demonstrated that the armoured might of the English could be taken on and defeated.
One of the greatest Galloglas families, the MacSweeney, arrived through the marriage of Domhnall Óg O'Donnell with a MacSweeney of Castle Sween and MacDonnel of the Isles.
Galloglas were primarily mercenaries: "No lord had a claim on them for a rising out or a hosting, but they might serve whomsoever they wished. It was the Scottish habit they had observed ... namely each man according as he was employed."(24)
Contemporary English writers describe the Galloglas in these terms:
"Valiant and hardy ... great endurers of cold, labour and all hardness, very active and strong of hand, very swift of foot"; "Picked and selected men of great and mighty bodies"; "men of great stature, of more than ordinary strength of limb"; "grim of countenance, tall of stature, big of limb, burly of body, well and strong timbered chiefly feeding on beefe, porke & butter."
The Galloglas were officered by their own chieftains and nobles. Galloglas were organised into Corrughadh, which the English translated as a battle of Galloglas. One Elizabethan observer reported that "a battle of Galloglas be 60 or 80 men harnessed on foot with spars, every one whereof hath his knave to bear his harness, whereof some have spears, some have bows."
John Dimmed in the same period speaks of each Galloglas having 2 servants, 1 to carry his equipment and 1 to carry his provisions. This unit of a Galloglas and his two servants or Kern are referred to as a "spar," derived from the word Sprat - the large Vikings style axe that many Galloglas carried. By 1575, a Corrughadh consisted of 100 Galloglas. Each Galloglas received annual payment of 12 cattle plus victuals in the form of butter and corn-meal. Commanding the Corrughadh was a "Consapal." The consapal received payment annually of 36 cattle, victuals equivalent to that of man, a war-horse and hack. The consapal was allowed a shortfall of 13 men, whose pay went to the Consapal. This would mean that by the end of the 16th century Galloglas Corrughadh were at minimum 87 men, plus their Kern or servants. The Consapal was also fined for missing men and equipment - 2 cows fine per missing man (1 for the man and 1 for his armour), a shilling for a missing sparth, a goat for a missing spear. The lack of a helmet was not fined since the death of the Galloglas in battle was sufficient punishment. By 1512 there were reported to be 59 Corrughadh through Ireland in the employ of various Kings and lords.
In battle the Galloglas had a formidable reputation for standing their ground in a do-or-die manner. We read in 1416, in the Annals of Connaught: "O'Ruairc's sons were in great distress until they reached their Galloglas ... but when they reached both parties turned upon their pursuers and killed 48 of the Fir Manach (Fermanagh)." In 1419: "The Connaught horsemen were hurled back towards their Galloglasses, but these held their ground and fought on." It is a fiction that the English ever banned the wearing of the green; however Henry VIII, in a statute of 1537, tried to eradicate the wearing of saffron by Irish noblemen (a concept contained in Brehon law): "No person or persons shall be shorn or shaven above the ears, or use the wearing of hair called glibes (a thick fringe or lock of hair on the forehead that frequently covered the eyes and was a characteristic of Irish warriors from gléasta - to dress), or have to use any hair growing upon their upper limits called or named a crommeal (croiméal - moustache, another Celtic warrior trait from pre-Christian times), or the use of any shirt, kerchief, of linen cap coloured or dyed with saffron." The act went on to make the speaking of Gaelige a treasonable offence. Tudor fiats from the period show that, because of prohibitions placed by the English and Scottish Governments on the movement of Galloglas between Scotland and Ireland, Galloglas formations accepted native Irishmen into their ranks to train and be Galloglas. These Irish Galloglas filled the gaps created by casualties. Obviously, these Galloglas were not "Ghall-Gaels" (foreign gaels), as gaels with mixed Gaelic-Viking blood were called. They became Galloglas by virtue of having been accepted and inducted in to the ranks of the Galloglas unit. This recruitment of the native Irish into the Galloglas tradition brought new prohibitions under English law for the native gael. In 1571, Henry's daughter, Elizabeth turned on the Galloglas in a prohibition: "The sons of all husbandmen and ploughmen shall follow the same occupation as their fathers. If a son of a husbandman or ploughman shall become a Kern, Galloglas or horseboy (Galloglas or hobulur's servant or page), or will take any other idle trade of life he shall be imprisoned for 12 months and fined." The act then required Irish Kings and lords to register the names of all their horsemen or footmen and to limit the size of their guard. Failure to do so was punishable by death. "All Irish law called the Brehon Law to be of no force." Any Brehon judge would forfeit all his goods and be imprisoned for 12 months. Henry's edicts against Gaelic hairstyles and clothes were reinforced with a £100 fine, then a massive amount of money. At the end of the 15th century, a Galloglas captain named Barrett (Baróid or Bairéad) with 24 Galloglas fled the Tirawley district of County Mayo in Connaught and entered the service of the Anglo-Norman Earl of Kildare. Soon the force of Barrett Galloglas was swelled by local recruitment and training to 120 men. The Barretts became the primary Galloglas of the Kildare area, to be found in local and national records till the end of the 16th century (at which time we find Barretts serving as officers in the Irish Regiments in Spanish Service).
