Guest Post | Combat in Medieval Ireland By Ed Mooney

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First of all, I would like to thank Ali, for affording me the opportunity to share this article with you. To start off, I would like to share a little about myself and how I got involved in Medieval Combat. For those readers who don’t know me, I am an amateur Photographer based in Kildare.

I have always had a great interest in ancient history, especially that of Ireland. And it was this interest which eventually got me involved in a Living History group, where amongst other things we trained in medieval re-enactment and combat.

On the combat side of things, I guess my initial journey started off when I was about four years old, when my parents enrolled me in the local Shotokan Karate Club. At the time for obvious reasons I did not realize, but this was to be the beginning which laid a strong foundation in various Martial Arts which spanned well over twenty years.

Sadly for the moment, with a young family to look after, my adventures in Martial Arts and Medieval Combat have taken a back seat for the last few years. I have however managed to continue my historical interests and adventurous nature through the medium of photography. These days much of my photography work is based on the many historic or heritage sites that I visit and explore.

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One of the biggest issues with training in Irish Medieval Combat lies in our history. Knowledge in Ireland was always passed on through word of mouth, very little was ever written down until the arrival of Christianity, so we really don’t have any ancient texts or manuscripts which we can learn from. Also we never had clan Dojo’s or schools which taught Gaelic fighting arts to young warriors.

We no longer have the Red Branch Knights, whom the young Setanta joined before becoming the Legendary Cu Chuliann or the legendary Fianna and Fionn Mac Cumhaill. There are no secret Druid Masters to teach young warriors the arts of war. So where do we learn these things in the modern era?

Well to be honest, it’s a bit like a jig-saw. There are numerous manuscripts from the medieval period from which we can take scraps of information relative to our quest. Then we look to our neighbour across the water to fill in the gaps.

The one constant thing that I have learned during my training, which never changes, is movement. Combat is essentially a movement of one person against another. This never changes and has always been same in all cultures since the dawn of time. So when you take into account the various cultural influences and material constraints, you can bring together a much clearer picture of Ireland’s fighting practises.

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Now I am by no means a scholar or expert on the subject so I am writing this article based on my views and experience as a practitioner having both trained and fought in some of the major re-enactment shows in both Ireland and Britain.

Our living history group, which has since sadly disbanded, focused primarily on the early to middle medieval period, c400 -1170 AD. This was a time also known as the beginning of the middle Ages which post-dated the Golden Age of Ireland. The arrival of Christianity in Ireland had brought with it many changes which affected the culture of Ireland.

It was this period where Ireland became known as a land of Saints and Scholars. But life was still hard. Whilst many scholars where attracted to the monasteries as centres of learning, Ireland was still a country at war, having been split into several large Kingdoms with lesser Kingdoms and clans claiming lands for themselves. This meant that like our ancient tales of Táin Bó or Cattle raids, the Irish continued to fight amongst themselves.

One major concern in Ireland during this period was the arrival of our Northern friends the Vikings. These rogues who came from Denmark, Norway and Sweden to plunder and pillage, played such an important part in shaping both the cultural and fighting history of the time, that our group also incorporated Viking culture, customs and weapons into our training.

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So what is the difference between a living history group and a re-enactment group, I hear you ask. Well quite a bit actually, although many people involved in the re-enactment scene also belong to a living history group, there are some minor differences. The re-enactor is trained primarily in combat, where the living history practitioner focuses on showing how life was back in these times.

So when we went to a show, not only did we participate in the numerous battles which were staged, but our entire camp had to be historically correct. Everything from our tents or sleeping arrangements, to how we cooked, ate and drank  was replicated as accurately as possible.

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Moving on to the basics of clothing and armour of the early warriors in medieval Ireland, the léine,(which was a loose fitting long-sleeved tunic made from wool or linen) was the common garment of the time for both men and women. The men wore the léine down to the thigh or knee region, whilst the women wore theirs much longer.

