This Site was last updated on 07/09/04
Welcome to the Medieval section of the Na Degad Website.
These pages deal with Medieval Ireland from 1300-1500 and in particular the Irish and the Anglo-Irish troop types that fought both in Ireland (and abroad), their history and equipment for use in Re-enactment and Living History.

Where applicable there are quotes from various historical writers that concern the type of troops involved.
To navigate through the particular pages please scroll down and click on the links to go to that webpage.
At the bottom of this page is a short Glossary to help those who are not familiar with Medieval Ireland
A Brief History of Medieval Ireland
Ireland at the start of the 13th century was a country covered in dense forests, bogs and inaccessible valleys. This climate, like all comparable climates, had a profound impact on military aspects of the Irish. Their ‘armies’ as such were usually made up of irregular light troops ideally suited to hit and run attacks on their neighbours while being able to successfully navigate their terrain.

At the beginning of a military expedition a chieftain would call a ‘Rising Out’ or ‘Hosting’. This was a traditional method for mustering the freemen of his lands and those of any sub-chieftains who were indebted to him to appear at designated time and place with at least three days worth of victuals. In addition to these troops a chieftain would also be able to call upon his household troops that were invariably better trained, armed and armoured than the freemen and the lesser nobles who were mounted. After whatever the chieftain had in mind the freemen would then return to their homes and villages. Cattle raids were the most frequent form of military undertaking and combat usually only occurred if the raiders who were returning laden with ‘booty’ were caught by the defenders.

Irish society was to receive a shock however as the Norman invasion in 1169 spearheaded by several Cambro-Barons were to show a means of warfare that were ideally suited for conquest. These Barons were all intent on carving out territories for themselves and pursued this with vigour. The first to fall were the towns and ports set up by the Vikings as these were centralised areas of commerce and wealth unlike the roaming herds of cattle that was an Irish Chieftains gold. As the Normans began to become more settled they started to build castles and keeps providing the invaders a base from which to strike further inland and which the Irish were at first totally unsuited to attacking.  The Normans though were not to have it all their own way as they were unable to catch and therefore defeat the Irish armies nor were they able to strike at a centralised form of government or wealth. These were the problems encountered by the Vikings but unlike the Scandinavians the Normans ability to build fortifications initially gave them an advantage. Any time the Irish were to try and fight the Normans in a pitched battle the superior Norman cavalry who were among the best in Europe and the lethal Welsh Bowmen were able to deliver such a crushing defeat that Irish armies soon avoided open battle. All this resulted in a slow but gradual conquest of Ireland.

Due to this very means of conquest the Normans who were constantly submerged in an environment where the language, customs and culture was predominantly Irish began to adopt Irish ways and intermarrying with the Irish Nobility, this change did not happen overnight but through several generations. The fact that they were supposed to owe fealty to the distant English throne began to wane a bit thin on the Earls as they were now called and they started to prefer the more centralised tribal structure of the Gaelic society rather then the servitude of the distant English throne.

In 1315-1318 the Scottish war for Independence arrived in Ireland with Edward the Bruce campaigning to stop supplies leaving Ireland to be used by the English against the Scots and ultimately carve out a kingdom for himself. Although he was defeated and killed at the battle of Faughart in Louth 1318 the campaign itself had left much of the country in ruins and combined with a famine from 1315-1317 this served to seriously weaken the administrative power of the English crown. This combined with the continued wars with Scotland and the hundred year’s war with France served to distract the English administration that increasingly left Ireland to be ruled by what were supposed to be vassal lords of the king in Ireland.

There was a Gaelic resurgence between 1300-1500 due to the arrival of the Galloglaich, the use of a billeting system and increased knowledge not only of storming castles but also building their own. Anglo-Irish troops as a result began to adapt and draw more and more on the Gaelic troop types.

Families such as the Geraldine’s in Kildare, the Desmonds in Munster and the Burkes in Connacht had effectively become Anglo-Irish. Additionally some of these Anglo-Irish nobles began to take sides with the local chieftains and thus drawn into the many conflicts and rivalries that existed. In these conflicts some of the Anglo-Irish Lords were killed leaving a vacuum that was quickly filled by the Irish Lords leading to their increased power such as the O’Brien’s of Thomond, the McCarthy’s of Munster, the O’Connor’s of Connacht and the O’Neill’s and Maguire’s of Ulster. These Irish lords ruled territories that were far larger then the original pre-Norman kingdoms and had become so powerful that they were recognised as Irish Lords and princes from the point of view of England.
Below is a list of troop types that were in use in Medieval Ireland
Simply click on the heading to go to a detailed reference for that troop-type.

(Note that this is not the complete list of troops that fought in Ireland but rather a selection of the most common within that period)
This is a brief glossary describing the most common items and terms that are used in these pages relating to Medieval Ireland
Aketon: an inexpensive form of padded armour made from linen stuffed with an appropriate material that has a limited resistance to slashing piercing and impact weapons. The Aketon is very effective against slashing and piercing weapons when combined with a mail shirt. (See: Mail)

Arming Cap: an arming cap is worn on the head and constructed in the same way as an Aketon (See: Aketon). It is used both as a buffer between the head and the helmet in terms of physical blows and to secure the helmet firmly on the head.

Bascinet: a conical or globular steel helm that is used up to the middle-late medieval period in Ireland. The Irish nearly always wear them without a visor.

