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13-04-2013, 15:37   #1
Neutronale
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Military Archery in Medieval Ireland

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Military Archery in Medieval Ireland: Archaeology and History
By Andrew Halpin

Military Studies in Medieval Europe – Papers of the ‘Medieval Europe Brugge 1997′ Conference, Volume 11 (1997)

Introduction: In studying Irish medieval warfare the bow and arrow is of particular interest for many reasons. It is by far the most frequently represented weapon in the archaeological record and unlike other weapons it tends to occur in datable contexts on excavated sites. This is largely accidental, because bows and arrows were of little monetary value and easily broken and lost, but the fortunate result is that a more comprehensive and reliable archaeological study is possible for the bow and arrow than for any other medieval weapon. There is also a greater wealth of useful historical information available than for other weapons of medieval Ireland. Thus it is possible not only to study the bow and arrow as archaeological artefacts but to place them in their natural context, which is the history of warfare. A study of the history of the weapon reveals that it is particularly appropriate, and not entirely accidental, that the bow and arrow is so well represented in the archaeological record of medieval Ireland. There is probably no other period in which the weapon was of comparable military importance.
http://web.archive.org/web/201012291...dfs/halpin.pdf
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16-04-2013, 13:04   #2
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Halpin says there are not many sources for Gaelic archery compared to the many finds of Viking (or supposed viking) finds. He didn't go through the several historical documents which mentioned Irish archers attacking English forces and he didn't make any comment on pictorial evidence.

One of the best pictorial evidences for Irish archery is Durer's Irische Kriegsleute und Bauern 1521:



In this piece a Gallowglass is shown carrying a (recurve) bow as well as a clíomh mór. I say recurve because the several extant pictures of Irish and Scots archers all seem to show this type of bow.

The second picture is a woodcut of 1588 by Casper Rutz of an Irish archer serving on the continent, probably one of the Irish auxiliaries who accompanied the Earl of Leicester's expedition to the Netherlands in 1586. He carries a recurve bow as well as what seems to be a type of falchion sword.



The third image is of Scottish soldiers serving King Carl Gustav in Sweden; they have been misnamed as Irrlander, but are obviously Scots Highlanders. Again two are armed with recurve bows. There was a great deal of crossover between the Irish and Highlanders at the time hence the inclusion. Interestingly three of the four are armed with what seem to be falchion swords, although they could be representations of scian as well.



There are two other images of Scots archers carrying recurve bows of this type that I know of. Although these examples are at the end of the period in question, the fact of the existence of a technologically advanced (relative to the simple bow) form of the bow among the Gaelic people would suggest that archery was part of the array of weaponry in the Gaelic armies arsenal.

Last edited by Neutronale; 16-04-2013 at 14:49.
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19-04-2013, 11:52   #3
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Another interesting aspect of the military archery question ( I know I'm kinda talking to myself at this stage but hey-ho, I'm my best buddy ) is when and why did archery give way to musketry.

One of the main reasons given seems to be the idea that while archery takes great skill and practice, musketry takes a lot less skill and so your average Joe farm hand can be an effective soldier in double-quick time.

The reason that this question arises is because of the high rate of fire the archer can achieve compared to the musketeer; there is a famous quote from the late 16th century in which Scots mercenary archers fighting against the English colonial forces in Ulster put the English musketeers to flight because of their high rate of effective fire against the slower musketeers.

This action made the Pale government reconsider the idea of doing away with the archery force.
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19-04-2013, 22:20   #4
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You should get yourself a copy of 'The Irish Wars' by Osprey publishing, that has lots of info on archery and musketeers in Ireland in the 1500s, including some references that specifically refer to Irish rather than extrapolating Scots to Irish
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22-04-2013, 21:26   #5
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Here's another image. An 18th century sketch of a c1400 fresco in Knockmoy Abbey, Galway. Still partially visible on the walls of the Abbey to this day.
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23-04-2013, 10:21   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Neutronale View Post
Halpin says there are not many sources for Gaelic archery compared to the many finds of Viking (or supposed viking) finds. He didn't go through the several historical documents which mentioned Irish archers attacking English forces and he didn't make any comment on pictorial evidence.

One of the best pictorial evidences for Irish archery is Durer's Irische Kriegsleute und Bauern 1521:



In this piece a Gallowglass is shown carrying a (recurve) bow as well as a clíomh mór. I say recurve because the several extant pictures of Irish and Scots archers all seem to show this type of bow.

The second picture is a woodcut of 1588 by Casper Rutz of an Irish archer serving on the continent, probably one of the Irish auxiliaries who accompanied the Earl of Leicester's expedition to the Netherlands in 1586. He carries a recurve bow as well as what seems to be a type of falchion sword.