Men would also sometimes wear truis, a type of tight fitting trousers, but otherwise were bare legged. Over the léine, it was common to wear a brat, (woollen cloak). The brat would normally be fastened by a crios (belt) and dealg (brooch). The only difference would be that the men would fasten the dealg on their shoulder, whilst the women would fasten it on their chest.

Interestingly I recall being told by a member of our group that the length of the man’s crios which hung from the buckle on his waist was said to be an indication of how well-endowed the wearer was!

The colour of garments was also quite important to the Irish, with purple commonly used to denote the Irish nobility. Reds, greens, and blues were also popular for those who could afford or acquire the items required to produce these dyes. Later on the tight fitting jacket known as ionar also became fashionable.

Shoes were not always commonly worn with many images of warriors from the time being depicted as barefooted. Though as the middle ages progressed, so too did footwear, with various styles, from the very basic to a more luxurious crafted item.

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When we think of the typical warrior from the middle ages, most would imagine a knight clad in shiny plate armour. Well in Ireland this could not be more further from the truth. Most accounts from the time tend to describe the native Gaelic warriors as being naked! Now beautiful as our fine Emerald isle is, we are not fortunate enough to live in a climate where you could travel around in comfort, stark naked, let alone into battle.

In my opinion when these medieval writers where describing our Gaelic warriors as naked, they meant that they fought without armour. That is to say, compared to their counterparts in England and the rest of Europe. Whilst the typical combatant from outside Ireland would go into battle in various degrees of plate armour, which we would fondly refer to as Clankie’s.

Our typical Irish fighter went into battle with minimum protection; the wearing of such was considered a burden, taking into account the fighting style of the Irish, whilst also believing that it was brave and courageous not to wear it.

That said, records show that prior to the arrival of the Vikings and of course the Norman invasion, Gaelic battle wear would have consisted of a length of material which would have been wrapped around the body a number of times, or a gambeson, also known as a padded jacket.

Another form of early Irish armour was the use of hard boiled cow hide, used to make chest armour or greaves for the arms and legs. Chain mail was also in use at this time, but due to the time and expense involved in making chainmail, its use would have been restricted to the likes of chieftains, unless you were fortunate enough to have taken it from a defeated enemy.

The cathbharr was also worn, which was a basic helmet constructed of hardened leather, held together by strips of bronze or iron. Then finally there was the sciath or shield, a must for any warrior of the time; not only could it be used to protect your body from incoming blows, but it could also be used as a very effective weapon, be it smashing through an enemy’s line or cracking heads open by striking with the edge of the shield.

Whilst some of the early shields were constructed of wicker covered in hide, later versions were made from bronze or solid timber. The later were also covered in hide and more often laden with various degrees of metal studs or bands which commonly used as decoration would also have added to the durability of the piece.

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Weapons in Ireland changed quite a bit as the middle ages progressed, so for the purpose of this article I will concentrate on the weapons I trained with and used on the battlefield during my time, namely the Spear, Javelin, Axe, Knife and Sword.

In re-enactment battles, safety was of utmost importance, even a dull blunt spear-head, axe or sword could inflict rather nasty or life threatening injuries, so in order to fight in a safe manner certain techniques with various weapons were not permitted.

The two handed spear was the most common weapon used by the Irish and the first weapon a newbie (beginner) would have to learn when joining our group. It could be used for both defence and offensive purposes and gave the practitioner a good grounding for the use of other weapons.

There were many variations of the spear, with different length shafts and heads, but the principle use and technique remained the same. Spears could be used to stab, slash or even take an opponent off their horse.

On the battlefield the first couple of lines of each opposing army would have been made up of lines of spear men, also known as spear walls. These walls made cavalry charges quite difficult and could keep the enemy at a distance.

When using a two handed spear, the lead hand is used as a fulcrum, with the rear hand controlling the direction and movement of the spear. With the two handed spear being of considerable length, averaging approx 6ft, it was quite an effective weapon even in such an enclosed space as the spear wall.

One of my favourite techniques to use was known as ‘The Guarding Gate’, which was used when a Clankie, (soldier in plate armour) would try to crash through our spear wall. Two spears would be crossed in front of him, pointed into the ground and the fighters would push their shafts toward the intruder, thus trapping him where he stood, after which he would be impaled with spears from either side of the blocking spearmen.

