Galloglas: Hebridean and West Highland Mercenary Kindreds in Medieval Ireland, by John Marsden.

This new account of the galloglas-mercenary warriors from the Hebrides and West Highlands who settled in Ireland in the later 13th century and achieved extraordinary prominence on Irish battlefields throughout the 300 years following-is written from a decidedly Scottish perspective. The origins of the six kindreds-MacCabes, MacDonnells, MacDowells, MacRorys, MacSheehys, and MacSweeneys-are traced and the circumstances which brought about their relocation to Ireland are investigated. The book also examines the galloglas as warriors, pointing to their distinctly Norse character and proposing their battle-fury as the last unmistakable echo of the Scandinavian impact on the Celtic west.

The book traces the galloglas back to the Viking invaders of the Hebrides. Re-gaelicized in the 13th century, the Viking heritage remained in the weapons and character of their warriors. For various reasons members of several clans of the region moved to Ireland to seek their fortunes as mercenaries for the Irish lords, beginning in the late 13th century.

The Bruce invasion of Ireland (1315-1318), though ultimately unsuccessful, showed the native Irish that the Anglo-Norman invaders of their island could be defeated by Scottish infantry, and the galloglas were subsequently in great demand. They had a major role in the Gaelic revival of the 14th and 15th centuries. By 1530 London’s effective control of Ireland was limited to a small area around Dublin and a few other coastal towns.

Though of Scottish origin, the galloglas settled in Ireland and intermarried with Irish families, soon becoming an integral part of Irish culture. Marsden attempts to reconstruct an idea of the galloglas sub-culture, but the sources are limited and he has to extrapolate from what is known of other Irish élite classes of the period. Most of our accounts of the galloglas are from 16th century English sources and Marsden is obviously frustrated by the lack of earlier information.

The 16th century brought in the Tudors, who eventually succeed in re-establishing effective English control of the Ireland. They were aided by changes in military technology. The long pike and firearms proved to be superior to the galloglas axe and chain mail and in 1618 an English observer could report that “the name of Galloglas” was extinct.

A very good book, if you are interested (as I am) in this obscure corner of history.

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