3. Arms, Offensive and Defensive.
Handstone.—Among the missive weapons of the ancient Irish was the handstone, which was kept ready for use in the hollow of the shield, and flung from the hand when the occasion came for using it. Handstones were specially made, and were believed to possess some sort of malign mystical quality, which rendered them very dangerous to the enemy. The handstone was called by various names, such as cloch, lia, lec, &c.
Sling and Sling-stones.—A much more effective instrument for stone-throwing was the sling, which is constantly mentioned in the Tales of the Táin, as well as in Cormac's Glossary and other authorities, in such a way as to show that it formed an important item in the offensive arms of a warrior. The accounts, in the old writings, of the dexterity and fatal precision with which Cuculainn and other heroes flung their sling-stones, remind us of the Scriptural record of the 700 chosen warriors of Gibeah who could fight with left and right hand alike, and who flung their sling-stones with such aim that they could hit even a hair, and not miss by the stone's going on either side (Judges xx. 16).
The Irish used two kinds of sling. One, which was called by two names teilm and taball [tellim taval] consisted of two thongs attached to a piece of leather at bottom to hold the stone or other missile: a form of sling which was common all over the world, and which continues to be used by boys to this day. The other was called crann-tabaill, i.e. 'wood-sling' or 'staff-sling,' from crann, 'a tree, a staff, a piece of wood of any kind'; which indicates that the sling so designated was formed of a long staff of wood with one or two thongs—like the slings we read of as used by many other ancient nations. David killed Goliath with a staff-sling. Those who carried a sling kept a supply of round stones, sometimes artificially formed. Numerous sling-stones have been found from time to time—many perfectly round—in raths and crannoges, some the size of a small plum, some as large as an orange, of which many specimens are preserved in museums.
Charlotte Milligan Fox, sister of the poet Alice Milligan, was a founding member of the Irish Folk Song Society and an indefatigable field collector of Irish traditional music. Her singularly important work on Irish haprers is here presented for the twenty-first century reader. This edition of Annals offers a much greater number of illustrations than were included in the original 1911 publication, a full biographical introduction, an extensive bibliography of the writings of Milligan Fox and an appendix discussing the variant texts of Arthur O’Neills Memoirs.
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