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Norse Irish

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 4 months ago

Norse Irish (III/46)


Revised list.


Proposer: Mick Hession




Norse Irish 842AD-1318AD


Element Scale: 1:100

Cold. Terrain: WW, Rv, BUA, Wd, M, H(S), H(G), O, RGo, Rd

Aggression: 3 if a Scots C-in-C, otherwise 1


Irish C-in-C - Irr Ax(S) 1

Irish Sub-General - Irr Ax(S) 0-1

Irish Ally-General - Irr Ax(S) 1-2


Cathach escorted by saint's familia, or non-combatant

King in tent - Irr WWg(I) {DBMM: Irr Bge(S)) 0-1


Irish nobles and household troops - Irr Ax(S) 8-16

Upgrade Irish nobles, household troops and generals to Irr Bd(I) All/0

Irish commoners and mercenaries – 1/4 to 1/3 Irr Ps(S) {DBMM: Ps(I)}, remainder Irr Ax(O) {DBMM: Ax(S)} 40-100

Upgrade any Irish Bd or Ax(S) or (O) to mounted infantry 0-1/3

Replace Irish commoners and mercenaries with Irish levies – up to 1/5 Irr Ps(I), remainder Irr Ax(I) ***20-40

Irish archers, slingers and staff-slingers - Irr Ps(O) 0-6

Irish dibergaich – Irr Wb(F) 0-6


Irish boats {Irish Bd, Ax or Ps}

Before 1050AD: Irr Bts(I) 0-2

From 1050AD to 1195AD: Irr Bts(O) 0-6

After 1195AD: Irr Bts(O) 0-2


Field Fortifications:

Trenches/Abatis to protect front of troops and/or Plashing for woods - TF 0-32


Only from 842AD to 1177AD

Orkney, Norwegian or Manx Viking Allies (List: Norse Viking or Leidang, Bk 3)


Only from 842AD to 1053AD

Dublin Viking Allies (List: Norse Viking or Leidang, Bk 3) 0-20


Only from 950AD

Palisade to protect camp as longphort - TF 0-12


Only from 990AD to 1194AD

Ostman ally-general - Irr Bd(O) 0-1

Ostmen - Irr Bd(O) *7-15

Downgrade ally-general and/or other Ostmen to Irr Bd(I) Any

Ostmen Boats – Irr Bts(S) {Ostmen Bd} 0-4


Only from 1050AD to 1175AD

Upgrade Irish Ally-General to Irish Tributary Sub-General 0-1


Only from 1131AD to 1259AD

Upgrade Irish nobles, household troops and generals to Irr Cv(I) as marcshluag Any


Only from 1150AD to 1194AD

Downgrade Ostmen Boats to Irr Bts(O) All


Only from 1167AD

Sersenaigh knights and sergeants - Irr Kn(O) *0-1

Sersenaigh infantry, up to ½ foot sergeants – all Irr Sp(I) or all Irr Bd(I), remainder archers – Irr Bw(O) *1-8

Upgrade Sersenaigh archers to archerii - Irr Cv(O) or Irr mtd Bw (O) 0-1/2


Only in 1170AD

Anglo-Norman Ally-General – Irr Kn(O) *1

Anglo-Norman knights and sergeants – Irr Kn(O) *2-4

Anglo-Norman infantry – ¼ to ½ foot sergeants – all Irr Sp(I) or Irr Bd(I), remainder Welsh archers – Irr Bw(O) *8-13

Upgrade Anglo-Norman Welsh archers to archerii – Irr Cv(O) ¼ to ½


Only from 1200AD

Islemen Allies (List: Scots Isles and Highlands, Bk 3)

Anglo-Norman Allies (List: Anglo-Irish, Bk 4)


Only from 1260AD

Galloglaich – Irr Bd(O) **6-12

Upgrade Irish nobles, household troops and generals to Irr LH(O) 1/3-1/2


Only from 1315AD to 1318AD

Upgrade C-in-C to Scots Irr Kn(O) **1

Scots Allies (List: Scots Common Army, Bk 4)



List Notes


This list covers Irish armies from the first recorded co-operation with the Norse until the end of Edward Bruce's invasion. During this period Irish armies transformed from tribal levies to largely mercenary forces. Armies from this list simulate large forces accumulated by provincial kings for major hostings, usually composed of the forces of their own kingdom supplemented by those of various sub-kings and foreign allies. Most Irish troops were light infantry armed with one-handed axes, javelins and shields. Poorer men lacking shields could be called up in an emergency. By the 11th century richer men could fight mounted, but usually chose not to, especially against Norman knights. Any Irish Cv(I) can be deployed dismounted as Ax(S). By the late 13th century they had evolved a skirmishing style of fighting, each mailed noble accompanied by two mounted horseboys or servants. As they are recorded as dismounting to fight during battle Irish LH(O) elements can dismount as Ax(S) at any time.


Minima marked * apply if any troops of that origin and date are used.

Minima marked ** apply if any Scots allies are used.

The minimum marked *** applies if any Irish levies are used.


Irish ally-generals can be used with allied contingents of other origins. They may only command troops specified as Irish. They may also command galloglaich, though these are not compulsory for ally-generals. The contingent of an Irish Tributary Sub-General is chosen as if he were an Irish ally-general. Such generals reflect the

conditions of the 11th and 12th centuries where more powerful over-kings could impose greater obedience on their sub-kings.


Ostmen are the inhabitants of the smaller coastal Norse towns and, after 1053AD, Dublin. An Ostman ally-general may only command Ostmen. If no Ostman ally-general is present then all Ostmen used must be in a single command under an Irish C-in-C or Sub-General who may also command other troops. Ostmen can be used with Viking (though not Dublin Viking) or Anglo-Norman allies.


The option to upgrade the C-in-C to Scots represents Edward Bruce's attempt to become king of Ireland. A Scots allied contingent is chosen as normal, though without an ally-general. It may include Ettrick archers and must form part or all of the C-in-C's command. A Scots C-in-C can command galloglaich. He cannot use an Irish Sub-General nor command Irish troops. Scots may be used with Islemen or Anglo-Irish



Other combinations of allies are not permitted.