The first Galloglas to arrive in Desmond was Edmond MacSweeney of Tirconnel, who brought his men from Donegal for the purpose of taking back West Muskerry between 1310 and 1320. He was hired by King Dermod III. Tradition has that the MacSweeneys arrived earlier during the reign of King Cormac V for the war against the Anglo-Normans, whom he defeated at the Battle of Mangerton in 1262, and at which he was killed. Two other MacSweeney septs were employed by the MacCarthys: Donough MacTurlough and Bryan MacSweeney of Ballogh. Edmond was known as MacSuighne na d'Tuath (MacSweeney of the battle-axes). The MacSweeneys and other Galloglas who served the Kings of Desmond received contractual grants of land and use of land in payment. A number of castles were built in this time and were garrisoned by the Galloglas. The more notable MacCarthy castles being: Ballea, Ballycarbery, Blarney, Carrignamuck, Castleinchy, Castlelough, Castlemore, Cloghroe, Carrigadrohid, Drishane, Dromaneen, Gorticlough, Kanturk, Kilbrittain, Kilbonane, Kilcoe, Kilmeedy, Macroom, Mashanaglas, Togher, Pallis and Castleshort (Caisleángéarre of which there were 4, 1 in Kerry, and 3 in Cork). Donel Mac Owen MacSweeney was warden of Blarney Castle before being given similar responsibility at Macroom in 1591 at Mashanaglas. The Papal Marquis Owen MacSwiney, Lord of Mashanaglas, died in 1986 and was the last of the line of Edmond. His widow, Marchioness MacSwiney, met his successor as Mashanaglas, Brigadier General Peacock, at Cashel in 1996 for the Quatercentenary commemoration of the death of the last King of Desmond. With the employment of Galloglas, The Niadh Nask ceased its function as a Royal Bodyguard, passing this to the Galloglas. The Niadh Nask retained its role in war and ceremonial duties at all other times. In 1580, Sir George Carew, the English president for Munster drew up an intelligent report of Irish forces in Munster. It showed that the last King of Desmond, King Donal IX, MacCarthy Mór could field 362 knights, 400 Galloglas and 5,500 Kern (a force of 6,262 men when Dublin's English garrison was no more than 1000).
(figures shown are Horse / Galloglas / Kerne)
TOTALS - 362 Horse / 400 Galloglas / 5,500 Kerne
In 1420 the Anglo-Norman Earl of Desmond married Mary, the daughter of McWilliam-Burke of Clanrickarde in Conaught; with her came the MacSheehy Galloglas into his service.
Galloglas, A time of transition
The Galloglas never died. The wars against the Tudors had shown them methods of war had changed - the Galloglas were families and so they changed their methods. Some of the Ulster and Connaught Galloglas families followed The O'Neill and The O'Donnell into exile and entered the service of Spain, which formed distinct Irish Regiments. The Tyrone Regiment was raised by Henry O'Neill, son of The O'Neill in 1605. Owen Roe O'Neill and Hugh O'Donnell raised regiments in 1633 and 1637 respectively, and Patrick FitzGerald raised another regiment in Spanish service in 1640. Hugh O'Donnell took command of all the Irish Regiments in Spanish service in 1647. Irish Regiments were also raised in French service Rodrigh in 1615, The Wall Regiment in 1632, Coosle in 1635, O'Reilly in 1639 and Castlenau in 1650.
The Gaelic skills of hand-to-hand and their style of fighting was not lost, as a French observer Boullaye le Gouz comments in 1644: "The Irish carry a scquine (scian - knife) or Turkish dagger, which they dart (throw) very adroitly at 15 paces distance; and have this advantage, that if they remain masters of the field of battle there remains no enemy, and if they are routed, they fly in such a manner that it is impossible to catch them. [A common complaint by English Tudor soldiers] I have seen an Irishman with ease accomplish 25 miles a day. They march to battle with the bagpipes instead of fifes, but they have few drums and they use the musket and cannon as we do. They are better soldiers abroad than at home."