There was also a shorter single handed spear, which would have been used along with a shield, however I was never a big fan of this and would much prefer a sword in such an instance.

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The next weapon we will look at is the throwing spear or Javelin/Dart. Not to be confused with an arrow, these throwing darts were surprisingly quite effective at a certain range and great fun to train with.

Usually made from hazel or split ash, some would have come equipped with tips like arrow heads and some would have even used fletching. But for our training we used basic wooden shafts with a rubber tipped head to avoid injury.

Now when you first pick up a dart the natural thing is to try and throw it by hand. But there is a much better way to do this, utilizing what is known as a suaineamh, or throwing strap. The throwing strap has been around for many years and has been used in many cultures, which I think stands for its effectiveness. From Ancient Greece and the Roman legions, the tribes of Gaul, Iberia, North Africa, Ireland and Wales. Even the Norse and Anglo Saxons used them.

We normally used a length of leather thong for our strap, but you could also use a piece of linen. From what I know, there are two ways to use the strap; the first was to tie one end of your strap around the point of balance on the shaft, the strap would then be wound around the shaft a number of times, with the remainder being held in the hand, with what is known as a Floating Grip. Both the shaft and remaining strap are loosely held in the hand with just two fingers. This made throwing the dart more accurate.

The second method, and my personal favourite, was to use a length of thong, starting about six to eight inches from the base of the shaft, the thong was run tightly down around the base and back up the other side, where the remainder was wrapped around the throwing hand. This technique greatly extended the reach and velocity of the throw, similar to the Atlati used by natives of the Americas.

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The Axe must be one of the oldest tools known to mankind and numerous examples have been found over the years ranging from stone, as well as bronze, copper and iron. What started out as a tool used in daily living quickly evolved into one of the most deadly weapons used in a fight.

The Tuagh, or battle axe, has been in use since prehistoric times in Ireland, with many fine examples to be found in the National Museum. Whilst there are many different variations of the axe which range in both size and shape after the small throwing axe, my favourites have to be the Gallowglass and the Kern Axes.

We used to play a fun little game in training known as ‘Caith an Tua’. In this training game, using a small throwing axe, we would form a circle and start of by calling out the name of a person within the circle and lob the axe to them. This takes a bit of practise, but as you become accustomed to catching a moving axe, the circle would be made bigger and the throws would become faster.

To make things interesting, we would introduce two, sometimes three axes into the circle depending on how many players were involved. Apart from the odd grazed knuckle, ‘Caith an Tua’ was a rather fun game to play and it actually came in useful on the battlefield. I recall a number of occasions, where after losing my weapon in a melee, one of my guys would be able to throw me an axe from a distance, and I could continue fighting.

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The Galloglach or Gallowglass translates as ‘foreign solider’, after a bunch of armoured mercenary soldiers of Scottish/Norman descent. These foreign warriors served mainly as bodyguards to the Gaelic Chieftains. These guys were notorious for their strength and size and their weapons reflected this. One of their main weapons was the Sparth, a rather large axe which was used to devastating effect. Not something you would want to come up against in battle.

Then you have the Ceithernach or Kern, a bunch of light infantry foot soldiers. One of their weapons, the Kern Axe, which is quite similar to a Halberd, is a real nasty piece of work, and nicknamed ‘the tin opener’, by many Irish re-enactors due to its ability to devastate opponents wearing full plate armour.

This axe which can be also be used for stabbing is in my personal opinion, one of the best all round fighting weapons. The fact that the English knights in their shiny plate armour hate to see it on the field, attests to its effectiveness.

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Whilst our previously mentioned weapons are all relatively inexpensive and could serve a  dual purpose for hunting and battle,  the sword in medieval Ireland would have been mainly used by the wealthy members of the clan. Back then, swords were not mass produced and each one would have been made to suit the individual, taking into account such factors as height, reach, strength, etc.