Viking, Dublin Viking and Islemen allies may include naval elements up to the full number allowed in their lists. Only naval elements of a single origin may be used.


Sersenaigh cannot be used with Anglo-Norman allies, Vikings, Scots or Islemen. They must all be in one command, which must be led by the C-in-C or an Irish Sub-General who may also command other troops. Archerii, if taken as Cv, may dismount as Bw (O) at any time.


An Anglo-Norman ally-general in 1170 may only command Anglo-Normans and must command at least the minima, but additional Anglo-Norman elements in that year may also be commanded by the C-in-C.




Army List Dates


The current DBM list covers the period from 846AD to 1300AD which is stated to cover the period from the adaptation of Irish tactics in response to Viking invasion to the introduction of Irish cavalry. The start date seems to owe much to a common but largely fictional account of the defeat of the Norse leader Turgesius (O'Corrain 1972 p.91) whereas the end date is plain wrong.


I propose that the list should start with the earliest documented instance of co-operation between Irish and Viking forces in 842AD. The impact is trivial but has the advantage that it can be dated. The end date should extend to 1318AD, i.e. the end of the Bruce invasion at the battle of Faughart, as that battle (and Athenry in 1316AD) were the last big battles in Ireland before the 16th Century. After Faughart both native Irish and Anglo-Irish armies came to rely on paid mercenary forces instead of tribal or feudal levies, the culmination of a process that had begun in the 9th Century. These yielded armies of rarely more than 2,000 men, which cannot be represented as full strength DBM armies without significant scale

distortion. Also, the aftermath of the Bruce wars saw a major expansion of key troop types like Galloglaich and archers, which require a substantially different list.


Element Scale


The standard DBM element scale is between 1:128 and 1:256. Even at the lower end of the scale that gives unhistorically large Irish armies in this period. Discounting the tens of thousands, both Irish and Anglo-Irish, in Barbour's Brus only two armies of more than 15,000 are ever cited (EH I:24; SONG 1583 and 1751) - those levied by Ruaidhri Ua Conchubhair in 1170 and 1171. It has been pointed out (Scott and Martin, note 70) that the 60,000 men in the latter case is Old French shorthand for "a lot".


An element scale of 1:100 reduces maximum 500AP army size to about 15,000 men. Still very large but not impossible: the Ulstermen raised an estimated 10,000 men for the battle of Down in 1178 (EH II:17), which is considered possible by modern authorities. An Anglo-Irish source gives a credible 4,000 Connachtmen dead at Athenry (AI 1316). More powerful kings with contingents from several provinces had

access to larger pools of manpower. A 1:100 scale therefore allows us to simulate the army of a powerful provincial king, including contingents from allied sub-kings.


The sources suggest that most armies, those fielded by individual septs, numbered 2,000-5,000 men. Such armies are better represented using DBM200 or even DBA than by a big battle set like DBM.




During this period Irish armies fought solely within Ireland, though in the 11th century Irish fleets did raid Britain. 9th Century Irish armies were broadly on the defensive against the Norse and from 1171AD to approximately 1250AD the same applied against the Anglo-Normans. At other dates they were more aggressive, harrying the Norse and English territories within Ireland, and some individual kings (Brian Borumha, Toirdhealbhach Ua Conchubhair, Muircheartach MacLochlainn to name a few) were notable for the number of campaigns launched against other Irish kingdoms, but as these were internal campaigns they have no impact on aggression relative to other lists.


The published list's aggression factor of 1 looks reasonable for most of the period as it makes it unlikely that Norse Irish armies will invade contemporary Norse, Scottish or English territories, but does make them more likely to be the aggressors against Dublin Vikings of the 11th & 12th centuries (who on foot of a previous proposal now have aggression 0).


I would make the list's aggression 3 where Edward Bruce was in command, as all of his battles were fought in Anglo-Irish territory.




Climate is Cold, given Ireland's geographical position North of the Pyrenees/Alps line.


Waterway: Ireland is an island, after all. It is also well supplied with lakes west of a line from Dublin to Cork. Clontarf, by the sea, is probably the best known battle where a waterway featured.


Rivers: Many battles were fought at river crossings (e.g. Athankip and Athenry which both contain the root Ath meaning ford).


Woods and marshes are compulsory. "Ireland is a country of uneven surface and rather mountainous. The soil is soft and watery and there are many woods and marshes" (TH Ch. 1). "There (i.e. in France) men choose the open plains for their battles, but in Ireland and Wales rough, wooded country" (EH II:38). Medieval pollen recovered from Northern Irish bogs suggests that such woods were primarily of hazel and oak (Hall and Bunting 2001 p.218).


Steep Hills: After the Norman invasion the Leinster Irish retreated to the Wickow mountains and there were significant battles in Glenmalure (a very steep-sided glaciated valley with a marshy floor) in 1275AD and 1277AD.


Gentle hills: Many of the much fought over "passes" through the midland bogs were actually eskers, low ridges formed by glacial moraines. Battles in this period in which low, gentle hills are specifically mentioned include Drumderg in 1260 and Faughart.


Rough going: Represents thickets or boggy areas.


Built up areas: Norse towns like Dublin and Waterford are the best known but Irish towns existed too, mostly royal and monastic sites. Diarmait MacMurchada's residence at Ferns was fortified and contained stone buildings - the Song refers to it as a "city" (SONG: 816)


Orchards: Although Giraldus states that few kinds of fruit trees grow in Ireland (TH Ch.93), apple orchards should be allowed. These are not in the current published list, but Irish legal texts of the period mention them and specify the compensation due to an absconding tenant who has planted apple trees on his lord's land during his tenure (O'Corrain 1972 p.53).


Roads: Again, they are not in the current published list but the legal texts note several types – a Bothar was a cattle-droving road, a Set was passable only on foot whereas a Rot was suitable for wheeled traffic (O'Corrain 1972 p.67).




All generals are classified in the same way as Irish nobles. One C-in-C is compulsory, as per the rules.