Irish and Scots mercenaries fought first in the Army of the Gustavus Adolphus II, King of Sweden in the Regiments of Forbes. They are pictured in Stettin in August 1631 with bows/arrows, muskets and scian. Their number included redshank mercenaries who had previously served in Ireland. These units served in the Baltics and Germany, learning the new ways of war. They brought these skills home with them. The Confederate Wars of the 1640's in Ireland and the defeat of the Confederate forces under the remaining Gaelic Princes led to the Cromwellian invasion and Plantation. The Rebellion started in October 1641 in Ulster under Phelim O'Neill. The massacre of the Gaels that followed by English soldiers was carried out with the full approval of their government. One English officer resigned his commission because a Protestant Bishop from the pulpit had asked for mercy to be shown to Gaelic women and children. Because no objection was raised to the sermon, the officer adjudged those who had heard it traitors to the English cause.(26) The British Parliament did not trust Charles I and so passed a bill enabling an army of adventurers to be raised through private subscription the Subscribers to be rewarded through taking possession of confiscated Irish lands. In 1642 an army of 5,500 assembled at Bristol ready to invade Munster and put it to the sword. However the English Civil War broke out and the forces were redirected to Parliament's effort. It was not till August 1649 that Cromwell arrived in Ireland with his forces and put the country to the sword and the torch. By 1652 Cromwell was in possession of Ireland and the Gaelic families east of the River Shannon were dispossessed of their lands and driven in to Connaught.
In July 1644, Alasdair MacColla landed in Scotland with 2,500 Irish veterans led by the Clan MacDonnell in Antrim to link with Gaelic Royalist forces of the Clan McDonell in Scotland, under the Marquis of Montrose. The Puritan lowlanders had served in Protestant armies in Holland and Sweden. Their modern methods of warfare were no match for the old Gaelic penchant for close-quarters.
"Lowland armies were led by commanders who considered their proper place on the battlefield to be behind the front lines. In contrast the Gaels considered firearms a poor second choice to the sword, thought artillery an unnecessary burden, and were led in to battle by warrior-captains to whom drawing first blood was a point of honour. The old Celtic charge without refinement would have been enough to render ineffectual the covenanting army's relative modernism. Their firearms were too inaccurate to break the charge's impetus and were useless in close-combat. They relied too little on the blade weapons which could have given them parity with the Gaels in the hand-to-hand combat that followed the charge."(27)
An example is the battle of Tippermuir in 1644. The Gaels (Highlanders and Irish) beat a lowland force twice its size by charging them, firing their muskets, dropping them and engaging the superior force with swords, targe and scian. The lowlanders broke and fled. A further 1,000 of them died in the ferocious pursuit by the Gaels. A description of the hardiness of the Irish warriors who held the centre of the battleline with highlanders on either flank, is given by an eyewitness, the Rev. Alexander Carlyle saw an Irish soldier: "trailing his leg, so shattered at the thigh by a cannonball that it hung by a mere thread of skin. Observing his comrades somewhat dismayed at his misfortune, he hailed them with a cheery voice, 'Ha, comrades, such is the luck of war; neither you nor I should be sorry for it. Do your work manfully. As for me sure my lord Marquis will make me a trooper (horseman), now I am no good for the foot (infantry).' With these words he coolly drew his knife, without flinching cut away the skin with him own hand, and gave the leg to a comrade to bury."
The battle of Tippermuis, and subsequently Aberdeen, dispelled the nonsense that the Gaels could not withstand a cavalry charge. Again the Irish in centre of the line opened ranks at the approach of the cavalry then closed around them and annihilated them at close-quarters.
At Inverlochy in 1645 under the slopes of Ben Nevis, 1500 Irish & Highlanders stood against 3,000 Campbells and lowland regulars. This was after a forced march by the Gaels, without food for 2 days and through deep snow and waist-high freezing water. In this battle the MacDonells took the centre to be opposite the hated Campbells, and the Irish took the flank.
The Gaels charged. The Irish were told to hold their fire till they could set fire to the beards of the enemy, this they did. It came to close-quarters with blade. The Gaels lost 4 dead and 200 wounded and the Campbells and covenant army 1,500 dead. At Auldearn in May 1645 MacColla personally led a charge of 400 Irish into a vanguard of 500 Campbells again the day was won. 100 of the Irish died whilst 2,000 of the lowlanders were casualties. At Kilsyth the Irish and the Highlanders occupied the centre. When the Lowland cavalry attacked the Highlanders charged them, the Gaels vying with each other who would first spill the enemy blood. The Clan Ranald won by charging into the cavalry and cutting it to ribbons, followed closely by the Irish, MacDonalds, MacLeans and other highland clans. The lowlanders were routed leaving 3,500 of their 7,000 force dead or wounded. In 1645 MacColla returned to Ireland with his remaining warriors. In 1689, The Irish returned to fight alongside the Highlanders when 300 Irish warriors stood again between Clan MacLean and Clan Ranald at Killiecrankie during the Jacobite-Williamite war. The Gaelic charge won the day inflicting 3 times the casualties on the Williamite forces as were suffered by the Gaels.
The Irish were to stand again with the Highlanders for the last battle on Scottish soil - Culloden Moor in 1746. Irish piquets of the French Irish Brigade covered the Scots' retreat.
