Archive for History

O’Dohmnaill Ancient Manuscript

Clan, an ancient manuscript, the most ancient of Ireland’s famous manuscripts, and its shrine. It is reputed to be the work of St. Colmcille, a version of the Psalms. Since the 5th century it was used in the ceremonials to inaugurate the O’Donnell Chieftains and as a source of inspiration in battle. It has been held as a relic for the clan throughout the centuries even though it has been lost more than once and recovered in unusual circumstances. It is now restored and safe. Will its ceremonial functions ever be restored?. . .


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At Whitby, Roman and Celtic Christians negotiated for England

Grace at the negotiating table
At Whitby, Roman and Celtic Christians negotiated for England.
By Bruce Heydt

As Colman, Bishop of Lindisfarne, looked out over the North Sea from the cliff top where Whitby Abbey stood, the familiar verses from the Apocalypse may well have leaped to mind: “And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea.”

By the middle of the 7th century, England had felt the wrath of more than one beast from across the sea, and to Colman, the traditions practiced by the Church of Rome must have seemed no less threatening to his cherished Celtic way of life.

Several waves of missionaries had evangelized England during the church’s early centuries. According to tradition, Joseph of Arimathea himself had introduced the Gospel to British shores at present-day Glastonbury.

Christianity’s early gains in the south were reversed, however, when pagan Jutes, Saxons, and Angles (from whom Angle-land eventually took its name) overran most of the island in the 5th and 6th centuries, pushing the native Britons into Wales and Cornwall.

But while the Britons fell before the pagan invaders, the pagan gods gave way to the gospel of Christ. In 597 AD, Pope Gregory the Great sent a missionary to England to promote the gospel among the heathen. His representative, Augustine, received a cordial if unenthusiastic welcome from the Saxon King Ethelbert, whose wife, fortuitously, was Christian. From the church Augustine founded at Canterbury, Roman Christianity began to spread across southern England.

Bumping heads in Northumbria
At about the same time, another missionary movement gathered momentum in the north, flowing outward from the Scottish island of Iona, where the Irish monk Columba had established a religious foundation based on the Celtic Christian traditions that still held sway in Ireland. Both the Augustinian and the Columban branches of the British Church thrived and expanded until, inevitably, the two traditions bumped heads.

The bump occurred in the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria. The Northumbrian King, Oswy, embraced the gospel, but his counselors were divided over which of the two conflicting traditions deserved his allegiance. He therefore called a council of the Northumbrian clergy to decide the momentous question of whether to embrace the Celtic or the Roman styles of worship.

Colman championed the Celtic traditions as the more endemic, “British” brand of Christianity, with roots dating back to pre-Saxon days. He, along with Hilda, Abbess of Whitby Abbey, where Oswy had chosen to convene his “Synod,” looked upon the Roman ways as foreign to Britain, as another beast from across the sea threatening to overrun Britain once again.

Yet the differences between the Celtic and Roman practices, at least insofar as they were debated at Whitby, were trivial. Only two main issues divided the Northumbrian clergy. One concerned what kind of haircut monks should wear—the Romans’ circular hairless spot shaved on the top of the head or the Celtic semi-circular hairless arc on the forehead. The other involved the method of setting the date for Easter. On these issues, the future of Christianity in Northumbria turned.

An Anglo-Saxon monk, the Venerable Bede, writing 60 years after the event, penned one of only two known accounts of the Synod of Whitby. According to Bede:

Which is the True Easter?
“King Oswy first observed, that it behooved those who served one God to observe the same rule of life; and as they all expected the same kingdom in heaven, so they ought not to differ in the celebration of the Divine mysteries; but rather to inquire which was the truest tradition, that the same might be followed by all; he then commanded his bishop, Colman, first to declare what the custom was which he observed, and whence it derived its origin. Then Colman said, ‘The Easter which I keep, I received from my elders, who sent me bishop hither; all our forefathers, men beloved of God, are known to have kept it after the same manner.'”

Among these forefathers to whom Colman referred, he appealed most notably, if rather counterproductively, to the authority of Columba, the respected Irish monk who had established the monastery on Iona: “Is it to be believed that our most reverend Father Columba and his successors, men beloved by God, who kept Easter after the same manner, thought or acted contrary to the Divine writings?”

When Colman finished speaking, the cleric Wufrid addressed King Oswy. Wufrid had been raised in the Celtic tradition but had conformed to the Roman customs, after studying in France and Italy. “The Easter which we observe,” Wufrid countered, “we saw celebrated by all at Rome, where the blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, lived, taught, suffered, and were buried; we saw the same done in Italy and in France, when we traveled through those countries for pilgrimage and prayer. We found the same practiced in Africa, Asia, Egypt, Greece, and all the world, wherever the church of Christ is spread abroad. … And if … Columba … was a holy man and powerful in miracles, yet could he be preferred before the most blessed prince of the apostles, to whom our Lord said, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and to thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven?'”

A healthy alternative
Wufrid’s appeal to St. Peter proved decisive. “When Wufrid had spoken thus,” Bede wrote, the king said, “Is it true, Colman, that these words were spoken to Peter by our Lord?” He answered, “It is true, O king.” Then says [Oswy], “Can you show any such power given to your Columba?” Colman answered, “None. … ” Then the king concluded, “And I also say unto you, that [Peter] is the door-keeper, whom I will not contradict, but will, as far as I know and am able, in all things obey his decrees, lest, when I come to the gates of the kingdom of heaven, there should be none to open them, he being my adversary who is proved to have the keys.” The king having said this, all present gave their assent and resolved to abide by the Roman practice.

And that was that. Although commentators ever since have regarded it as a pivotal moment in ecclesiastical history, the Synod was, in truth, simply a local event convened to decide the mechanics of church ritual in Oswy’s own small kingdom. The king’s decision had no power to affect Church policy anywhere else throughout Britain—let alone the power, as many have claimed for it, to suppress Celtic Christianity. The Celtic traditions held sway in Cornwall and Devon for another 300 years, until those churches, too, voluntarily adopted the Roman practice.

Whitby’s true and lasting significance, it seems, is to provide a brilliant example of Christ-like submission to authority in disputes that have little bearing on the fundamental tenets of the common faith. Colman, still firm in his conviction of the superiority of the Celtic tradition, returned to his home in Ireland, where he was free to practice it. Before he left, Oswy honored his request to appoint his student, Eata, as the new Bishop of Lindisfarne. Hilda, the abbess of Whitby, though equally strong in her preference for the Celtic custom, nonetheless abided by the King’s decision.

Scholar of Christian spirituality Arthur G. Holder aptly notes: “Perhaps it is possible, after all, for controversies to be adjudicated with some degree of civility and grace, preserving respect for those with whom we disagree. The outcome of Whitby offers … a healthy alternative to burnings at the stake.”

Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today International/Christian History & Biography magazine.
Click here for reprint information on Christian History & Biography.
Issue 84, Fall 2004, Vol. XXIII, No. 4, Page 46

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Royal Galloglas – An Ríoga Gallóglaigh

This is somewhat lengthy but if you like Irish History, you will find it very interesting.Royal Galloglas (An Gallóglaigh na Rítheaghlach) An Ríoga Gallóglaigh Ireland before the Galloglas.

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).

Irish Warriors prior to the arrival of Norman mercenaries in 1167 AD, Irish Kings retained the equivalent of knights appointed from amongst their kin and nobles. This was supplemented in time of war by conscription of Kern (catharnach, meaning friendship or mutual benevolence)(7), who served as basic infantry in any conflict. Long before the advent of Christianity and the concept of European chivalry evolved, Canon Bourke, examiner in Celtic History at the Royal University of Ireland, identifies 5 separate military orders(8) An Niagh Nasc – knights of the golden chain , in modern Gaelige “niachas” is used as an alternative for the word chivalry An Curraidh na Craoibhe Ruaidhe – knights of the Red Branch, lit. Champions of the red branch or bough An Clanna Deagha – knights of Munster, lit. Family of Deagha An Clanna Baoisgne – knights of Leinster, lit. Family of Baoisgne An Clanna Morna – knights of Connaught, lit. Family of Morna. (There existed in Connaught the Gamhainride – literally knights of the calf, perhaps one and the same).

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 “800 year behind the time … Unable for want of stirrups, to couch a lance, he carried the javelin, which was his principal weapon, overarm in the ancient manner … The horsemen had always 2 horses, often 3 each with its groom or horseboy in attendance. These horseboys also took part in battle as light troops. Their horsemen were recruited from the richer and more prosperous elements of the landowning classes (that is from the Gaelic aristocracy.”(21) 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 The first recorded arrival of the Galloglas was in 1259. Prince Aed O’Connor of Connaught, son of King Feidhlim married a princess, daughter of Dubhgall MacRory King of the Hebrides. As part of her dowry she brought with her a force of 160 Galloglas. Galloglas came for the most part from Inse Ghall (The Hebrides); they were Gaelic speaking Scots inbred with Vikings.

Because of their Viking blood they earned the name Gall (foreign) and Óglaigh (a warrior) [“óg” meaning young and “laigh” from “Laoch” meaning a hero], so a Galloglas was a foreign warrior. The Scots themselves were Irish, mainly the Dal Riata from Northern Ireland who had traveled to Western Scotland and Hebrides. Initially they had gone to aid the Celtic people there – the Tuatha Cruithne tribes, such as the Caledonii and Maecatae, against the attempted Roman insertions.

The Romans eventually gave up on invasion and built Hadrian’s Wall. Their soldiers nicknamed the Celts of Alba “picti” because of their practice of painting and tattooing their bodies. The annals of Ulster records such Alba Celts living in Ireland as late as 809 AD. The Scots dressed and spoke the same language as their Ulster brothers for many years. Intermarriage was encouraged and some families maintained land on both islands. Tartan is we know it did not make an appearance till much later.

In 1247 when Maoileachlainn O’Donnell, son of Domnhall Mór died defending the Kingdom against Anglo-Norman adventurers at the battle of Ballyshannon. MacSomhairle, King of Argyll, died fighting at his side. 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 son.

The initial settlements were in Ulster. MacSúibhne (MacSweeney) MacDomhnaill (MacDonnell/MacDowell) MacSíothaigh (MacSheehy) MacDubhgaill (MacDougall) MacCaba (MacCabe) MacRuari (MacRory)

Lesser known Galloglas families are : MacSorley MacNeill MacGreal MacAnGhearr (Short/ Shortt/McGirr); MacAnGallóglaigh(MacGallogly/English); MacClean (MacAlean/MacLean/MacClane); MacAilín (MacCawell/Campbell/MacCampbell/Allen/MacEllin); MacAlister (MacEllistrum/MacAllister/MacAlistrum); MacAlexander, Agnew (O’Gnimh/O’Gnimha/O’Gnive)(23)

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).

Royal Galloglas In his book written in 1925, Butler writes:

“The main distinction in the latter period (16th cent.) would no doubt be between those who owned the land, and those who lived on lands belonging to others. Many of these were personally free; and often were offshoots from families of distinction in other parts of the island; but had settles as mercenaries, or in other positions of trust … Such were the fighting clans of the MacSwiney and MacSheehy.”(25)

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)
MacCarthy Mór, 40 / 160 / 2000
MacCarthy Reagh, Lord of Carbry 60 / 80 / 2000
Donough MacCarthy, of Dowallie 24 / 80 / 200
Taig MacCormac MacCarthy of Muskry 40 / 80 / 200
O’Keefe 12 / 0 / 100
McAwliffe 80 / 0 / 60
O’Donovan 6 / 0 / 60
O’Driscol 6 / 0 / 200
O’Mahon 26 / 0 / 120
O’Sullivan 10 / 0 / 200
O’Donough 12 / 0 / 200
O’Manony 46 / 0 / 100
O’Dwyer 12 / 0 / 100
McTeig McPhilip 6 / 0 /
40 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 O’Neill, O’Donnel and his Spanish allies were broken by the British at the battle of Kinsale on 24th Dec 1601. The Galloglas and redshank (Scots mercenaries) who were captured were put to the sword by the English.

The O’Donnel fled to Spain, where in 1602 he was assassinated by poison by an English agent. In December 1601, Spanish troops landed in West Cork and with O’Sullivan Beare set to ousting the English. The English troops under Carew invaded Desmond and carried out a campaign of murder, rapine, torching and terror worthy of the ancient Mongols. The Spanish surrendered and the O’Sullivan Beare set out on an epic forced march on 31st Dec 1602 to reach the safety of Ulster with him 400 fighting men, and 600 civilians (men, women, children the elderly and infirm).

After 15 days they found sanctuary at Leitrim Castle with The O’Rourke. Only 35 people including 1 women had survived the starvation, exposure and ambushes. On 4th September 1607, The O’Neill and The O’Donnell with 97 members of the family and guards left Rathmullan in Donegal for exile in Spain – the so-called “Flight of the Earls” (to the Gael it was the Flight of the Princes – English Earls who had rejected their titles to be Gaelic Princes).

