History & Equipment
Please note that this page is not yet fully complete and additional notes are to be added soon.
The Origins of Irish Cavalry
"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."
-Edmund Spenser
The arrival of the Cambro-Normans proved a shock to the native Gaelic military systems which gradually allowed them to venture deep into the country. The only option initially open to the Irish lords was to retreat to broken ground and launch hit-and-run attacks against smaller groups of soldiers and supply lines. In a country where dense forests, bogs and broken ground was a common feature of the landscape it had already been learned that mobility was an important attribute for any military activity in Ireland. It is from this period that the first documented account of a light cavalry unit that was uniquley Gaelic called a Hobilar came to light.

The name Hobilar is generally assumed to have come from the native Irish horse upon which he rode whom the Normans called called the ‘hobby’, probably similar if not an actual reference to today’s hardy Connemara pony. The Hobilars themselves initially came from the wealthier aspects of Irish society and traditionally bore the brunt of the fighting in cattle-raids against other native Irish troops. When placed against the Norman cavalry (who were the medieval equivalents of today’s tanks) the unarmoured hobilar who rode without stirrups or saddle and carried his spear overarm in the ancient fashion were swept aside on an all too often basis. The Irish learned to avoid the open plains and took to fighting in the forests and bogs where their sturdy little mounts could traverse unlike the heavy destriers of the Normans.  After the arrival and subsequent departure of Henry II in 1157 the Anglo-Normans frustrated with their inability to catch and defeat the Irish armies began instead to use a slower more permanent means to retain the land they had captured by way of building fortified castles and keeps from which they could venture further inland.

These ‘incastellation’ tactics of the Norman advance was to overshadow the value of the Hobilar until the Anglo-Scottish wars. The first reference to the Hobilar by this name is in 1296 when two hundred and sixty of them were amongst a contingent of Irish troops led by John Wogan to Scotland to the aid of Edward I of England. In these campaigns the Hobilar was invaluable and excelled in scouting, reconnaissance and patrols in terrain similar to that in Ireland and as a result were much in demand in Britain until 1330.

In Ireland this demand for the Hobilar and the inability of heavy cavalry to be used effectively in the expensive destrier to fall out of fashion during the medieval period and the native and inexpensive Hobby to be used instead by Anglo-Irish armies as well as the Gaelic armies.
The Organisation and Tactics of Irish Horsemen
"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."
-Sir Anthony St Leger
Art McMurrough Kavanagh and Irish Horsemen attack Richard II's expedition to Ireland
Hobilars in Gaelic society during the early medieval period were in effect skirmishers that were formed up of nobles and the more wealthy freemen usually from the chieftains own household. It was these superb horsemen who were in the vanguard of cattle-raids in order to quickly seize cattle and valuables before they were hidden by their owners. They also provided a rear guard action fighting off these same disgruntled owners (and any warriors on horseback that were able to arrive quickly enough) while the foot soldiers herded the cattle and carried any valuables back to their lord’s territory.

Against Norman armies the Hobilar continued to use these ‘hit & run tactics’ by riding from dense woods and bogs close enough to discharge a shower of javelins and wheel away to return to cover These tactics effectively neutralised the superior Norman armies.

It wasn’t until the arrival of the Galloglaich that pitched battles became more commonplace and the Hobilars began to become more heavily armed and against other native Irish armies the Hobilar could dismount and fight with the infantry, bolstering the fighting quality of the traditionally unarmoured Gaelic warrior in a pitched battle.

As the Medieval period progressed and both the Irish and Anglo-Irish armies began to act and fight in a similar fashion and the hobilar began to be used as cavalry engaging their opponents cavalry all the while still well-adapted at pursuing the defeated enemies when they broke and ran.

Eventually the Hobilar at the end of it's use (at this stage in the medieval period the hobilar began to be calles 'horse' when listed in accounts of Irish armies) acted in a similar fashion to the Border Reivers on the Scottish and English borders but even at this stage the Irish horseman still rode without stirrups and carried the spear in an overhead fashion but could now engage English horse in a head-on battle and continued to do so until the advent of musket and pike began to render the Irish Horsemans style of warfare obsolete.
A Guide for the Kit and Equipment of an Irish Horseman
"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."
-Fynes Morrison
This is a kit guide that would reflect the equipment used by Irish Horsemen in Ireland circa 1300-1550.

Basic Clothing

Mostly Saffron but any earth colour will do. The Leine for an Irish horseman is shown with open or closed sleeves either to the elbow or down to the wrist with the hem reaching above or below the knee when mounted.