One Sub-General is allowed to reflect a loyal sub-commander from the C-in-C's own kingdom. Typically this would be a son of the king, usually but not exclusively his heir presumptive or tanaiste. An example would be Domhnall Caemanach, the bastard son of Diarmait MacMurchada, who was his father's most loyal subordinate and subsequently was faithful to Diarmait's successor, the Anglo-Norman Earl of Pembroke (Strongbow).


Large armies were made up of contingents from numerous sub-kingdoms. Royal spin-doctors promulgated a largely mythical hierarchical structure of Irish kingships from the lowest ranking Ri Tuath (king of a sept) through provincial over-kings up to a High King (though the "office" of High King was really only effective within the kingdoms of the Ui Neill of Ulster and Meath before Brian Borumha). This hierarchy was more nominal than real and even the more powerful provincial kings of the 11th and 12th centuries were generally known as "Kings with opposition". The loyalty of Sub-kings was enforced through the taking of hostages, but despite this Sub-kings changed their allegiance from one over-king to another with bewildering

rapidity, sacrificing their hostages in the process. The current published list therefore classifies them as ally-generals which is true of the politics of the period.


Instances of unreliable battlefield behaviour are rarer – in 1200, the UIster allies of a Connacht king refused to fight as they would be facing Normans, contrary to prior agreement (Dolley p.101). However, most Irish wars of the period were, in DBM terms, civil wars in which unreliable ally-generals may change sides. Given the amount of conflict one would expect to find numerous examples of battlefield desertion in the annals but this is not the case, at least up to the early 13th Century – Maelsechlainn II's refusal to fight at Clontarf is a possible exception, but would seem to have taken the form of a withdrawal on the eve of battle rather than the "turn up but don't fight" behaviour of an unreliable DBM ally.


Therefore I believe there is a case to treat at least some sub-kings as sub-generals, but restrict the composition of their commands as if they were allied. Allowing all such allies to be upgraded would permit 3 sub-generals, giving Irish armies an unwarranted advantage over contemporary opponents, so the number of sub-generals is capped at two. This option is not available after the dissolution of provincial power structures in the aftermath of the Norman invasion.




A Cathach (Orpen p.12 note 18) was a reliquary containing relics of a saint borne into battle to improve the army's morale – sacred books, bells, croziers etc. It was usually carried by the saint's muintir or familia. This was the community that grew up around important religious sites and would contain a mixture of clergy and laity. Whether clerical or lay, they were not particularly interested in turning the other cheek and inter-monastery fighting is recorded from the 7th Century onward. De Courcy captured four such relics with their clerical escort at the 2nd battle of Down in 1178 (Orpen p.156), and relics were still being carried into battle in the early 15th Century (AC 1406).


As a cathach's main function was to raise morale it is best treated as a mobile shrine – WWg(I) in other DBM lists, or Bge(S) in DBMM.


I also propose that Brian Borumha be treated as a non-combatant figurehead at Clontarf, in a similar way to a Khazar Khagan. Actual battlefield command appears to have resided with his son Murchad, and he spent the battle praying in his tent. The current list treats him as Regular Sp(I) on the basis that he was protected by mercenary spearmen (Njal's saga calls them a shieldburg). However, that classification allows Brian to initiate combat, whereas it is clear that he did not have that capacity. Classifying him as WWg(I) removes that anomaly for DBM; the DBMM Bg(S) classification is an even better fit.


Only one such element can be fielded: I assume that any holy relics present would be with Brian as prayer aids and allowing two would give too high an EE/ME boost.


Irish Infantry


Medieval Irish society was intensely aristocratic. Legal texts describe a whole set of strata within the broader categories of kings, nobles and commoners. Slaves formed a stratum of their own at the bottom of the pecking order and were not expected to fight. Most freemen, whether noble or common, had a military obligation to join a hosting (morsluaghad) led by their king.


The Law texts laid down three types of hosting. The smallest involved all landowners, the next called to arms all shield-bearing warriors and the third was a levee en masse of all fit to bear arms (Simms 1987 p.116).


In addition to the morsluaghad, Irish kings of this period retained bodies of household troops (caemteglaig, lught tighe) as a form of standing army. Presumably these were analogous to contemporary huscarls, and appear to have been supported by the produce of the king's mensal lands (those that were set aside for the king's use during his reign). A body of 500 is mentioned in the 11th Century Caithreim Cellachain Chaisil (Flanagan p.55). Tighernan Ua Ruairc attempted to assassinate Hugh De Lacy by posting an ambush of men, "each armed with two spears and a large axe" (cum iaculis binis et securibus amplis - EH I:41). As this was not in the context of a general hosting these were probably his household. When household

troops are mentioned they usually form distinct bodies from the main host. An elite body of Connachtmen mauled the Ulster army's rearguard at Ballyshannon in 1131, for example (Dolley p.30).


In addition to his household and subjects a king might also hire mercenaries. The term suartleach (from Norse svartleggja, a mercenary) occurs in Irish texts of the 11th and 12th centuries and suggests that the concept was adopted from the Vikings. An alternative term, amus (plural amsu or amsaig), would appear to specifically mean an Irish mercenary. Mercenaries seem to have been favoured as bodyguards – in one poem the King of Aileach's amsaig (with curved swords) are distinguished from his foreigners (Simms 1987 p. 118) and at Clontarf Brian Borumha was protected by a shieldburg of mercenaries. Although the current DBM list allows this mercenary bodyguard in 1014 only, Simms notes that the Annals of Inisfallen record Brian's amsu losing 300 cattle to a raid in 985.


In the extremely unsettled conditions of the mid-13th Century mercenary troops became more important. The disadvantage of the morsluaghad was that it consisted of both the overking's own subjects and those of his sub-kings who might decide that their own domestic defensive needs took priority of those of their overlord (Simms 1987 p.121). Mercenaries, who were on hand while they were paid, were therefore a more reliable source of manpower. They were also more available at that time as the sector of society dispossessed by the Anglo-Norman conquest was primarily the warrior class itself. Deprived of their food-rents these men sought to make a living as swords for hire. The term Kern (from ceithern, which originally meant simply warband) came to be applied to professional Irish infantry (ceithirne congbhala, Simms 1996 p.100). As insufficient mensal lands were available they were billeted on the populace (a practice known as coign and livery), a billeted soldier being known as a buanna, whence the term bonnacht (Simms 1987 p.131). This usage has been incorrectly utilised by the current lists to distinguish better-

equipped kern.