A Rebellion in 1608 by The O’Doherty was put down, and further planned Spanish and French landings never took place. 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 is commanded by Colonel The Chevalier James Shortt, The Baron of Castleshort (An Ridire Séamus MacAnGéarr, An Tiarna na Barúntach na Caisleángéarr). Piper for the Galloglas is Captaen Noel Whelan (Nollaig O’Faollain). 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 Officers Colonel-Commandant Ardcheannasaí Colonel of the Watch Coirnéal Commandant Ceannfort Captain Captaen Cornet Coirnéad Cadet Dalta Companions Adjutant Aidiúnach Corporal Corparáil Garda Garda an Rí crown is crown and cap triangle is the trinity knot stripe is an inverted gold chevron Source Information-

“Atlas of Irish History” by Seán Duffy – Gill & MacMillan. Dublin.

“Historical Essays on the Kingdom of Munster” by The MacCarthy Mór, Prince of Desmond – Gryfons.USA.

“Dictionary of Celtic Mythology” by Peter Berresford-Ellis – Constable. London Written in Bérla Féini – ancient Irish and passed by oral tradition, they were though to be codified for the first time in the 5th century at the instigation of St Patrick, enlightener of Ireland. The most exact texts were published in Dublin between 1865 and 1901, in 6 volumes as “Ancient Laws of Ireland”

“Munster at War” by Commandant Barry O’Brien – The Mercier Press. Cork 1971

“History of Great Island” by Rev. Edward Dennehy – Guy & Co. Cork 1923

“The MacCarthys of Munster” by The MacCarthy Mór – The Dungalgan Press. Dundalk 1922 King Olioll Olum was 47th in descent from Heber, who lived 1700 BC and was the eldest son of Milesius. Milesius or Míl Espain (Soldier of Spain). Milesius who was originally called Golamh set out with his clan for Ireland on hearing that his nephew Ith had been called by the Dé Danaan. He does not reach Ireland, but his sons conquer it. Milesius’s wife Scota (daughter of the Egyptian pharoah Necantebus is killed in battle near Tralee in what is now Kerry.

“The Saffron Shirt” an academic paper. “Pre-Christian Ireland” by Canon U.J. Bourke – Dublin 1887

Dictionary of Celtic Myths & Legends by Dr Miranda Green – Thames & Hudson. London 1992

“Celtic Way of Life” by Agnes McMahon – The O’Brien Press. Dublin 1976

“The Celtic Empire” by Peter Berresford-Ellis – Constable. London 1990

“The Rise of the Celts ” by Henri Hubert – Paris 1934 (keltoi – greek/Celtae in latin)

“Gallic Wars” – “Qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur”

“Celt & Saxon” by Peter Berresford-Ellis – Constable. London 1993

“Titles of Honour” by Selden London 1621

“Froissart’s Chronicles” G MacCaulay – London 1904

“History of Ireland” by Keating. 1633

“Cuchulain of Muirthemne” by Lady Augusta Gregory – Dublin 1902

“Caithreim Cellachain Caisil” trans. Prof Brugge (10th Century manuscript) 1905.

“A Social History of Ireland” Vol 1 P. Joyce Dublin 1903

“Gaelic & Gaelicised Ireland in the Middle Ages” by K Nicholls – Dublin 1972

” Celtic Warriors” by Tim Newark – Blandford Press 1988

“More Irish Families” by E MacLysaght – Irish Academic Press. Dublin.1982

“Leabher Chlainne Suibhne” by Walsh (Book of the clan MacSweeney)

“Gleanings from Irish History,The Lordship of MacCarthy Mór” by W Butler – London 1925.

“The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland” by J Prendegast – Longman, Roberts & Green. London 1865

“Celtic Warfare 1565-1763” by J.M.Hill – J Donaldson Ltd. Edinburgh 1986<!–

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The Wapenshaw by Guy Sheldon

The Galloglaich (“Galloglas”) were Scottish mercenaries in Ireland, forming the backbone of the Irish armies from the late 1200s through the early 1600s. They were drawn from the best fighters in the Hebrides, mostly MacDonalds but also including the MacRorys, MacSwineys (or MacSweeneys), MacSheehys, MacDowells, and MacCabes. The word galloglaich means “foreign young warrior”, and refers not only to the fact that they were from outside Ireland, but that they were of mixed Scottish-Viking stock, the result of many centuries of Viking raids on the Western Isles and Scotland’s western coast.

During this time period, the Anglo-Normans (the “English” or, to us Scots, the “Sassenachs”) were constantly invading Ireland, trying to take it over as they had Britain, and the Irish were having a hard time fighting them off. The English had many heavily armored, mounted knights; their charge, with lances couched, could usually break up the lightly armored Irish troops. They were also better equipped for, and more experienced with, long campaigns and large set-piece battles, where the Irish were more used to short, small-scale clan conflicts.

The Scots had experience in dealing with the mounted English knights, and the heavily armed and armored galloglaich put that experience to good use, which is why they were so valuable to the Irish. While the average Irish warrior wore only padded or leather armor, the galloglaich were well-armored with a hauberk (mail coat) and helmet. Their favored weapon was a large axe, about six feet long, variously described by foreign observers as a halberd or bardiche, but generally what we now call a sparth axe; it had a long, narrow, curved blade about 18″ long, attached by its center and bottom to the pole. Other designs have also been illustrated, of course, but it was the sparth axe for which they were famous. Otherwise, they carried a sgian (knife, not unlike a ballock dagger or dirk), and as time went on they adopted various Irish-styled swords, some as large as claymores. With their axes, they could break a knight’s lance, or bring down rider and horse. They were noted for their courage and fierceness in battle; they were placed in the van (lead, front and center) of the Irish armies, with the lighter armed Irish footmen and cavalry guarding their flanks. In typical Celtic fashion, they would close quickly with their opponents in a ferocious and violent attack; they would either win quickly or die in the attempt. The English quickly learned to fear the galloglaich.

The galloglaich were well-paid for their efforts. In a society that valued cattle as wealth, they received 3 cattle per quarter-year, as well as all the grain and butter they needed. A consapal (captain) was paid even more, of course, and many became quite wealthy, owning large tracts of land. They were also fairly independent, and the MacDonalds had territory in the Glens of Antrim, where they were independent of both the Irish and the English. There, they maintained a continual military presence for several centuries. They got their start in 1259, when Aed O’Connor married a MacDonald princess; she was accompanied to Ireland by 160 MacDonald warriors. In addition to the battles against the English, they took part in many clan squabbles as well, sometimes on both sides. Their prominence lasted well into the 1500s, when England started another massive push into Ireland. During this time, the galloglaich were joined by more Scottish warriors, again mostly Hebridean, and called by the English “Redshanks” (a name that had been applied by the English to the Scots for quite some time, alluding to the Scots’ practice of going bare-legged and barefoot). These new warriors carried claymores, and some had firearms. This signaled a change in the styles of warfare to which the galloglaich had become accustomed; they continued to do well for a time, but by the late 1500s, they had become an anachronism. Pike formations protected by musketeers could blunt their charges, and were less vulnerable that mounted knights. Cannons and musket fire could carve through their ranks before they closed for hand-to-hand combat. They enjoyed amazing success in campaigns from 1595 through 1600, but their last appearance was at the battle of Kinsdale in 1601, where they were decimated by the English in a pitched battle.