The Irish horseman is often depicted with a hood. A hood with a Liripipe is common for this period. This item of clothing would be very likely to have been used on campaign.

A Leather Belt or Crois.
Worn around the Leine's waist. For a Leather belt a ring buckle was common among the Irish but any period Irish or Anglo-Irish buckle will do. The Crois was usually made from woven wool or plaited leather.

Rectangular Brat or Semi-circular Mantle
The Brat or Mantle is an essential item of clothing for an Irish Horseman and is shown on several depictions of horsemen in Ireland. The quality and amount of material used depends entirely upon the status of the wearer. The Brat or Mantle would have been fastened by a period Brooch or Leather thong.

The Irish horseman can be either barefoot which was common for both the wealthy and the poor or they can have period footwear. (Unless you plan to remain mounted for an entire display or battle it is better for safety reasons that you wear shoes when walking around either a battlefield or with the public unless in a Living History area where the choice is yours)

Trews or Hose
Most horsemen in Irish service went barelegged while those in Anglo-Irish or English service are sometimes depicted with trews or Hose.

Basic Weapons and Equipment
The following would seem to be the minimum equipment used by an Irish horseman on the battlefield and typical of the Hobilars of the early Medieval period..

The Primary weapon for an Irish horseman is a one-handed spear. This would have been wielded overarm in a stabbing motion instead of 'couched' like European Knights. In later periods a demi-lance is acceptable.

Javelins or Darts
Up to three light Javelins or Darts that were thrown from horseback.

A small pony or Horse similar in size and build to the Connemara pony. They would normally be worn without stirrups or saddle but instead with a woollen blanket or 'pillow' on the horse's back. The horse was always shown with no armour or protection.

Advanced Weapons and Equipment
The following would be advanced equipment for an Irish cavalrymanon the battlefield.
(This equipment would usually be worn by an Irish cavalryman of the later period i.e.1350 onwards where they would act in a similar fashion to English cavalry instead of the Hobilars of the previous century)

An Aketon or Cotun made of linen (sometimes lined with pitch or faced with deer hide) stuffed with an appropriate material.

Mail Shirt
A Mail Shirt with a vertical split in the front and rear hem was sometimes worn. This can be worn either over an Aketon or under it.

Any period Irish or English helmet can be used for both Living History and Combat. Presumably these helmets should have a leather lining to them. A Cathbarr (see the Glossary) is a good example for a light helmet while the example shown in an illustration below seems to be a type of Bascinet.
An Irish horseman of the early 16th century from a manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin
Shield or Buckler
A leather-covered shield with strap grips. (Max. 19” in diameter) Later examples found show that they were heavily studded. A buckler could be used instead.

Sword and Scabbard
Any period Irish or Anglo-Irish style sword worn in a scabbard on a belt around the waist would be acceptable.

Dagger or Scian and scabbard
A full length scian or period dagger in a scabbard hanging from the belt or a loop over the shoulder.

Safety Note
Some of the defining characteristics of the Irish horseman until after the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 was the absence of stirrups and saddle. They preferred to use a stuffed pillion and skill to manouvere their mounts, for safety reasons however I would advocate the use of a saddle, some form of head protection and stirrups in any display where you intend to ride your mount.Those who are doing combat as an Irish horseman should do a choreographed display with an experienced 'opponent' only.

Bits’ n’ Pieces
The following  is a suggested content that could be carried by an Irish horsemen

Large Pouches or bag to carry the minimum-
Ring Brooches (for Brat or Cloak) were used throughout Ireland and Europe
Basic Sewing Kit (for Cloth and Leather)
Tinderbox or pouch with tinder, flint, & iron striker
Bowl and/or plate, spoon, utility knife or short scian (sharp) & period drinking vessel.
Rag & polish for armour and weapons

Living History
For Decorating Surfaces i.e. Leather/Wood Carving, Engraving, and Embroidery it would be worth checking out designs from Medieval Irish artwork ranging from the Romanesque Stone Carvings of Monasteries to Bibles and illustrations from the period you want to do.

The more wealthy Irish horsemen sometimes dismounted to fight with infantry giving the reins to a horseboy who rode on one of two spare horses’ and was nearby in case a speedy withdrawal by the horseman was called for.
(Note: Horseboys are discussed on the Nobles page)

Historical evidence shows that Irish horsemen can be clean shaven or sport a beard. Hair could be of any length and style consistent with their status in Gaelic society.
Irish Horsemen from 'The Images of Irelande' by John Derrick
©2003 by Na DegadThe Authors of this work retain full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research purposes provided the author's name, the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.
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