Prior to the arrival of the Vikings in Ireland there is thought to be two main types of sword in Ireland. The Colg, a small thrusting sword and the Claideb, a longer sword designed for slashing or cutting. My personal favourite Gaelic sword was the ‘Leaf Blade’ which is remarkably similar to the Roman Gladius. This sword dates back to the Bronze Age and so does not fit in to our medieval time frame. So I will concentrate on the popular Ring sword and the infamous Claiomh Mor.

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The ring sword, pictured below, or ‘bastard sword’ as it was also known, was a constant design used exclusively by the Irish during the medieval period. Only the hilt changed around the 15th/16th centuries. It was made in both single and double handed varieties. Easily distinguished by the common open ring design of the pommel, these blades have a lovely balance and were surprisingly light and easy to manoeuvre.

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The Gallowglass were also well known for their use of a particular massive broadsword, similar to that of the Claiomh Mor, or Claymore, which means ‘Big Sword’. These guys sure did nothing in half measures, think of that big sword used in the movie Braveheart and you will get an idea of what I mean.

Despite their massive bulk, these swords where actually quite light considering their size and where utilized by the Gallowglass with devastating efficiency. In fact these mercenaries saw action not just in Ireland and England, but were also much sought after in continental Europe right up until the 16th century and the arrival of gun powder.

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I shall finish off with the must most underestimated weapon of them all, the scian. Like many of the previously mentioned weapons which served a dual purpose, the Scian or Irish long knife was the Swiss Army Knife of medieval Ireland.

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But up close and personal, this was my favourite weapon to finish off opponents with, even if they were covered from head to toe in plate armour. The Scian had the ability to penetrate in between the armour and reach vital areas of the opponent like no other weapon could do. Once you got inside the range of your opponents weapon, be it a spear or sword, this was the perfect tool to finish the job. Any knife fighter worth their salt will tell you that with a knife, chances are you won’t see your end coming until it’s too late.


Thanks, Ed, for a fascinating glimpse into your life as a medieval re-enactor, and the life of a warrior in ancient Ireland!

Ed has a blog where he showcases his stunning photography of Ireland’s ancient places, with accompanying articles on their history and mythology. If you enjoyed Ed’s post, you will love his post on the famous Battle of Clontarf, and be enthralled by his post on the Brian Boru Millennium festival last year.

Why not hop over there and check him out now? 

Irish Mythology | The Art of Combat

The Irish warrior of ancient times may have been an undisciplined killing machine, fighting under the influence of the Riastradh, or battle frenzy, on behalf of his family, his chieftain, or his country, but it may surprise you to know that there was an unwritten code of practice, or chivalry involved in the art of making war.

We see this, for example in the story of the First Battle of Moytura, when Bres of the Tuatha de Denann meets Sreng, battle champion of the Fir Bolg. According to the translation by Mary Jones, they parley, exchange weapons and part as friends. However, battle for possession of Ireland inevitably follows, with the Fir Bolg requesting a delay while they prepare their weapons, to which the Denann actually agree.

Much later, when the Denann are attacked by the invading Milesians, the Denann also request a delay in which to prepare for war. This is duly granted, with the Milesians even returning to their ships and retreating nine waves from the shore while the Denann make all ready for battle.

It should also be noted that no battle was ever won in  a day. They usually continued over a period of several days, during which time both sides retreated at dusk to their camps to rest, regroup, repair weapons, eat, drink, bury their dead, look after their wounded, and sleep, rejoining the combat at first light.

You would think that cover of darkness would lead to all sorts of sneaky shenanigans as one army tried to gain the advantage over the other, but this was not the case. Honour and dignity were paramount, even in the dealings of war. Again, the First Battle of Moytura is a perfect example of this battle etiquette.

Historically, every man who held land, whether rented or owned, was legally obliged to spend a certain number of days each year fighting in his tribe’s wars, or participating in their defence, after which he was free to return home to his family. This was clearly defined by Brehon Law.

Each chieftain was likewise required to supply his provincial King, and thus the High King, with a contingent of armed men.