While they were an anachronism at the end, and were ultimately defeated, the galloglaich played a huge role in preserving another part of Gaelic culture against the English for several centuries longer than might have happened without them. And by distracting the English with the Irish, they probably kept them out of the Scottish Highlands for a time, allowing that culture to survive also, and keeping our heritage richer than it otherwise might have been.


McCain, Barry Reid, ‘The Galloglaich’, “The Highlander”, January-February 1994, Angus J. Ray Associates, Inc. Barrington, IL, USA, 1994.

Newark, Tim, Celtic Warriors, Blandford Press, Poole, Dorset, GB, 1986.

Dunbar, John Telfer, The Costume of Scotland, B. T. Batsford Ltd, London, GB, 1981.

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Clan Callahan – Ceallachain

Ceallachan (Callahan, Callaghan, Cellachan, Ceallaghan, Cellachain, Ceallachain) of Cashel (Caisal, Caisil), was the 10th century King of the Irish province of Munster (i.e. the southwestern quarter of Ireland) from whom the family names of Callahan and MacCarthy and their variations (e.g. Callaghan, O’Callahan, O’Callaghan, MacCarthaig, etc.) were derived.

Q: What does Ceallachan of Cashel refer to and what was he like?

A: Ceallachan was called “Ceallachan of Cashel” because he conquered the town of Cashel, in Tipperary (among others), from the Vikings (Bugge 1905:121). Cashel had been the historical capital of the Province of Munster in southwestern Ireland. Professor Alexander Bugge thought he was probably from Kerry (Bugge 1905). His entry in The Dictionary of National Biography, begins by stating: “Ceallachan (d. 954), king of Cashel, called in poetry C. coir, or the just, and C. cruiaidh, or the hard, is the hero of several old popular tales of Munster” (1921-22:1302).

In the Irish medieval saga, Ceallachan was described as fair haired and also as having curly hair (Bugge 1905). According to the saga, he must have been fairly handsome since Lady Mor apparently fell in love with him and warned him on the road to Viking Dublin of her husband Sitric’s plot to kill him.

In the saga, Lady Mor, wife of Sitric, and daughter of Aodh, son of Eochaidli, daughter of the king of Inis Fionnghall, was secretly in love with Ceallachan, and is supposed to have said to Ceallachan:

“I fell in love with your red face,
In Port Lairge [Waterford] on the battlefield,
With your valour as you charged through the battalions,
With your size among the Munstermen.” (Bugge 1905:77).

In describing Ceallachan being shackled, Cormacan Eigas, Chief Poet of the North of Ireland and the author of The Circuit of Ireland said Ceallachan of Cashel (Callaghan the Just) had a “stout” leg (O’Donovan 1841). From the descriptions of Ceallachan at the Battle of Limerick he also sounded like a large, strong man (Bugge 1905:65).

Another possibility is that he might not have looked like the description in the saga. Francis John Byrne has written that: “A feature of the extravagant praise characteristic of bardic poetry is that the patron, whose descent from kings and heroes is elaborated , is not only credited with martial vigor, wisdom, generosity, and deeds of valour, but that there often appears a fulsome, if conventional, catalogue of his physical beauty. A late medieval poet with a puritan cast of mind attacked his colleagues for their patent dishonesty in such matters: . . .

Curling locks on a bald pate
you’re not ashamed to fabricate;
a blinking eye, asquint and blear,
you make ‘steady’ and ‘crystal-clear’.

Though yellow as leather and tanned with grime,
he’s praised in wheedling tones by you:
‘Skin like the swan’s wing, bright as lime,
has our swan-king of handsome hue’.

Certainly by this time the convention had become outworn and its true purpose forgotten. In fact these are the qualities of the bridegroom. The inaugural ode was in origin an epithalamium celebrating the wedding of king and country. . .” (Byrne 1973:16).

The medieval Irish Saga of Ceallachan is quite detailed and I have put a copy online. Click on the link to the saga to read Caithreim Ceallachan Caisil (“The Triumphs of Callaghan of Cashel”). The English translation was about 58 pages long in its original 1905 publication. The explanatory notes and introduction by Professor Alexander Bugge are much longer. Here is a small excerpt describing one part of the Battle of Limerick.

“However, when Ceallachan perceived, that the soldiers were being slain . . . and that Clan Eogan was being slaughtered, then arose his wrath, his rage, and his vigour, and he makes a royal rush, caused by fits of mighty passion, at the nobles of the Lochlannachs [Norwegian Vikings], while the noble descendants of the race of Eoghan protect him. Cellachan reached the warlike Amlaib and made an attack on the rough mail-coat of the warrior, so that he loosened his helmet under his neck, and split his head with hard strokes, so that the Lochlannach fell by him. Then Suilleban [ancestor of the O’Sullivans] with his 150 brave, valiant swordsmen arrived to his defence, and he made a breach of savage ferocity through the centre of the heroic battalion of the Lochlannachs” (Bugge 1905:65).

Q: What does the Saga of Ceallachan of Cashel describe?
A: The Saga describes many details of his life including his preparation for kingship. There are descriptions of battles, treachery, and a suggestion of romance. The Saga of Ceallachan of Cashel was a popular Irish saga and many copies exist. The story would probably make a good swashbuckling Hollywood action/adventure/romance movie. Ceallachan was a popular king and his life was celebrated in poems and sagas that were copied many times. Even his political enemies’ saga expresses considerable respect for him and much later the annals described him as a celebrated king. He was not, of course, particularly popular with the monks of Ui Neill dominated monasteries or the rulers of northern territories that he raided during forays into enemy territory. These annals (from outside of Munster) have tended to be the sources cited by contemporary Irish revisionist historians who explicitly have stated their agenda to portray the Vikings as less threatening and more assimilated than they are portrayed by the various Irish sagas. Historians who draw upon the Annals of Ulster to get a fair picture of a king of Munster (who raided Ui Neill dynasty monasteries) would be akin to a historian of the Vietnam War going to the writings of Ho Chi Minh to get all of his information about LBJ. The level of confidence or doubt one has in statements expressed by Ui Neill dynasty ecclesiatics or the court historians of Donegal in their annals or the negative judgments coming from armchair critics living a thousand years after the events occurred is probably best left as a matter for your own good judgment. Ceallachan was apparently well liked and well thought of by his own people in the years following his death.