An undated Irish law text distinguishes between a billeted mercenary (amus coindmeda) with a household mercenary (amus aentighe) (Simms 1987 p.132) so it would seem that the Kern coexisted with the household troops.


In the 13th century bands of Kern were known as ruta, from the French route (cf the routiers of the 100 Years War). They were of varying strength, one ruta of 200 being mentioned (Simms 1987 p.120).


Arms and Armour


Irish texts of the pre-Norman period repeatedly highlight the lack of armour among Irish nobles. This seems to be a literary device to emphasise their courage against armoured Vikings as the early 12th Century Book of Rights lists armour (Luireach, from the latin Lorica) as among the annual gifts due from the king of Munster to his sub-kings. For example "Ten steeds and ten drinking-horns and ten shields and ten swords and ten coats of mail to the king of Raithleann". Although given here as mail, such luireacha need not have been metal – aketons were far more common in later times. Whatever their type, an individual king is unlikely to need more than one per year so presumably the recipient would grant them to their nobles and retainers.


The Irish annals occasionally note armour, e.g. an account of Strongbow's sortie against Rory O'Connor's camp at Dublin states that "The Earl and Miles Cogan entered the camp of Leath Chuinn and killed a multitude of their rabble and carried off their provisions, their armour and their pack-horses" (Scott and Martin, note 126).


However, armour was still rare. Giraldus (TH 93) says: "…they go naked and unarmed into battle." The Song agrees, with frequent references to naked Irishmen. For example, SONG 672: "E les traitres sunt tut nus: Haubers ne bruines n'unt vestus" (and the traitors are naked: they wear neither hauberks nor mail); SONG 3328: "Y les Yreis, ki erent nuz..."(and the Irish, who were all naked).


By the end of the period armour seems to have become more common: after the Irish defeat at Athenry in 1316 the sale of captured armour funded the building of walls for the town. The long list of dead Irish leaders contains none with galloglaich patronymics so the captured armour seems to have been all worn by Irishmen (AC 1316). A late 13th century poem mentions mail and metal helmets (Simms 2001 p.250).


As to weaponry "They regard weapons as a burden and think it brave and honourable to fight unarmed. They use, however, three types of weapons – short spears, two darts (in this they imitate the Basques) and big axes well and carefully forged, which they have taken over from the Norwegians and the Ostmen, about which we shall speak later. They are quicker and more expert than any other people in throwing, when everything else fails, stones as missiles, and such stones do great damage to the enemy in an engagement." (TH 93).


On axes, Giraldus states (TH 100) that "From an old and evil custom they always carry an axe in their hand as if it were a staff". And again: "They hold the axe with one hand, not with both, the thumb being stretched along the handle and directing the blow; from which neither the helmet erected onto a cone can defend the head, nor the iron mail the rest of the body. Whence it happens in our times that the whole thigh of a soldier, though ever so well cased in iron mail, is cut off by one blow of the axe, the thigh and the leg falling on one side of the horse, and the dying body on the other."


Giraldus notwithstanding, two-handed use is occasionally illustrated. A manuscript of the Topographia shows a two-handed grip, as does the high cross of Durrow (probably late 9th/early 10th century). Whether wielded by one hand or two, axes appear to have fallen out of favour in the course of the 13th century, though long-hafted axes do appear again in the hands of Irish troops during the 16th Century.


Infantry tactics and DBM/MM classification


Tactics, at least from the Norman period onward, favoured ambushes and skirmishes, making use of difficult terrain. Barbour has a well-known passage where an Irish ally tries to dissuade Edward Bruce from engaging in open battle at Faughart: "Our custom in this country is to follow and fight, and to fight fleeing, and not to stand in open battle until one side be discomfited" (Brus XVIII). Such skirmishing tactics were a feature of Irish warfare until the 17th century.


However, on occasion Irish troops did stand in open battle. Clontarf is the best-known example. On that occasion, the Irish are said to have formed "a battle phalanx, compact, huge disciplined" and in such close order that a chariot could be driven across the width of the army (Hayes-McCoy p. 18). The shieldburg mentioned in Njal's Saga also suggests close order.


More dubious evidence for close order is provided by the poem known as The Battle of Cumar which probably dates from the 12th century. It is part of the Red Branch poem cycle so purports to deal with events in the 1st century AD though its description of combat is probably more relevant to conditions at its composition. The only extant manuscript is dated to 1717 and is unfortunately corrupt (Eickhoff 2003). In one passage a group of retreating mercenaries is described as "standing so close together that their spears bristled like black thorns, making a shield-guarded fortress of themselves against the horde chasing them."


The prevalence of skirmishing tactics combined with a willingness to fight hand to hand means that Irish troops should generally be classified as Auxilia in DBM terms. The option to grade nobles and retainers as Bd(I) is to allow for the possibility of close order: Irish shields and spears were too lightweight for categorisation as Sp; Bd is suggested by Giraldus' numerous references to the ubiquity of axes. The (I) grading is because only some wore armour, coupled

with their inability to stand up to Norman knights. I assume that only the members of the more professional warrior classes would have sufficient cohesion for close order fighting: it is notable that at Cumar and Clontarf it is mercenaries who are noted as forming the shieldwall.


Despite their effectiveness, one-handed axes do not meet the DBM definition of Ax(S), so most commoners would be classified as (O) in that ruleset. However, under DBMM classification as (S) is appropriate. Under DBM, nobles and household troops should be classified as Ax(S) to cater for the armoured minority and to allow for the fact that some seem to have used larger than usual axes. They retain this categorisation in DBMM.


A proportion of men should be classified as Ps to give Irish armies the skirmishing capacity and ability to traverse difficult ground for which they were noted. Shielded and javelin-armed skirmishers are of course Ps(S) under DBM. As Irish skirmishers were not outstandingly effective they should be classified as (I) in DBMM.