The King always maintained a champion in his service, known as the Aire-Echta. He was responsible for avenging any insult to the King or his family, and discharged military duties as required. Ogma fulfilled this role for Nuada, High King of the Denann until Lugh challenged him.

A small group of hired mercenaries would also be maintained by the King, often to serve as his bodyguard. This practice was called buanacht in Irish.

Among Irish nobles, it was customary to ‘knight’ boys as young as seven years old. The Irish called this initiation ‘taking the valour’, and it began their journey into the ways of the warrior and manhood.

The Romans in their conquest across Europe observed how the Celts went into battle ‘naked’, ie without armour. This practice, which continued as late as the C12th in Ireland, was observed by Giraldus Cambrensis, also known as Gerald of Wales, arch-deacon of Breccon; he wrote, ‘They [the Irish warriors] go into battle without armour, for they consider it a burden, and deem it brave and honourable to fight without it.’

The ancient Irish army was composed of several battalions called catha, containing three thousand men. Each catha consisted of many smaller groupings, some as small as nine men and women. They employed their own medics, and it was not uncommon for physicians to give medical aid regardless of which army the wounded fought for.

The Irish warrior was heard to rush into battle screaming their fearsome war-chant. Likely, this formed part of the summoning of the Riastradh. This cry was known as the barrán glaed, meaning ‘warrior shout’, and probably united the warriors against their enemy, as well as providing an outlet for all their pent-up emotion. This custom continued well into later centuries, an example of which was the cry of the O’Neill clan, Lamb derg aboo, which translates as ‘The red hand to victory’.

The most famous warbands in Irish mythology are Cuchullain’s Red Branch Knights, and Fionn mac Cumhall’s Fianna.

It was extremely difficult to get into the Fianna. The applicant had to go through all kinds of tests, both physical and mental, before he, or she, could be accepted… standards were very high, and there were no exceptions. You can read more about that here. The Fianna also accepted female warriors.

What differentiates the warriors of the Fianna from all others, is that they had to be able to recite and compose poetry. This may sound daft to you now, but in those days there was no writing, all lore and knowledge was handed down and learned by oral tradition. In effect, this rule shows that the warriors of the Fianna had to be well educated. They certainly weren’t all brawn and no brain!

However, the brawn was still important, and as fighting men they had to train daily, and become highly skilled in all manner of combat techniques. These were known as Na hEalaiona Troda, or Na hEalaiona Camraic, meaning ‘Irish fighting arts’, or ‘Irish martial arts’. They were divided into two broad types of combat; unarmed, known as Gráscar Lámh, and armed, known as Troid Armáilte. 

I should just like to point out at this stage that many of the most skilled warriors in the Irish fighting arts were women, who famously passed on their skills to their male students. Cuchullain was taught by Scathach, and Fionn mac Cumhall was taught by Liath Luachra.

Gráscar Lámh consisted of the following techniques;

  • Dornálíocht (durn-awl-ee-okht), which meant bare knuckle boxing.
  • Coraíocht (cur-ee-okht), which was collar and elbow wrestling.
  • Speachóireacht (spack-er-okht), kicking techniques such as those used in Gaelic football, Irish dancing, and shin-kicking contests.

Troid Armáilte consisted primarily of the following techniques, among others;

  • Batadóireocht (bat-a-rokht), which was stick fighting. This later evolved into the traditional art of the shillelagh, or Sailéille in Irish. You can read more about it here.
  • Claíomhóireacht, which was swordcraft.
  • Scianóireacht, knife arts.
  • Tuadóireacht, which was fighting with the axe.

Interestingly, though the spear was the weapon of choice for the ancient Irish warriors, I could find no reference to the name of this battle skill during my research; perhaps it fell under swordcraft, or even stick fighting. (if anyone knows, please tell me in the comments!)

And finally, we come to my favourite part, the Feats of the Hero. These techniques were known as cleasa, or ‘tricks’, and were clearly more magical in origin than the combative arts listed above. They were skills used in conjunction with the Na hEalaiona Camraic, or supported the learning of them.