Q: Is the Saga a work of fact or fiction?
Like many sagas, it is both historical narrative and historical romance. In today’s terms, which is probably not how it was thought of in the Middle Ages, it is part fact and part fiction. How much and what parts are fact or historical narrative and and what parts are fiction or historical romance will probably be endlessly debated. Certainly there was a Ceallachan of Cashel, King of Munster, in the tenth century who was involved in several military expeditions and the saga describes what people in the twelfth century would like him to have been like. How close the saga is to the real person is something everyone will ultimately have to judge for themselves. At this point it is a “scrambled egg” that is rather difficult to unscramble. In my personal experience most real people are not saints, devils, nor ideal heroes (although there apparently was a Saint Callaghan, or Ceallachan who was a monk at Clontibret i.e. a native of Clonturbet, County Monaghan. His Feast day is Sept 24th. There may have been a second Saint Ceallachan also. No history available. Feast day April 22nd. See the Ancient Order of Hibernians website at ). Many heroic sagas, however, are great stories and that is probably the criteria it was judged by in the Middle Ages. As the archaeological discoveries in Greenland and Newfoundland (based on the Norse Sagas) have demonstrated, any historian who dismisses medieval sagas as completely “made up,” or legends, does so at their own risk. When Heinrich Schliemann demonstrated that Troy actually existed, a number of historians had to retract everything they had written about the Iliad as a work of fiction. Irish historian Francis John Byrne has noted that, “Comparative studies in epic literature have shown that legends of an heroic age usually embody a kernel of historical fact” (Byrne 1973:48). Many of the details of the Saga of Ceallachan also suggest that it is an historically based document with some exaggerations (see e.g. Bugge 1905:X-XVIII). Opinions vary widely on this, however. Respected scholars like Donnchadh O Corrain, think it is in the genre of “dynastic propaganda texts” (O Corrain 1998:443), a perhaps overly sinister sounding label, and some think it is improbable that it is historically accurate. Donnchadh O Corrain concluded that it tells us a great deal about the politics of the twelfth century, but really not very much about the tenth. O Corrain’s critical analysis of the saga is problematic for me partly because of his difficulties with identifying the name of the individual in the saga with a name on the genealogical lists and his gross overconfidence that he has actually identified the right person in both documents in an era with no surnames, inconsistent dates or no dates, multiple spellings, and frequent use by many people of the same given names. As Byrne has pointed out “Pedigrees were often remodelled for political ends” (Byrne 1973:11). O Corrain also begins his summary of what he claims the saga said with a gross error which suggests that he did not read the saga all that carefully. O Corrain, in summarizing the saga makes the statement that “He [Ceallachan] is the only king according to the writers [of the saga] who defended Munster against the Vikings from the reign of Artri mac Cathail to the reign of the great Brian” (O Corrain 1974:7). The saga actually did not say that at all. In fact what the saga’s author said was just the opposite. Contrary to O Corrain’s summary the third sentence of the saga begins, “But from the time of Airtri to the good time of Cellachan they [the Vikings] found battles and conflicts” (Bugge 1905:570). Probably what O Corrain was stung by and may have been reacting to was the reference by the saga’s author to the writings of the medieval historians of the time. “It seems from the writings of the historians that from Airtri to noble Brian the heroes or territories of Munster were not freed, except what the nimble-sworded Ceallachan did to defend them” (Bugge 1905:58-9).

O Corrain frequently admits the genealogical lists are themselves historical sources that can be confused, contradictory, at odds with the annals, and subject to problems of accuracy and trustworthiness because of earlier manipulation. Some of the names match up well, such as Suilleban, and some he claims do not. The saga does not give calendar dates of the events described. The genealogy lists also do not list dates for most of the people. This was a period of idiosyncratic spelling. The saga, for example, spells one individual’s name three different ways. The entire exercise of comparing the characters in the saga to genealogy lists (with various levels of trustworthiness) would probably be considered incredibly tedious to read by most casual readers who would most likely just skip to his conclusion. O Corrain repeats his theme so often (that in his opinion some of the saga characters do not match up with his interpretation of the geneaology lists) that someone not reading his exercise carefully might not realize the underlying number of assumptions one would have to make to accept his analysis.

For more on the lively and unresolved general debate about the saga in secondary materials, go to the Opinions page. There have been a broad spectrum of scholarly opinions, and statements occasionally become rather vitriolic. As with all historical writing there are some careful, scholarly, and thoughtful historians, such as Bugge and O Corrain, who state their conflicting conclusions forcefully, and others who merely have repeated verbatim some monastic opinion from one of the annals or the opinions of other historians. A couple however have concocted what I would consider to be outrageous slanders based on their misreading of the primary historical sources.

The saga was not written by contemporaries of the events described but, according to Ellis, was commissioned by Cormac III, King of Munster, (a MacCarthaig) in the early 1100’s ( Ellis 1998).

What many people today do not realize is that literature written in the past was often a deliberate and unselfconscious mixture of fact and fiction. Caesar described unicorns in his book on the Conquest of Gaul and Tacitus did the same kind of thing in Germania. Authors writing in early genre’s did not sort books into our present firm categories of history and fiction. As Myles Dillon wrote in Early Irish Literature: “Epic and romance go hand in hand in Irish literature . . . A story was just a story, whether the matter was legend or history, and the boundary between the two was of less interest in medieval times than it is today” (1948:1).

Williams and Ford (1992), historians of Irish literature, have suggested that this saga was something of a transition saga between the early medieval sagas that were more closely tied to the historical sources of the time and the later medieval romance stories.

J.E. Williams and Patrick K. Ford (citing Dillon) point out in The Irish Literary Tradition that it was the custom of Irish kings, like those of India, to maintain poets to record their activities and sing their praise in poetry (1992:49). These poets were sometimes called sagamen. As Professor Bugge has pointed out, there are some differences between the poems and the prose in Caithrem Ceallachan Caisil, and some of the poems may have been composed earlier than the prose. For all we know today at least one of the poems could have been nearly contemporaneous with the events.

This may be the case regarding the poem about the Battle of Limerick which is introduced within the saga with the statement, “Therefore to testify to this the poet sang the following words in relating the slaughters and triumphs, and in enumerating those who were killed of the great Lochlannochs and those who were slain of the Munstermen in this great battle . . .” (Bugge 1905:66).

