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An Overview of Ireland's Weapons of War.

The Author of this hub is well read in history, having studied history at University in England. He has been on HubPages for many years.

In Defence of Irish Lands.


Ireland like its larger neighbours, has been a melting pot of cultures and peoples over the last two thousand years. Although Ireland avoided a full scale invasion by the Roman Empire, it was still destined to be fought over for countless generations. Ireland has always been a land of many natural resources and offers good quality farmland to those who wanted to carve themselves a decent existence.

Due to Ireland's appeal, many foreign peoples wished to supplant the native population and exploit the Emerald Island for themselves. This of course led to hostility and open warfare upon Ireland's shores.

Fortunately, the Irish were well versed in conflict and they had many weapons which would meet the aggression of invaders with a similar level of blood drenched force.


A Guardian of the Ancient Irish

An Irish Warrior Awaiting Battle.

An Irish Warrior Awaiting Battle.

The Ancient Irish.


The native inhabitants of Ireland were the Ancient Britons. These peoples shared a common ancestry with the Cornish, the Welsh, the Picts, The Scotti, the Manx and all manner of British tribes who were part of a larger Celtic family that once stretched throughout Europe. The Irish are now recognized as having a strong Celtic heritage, even though their former faith has been supplanted by Christianity. This happened at the time of St. Patrick and within a few generations. The Irish Christians spread their faith into Scotland, Wales and the north of England at a time when Christianity was losing its hold amongst these peoples due to the Germanic invasions of the early Dark Ages.

Ireland was divided into kingdoms, with an overall king whose authority was often questioned by large family groups who had designs on power themselves. This led to what seemed like a constant state of warfare within Ireland and created warriors who needed to be battle ready if called upon.


Defensive Armour and Weapons.


The ancient Irish warrior would seldom wear armour into battle. They acknowledged that speed was essential in conflict and they did not like to be hindered by bulky steel. Armour was expensive and many of the techniques for superior armour were known only to a few blacksmiths. It was only with the appearance of Viking raiders that the ancient Irish moved away from leather armour and padded clothing. The Irish then started to model their own armour on that of the Vikings.

The Irish shields were made of a few types of material. Early shields were oval shaped, they were made of a wicker and animal hide construction. These were covered in lime or chalk and left to harden like a form of plaster. These were then painted with symbols from Ireland's rich mythology or adorned with circles.

There were also shields made from yew and bronze, these shields were higher status and offered better levels of protection than the wicker constructions. The shield boss was also used in Irish shields and it is believed that stones were often stored in the shield boss in order to throw at oncoming enemies.

The head was protected by a padded leather cap for those who wanted the most basic level of protection. Those with a higher status possessed helmets made of bronze or worked iron. Again, the Irish started to copy the Norse invaders and started to adapt steel helmets as their own due to the better protection offered by the superior metal.


A Style of Shield Used by the Ancient Irish.

A typical high status shield used across Ireland and western Scotland.

A typical high status shield used across Ireland and western Scotland.

Swords and Knives.


The Irish had a number of daggers and knives in their weaponry. A knife was a weapon that nearly every Irish warrior carried and killed a fair number of enemies with its quick and stealthy design.

The name skean is given to an Irish knife and there were many different to designs for this bladed weapon. The Scottish weapon known as the dirk, shares many characteristics with this ancient Irish weapon. Both blades were made of steel or iron, and the blade usually dropped down to a sharp point.

These blades were often decorated along the handle and were secured in a scabbard made of either leather or bronze.

The Irish swords were made of either bronze, iron or steel. The most recent swords were of a steel construction owing to their better quality. The swords were often decorated to highlight the warriors status and usually only the elite warriors of Ireland had access to these weapons. Gemstones often decorated these highly prized swords and gold was found on the hilt of exceptional swords belonging to high kings.

The Irish sword was known by many names, but a cleave seems to fit many of the ancient descriptions of their swords. The large Scottish sword known as the Claymore derives its name from the Irish word for a larger sword cloydem-mor.



An Illustration of a Celtic Sword

An Ornate Celtic broad sword.

An Ornate Celtic broad sword.

Polearms and Axes.


The most found weapon by Archaeologists in Ireland is the spear head. These weapons were the mainstay of the Irish warriors arsenal. These spears came in various shapes, sizes and lengths. These weapons were cheap and quick to construct and offered the warriors some distance from oncoming attackers.

The spears when thrown as a javelin negated the need for bows and arrows, which would explain why the bow and the arrow do not seem to be as popular amongst Irish warriors. Of course the bow and arrow were known to them, but they may have used it predominately for hunter rather than warfare.

The spears and javelins were vital to the warriors of Ireland, yet the axes and maces of Ireland were much more of a ferocious weapon.

These weapons struck fear in their enemies and caused heinous injuries to their victims. There are several specimens in museums that represent the majesty of this weapon. The highly prized versions of the mace are often composed of bronze and can be seen with cruel spikes adorning the crown.

The axe had been a valuable weapon in Ireland since neolithic times in Ireland. There is much evidence for their existence by the fact that numerous axe-heads of stone, as well as bronze, copper and iron, have been repeatedly found in ancient Irish graves. There are hundreds of examples in the National Museum and elsewhere across the country.

From the end of the twelfth century until the advent of modern infantry, the Viking influence was very apparent on the designs of Irish Axe heads. The superior steel from the latest invaders made their axes highly prized in the hands of the local Irish warriors.



An Axe Used by the Irish Vikings of Dublin.

A Viking Inspired Irish Axe.

A Viking Inspired Irish Axe.

The Irish Warriors.


The Irish are known for their weaponry and warrior spirit. Ancient weapons such as axes and clubs are highly valued across the world. The Shillelagh is seen as a symbol of Irishness by those in America with Irish ancestry. It has made its way into popular culture and is often associated with the legends of the Leprechauns.

The Irish warriors fought ferociously to preserve their identity and to defend their lands. The ancient Irish fought valiantly against foreign powers and are arguably one of the only remaining nations with a strong Celtic heritage. They used the weapons and innovations of their enemies to their own advantage. And forged for themselves a reputation that has stood the test of time.


Related Hubs

  • Saint Patrick and Ireland.
    The legend of St. Patrick banishing the Snakes from Ireland has inspired generations of Irish craftsman and poets. The story has been embraced by the Irish and is part of their national identity.
  • Ireland and the Viking's Influence.
    Ireland owes much to the peoples of the north of Europe. These Viking invaders help found Ireland's cities and increased trade across the British Isles.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Andrew Stewart

Comments

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on May 02, 2019:

Very interesting, thanks for sharing this.

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