For example, Cuchullain was famous for his skill at the ‘Salmon Leap’. Observers such as the Romans had commented that during battle, Celtic warriors were able to leap over the shields of their opponents. It’s likely that the ‘Salmon Leap’ was simply a high jumping technique practised until the warrior could jump higher than anyone else.

There were other feats, too, such as the ‘Sword Feat’, or Faobhar Chleas, described in the Mesca Ulad, ‘the Intoxication of the Ulstermen’, as a kind of dance involving the juggling of a sword. This may have been performed before battle to impress and strike fear into the enemy. It may also have concentrated the warrior’s mind, helping him to achieve riastradh.

The ‘Body Feat’ was thought to have been a dance which showed off unarmed combat skills. Cuchullain’s ‘Leap Over a Poisoned Stroke’ may have demonstrated his ability to leap over a sword slashing at his legs.

The ‘Feat of the Pole-Throw’ is thought to be the same as the  Scottish ‘Tossing the Caber’. The ‘Apple Feat’ was said to consist of juggling apples, apparently useful when learning to fight with a sword… don’t ask. The ‘Breath Feat’ was described as blowing apples up in the air, which may have been a breathing technique.

I’m sure there were many more, and no doubt they all contributed to making the warrior appear dashing and heroic, as well as enhancing his combat skills and chances of survival.


Please be sure to drop by on Friday to meet my special guest, photographer, blogger and RuinHunter Ed Mooney, who will be talking about his Celtic re-enactment days, and the authentic weapons training he was involved in.

Irish Mythology | Death of a Hero

Hero... I'm holding out for a hero till the end of the night...
Hero… I’m holding out for a hero till the end of the night…

The old stories of Ireland tell of many heroes, and many deaths, but none quite so grand, or mysterious as that of Fionn mac Cumhall.

Fionn was born to Cumall, chieftain of the Baiscne Clan and head of the Fianna, and Muirne ‘of the White Neck’, who was a woman of the Sidhe, and half-sister to the mighty Lugh Lamfhadha. With such an illustrious lineage, this boy  could only be destined for great things. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that he was named Deimne, which means ‘certainty’. He was later given the epithet Fionn, which means ‘blonde/ fair/ bright’ or white’, and that is the name by which he is remembered.

As a young man, Fionn was skilled in the arts of hunting and battle. He caught Fintan, the salmon of Knowledge, which the Druid Finegas had been after for years, and accidentally cheated the old man out of acquiring Fintan’s knowledge. He defeated the fire-fairy, Aillen mac Midhna, thus saving Tara, seat of the High King, from burning and so winning the leadership of the Fianna, which he considered his birth-right. And he rescued Sadbh of the Sidhe from the Dark Druid, who had captured her and transformed her into a deer. In her womanly form, they fell in love, and had a son, Oisin.

You can read more about the life of Fionn in my re-telling. You can also read why I suspect the stories of King Arthur were based on the legend of Fionn mac Cumhall. And here you can read about Fionn’s love affair with Sadbh.

Fionn fought many battles with his war-band, the Fianna, and lived to quite a ripe old age for a warrior of the times.

But it is his last battle which is so intriguing, for no one actually saw him killed, and his body was never found. As a result, a legend arose, which some call a prophecy, claiming that he lies sleeping beneath the green hills of Ireland, waiting to ride to the aid of the people of Ireland once more in their hour of greatest need.

A nice thought, one which has probably sustained people through dark times down the years, I’ve no doubt. But of course, it’s not true. Although the Sidhe were long-lived, immortal even, providing no one stabbed them with a sword or infected them with a disease, Fionn was only half Sidhe, what the Greeks would have called a demi-God.

So, me being me, I thought it would be fun to try to identify Fionn’s resting place, and perhaps visit it, maybe even dig him up… no, that last bit’s just a joke! Let him snore in peace, I don’t think the people of Ireland would appreciate me waking him before their hour of greatest need.

Of course, I knew it wasn’t going to be simple; nothing to do with Irish mythology ever is, but I got a bit more than I bargained for, and discovered some very peculiar local legends too.