Unscrambling the egg, or evaluating exactly how much of a saga is fact and how much is fiction a thousand years later may be a difficult, if not an impossible, task. O Corrain has quoted Irish Historian Francis John Byrne on this thorny problem as it appears in earlier Irish history as follows: “Saga-materials of which Professor Byrne makes extensive use present even greater problems. His principles in the use of saga are clearly stated. He wrote in 1965: ‘Actual events and perhaps real persons are reflected in the literature … but the process is irreversible: we cannot reconstruct history from the sagas’ (Historical Studies v. 39). Here he warns that ‘where we have no contemporary documentation to guide us and reveal the extent of poetic distortion . . . it is impossible to reconstruct the actual course of events from saga-material’ (p. 48). . . . He justifies his own use of these sources:”paradoxically the historian can only make use of sagas when he realizes that they are largely mythology; as such they illuminate deep-lying concepts of ancient Irish kingship’ (p. 62)” (O Corrain 1980:151; citing Byrne 1965:39,48,62).

Contemporary documentation from the tenth century such as the annals, and the Eoghanact genealogies have their own problems of bias, lack of completeness, and questions about their trustworthiness. The numbers of people killed in battles appears exaggerated and rounded off to the nearest 500 or thousand, dates provided for the same event in different annals disagree with each other and dates may be unreliable, events for an entire year may have been recorded at the end of the year, authors of the entries may be repeating hearsay or half-truths, authors may slant the descriptions from a monastic viewpoint, authors may not be aware of events all over the country, and definitions of terms have changed over time. For example, the word “slaughter” meant killed and was often used to refer to people killed during a pitched military battle. The “place of slaughter” is the battlefield (Bugge 1905:64). When Donnchuan fights Flannabra in the saga, the way it is phrased is: “Flannabra, son of Ciarmacan, was captured by them, and there was made a great slaughter of his people, and the Ui Conaill were overthrown in the battle” (Bugge 1905: 73). It does not necessarily mean “massacre of defenseless innocents” as it has come to mean in the 20th century. It may have had a connotation that no prisoners would be taken. The saga says that “Ceallachan . . . said to Donnchuan that he should not kill the king of the Ui Conaill if he happened to fall into his power. Donnchuan gave his word that he should spare no one in battle or conflict even if he had been a friend of his before” (Id.).

In some sources like the Annals of Ulster, however, there are references like “A slaughter of the Deise was committed” which may have meaning as a “massacre” depending on how an Irish translator understands the original phrase but this sounds like Ulster propaganda particularly with the claim that he slew 2000. The Annals of the Four Masters indicate the source of the conflict had to do with their political submission to the Ui Neill even though they were ostensibly part of Munster. It reads that, “A slaughter was made of the Deisi by Ceallachan and the men of Munster, because they had submitted to Muircheartach, son of Niall; and he slew two thousand of them.” According to the saga, after fighting the Vikings of Waterford, Ceallachan’s men proceeded “thence to the country of the Deisi and take hostages and pledges of Domnall son of Faelan. There was concluded a matrimonial alliance and made friendship with him, and Gormflaith, the daughter of Buadachan, was given to him” (Bugge 1905:71). Did the Deisi break an alliance and ally themselves with the Ui Neill when the Ui Neill later showed up with an army?

In reading annals written by Ceallachan’s enemies you are reading history from their point of view and undoubtedly there was another side to this story. Some historians have viewed the annals uncritically but there are many entries that openly display the particular individual viewpoint of the authors. According to Francis John Byrne, who wrote Irish Kings and High Kings (1973:203) the Ui Neill were much better dynastic propagandists than the kings of Munster. A comparison of the Annals of Inisfallen (probably written until 1092 by Diarmat Ua Flainn Chua, bishop and head of the monastic school at Emly, Co, Tipperary, Munster according to Byrne 1979:12)) with the Annals of the Four Masters (written in Donegal) shows how inflated the numbers were by the latter and also how the king of the Desies was part of the slain. This suggests that this was a military battle rather than a “massacre of innocents” which is the impression one would get from the Ulster account. The Annals of Inisfallen record: “A slaughter of the Deisi by Cellachan, king of Caisel, in which Celechair son of Cormac, king of the Deisi, and four hundred along with him, fell.”

Another thing that should be noted are the various dates given by different annals (934, 939, 940, 941AD) for the same event. Byrne indicates with regard to the Annals of Inisfallen that: “Each annal is preceeded by ‘K1’, standing for the Kalends (1st) of January, usually followed by data giving the day of the week and the age of the moon on that day; by comparing this information with Easter tables, the year could be deduced from its place in the cycle. Dating with the year stated in ‘A.D.’ terms came into general use in Ireland only gradually during the course of the 11th and 12th centuries” (Byrne 1979:12). O Corrain added 2 years to the Four Masters and 8 years to the Annals of Clonmacnoise to correct them, which then agree with the dates in the Annals of Inisfallen. For an earlier date he added 6 years (rather than 8 years) to the Annals of Clonmacnoise to obtain agreement with the Four Masters (O Corrain 1974:4).

If the Annals of Innisfallen were commenced around 1015 AD then they are the compilation or annals closest in time and space to the events described in the 940’s (P.W. Joyce 1903). For the sake of historical balance, it is perhaps unfortunate that “a book of annals called the Psalter of Cashel, . . . compiled by Cormac Mac Cullenan . . . has been lost” (P.W. Joyce 1903:526).

Sometimes the leaders of the monasteries that Ceallachan plundered were members of a powerful clergy and were probably also members of the dynasties that were his political enemies. Clonmacnoise was in Ui Neill territory. He did not plunder his own churches. Irish monasteries in the Middle Ages were even known to have raised troops and had battles with each other (O Corrain 1972:83-89). In 760 AD there was a battle between the monasteries of Clonmacnoise and Birr and in 764 there was a battle between the monasteries of Clonmacnoise and Durrow. Five monasteries were sacked by Feidlimid mac Crimthain, a monk who became king of Munster (c. 820-841 AD) and there was an increasing secularization of the church during this period (Id.). O Corrain has noted that, “It is clear that long before the Viking wars the plundering and burning of monasteries was commonplace in Irish society” (Id. at 86).

According to the text of Caithrem Ceallachan Caisil, a learned medieval king was expected to know the sagas and the stories surrounding the history of his ancestry. This was one of the ways of unifying his people and exhorting his soldiers to fight. The text describes and models valued behavior such as bravery, loyalty, learning, and fierceness in battle. Since this “word painting” of Ceallachan was commissioned by one of his descendants, it should perhaps not be entirely unexpected that his portrait was painted in a flattering light. It is a wonderful window into the mind and value system of the Middle Ages (either 10th or 12th) and contains a wealth of descriptive details about dress, the details of warfare, a king’s inauguration ceremony, and the relationships of people.