In general, commoners and nobles should be irregular. Household troops are more difficult to classify. They were paid and permanently embodied though undrilled. Personally I'd prefer the "trained" class recommended by Jim Webster but depending on where we place the bar for regulars they may qualify. If so, I'd allow up to half of the nobles and retainers to be upgraded, with this option being available from about 950 onwards.


The same issue arises for mercenary Kern: on the one hand they were notoriously undisciplined yet clearly as professionals were reckoned better fighters than the part-time commoners of the morsluaghad. Trained Ax and Ps would be my preferred classification. Perhaps allow up to 1/3 of them to be so classified in the period from 1205 to 1260 with between 1/3 and 2/3 thereafter.


The lowest class of men called to fight in a levee en masse lacked shields so in DBM terms are Ax(I). These would represent the "multitude of rabble" referred to in the context of the Dublin sortie above. Such men were by definition only called up as a last resort so few would have possessed specialist skirmishing skills. I'm therefore reluctant to allow many to be Ps(I).


I see no justification for Hd. While camp-followers are occasionally mentioned, it is normally in close proximity to baggage so they do not require separate troop elements. For example, in 1314 the MacConmaras pursued the routed O'Gradys and stormed the palisaded enclosure within a forest that held their cattle, slaughtering the women, children and old men left with the herds (Orpen p.476). Incidentally, in DBM terms it is interesting that baggage was here deployed in woods. Another argument against Hd is that in DBM Hd elements represent four to five times the same number of men as other troop elements so their inclusion would also result in unhistorically large armies.


At the suggested element:men ratio, the proposed list allows a maximum 2,000 nobles and household troops, including generals, plus 10,000 commoners and kern. This is consistent with the largest hostings mentioned. If any levies are used then at least 2,000 must be fielded: you can't have a selective levee en masse. They replace better-quality troops because they would only be raised in the absence of anything better, and en masse would give unhistorically large armies.


Irish archers and slingers


Irish archery is not mentioned at the start of the period, and the Irish word for bow (boga) is borrowed from Norse. However, there is a carving of a bow-armed centaur (the constellation Sagittarius?) dating to 1134 in Cashel, and the will of Toirdhealbhach Ua Conchubhair (d. 1156) makes specific provision for his bows, quivers and slings (Flanagan p.72). Perhaps these were hunting weapons, but by the time Giraldus wrote in the early 13th Century the Irish were using the bow in warfare: "By usage and experience the natives gradually became skilled and versed in handling arrows and other arms" (EH II:34). Barbour notes an Irish force defending a pass as consisting of 2,000 spearmen and 2,000 archers (Brus XIV) though he tends to greatly exaggerate the size of non-Scots contingents.


Both Giraldus and the Song frequently refer to thrown stones. Perhaps all were hand-thrown (TH 93, and The Battle of Cumar mentions "a hero's hand-stone…in the hollow of his shield", one of which is later cast to wound the opposing king), but slings were known, as noted above. The original Irish term for sling was (s)tabuill but was later supplanted by crann tabhall ("tree-sling") which suggests that staff-slings were adopted during the period. I don't have a date for the introduction of this term, though I've read one untrustworthy secondary source that has staff-slings in use in the 10th century.


Mounted troops


Irish forces could contain quite large numbers of mounted troops. Initially these were probably mounted infantry. Mounted men are depicted in relief on several high crosses of the 9th and 10th centuries. The base of the High Cross of Kells shows mounted men with shields and spears; that of Clonmacnoise, dated to the reign of Fland Sinna (d. 917), contains two registers on its East side. The upper shows men on horseback and the lower two chariots, each with 8-spoked wheels and two crew. The chariots may simply reflect the fact that High Crosses primarily illustrate biblical scenes but it is possibly that at the start of the period some chariots may still have been in use. Irish chariots appear to have been "battle-taxis" rather than fighting platforms so I believe their possible presence doesn't affect DBM classification as mounted infantry.


By the 12th Century cavalry seem to have evolved. The Book of Rights distinguishes several different kinds of horse, distinguishing horses for hosting from horses for the road. The term marchshluag (steed-host) appears at this time, and the first account of what seems to be mounted warfare is the defeat in 1131 of the marcshluag of Connacht by the marcshluag of Munster. Ruaidhri Ua Conchubhair allegedly mustered 19,000 horsemen at Athboy in 1167 and in the same year invaded Ulster with 7 battalions of horse and 13 of foot, supported by a fleet. There are also 12th Century references to leaders of horse soldiers, who are distinguished from commanders of foot (Flanagan p. 64). Presumably only nobles and retainers would have the resources and time to acquire even limited skills at mounted warfare. Certainly, by the 14th century it was these groups that supplied the horsemen of Irish armies.


Of course, the standard of horsemanship and equipment was not comparable to contemporary European norms and I suggest that early cavalry should be classified as Cv(I). According to Giraldus, "When they are riding, they do not use saddles or leggings or spurs" (TH 93) and Irish rider's lack of harness was commented on by outside observers until the end of the Gaelic order in the early 17th Century. Andrew Fisher (Slingshot 244 p.14) quotes an anecdote from the Anonymous of Bethune that the king of Connacht (all of whose men were on foot) was unable to ride a warhorse presented to him by King John. Yet it is evident from other Norman sources that Irish kings did ride: the attempted assassination of Hugh De Lacy mentioned above failed, "but just as Ua Ruairc was mounting, Griffin rode quickly forward and transfixed with his lance both the horse and the rider who was mounting it" (EH 1:41). I concede it is likely that an Irish king, used to small Irish horses, trying to mount a full-sized warhorse with a high-cantled saddle would not impress an audience of Flemish knights with the standard of his horsemanship.


Mounted warfare by Irish troops is not mentioned by English writers until the 14th Century, but Irish sources are clear that it persisted. In 1281, a large cattle raid was returning home with its booty, defended by a rearguard consisting of "a clump of red ensigns with a troop of horsemen" and in 1309, Irish nobles "handed over to their horseboys their horses to lead them away to the rear, pursuant to their resolve that never would they desert their chief", though one is reported as continuing to fight mounted (Simms 1996 p.107).