Hill of Allen, taken from the quarry side. Tower is built on top of Fionn's grave.
Hill of Allen, taken from the quarry side. Tower is built on top of Fionn’s grave.

The Hill of Allen used to be known as Almu, or Cnoc Almaine, and is a volcanic hill rising out of the flatlands of the Bog of Allen. It is where Fionn is reputed to have had his home, where the Fianna resided when they were not out hunting or fighting, and where Sadbh sought and received sanctuary.

There is a tower on the top built as a folly by local landowner Sir Gerard George Aylmer in 1859. The story goes that the tower was constructed on top of a burial mound, in which was found a coffin containing a very large male skeleton. Apparently, the bones were re-interred, and the tower finally completed in 1863.

Of course, the bones were claimed to be those of Fionn. There is no evidence now of Fionn’s fortress at Almu, or of the burial mound, and I wonder too at the fate of the tower itself, as half the hill has completely been mined away in recent years, amid much controversy. You can read more about Almu, and see pictures from my visit there last year.

Ballyfin,  Baile Fionn in Irish, meaning ‘town/dwelling place of Fionn’, is a small village in Co Laois, located in the Slieve Bloom Mountains. It has been suggested that Fionn may have been raised here. According to legend, Fionn was given as a baby to his Druid aunt Bodhmall and the warrior woman Liath Luachra to raise in secret in the forest of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, to keep him safe from his father’s enemies. There is a grand house, now a hotel, built on the site of an old castle, at Ballyfin; perhaps the castle was located on the site of an even older building, perhaps even the settlement which once housed the child Deimne.

Castleknock College. Set in the beautifully landscaped grounds of this private school is a hill known as Windmill Hill. It turns out that the burial mound located here is not associated with Fionn, but rather with his father Cumhall. He was said to have been buried here following the Battle of Cnucha, in which he lost his life at the hands of Goll mac Morna, who then assumed his role as leader of the Fianna.

In June 2007, an archaeological excavation of the mound was carried out, and the remains of four skeletons were found, although they were believed to be dated to the Early Medieval period, which would have been several hundred years later than Cumhall’s death. It is interesting to note that they were buried in the old pagan tradition inside a mound. I can’t help wondering, was it created for them, or had it been originally built several centuries earlier to commemorate the death of a leader of a war-band?

On a neighbouring hill lie the remains of a Norman castle. In 1861, workmen digging graves discovered a cromlech with an almost perfect skeleton lying beneath it. They broke up the stones, filled it in and carried on with their work. It was only later that the true significance of the discovery was understood, but by then it was too late, the damage had already been done.

Clearly, this was a very important site in ancient times.

Sheebeg, Grainne's Grave
Sheebeg, Grainne’s Grave

Sheebeg and Sheemor are two burial mounds in close proximity in Co Leitrim. You can see pictures and read about them in more detail in my post from my visit last year.

Sheemor is an awesome site that has never been excavated. It boasts three burial mounds along with an exciting array of other archaeological features. In the 1950’s, a giant concrete cross was erected on top of the central mound… not so much consecration as desecration in my opinion. The site is still stunning for all that.

Sheebeg is a more humble monument, and was unofficially excavated by amateurs in January 1931. In the chamber, two skeletons were found lying on a stone slab and facing east. They were never properly examined, so we don’t know how big they were, what state they were in, or even if they were male or female.

Legend claims that Sheebeg is the burial mound of Grainne, (she who makes lots of tea according to the children’s textbook featured in my previous post!) who was the daughter of High King Cormac mac Airt, wife of Fionn mac Cumhall, and lover of Diarmuid. However, as she was only married to Fionn for a matter of hours before eloping with Diarmuid, and as she stayed true to him until the day he died, I personally think it is more likely that if she was buried with anyone, it would be her life’s love, Diarmuid.