The third image is of Scottish soldiers serving King Carl Gustav in Sweden; they have been misnamed as Irrlander, but are obviously Scots Highlanders. Again two are armed with recurve bows. There was a great deal of crossover between the Irish and Highlanders at the time hence the inclusion. Interestingly three of the four are armed with what seem to be falchion swords, although they could be representations of scian as well.



There are two other images of Scots archers carrying recurve bows of this type that I know of. Although these examples are at the end of the period in question, the fact of the existence of a technologically advanced (relative to the simple bow) form of the bow among the Gaelic people would suggest that archery was part of the array of weaponry in the Gaelic armies arsenal.
I don't think there is any doubt archery was used by the Gaelic Irish in the later medieval period. All the pictorial evidence from you and Simon are from the later medieval period. Yet, there is almost no evidence of archery amongst the Gaelic Irish in the early medieval period which is relevant to the Vikings. People assume they used it for hunting but I don't even know if there is evidence for this. The real question is when did they start to adopt it from the Vikings or Normans.
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23-04-2013, 13:10   #7
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Originally Posted by Simon.d View Post
Here's another image. An 18th century sketch of a c1400 fresco in Knockmoy Abbey, Galway. Still partially visible on the walls of the Abbey to this day.

Bearing in mind the location and context, I bleeve that that depicts the semi-martyrdom of St Sebastian, who was ordered to be shot to death with arrows by the emperor Diocletion, who got the hump after Sebastian publicly insulted him. Sebastian ended up still alive and was subsequently clubbed to death. I don't think that this has anything to do with Irish longbowmen or archers of any kind.

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23-04-2013, 14:25   #8
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The subject matter isn't local alright, but the representation of a recurve bow is likely to be local to the artist. People draw/paint what they see everyday kinda thing. Put it another way they don't look like Roman bowmen(or bows particularly).
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23-04-2013, 15:28   #9
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I still find it interesting, even after being an archer of great lack of skill since the age of eleven, that the bows depicted appear to be recurved. Recurved and composite bows are the remit of the Eastern European [Magyars et al], middle eastern and beyond nations who had a marked lack of trees of suitable length and proclivity for making into bows, and were not a part of native Welsh or English archery. We might be looking, as Robert Hardy suggests in one of his treatieses on bows, at fancifully-formed horn string nocks, rather than a true recurve of any type, indeed, he, and the British Longbow Society, describe the longbow as a 'self' bow, made from one piece of timber - the string nocks aside - and not any kind of composite material or collections thereof. When Westerners first encountered the Turkish and Seljuk bowmen in the crusades, it was something entirely new to them, and came as a very unwlecome surprise to find that those gentlemen, even from the back of a galloping horse, were able to shoot enormous clouds of arrows at distances that not even the European crossbowmen/arbalastiers could hope to reach, using the comparatively weak self prods on their contemporary crossbows.

tac, former FITA and GNAS instructor

Last edited by tac foley; 23-04-2013 at 22:53.
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23-04-2013, 17:49   #10
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Interesting comment on the power of the bows used by the Irish in 1397...

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...and there were some like foot soldiers with swords and knives and very long thin spears — like other old-fashioned spears they are two fathoms long; the swords are like those of the Saracens which we call Genoese swords; the pommel and the guard are different, almost like a hand stretched out; the knives are long and as narrow as the little finger and they are very sharp. This is their manner of arming themselves and some of them use bows which are as small as half the size of the English bow, yet they strike as hard as the English. And they are bold and have been at war with the English for a long time and the king of England cannot have his way.
http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T100079A/

PS on the spears, ..."very long thin spears...they are two fathoms long", a fathom is given in several dictionaries as 6 foot, therefore they are 12 foot long spears

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23-04-2013, 19:27   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tac foley View Post
Bearing in mind the location and context, I bleeve that that depicts the semi-martyrdom of St Sebastian, who was ordered to be shot to death with arrows by the emperor Diocletion, who got the hump after Sebastian publicly insulted him. Sebastian ended up still alive and was subsequently clubbed to death. I don't think that this has anything to do with Irish longbowmen or archers of any kind.

tac
Like Wibbs said, It does in the sense that the painters of this fresco most probably had no clue as to what Diocletion's Archers looked like, and instead likely portrayed archers that were familiar to them.

Thanks for the background though, was a bit confused as to what was going on, and why such a image would have been painted on a church wall..
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23-04-2013, 19:50   #12
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The recurve bow does seem to be the common depiction of the Scottish bow too though.

There isn't much evidence for the place of the bow in warfare in Ireland itself though, the majority of actual battle references to native kern still seem to have them armed with darts/javelins until they took up firearms later.
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23-04-2013, 21:15   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by simon View Post
Here's another image. An 18th century sketch of a c1400 fresco in Knockmoy Abbey, Galway. Still partially visible on the walls of the Abbey to this day.
Good one, thanks for that Simon.