We are very fortunate that the saga has even survived and that we are able to read it a thousand years after Ceallachan of Cashel’s death. Those who are interested in the origins of their surname do owe a debt of gratitude to the scribes, poets, and historians of the past. We are not here to ‘bask in our ancestors’ reflected glory’ (as Maire Ni Mhaonaigh so humorously put it) but are curious about where our surname came from and have an interest in history. Maire Ni Mhaonaigh seems to me to have missed the more significant point that a learned and competent medieval king was expected to know and to use the knowledge of his ancestry to unify his people, maintain his bond with them, and exhort them to action and bravery before battles. Two political leaders would recall a mutual ancestor and their ancestor’s accomplishments during important decision-making conferences and in order to make and cement alliances. It was an important skill for a king and everyone who elected him knew it. Two political leaders ‘basking in an ancestor’s reflected glory’ was no trivial matter in the Middle Ages and could result in war or peace between groups with competing interests, and life or death for soldiers. It should not be trivialized by ethnocentric historical commentaries today. An appeal to dynastic kinship and dynastic relationships was the basis for an appeal for military assitance in a real pinch.

According to the saga, after Ceallachan’s inauguration, battles were fought at Limerick, Cork, Cashel, and Port Lairge (Waterford) with the “Lochlannachs” (Norwegians, or “Vikings,” and on occassion used as a more comprehensive term that includes Danes). Ceallachan was then treacherously captured by Sitric, King of Viking Dublin (or “Ath Cliath,” the most powerful Viking town) who had offered his sister in marriage. A series of battles ensued resulting in Ceallachan’s release and Sitric’s death by drowning during a pitched sea battle on the Viking warships in the harbor at Dundalk, north of Dublin. Ceallachan had been “bound to the mast” by the Vikings who were going to sail east and kill him when the men of Munster and a fleet of ships arrived to rescue him.

The prose in the Saga of Ceallachan was probably written in the early 1100’s and was transcribed several times into the 15th century. One of the three scribes in the 15th century involved in copying earlier manuscripts into what is now called The Book of Lismore was a friar named O’ Buadachain. Ceallachan was the son of Buadachan.

Various copies, including a section of the Book of Lismore survived, and were compared by Professor Alexander Bugge to make his translation. Some scholars think the later Norse and Icelandic sagas may have been modeled on this and other Irish sagas and the writing of Caithreim Ceallachan Cashel may have been motivated by the appearance of a saga written in the same style about Brian Boru.

Q: When did he live and what was his date of death?
A: According to Geoffrey Keating, Ceallachan of Cashel’s reign lasted ten years (G. Keating, 1913, History of Ireland, vol XV, London: Irish Texts Society, p. 205). The Frys claimed that he ruled from c. 936 to 954 AD (1988:53).

Ceallachan of Cashel d. 952/54 A.D.
“Having survived attempts on his life by Dalcassians and Danes he was struck by lightning [during a thunderstorm]” (Newman 1983:62).

It might be noted that a death from lightning or drowning are special hazards for anyone wearing chainmail.

“…Cellachan of Cashel, the son of Buadachan, died a laudable death at Cashel Anno Domini 952” (Bugge 1905:115).

The Annals of the Four Masters indicates 952 AD and the Annals of Ulster indicates 954 AD.

At present the most frequently seen scholarly estimate with adjustments seems to be that Ceallachan died in 954 AD.

How do I fit in-
Callahan to me – my genealogy

Irishman John Callahan married Elizabeth. He died in 1766 in Rowan County, North Carolina. It is thought from historic records that our John Callahan was “pure Irish” and a 1741 British legal proceeding in Ireland recorded a “John Callahan” banished from Dublin as a vagabond and ordered shipped to America. (See The History of John Callahan for more information)

John’s son Willian S. Callahan (1737) married Eleanor Beard. Their daughter Mary “Polly” Callahan (abt. 1774) married Dr. Thomas Gillespie Black

Mary and Thomas’ daughter Mary Polly
Black married Jessie DeVore (France). Mary and Jessie’s daughter Hannah DeVore married John Berry (Wales)….

Hannah and John’s daughter Mary Polly Berry married John Berry Compton. Mary and John’s son Edward Berry married Mary Jane Catharine White…

There daughter Martha Ann Compton married James Andrew Armstrong (Native American, Scotland)… and the list goes on until is reaches me and my children.

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The History of John Callahan

Based upon existing records, one of the earliest Callahans to appear in western North Carolina was a John Callahan.

Whether John was an immigrant from Ireland or a second generation “pioneer” is not known. Traditionally, the earliest Callahans in western North Carolina migrated from Pennsylvania in thr 1750’s. Family tradition also related that the first of these Callahans were “pure Irish,” and not part of the more common “Scotch-Irish” immigrant stock.

Many of these “pure Irish” immigrants to America in the early 1700’s did not make the trek across the Atlantic voluntarily. A 1741 British legal proceeding in Ireland recorded a “John Callahan” banished from Dublin as a vagabond and ordered shipped to America.

Whatever the basis for his journey to American, John Callahan, like many early immigrants, probably arrived with little or no money or property. Many became indentured servants who agreed to work off their debts over a number of years. Many of these indentured servants married and started families, and after completing their service purchased some property for themselves. Early records point to John Callahan as being a member of this ‘class’ of citizens.

Colonial records show that two John Callahans were married in the Presbyterian Chruch of Philidelphia, Pennsylvania in 1742/43. One John Callahan married Elizabeth Sweet on 28 January 1742, and a second John Callahan married Winifred Caseburn, on 23 November 1743. A John Callahan was also listed in a Lancaster County, PA, 1747 census record with two sons, William and John, and in tax records for Charlestown Township, Chester County, PA in 1756-57.

Sometime after 1757, John Callahan and his family apparently joined many of their neighbors and began their journey southward from Pennsylvania down the “great wagon road.” When John Callahan arrived in North Carolina is not known. His first appearance in NC records may have been in 1765 in old Rowan County, NC, where a John Callahan, Darby Callahan and John Duncan witnessed a marriage bond of Marshall Duncan, Jr. and Densten Rogers.

Based upon early records of John Callahan and others mentioned in conjunction with his estate, it appears that John and his family may have first settled in NC in old Rowan County on the South Fork of the Yadkin River, near the Bryan and Irish Settlements. An area between the Bryan and the Irish Settlement later became known as “Callahan’s Township.” Described by James Wall in his History of Davie County, “Callahan’s Township” is in current western Davie County and received its name from the several early Callahan families which orginally occupied the area along Hunting Creek, a tributary of the South Fork of the Yadkin River. One tradition in the Callahan community states that a Callahan traded land to an Anderson for a flintlock rifle.