Bevor: a high collar of rigid armour covering the lower half of the face.

Bill: a European pole arm that has its roots in agricultural implements. The Bill normally is a metal head with both stabbing points and heavy cutting edges attached to a stout wooden shaft.

Billman: (See: Billman webpage) an English and Anglo-Irish infantryman with armour and armed with a bill (See: Bill)

Bonnaght (Buannaidhe): a term describing the Irish and Anglo-Irish fashion of billeting troops on the subject population.

Brat: an early Irish cloak made out of wool that can be wrapped around the body and pinned by a brooch on the right shoulder. The amount of material indicates the wealth of the owner.

Buckler: a small shield normally about 12” in diameter and is gripped by a central handle. The buckler is made entirely from Steel or made from wood with a steel boss.

Cathbarr: a type of Irish Helmet composed of alternating layers of hardened leather ending in a high crown.

Cethern: Retained Warband

Claymore (or Claoimh Mor): a two-handed sword of Scottish origin. A heavy straight blade up to 42” with a distinctive angular hilt ending in a quatrefoil tip on either side. The Claymore has developed into a Ring-hilt version (See: Ringsword) in Ireland with a straight hilt ending in a thistle tip on either side.

Coif: a mail (See: Mail) hood protecting the head and neck.

Croimeal: the Croimeal is a long heavy moustache reaching down past the mouth without the beard and is very popular with the Irish.

Crois: the Crois is a belt either made from leather or woven wool and often highly decorated.

Culan: an Irish hairstyle for men in the early medieval period in which the front of the head is shaved while the back is allowed to grow long.

Dart (Birin): an Irish hand-thrown light javelin with or without fletching.

Demilance: a small lance that can be couched used by the Anglo-Irish and English light cavalry (Anglo-Scottish border horsemen) in the late medieval period.

Galloglaich: (See: Galloglaich webpage) an Irish infantryman of Hebridean origin with armour and armed with a Sparth (See: Sparth)

Gambeson: a type of armour similar to the Aketon (See: Aketon)

Gauntlet: an enclosing glove usually made from articulating plates of metal.

Glaive: a pole-arm similar to the Bill (See: Bill) except the steel head is usually a long cutting edge on a wooden shaft.

Glib: an Irish hairstyle worn by men in which the rear of the head is shaved while the hair at the front is allowed to grow heavily.

Gorget: a rigid piece of armour protecting the neck and shoulders worn in the later medieval period.

Hauberk: a shirt-like mail (See: Mail) armour reaching to the knees and wrists.

Hobilar: (See: Irish Horsemen webpage) an Irish light cavalryman armed with spear (See: Spear) and darts (See: Darts).

Hose: a tight-fitting type of trousers worn by the English and Anglo-Irish

Ionar: a wool or linen over-shirt that is worn over the Leine (See: Leine)

Jack: Inexpensive armour made of several layers of waxed linen that is very effective against slashing weapons often with metal plates stitched on.

Kern (Cernagh or Ceithearnach): (See: Kern webpage) the most common type of Irish infantryman armed with darts (See: Darts) scian (See: Scian) and targe. (See: Targe)

Kern Jacket (Inar): a jacket worn by Kern (See: Kern) in the Medieval period made of wool or leather and often highly decorated.

Kettlehelm: an open faced wide-brim steel helmet that is common among Anglo-Irish and English infantry.

Leine: a long Irish tunic made from Linen and often belted at the waist. Kern (See: Kern) have full long sleeves while others have narrow short sleeves

Liripipe: a long tubing-like extension to a hood that is popular among the Irish.

Longbow: a larger more powerful version of a bow.

Lucht Tighe: Household troops owing service to an Irish or Anglo-Irish Lord

Mail (Luireach): a type of armour mistakenly referred to as ‘chainmail’, this is an interlocking number of steel rings forming a protective barrier most commonly worn as a mail shirt.

Mantle: a versatile heavy woollen cloak of Irish origin used by the Irish and abroad.

Morion: an open faced wide-brim steel helmet that is common among Anglo-Irish and English infantry in the late medieval period.

Pisane: A mail covering worn protecting the neck and a large portion of the upper body

Ringsword: an Irish two-edged broadsword originally attributed to a one-handed version (of blade length up to 30”) but later also used to describe an Irish-style two-handed sword. (See: Claymore) Identified by its distinctive pommel consisting of a heavy ring with the tang of the blade visibly passing through the center.The one-handed Ringsword also has several variants of a common hilt in a key-shaped pattern.

Ruta: English or Welsh Mercenary Regiment

Sallet: a late medieval open-faced helmet of German origin sometimes with a visor used in large numbers in England

Seirseanach: Individual English or Welsh Mercenary

Scian: a one-edged fighting knife of Irish origin with a long narrow blade up to 24” in length.

Shortbow (Boagha): smaller less powerful version of the bow that is used by the Irish

Sling (Boagha Cloch): a projectile weapon used to hurl stones over distances

Sparth: a two-handed axe mounted on a shaft up to six feet long that is very popular among the medieval Irish.

Spear (Sleagh): a pointed metal head mounted on a wooden shaft of a length to be used for one-handed or two-handed combat. A common weapon throughout Europe.

Targe (Scath): a later medieval shield of about 19” in diameter made of wood covered with leather and sometimes reinforced with brass studs common among the Irish and Scots.
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