By the 14th Century Irish cavalry had adopted skirmishing tactics, the nobles fighting in company with their horseboys. Their primary weapon was a long spear, the horseman's staff, that was thrust overarm or thrown, hence their classification as LH(O).




The "Sons of Death" in the current lists seem to derive from an Irish account of young boys being fostered out to Norse families and maturing into unusually savage adults that is both colourful and wholly untrue (O'Corrain 1998 p.29-30).


Bands of landless adventurers existed outside normal tribal structures and were available as swords for hire. Some modelled themselves on earlier pagan warrior cults known as Diberga or Fianna, who sported a distinctive hairstyle – shaved at the front and grown long and plaited at the back - known as the culan (and for whom a slight amendment to the Scots-Irish list is required). In the Norse period such bands were called Gall-Gaedhil (Foreign Irish), Macca Bais (Sons of Death) or Meic Mallachtain (Sons of Malediction). By the 12th century the term Dibergaich was applied to such freebooters. Although anathemised by the Church they seem to have been seen as a socially acceptable way of letting young men sow their wild oats – a late 13th Century Ulster king was known as Niall Culanach, suggesting he had at some point worn the culan. By then they included some Englishmen, to the outrage of the Anglo-Irish parliament in 1297 (Simms 1996 p.101).


It's unlikely that these men were armed differently to ordinary Irish warriors. What singled them out, apart from hairstyle, was their savagery though this primarily manifested itself in their treatment of non-combatants. However, classification as Wb(F) does simulate a wilder nature and reflects the fact that as freelances they would be harder to control.


Numbers were probably small, though there is one annalistic reference to 6,400 Gall-Gaedhil. I've reduced that by an order of magnitude for this proposal.


Irish Boats


The Vikings appear to have had command of the sea at the start of the period, but Irish kings did have access to naval forces. A Viking force was defeated at Strangford Lough in 926AD in what may have been a naval engagement. However, when naval forces are mentioned they are usually hired or impressed Norse or Hebridean contingents up to the 11th Century. This remained the case in Ulster throughout, Muircheartach MacLochlainn hiring a Hebridean fleet in 1154. As this fought alone and at sea it is not covered by this list. During the period of the "Kings with Opposition" however we do find large Irish fleets operating, especially in inland waters: Toirdealbach Ua Conchubhair had 300 ships on the Shannon at one point. Such fleets co-operated with land forces, as in Ruaidhri Ua Conchubhair's hosting against Ulster mentioned above and Brian Borumha's attack on Connacht and Mide in 1002 (Flanagan p.54). Irish fleets are mentioned less frequently after the Anglo-Norman invasion, though some septs such as the Ui Maille and Ui Flaithbertaig maintained a naval tradition up to the end of the 16th century (the Ui Maille in particular were notorious pirates). Naval battles are still occasionally recorded in the later Medieval period, for example that between the Ua Domhnaill and the MagUidhir at Finn Loch in 1369 (Simms 1987 p. 111) but in general the reduced circumstances of Irish kingdoms from the late 12th Century probably precluded the maintenance of large naval forces.


Earlier Irish boats were currachs, leather boats on a wicker frame. They could be quite large, a 17th Century example being 12 metres long. For military purposes these were replaced by more substantial vessels on the Norse model as many Irish words for boat-related technology are Norse loan-words. There are no illustrations of Irish warships from the period of this list but many 15th and 16th century sources show clinker-built single-masted oared craft that are clearly on the Norse model and are indistinguishable from contemporary Scots vessels. The number of oars per side varies from 6 to 15, suggesting crew sizes of at least 30, though by the 1570s the Ui Maille had three galleys each crewed by 300 men (Breen 2001 p.433).


Despite having their own navies Irish kings seem to have used Norse fleets when they could get them, so I assume Irish boats and seamanship were inferior to their Viking equivalents, hence grade them as Bts(O).


Field fortifications.


Extensive Irish field fortifications are mentioned in both Irish and Anglo-Norman sources. Brian Borumha used entrenchments against the Leinstermen and Meathmen, whilst the Osraige defended a pass against against Diarmait MacMurchada with 3 distinct trench lines (Song 560: "Mac Donnchada, the traitor, who was lord of Osraige, had three wide and deep trenches thrown up….and raised a stockade along the top of each one"). 32 elements' frontage allows even quite large armies to dig themselves in.


Plashing of woods is frequently mentioned (SONG 1316, 1576, 1594). The common DBM list note that means surplus plashing is lost for want of woods to plash always struck me as being particularly ridiculous. The process of plashing was to use osiers and branches from the wood to be plashed. If there were no suitable placed woods then Irish kings would use the available labour for some other productive purpose.


A Longphort (literally ship-port) was the term originally given to fortified Viking landing-places. By the late 10th Century it was being applied to temporary fortified encampments of any type (Flanagan p.60). The term came to mean a permanent fortified residence after the Norman conquest (O'Conor p.339) but, as noted above, 14th century Irish armies used palisades to protect their herds. 12 elements are allowed because that is the de facto DBM standard for camp fortifications, but if another standard is agreed I do not have a problem with conforming to it.




Viking allies from outside Ireland were available throughout the period, the alliance of Sigurd of Orkney with Maelmordha of Leinster at Clontarf being the best known example. After Clontarf, instances of actual battlefield co-operation are much less common. Norwegian Vikings made occasional late interventions: Magnus Barelegs made a joint hosting with O'Brien in 1102 and King Haakon of Norway proposed an alliance with Ulster in 1265, though he was killed before arriving in Ireland (Duffy 2002 p.57). Manx Vikings were traditional allies of the Ui Neill against the Ulaid of East Ulster until the latter were conquered by John De Courcy (the son in law of Raghnall of Man) in 1177/8 (Duffy 2002 p.54).


Dublin Vikings were also available until the conquest of the city by Diarmait MacMurchada and Strongbow in 1170. The Dubliners' last independent action was in 1053AD; after that date they should be classified as Ostmen.