Returning to Ireland at the time of Cromwell, between 1651 and 1654, 34,000 Irishmen left for service in Foreign armies of France, Spain and Poland. Eyewitnesses repeatedly describe how the warriors left led by their pipers to the tune of "Garryowen." In France, Charles Stuart formed an exile army under French protection. The following Irish Regiments were formed officered by Irish Noble and Galloglas families - York (1652) Bristol (1652), Muskerry (1647), and Dillon (1653). Wall's Regiment became the "Royal Irish" and joined them in 1652.
Hamilton's Regiment was raised in 1673. Charles returned to England in 1660 as King and conveniently forgot his debt to the Gaels leaving them to rot in France, and then garrisoning his dowry Tangiers with some of them. In 1688 his brother James, then King, was ousted in a Palace coup. James fled to France, where he contracted to supply Louis XIV with 5,000 Irish soldiers in return for support. The revolt was blunted in 1691, and an infamous Treaty of Limerick was signed (and immediately broken), and Penal Laws enacted which removed every last vestige of rights from Gaels and Catholics. 20,000 Irish troops moved to France in what became known as the "Flight of the Wild Geese" (Na Géanna Fiáine). There were at the outset 2 Irish groups: The Irish Brigade in French Service numbering just over 6,000 men in 5 regiments - Butler, Fielding, O'Brien, Dillon and Mountcashel under the command of Justin MacCarthy, Lord Mountcashel - and the army of James II of the regiments O'Neill, Clancarty, Limerick, Athlone, Queen's, Dublin and the Irish Guards, plus 2 battalions called the King's and Queen's Dragoons. Then there were the Kings and Queens Regiments of Horse and 2 troops of Irish Horse Guards - in total 12,326 men. In the centuries to come the Irish were to leave their blood on many a foreign battlefield, fighting for France, Spain, Savoy, Venice, The Papal States, Russia, Prussia, Austria, Portugal and England. In the New World they fought for Brazil, Venezuela, Paraguay, Uruguay, Mexico, Canada and both the United and Confederate States. They have fought for South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, but always in Irish units.
Royal Galloglas Guard today
The Galloglas perform both ceremonial and protective functions. In Charleston recently The Galloglas escorted guests such as Prince Ermias Haile Selassie and General & Mrs Westmoreland. In London, the Galloglas were on hand at the War & Peace Ball at the Dorchester Hotel as an Escort for the Grand Duchess Maria Vladirmirovna Romanov. Immediately before the stroke of midnight, Wednesday, 15 July 1998, the Commander of the Royal Galloglas, with Piper and Adjutants, paraded in full Galloglas uniform at St. Peter & Paul Cathedral in the fortress of St. Peter & Paul, St. Petersburg, Russia. They rendered the traditional honours and played a lament before the coffins of Czar Nicholas II, his family & retainers, who were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
In one of their ceremonial roles, the Galloglas represent The Honourable Society of the Irish Brigade (in French service), at commemorations of Irish Soldiers in Foreign Service. Officers of the Royal Galloglas automatically are Officers of the Society by virtue of representing the Society at Memorial events. The Mountcashel Cross of the Society of the Irish Brigade was drawn by Dennis Ivall , and is worn by Officers. It is named after Justin MacCarthy, Viscount Mountcashel (first Duke of Clancarthy), the founder of the Irish Brigade. The Cross features crossed Galloglas Swords to the rear and a Royal Munster Crown with cap above. In the centre appear the Royal Arms of the Kings of France and in a belt the motto given to the Brigade by the French Royal Family - Semper et Ubique Fidelis - Always & Everywhere Faithful - and above this the date 1694 being the date of the death of Lord Mountcashel. The cross comes in 2 classes - Officers Cross and Breast Cross.
The Guard were present and their Piper played in 1996 at the 250th anniversary of Culloden, at the Irish Piquet's memorial. In the same year they were present at Killiecrankie. In 1995 in Belgium at Ypres, The Menin Gate and Paschendale, they mounted guard and piped. In 1997 they commemorated the Irish who fell at Fredericksburg. The life of Marshall Peter de Lacy in Russian Imperial Service was remembered at St Petersburg in Russia by the Colonel, Captain-Piper and 2 adjutants. The Irish who fell in Swedish Imperial service at Riga were commemorated in Riga in 1994 and 1997. In January 1998, The Royal Galloglas commemorated The Irish Volunteer Militia of South Carolina and Irish Confederate & Union veterans who fell at Fort Sumter including Captain John Mitchell (son of Young Irelander John Mitchell).
The Royal Galloglas wear a blue military tunic with the Galloglas badge on the right arm, a Saffron Kilt (filleadh beag or filleadhín) with saffron plaid on the right shoulder. The metal buttons carry 3 ancient crowns.
Royal Galloglas Guard Structure
crown is crown and cap
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