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Galloglas: Hebridean and West Highland Mercenary Warrior Kindreds in Medieval Ireland

John Marsden

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Subject: History
Royal octavo
Illustrated: b/w plate sec.
Paperback £16.99
ISBN: 1 86232 251 1

 Highly readable account of the Galloglas from a decidedly Scottish perspective

Galloglas were mercenary warriors from the Hebrides and West Highlands who settled in Ireland in the later thirteenth century and achieved an extraordinary prominence on Irish battlefields throughout the three hundred years following. Fighting as heavy infantry – highly-disciplined, mail-armoured and wielding their characteristic weapon of the long-staved war-axe – they were the decisive military component in the Gaelic Irish resurgence of the fourteenth century and represented the cutting-edge of resistance to Tudor reconquest two hundred years later.

Found first in the service of native Irish lords in Ulster and Connacht, they were later brought into Munster and Leinster by the gaelicised Anglo-Irish earls. By the fifteenth century they were established as Ireland’s first professional warrior class and, like other professional classes in the Gaelic world, they were organized on the basis of kin-group. The names of hereditary commanders of galloglas entered in the Irish annals identify these mercenary warrior kindreds as the MacCabes, MacDonnels, MacDowells, MacRorys, MacSheehys and MacSweeneys, all of them families descended from the Gaelic-Norse aristocracy of Argyll and the Isles – and yet their story has been called ‘a forgotten chapter of West Highland history’.

This new account of the galloglas is written from a decidedly Scottish perspective, tracing the origins of six kindreds and investigating the circumstances which brought about their relocation to Ireland. It goes on to examine the galloglass as warriors, pointing to their distinctly Norse character and proposing their battle-fury as ‘the last unmistakable echo of the Scandinavian impact on the Celtic west’.

John Marsden is the author of a number of books on the early history of Scotland and Northumbria. His highly successful Somerled and the emergence of Gaelic Scotland was also published by Tuckwell Press.