Ostmen was the term given to the inhabitants of the Norse towns in Ireland. The smaller towns came to be dominated by Irish over-kings from the late 10th Century onwards. Contingents supplied by these towns normally fought under their own leaders, but occasionally the most powerful Irish kings would impose their own sons as viceroys. Giraldus describes a mixed force of Islemen and Dublin Ostmen in 1171 as "clad in mail in every part of their body after the Danish manner" and carrying "round red shields protected by iron around the edge" (EH I:21). The Song states they were "tut serre" (SONG 2329). The only weapon mentioned is the axe borne by the Islemen commander, but by analogy with other Norse armies classification as all Bd(O) is reasonable. Armour may not have been universal in earlier forces.


The Song notes that the Wexford Ostmen dragooned into service by Diarmait MacMurchada attacked Osraige entrenchments faint-heartedly (SONG 1034) hence the option to downgrade to (I). These camped separately (SONG 965) so I suggest were allies rather than subjects: as they attacked they cannot have been unreliable allies in DBM terms. Wexford had previously raised 2,000 men to defend the town against Diarmait (EH I:3). Presumably fewer would be available for a full-scale hosting. Dublin later lost 400 men under Anglo-Norman command in an expedition against Osraige (EH II:2). Ostmen ceased to be available to Irish kings with the final loss of Limerick, the last Ostman town, to the Normans in 1195.


Links between Ostmen, especially those of Dublin, and the Scottish Isles were strong (Duffy 2002 p.54). Therefore I assume Ostmen naval developments followed the same pattern as in the Hebrides, with Viking-style longships evolving into smaller stern-ruddered Birlinns in the mid-12th Century. At any rate, classification as Bts(O) seems better to reflect the short-range nature of Ostmen naval fighting in an engagement between the Normans and the Cork Ostmen described by Giraldus: "So a naval battle began, with one side {i.e. the Ostmen} attacking fiercely with stones and axes, while the other put up a vigorous resistance with arrows and metal bolts, of which they had a plentiful supply" (EH I:32).


Anglo-Norman allies and mercenaries


Diarmait MacMurchada imported the first Anglo-Norman mercenaries in 1167, though Arnulf De Montgomery had served the Ua Briain in person earlier in the century. 200 of Diarmait's mercenaries deserted and took service with the Osraige (SONG 1088) and other relatively small bodies served Irish kings as mercenaries to the end of the period, the largest being the 900-strong troop under William De Burgh employed by first Cathal Carrach Ua Conchobhair of Connacht and then by his rival, Cathal Croibhdhearg, in 1200-1202 (Simms 1987 p.134). Other contingents included that of Walter De Lacy who served with the Ui Neill after being outlawed by Henry III. By the early 13th century the Irish employed the term sersenaigh (serjeants) to describe such

Anglo-Norman mercenaries. Simms identifies them as armoured axemen on the basis that the leader of one company, Johnock McQuillin, was killed with his own axe in 1311 but that does not give us any evidence on how others in his company were equipped.


The Anglo-Norman allied contingent of 1170 represents the force led by Strongbow. The next occasion on which an Irish-commanded army contained an allied (as opposed to mercenary) Anglo-Norman contingent was in 1200, when Cathal Croibhderg Ua Conchubhair was aided by John De Courcy against Cathal Carrach and his De Burgh mercenaries (Dolley p.100). Thereafter such forces are repeatedly mentioned, though precisely who was allied to whom depends on whether the source you're reading is Norman or Irish. Information on numbers is sparse so it is difficult to state with certainty whether allied contingents exceeded 25% of total force size.


Giraldus only refers to Milites (Knights), Armati (Sergeants) and archers, some of whom are mounted. The Song also mentions foot sergeants in several places as in the sortie from Dublin in 1171 where it claims that "from the English side only one foot sergeant (serjant a pe) was wounded" (SONG 1952). Both agree that by 1170 there were something under 2,000 Anglo-Normans in Ireland, though the Song adds them up to 4,500 when enumerating Diarmait's order of march for the conquest of Dublin. This consisted of an Anglo-Norman vanguard, a main battle of Irish and Anglo-Normans under Diarmait's personal command and an Irish rearguard (SONG 1600-1615).


The classification of Anglo-Norman troops follows that proposed by Andrew Fisher in Slingshot 240 as a prelude to his PhD thesis published in issues 241-249.


Islemen and Galloglaich


There was heavy settlement by Scots Islemen along the North Ulster coast from about 1200, encouraged by the Angevins who lacked English colonists to populate the area. The first explicit reference to Islemen serving as allies of an Irish king was in 1247 when "MacSomurli, king of Argyll" was killed at Ballyshannon when serving with Cenel Conaill (Lydon 1992 p.99). This was probably the same Domnall, grandson of Somerled, who had earlier allied with the Cenel Conaill in the attempt by Thomas Earl of Atholl to carve out a kingdom between the Foyle and the Bann (Duffy 2002 p. 56). In 1256, Henry III ordered his bailiffs and subjects in Ireland to prevent Aengus MacDomnaill from landing in Ireland, most likely to support the Ui Neill (Duffy 2002 p.57). Mac Ruaidri, king of Inse Gaill (the Hebrides) and MacDomnaill, king of Argyll were among the dead on Bruce's side at Faughart (Lydon 1992 p.95).


In 1259AD, Aedh Ua Conchubhair married the daughter of Dubhgall MacSomhairle and 160 galloglaich formed part of her dowry (AC 1259). This is the first occasion on which galloglaich are mentioned but they may have been present earlier (Kingston p.22). Their numbers and importance grew throughout the latter 13th Century. Large numbers are recorded as arriving as reinforcements for Edward Bruce (AC 1317). By the end of the 14th century the office of constable of galloglaich had become hereditary in some Irish septs (Lydon 1992 p.100). In the period covered by this list Galloglaich were confined to Ulster and North Connacht.


Although 16th Century sources state that all Galloglaich were axemen, this was not necessarily the case earlier. Galloglaich effigies on an Ua Conchubhair tomb in Roscommon dated to c.1385 (McNeill 2001 p.350) show a minority of axemen, most men having a 2-handed sword.




Edward Bruce invaded Ireland with 6,000 men in 1315 (Brus XIV), though three years of campaigning at a time of severe famine meant he could only field 2,000 Scots at Faughart (Brus XVIII) despite receiving considerable reinforcements of galloglaich in the meantime

(AC1317). His army at that battle included a contingent of Anglo-Irish rebels led by Walter and Hugh De Lacy (Duffy 2002 p.42). His own command appears to have consisted solely of Scots and galloglaich.


