The Sword

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER III....continued

Sword.—The Irish were fond of adorning their swords elaborately. Those who could afford it had the hilt ornamented with gold and gems. But the most common practice was to set the hilts round with the teeth of large sea-animals, especially those of the seahorse—a custom also common among the Welsh. This practice was noticed by the Roman geographer Solinus in the third century A.D.:—"Those [of the Irish] who cultivate elegance adorn the hilts of their swords with the teeth of great sea-animals."

Ancient Irish bronze sword

FIG. 18. Ancient Irish bronze sword: 22½ in. long: in Nat. Mus., Dublin. The hilt was riveted on. (From Wilde’s Catalogue).

The usual term for an ordinary sword was cloidem [cleeve]: and one of the largest size was called cloidem-mor, a name which the Scotch retain to this day in the Anglicised form "claymore," which nearly represents the proper sound. Many warriors practised to use the sword with the left hand as well as with the right, so as to be able to alternate, or to fight with one in each hand as occasion required. Some made it a practice to sleep with their favourite sword lying beside them under the bed-clothes. A short sword or dagger was much in use among the Irish, called a scian [skean], literally a 'knife.'

Bronze scabbard

FIG. 19. Bronze scabbard; now 19½ in. long. (From Kilkenny Archaeological Journal).

The blade (lann) was kept in a sheath or scabbard. Sometimes the sheath was made of bronze: and several of these are preserved in museums. The beautiful specimen figured on last page was found in a crannoge.

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