I found this on Library Ireland .com:

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The establishment is said to have been founded and endowed in 1180, by Cathal O'Connor, monarch of Ireland, in commemoration of a victory obtained by him at its site over Almericus de St. Lawrence. Considerable ruins of the edifice, which still exist, contain some frescoes, which, though rude in design, and faded in colour, possess uncommon interest for the antiquary, as the most authentic memorials anywhere to be found of ancient Irish costumes. These paintings occur on the north side of the chancel, and owe their conservation to the circumstance of that part of the fabric being vaulted with stone; but they are now waning rapidly into decay. The figures are somewhat larger than life, and are arranged in an upper line of six kings, and a lower line representing a youth naked, tied to a tree, and transfixed with arrows shot by two archers, while the brehon or judge, who had pronounced sentence, sits by with a roll of laws in his hand. Three of the kings appear as crowned skeletons, and are usually conjectured to be the most distinguished regal ancestors of the house of O'Connor, but seem, from the highly antique character of their crowns, a character much known in the latter ages of the Roman empire, to be patriot monarchs of very early Irish times. The other three kings are painted as in life, and represented each with the accompaniment of a fighting bird, in the same manner as the Anglo-Norman kings on their seals, and Harold the Norman king in the Bayeux tapestries; and they seem, from the form of their crowns, to have belonged to the 12th or 13th century, and been among the distinguished native princes who defended their country against the aggressions of adventurers. The opinion respecting them which has hitherto been copied by almost every compiler, and which has the high apology of being sanctioned by Dr. Ledwich, is that "the centre one is Roderick O'Connor, who was monarch of Ireland at the period of the English introduction, supported by two vassal kings, one his grand falconer, the other his grand marshal." But Dr. Ledwich mistakes a bird in the hand of the central figure for a trefoil or shamrock, and employs his blunder as a chief argument for his opinion; he gives in his Antiquities an utterly incorrect engraving of the frescoes; and he destroys all confidence in his judgment by venturing the grossly improbable conjecture, that the paintings were the work of the confederate Roman Catholics of the 17th century.

The lower line of figures represents the death of the young son of Dermod M'Murrough, for that ambitious man's perfidy in calling over the English. The youth was delivered to Roderick O'Connor as a hostage for his father's fidelity; and, according to Cambrensis, was abandoned by the inhuman parent to his fate. The figure of the brehon is now nearly destroyed by the oozing of rain from an opening in the roof.

Last edited by Neutronale; 23-04-2013 at 21:28.
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23-04-2013, 21:47   #14
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Originally Posted by tac foley View Post
I still find it interesting, even after being an archer of great lack of skill since the age of eleven, that the bows depicted appear to be recurved. Recurved and composite bows are the remit of the Eatern European [Magyars et al], middle eastern and beyond nations who had a marked lack of trees of suitable length and proclivity for making into bows, and were not a part of native Welsh or English archery. We might be looking, as Robert Hardy suggests in one of his treatieses on bows, at fancifully-formed horn string nocks, rather than a true recurve of any type, indeed, he, and the British Longbow Society, describe the longbow as a 'self' bow, made from one piece of timber - the string nocks aside - and not any kind of composite material or collections thereof. When Westerners first encountered the Turkish and Seljuk bowmen in the crusades, it was something entirely new to them, and came as a very unwlecome surprise to find that those gentlemen, even from the back of a galloping horse, were able to shoot enormous clouds of arrows at distances that not even the European crossbowmen/arbalastiers could hope to reach, using the comparatively weak self prods on their contemporary crossbows.

tac, former FITA and GNAS instructor
I agree it is a bit of a long shot. The fact is though that the recurve style bow is consistently depicted even in the 1630 etching of the Scots mercenaries. The Durer painting is mildly recurve looking and the 1577 Hybernus miles is more definitely recurve looking.

Also the quote above from 1397, "some of them use bows which are as small as half the size of the English bow, yet they strike as hard as the English", leads one to imagine that there was something to the Irish/Scots bow to lend it more power.
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23-04-2013, 22:10   #15
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Originally Posted by riffmongous View Post
The recurve bow does seem to be the common depiction of the Scottish bow too though.

There isn't much evidence for the place of the bow in warfare in Ireland itself though, the majority of actual battle references to native kern still seem to have them armed with darts/javelins until they took up firearms later.
It's interesting that we have these depictions which are vital for info regarding dress etc and yet can we then easily dismiss them as evidence regrading bow types or whatever?

The quote from 1397 above is early enough; I think between that and other such quotes lead to the conclusion that the bow was used as an occasional participant in some battles.

I have a little scenario in mind for the Durer soldiers: The Pike soldier holds the enemy cavalry at bay, while the archer fires his arrows into the attackers, then wields his Claíomh mór and hacks lumps off the nearest, bravest enemy. Any enemy unhorsed is set upon by the Kern/trainee gallowglass. Multiply that by 300 or so and we have a "battle"
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