At 1:100 his original force would require 60 elements of Scots, enough to distort any Irish list. His last army would only need 20, which would distort the Scots Common list. The best way to represent it is in the way I have suggested, which is similar to the Spanish C-in-C available to the Feudal French list.


The Scots may have included archers, as the Annals of Clonmacnoise record that when facing an Anglo-Irish force across the river Bann "they had daily shooting of arrows of both sides of the river" (AC1315). It is however possible that the "Scots" archers on this occasion were supplied by Edward's Ui Neill allies.




Primary sources


- AC: The Annals of Clonmacnoise. Edited by Denis Murphy 1896. Facsimile reprint Llanerch Publishers 1993.ISBN 0947992-99-5


- AI: The Annals of Ireland by Friar John Clyn. Translated and edited by Bernadette Williams. Four Courts Press 2006. ISBN 1-84682-034-0


- Brus: The History of Robert The Bruce, King of Scots, John Barbour. Translated by George Eyre-Todd in Robert the Bruce's Irish Wars, edited by Sean Duffy. Tempus Publishing Ltd. 2002. ISBN 0-7524-1974-9


- EH: Expugnation Hibernica, Giraldus Cambrensis. Translated and edited by A.B. Scott and F.X. Martin, Royal Irish Academy 1978 ISBN 0 901714-11- 9 An on-line version is available at

www.yorku.ca/inpar in the Medieval Irish section


- TH: Topographia Hiberniae, Giraldus Cambrensis. Translated by John J. O'Meara, Penguin 1982 ISBN 0-14-044-423-8. An on-line version is available at www.yorku.ca/inpar in the Medieval Irish section


- SONG: The Deeds of the Normans in Ireland (La Geste des Engleis en Yrlande/The Song of Dermot and the Earl). Edited by Evelyn Mulally, Four Courts Press 2002 ISBN 1-85182-643-2. The untranslated text is available on-line at www.ucc.ie.celt


- The Battle of Cumar, in The Red Branch Tales. Translated by Randy Lee Eickhoff, Tom Doherty Associates, 2003. ISBN 0-312-87018-3


Secondary sources


- Breen, Colin: "The Maritime Cultural Landscape in Medieval Gaelic Ireland", in Gaelic Ireland c.1250-c.1650: Land Lordship & Settlement. Edited by Patrick J. Duffy, David Edwards & Elizabeth FitzPatrick. Four Courts Press 2001 ISBN 1-85182-800-1


- Dolley, Michael: Anglo-Norman Ireland, The Gill History of Ireland Vol. 3. Gill and MacMillan 1972 ISBN 7171-0560-X


- Duffy, Sean:

o "The Bruce Invasion of Ireland: a Revised Itinerary and Chronology" (2002), in Robert the Bruce's Irish Wars, edited by Sean Duffy. Tempus Publishing Ltd. 2002. ISBN 0-7524-1974-9

o "The Bruce Brothers and the Irish Sea World 1306-1329" (1991), in Robert the Bruce's Irish Wars, edited by Sean Duffy. Tempus Publishing Ltd. 2002. ISBN 0-7524-1974-9


- Fisher, Andrew: "Recruitment and Supply in mid-Angevin Armies". Slingshot 240-249.


- Hall, Valerie A. and Bunting, Lynda: "Tephra-dated Pollen Studies of Medieval Landscapes in the North of Ireland", in Gaelic Ireland c.1250-c.1650: Land Lordship & Settlement. Edited by Patrick J. Duffy, David Edwards & Elizabeth FitzPatrick. Four Courts Press 2001 ISBN 1-85182-800-1


- Hayes-McCoy, G.A.: Irish Battles. Gill and McMillan 1980 ISBN 0-7171-1048-6


- Kingston, Simon: Ulster and the Isles in the Fifteenth Century. Four Courts Press 2004 ISBN 1-85182-729-3


- Lydon, James: "The Scottish Soldier Abroad: the Bruce Invasion and the Galloglas" (1992), in Robert the Bruce's Irish Wars, edited by Sean Duffy. Tempus Publishing Ltd. 2002. ISBN 0-7524-1974-9


- McNeill, Thomas E.: "The Archaeology of Gaelic Lordship East and West of the Foyle", in Gaelic Ireland c.1250-c.1650: Land Lordship & Settlement. Edited by Patrick J. Duffy, David Edwards & Elizabeth FitzPatrick. Four Courts Press 2001 ISBN 1-85182-800-1


- O'Conor, Kieran D.: "The Morphology of Gaelic Lordly Sites in North Connacht", in Gaelic Ireland c.1250-c.1650: Land Lordship & Settlement. Edited by Patrick J. Duffy, David Edwards & Elizabeth FitzPatrick. Four Courts Press 2001 ISBN 1-85182-800-1


- O'Corrain, Donncha:

o Ireland before the Normans, The Gill History of Ireland Vol. 2. Gill and MacMillan 1972 ISBN 7171-0559-8

o "Vikings in Ireland and Scotland in the 9th Century". Peritia 12, 1998 pp. 296-339 ISBN 2-503-50624-0 – available on-line at www.ucc.ie.celt


- Orpen, Goddard Henry: Ireland under the Normans, 1913-1920. Edited by Sean Duffy, Four Courts Press, 2005 ISBN 1-85182-715-3


- Simms, Katharine:

o "Gaelic Warfare in the Middle Ages", in A Military History of Ireland. Edited by Thomas Bartlett and Keith Jeffery, Cambridge University Press 1996 ISBN 0-521-62989-6

o From Kings to Warlords, Studies in Celtic History VII, The Boydell Press 1987 ISBN 0-85115-784-X

o "Native Sources for Gaelic Settlement: The House Poems", in Gaelic Ireland c.1250-c.1650: Land Lordship & Settlement. Edited by Patrick J. Duffy, David Edwards & Elizabeth FitzPatrick, Four Courts Press 2001 ISBN 1-85182-800-1

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