Banners, Warriors, Weapons, Battle-Cries

The terms applied to military commanders were taoiseach, taoiseach-buidhne, flaith, cean-feadhna (or head of a force) cean-sloigh (or the leader of a host); and the terms laoch, curraidh, gaisgidh, or gaisgidheach, and urradh were applied to champions, chieftains, and heroes. The chief terms for weapons were the following:—Claidheamh [clava] a sword; tuagh or tuagh-catha, a battle-axe: laighean, a spear; lann, a lance or javelin; craoiseagh, a lance, javelin or halberd; ga gath, or gai, a dart; saighead, an arrow or dart; bolg-saighead, a bag or pouch for arrows or a quiver; sgian or skian, a dagger or large knife (this weapon was carried by all the Irish soldiers, as well by the chiefs, and used in close combat); the ancient sling was called crann-tabhuil. The armour consisted of the luireach (Lat., lorica), a coat of mail, the shield, buckler, and target, were termed sciath; and the helmet, cathbharr (from “cath,” a battle, and “barr,” the head or top).

The banners of the ancient Irish were termed bratach; and the standard, meirge; the standard-bearer was called meirgeach; and a banner-bearer, fear-brataighe. The bards attended battle-fields and raised the rosg-catha or war-song. The Irish rushed into battle with fierce shouts of defiance, and loud battle-cries; their chief cry, according to Ware, was “Farrah, Farrah,” which, according to some, means to fight valiantly, or like a man; and according to others, it is the same as the word “Fairé, Fairé,” which signifies to watch, watch, or be on your guard; and the word “Hurrah” is supposed to have come from the same source.

The war-cry “Abu” was used by the Irish, and was derived from the Irish word “Buaidh” [bo-ee], which signifies victory. This word was anglicised “Aboo:” hence, the various chieftains are said to have their war-cries, as O’Neill Aboo, O’Donnell Aboo, O’Brien Aboo; which means respectively, “victory to O’Neill,” “victory to O’Donnell,” “victory to O’Brien,” etc. The great Anglo-Irish families adopted similar war-cries: the Fitzgeralds had Crom Aboo, derived, it is said, from the castle of Crom in Limerick, one of the ancient fortresses of the Fitzgeralds: the Butlers of Ormond had Butler Aboo; the Burkes had Clanrickarde Aboo, and MacWilliam Aboo; and various other families had similar cries. The Irish chiefs had each his own banner and battle-cry: the O’Neills had for their battle cry Lamh dearg an-Uachtar or the Red Hand Uppermost (a red or bloody hand being their crest, and borne on their banners). In later times The O’Neills assumed the heraldic emblem of the ancient Kings of Emania, which was, The Red Hand of Ulster; together with the battle-cry of Lamh-dearg Aboo or the Red Hand for Ever. The battle-cry of the O’Briens of Thomond was Lamh laidir a n-Uachtar or the Strong Hand Uppermost.

The Irish forces were composed of kerns, gallowglasses, and cavalry; the word “kearn” (in Irish “ceatharnach”), signifying a battler, being derived from “cath,” a battle; and the word “galloglas” (in Irish, “Gall-og-laoch,” a foreign warrior, or) a foreign young champion. The Scots had likewise, at an early period, their kerns and galloglasses; and in Shakespeare’s Macbeth is mentioned—“the merciless MacDonald from the Western Isles (or Hebrides), with his kerns and galloglasses.” The kerns were the light foot of the Irish, armed with long spears or pikes, javelins, darts, skians or daggers, bows and arrows, and (in the early ages) also with slings. These active soldiers made rapid and irregular onsets into the ranks of the enemy; not fighting in exact order, but rushing and attacking on all sides, then rapidly retreating and coming on again at an advantageous opportunity. The javelins or short spears and darts of the kerns, were favourite weapons; the handles were generally of ash, to which was fitted a long sharp-pointed iron or steel head. This javelin was tied to the arm or shoulder by a thong or cord of great length, so that they could hurl it at the enemy at several yards distance, and recover the weapon again. These darts and javelins were whirled rapidly round the head, and then cast with such force, that they penetrated the bodies of men, even through their armour; and killed their horses at a great distance.

In the account of the expedition of King Richard the Second in Ireland, Froissart in his “Chronicle” says:

“the Irish soldiers were so remarkably strong and active, that on foot they could overtake an English horseman at full speed, leap up behind the rider and pull him off his horse.”

The kerns were divided into bodies of spear-men, dart-men, slingers, and archers, and (in aftertimes) musketeers; the archers were very expert, and their bows were made chiefly of ash and yew. The galloglasses were the heavy infantry of the Irish, a sort of grenadiers; being select men of great strength and stature, armed with swords and battle-axes; and also generally wore armour, as helmets and breast-plates of iron, coats of mail composed of a net work of small iron rings, and sometimes armour made of strong leather; and their shields or bucklers were made of wood, sometimes covered with skins of animals. The Irish commanders all wore armour, helmets, coats of mail, shields, etc. The cavalry of the Irish might be considered as mounted kerns, being chiefly a kind of light horse. The term “Marcach” was applied to a horseman or cavalry soldier; and “Marc-shluagh” signified a host, army, or troop of cavalry. “Ridire” signified a knight, and was the name applied to an English chief in armour. The predatory troops of the Irish are mentioned under the name of Creach-sluagh (from “creach,” plunder, and “sluagh,” a host); and their hired troops were called Buanaighe (from “Buan,” bound); and these mercenaries are mentioned by English writers as Bonnoghs or Bonnoghts.