John Callahan’s next appearance in NC records was actually after his death. In 1767, the estate of John Callahan, deceased, was brought before the Rowan County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions. Appointed as administrators for the estate were John’s widow, Elizabeth, and his son, William. Posting bond for the estate were William Luckey, John Johnson and John Barnet Stagner. Between 1767 and 1769 the estate was inventoried and settled at a value of L119.19.7. If any land was part of the estate it was not mentioned.

Filing claims against John Callahan were William Grant, Sarah Slevin, Joseph Goss, Aaron Vancleave, Alex Martin, Abner McCoy, John Buntin (Burton), Robert Luckey, John Irwin (Arwine), Samuel Young, James Brandon, James Whitaker, George Wilcox, George Wilcockson, (nephew of Daniel Boone), Francis Lock and Joseph Hughes.

Many of these persons migrated to Rowan County, NC form Chester County, PA and established themselves in the Bryan and Irish Settlements in the 1740’s and 1750’s. Read Carolina Cradle written by Robert W. Ramsey for more information on the settlement of Rowan County.

At the time of his death it is traditionally thought that John Callahan was married to an Elizabeth Stagner, the daughter of John Barnet Stagner and Elizabeth Findley (no marriage record has been found).

Based upon the date of Elizabeth’s date of birth (abt 1733) and the age of John’s oldest children, this was probably a second marriage for John. It is also most probable that this marriage did not take place until after John’s arrival in NC, sometime between 1757 and 1762.

In 1769, the estate of John Callahan was divided between 11 children and John’s widow, Elizabeth, who took a child’s share. None of the 11 children, except for the co-administrator, William, were named in the estate. Only one child of John Callahan, Rosannah , has been proven to be from his marriage to Elizabeth Stagner.

The three eldest children, William, John and Edward, were undoubtedly from his first marriage. The true parentage of the remaining seven children cannot be determined at this time.

Also, sometime before 21 July 1768, John’s widow, Elizabeth, was married to a David Duncan. Elizabeth Callahan Duncan died in Iredell County, NC, and left a will dated 1803 in which she named two daughters Sarah and Mary, and five grandchildren, Robert Callahan, Benjamin Callahan, Elizabeth Callahan, Peggy Callahan and Martha Dobson. (None of the grandchildren listed seem to be Williams children).

Elizabeth Callahan’s will was witnessed by Margaret Hill Bone, the wife of John A. Bone, Sr. John and Margaret were married in Chester County, PA in 1946 and migrated to NC around 1749. Many migrated from Chester County, PA after a typhoid epidemic resulted in a large exodus from the area. The Bone family is oftened mentioned in regards to the Callahan family.

Of the 11 children mentioned in the estate of John Callahan, only three have been proven by other documentation. Traditionally, however, eight of the children have been identified using circumstantial evidence. The traditionally thought children of John Callahan are:

William, John, Edward, Valentine, James, Henry, Unknown, Unknown, Rosannah, Sarah.

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Red Hugh O’Donnell

Red Hugh O’Donnell (c.1571 – 1602) son of Sir Hugh O’Donnell and Inghean Dubh

Doe Castle, near Creeslough, Co. Donegal was the seat of the MacSweeney family, who built the castle in the 16th century. Nicknamed “MacSweeney of the Battleaxe”, they were a violent and tempestuous family for whom murder or treachery held no scruple. It was to Doe that Inghean Dubh, wife of Hugh Roe O’Donnell, sent her teenage son, Red Hugh, to be trained in the arts: literature, music, swordsmanship, endurance, horsemanship and indeed all such educational pursuits as befitted a young Irish prince. Strangely, the personality of Red Hugh seems to have survived the centuries, bestowing on his memory the near-magical qualities of CuChulain and Fionn MacCumhail. This enchantment is something impossible to define, but perhaps more than anything else, it is the idealism they lived for – and their readiness to fight for – that has captivated the hearts of a nation.

It was at nearby Rathmullan that the young Red Hugh O’Donnell was kidnapped by the British and brought in chains to Dublin where he was to endure six years of the most appalling torture and suffering before he finally escaped. It happened this way:

In order to bring Donegal into subjection Sir John Perrot, the British gauleiter*, decided they would have to destroy the O’Donnell armies. This however, would take several thousand soldiers and he just did not have such a force at his disposal at that time. However, he thought of another plan. ‘Give me permission,’ he said to his masters, ‘to try a device I have in hand. I will quieten O’Donnell for you without the loss of one man. If my trick fails we can try force afterwards.’ Perrot was given his head and he bribed a sea captain, appropriately enough named Skipper, to take fifty soldiers on board his ship and sail to Rathmullan with a cargo of white wine, pretending they came from Spain. Young Red Hugh, then only fifteen years of age, was staying at Rathmullan castle with the MacSweeneys, and he innocently went on board with a few friends (Daniel MacSweeney and Hugh O’Gallagher) to sample the wine. They were enjoying themselves in the captain’s cabin when suddenly the British soldiers appeared, clapped them in irons and the ship set sail. They were to spend six long years living in terrible conditions, mostly on food they had to beg for through the prison bars.

This certainly had the effect of quietening the O’Donnells, who offered a ransom of €300,000 in today’s money. Inghean Dubh, Red Hugh’s mother, was harbouring twenty-five Spanish Armada survivors, and she offered them in exchange for her son. This offer was accepted and the Spaniards were marched to Dublin to make the exchange. When the British got the Spaniards, they beheaded them on the spot and refused to honour their agreement with Inghean Dubh.

On Christmas night 1591 Red Hugh escaped with Henry and Art O’Neill, sons of Shane O’Neill. They made for Glenmalur, County Wicklow, in bitter winter weather to seek refuge with Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne, but Art O’Neill died from exposure on the way. Red Hugh survived and later made his way to his father’s castle at Ballyshannon, County Donegal. Here physicians amputated his two great toes (frostbite).

His treatment in prison had filled him with a hatred of the British, who were to pay dearly in lives for their inhuman cruelty over the ensuing years.

In May 1592 he was inaugurated as chief of the O’Donnells (click to read about Doon Rock) and before long seized Sligo and overran Connacht. He joined forces with Hugh O’Neill and others and shared in the victory of the Yellow Ford in August 1598, when the English, under Bagenal, suffered a heavy defeat. The Irish cause prospered for the following two years. After the recall of Essex towards the end of 1599 and the arrival of Mountjoy in February 1600, Irish fortunes waned. They had long expected aid from Spain, and in September 1601 a Spanish fleet entered Kinsale, County Cork, with 3,400 troops under Don Juan del Águila. O’Neill and O’Donnell at once marched south, while Mountjoy proceeded to lay siege to the Spaniards in Kinsale.

*gauleiter= 1. An official governing a district under Nazi rule 2. A local or petty tyrant

For photo’s of castles and such see Irish or O’Donnell in the photo section.

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