Flaskagh Mor. This legend intrigued me. Flaskagh Mor lies along the Co Roscommon and Co Galway border.  The land is forested and managed by Caoillte, allowing public access for walking, and contains a megalithic tomb. Fionn is said to be buried in a cave at Flaskagh Mor which opens only once every three hundred years. I suspect, however, that the cave is more likely to be the entrance to the tomb, rather than a natural feature. Why Fionn would be buried here is a mystery to me; although the Fianna roved far and wide, I cannot pin the area to any particular adventure associated with him. Perhaps there is someone out there who knows the answer. Flaskagh Mor is still on my To Visit list.

Lyracrompane, In Irish, Ladhar an Crompáin, meaning ‘the space between converging rivers’, is located in the Stacks Mountains, Co Kerry, between the Smearlagh and Crumpane Rivers. This legend is quite bizarre!

After the Battle of Ventry Harbour, Fionn and the Fianna camped in the Stack’s Mountains, while they hunted deer and fished for salmon in the River Smearlagh. One day, Fionn jumped across a ravine in pursuit of a stag. On his return, for some strange reason, he decided to jump the ravine backwards, and (not surprisingly) fell to his death. He is said to buried near by.

There is a walk around the area named after him. Definitely one for the To Visit list, next time I am in Kerry, which will hopefully be this summer!

Seefin, The Sheep’s Head Peninsula, Co Cork. Seefin is the highest peak on the ridge, which has a cairn on the top named after Fionn. Local legend says he joined with the King of Bantry for a while, during which time he demonstrated his excellent hunting skills, with which none could compete. There is another site nearby called Finn Mac Cool’s Seat. Still on my To Visit list, not just for the archaeology, but because I like the high lonely places, and for the stunning views.

Fincairn Hill, Co Monaghan
Fincairn Hill, Co Monaghan

Finncairn Hill, Monaghan. Fionn’s grave is said to be located on the side of the hill, overlooking the Owenbeg River. There is also said to be a standing stone there. I visited the hill last year, but was unable to gain access from the local landowner… maybe another time.

This was the site I chose to be the final resting place for Fionn in my book, Conor Kelly and The Fenian King. Why? The Fianna roamed far and wide, hunting the length and breadth of the land. As a result, here are many sites named for Fionn in Cavan and Monaghan, some natural, eg rivers, and some man-made, ie cairns and stone rows, with their associated stories.

As I stood there, looking up at the hilltop, it felt like such an unlikely place for a hero to be buried. Somehow, that felt right. This place had been overlooked, ignored, left in peace. If he is resting somewhere, awaiting that call, I doubt it would be somewhere obvious, or busy with tourists. It would be somewhere quiet, peaceful, that he could hear the call when it comes; somewhere he would not be disturbed before the appointed time.

Author Ali Isaac – My Writing Process

The love of my life, affectionately known as FoxyRoxy
The love of my life, affectionately known as FoxyRoxy

Thank you to Karen at My Train of Thoughts for inviting me to join ‘My Writing Process’. Karen is a wonderful writer, book reviewer, Indie author supporter, and self-confessed book addict. She also publishes some great short stories and flash fiction at ‘In a Small Compass‘, so why not pop over there and take a look?

What am I working on?

I am just putting the finishing touches to the second book of my Tir na Nog Trilogy, Conor Kelly and The Fenian King.

In the first book, Conor Kelly and The Four Treasures of Eirean, Conor discovered he was descended from the Tuatha de Denann, an ancient race of semi-divine beings who once ruled Ireland over 4000 years ago. With this knowledge he inherited great powers, which came as a bit of a surprise, as in the mortal world, Conor suffers from a rare illness which means he can’t walk or talk… hardly your average hero! Nevertheless, he finds himself on a quest to recover the lost Four Treasures of Eirean, accompanied by the enigmatic Sidhe-Princess, Annalee.

Second time around, and it’s all kicked off in Tir na Nog! For the first time in history, the Sidhe are at war amongst themselves, whilst beset with natural disaster. Awakening the fabled Fenian King will be their only hope of salvation, and guess who gets lumbered with the task? Along the way, Conor unearths an unpleasant secret about himself which threatens disaster…

Besides working on my books, you will find me writing for my blog. I post articles mainly on content I’ve unearthed during my research about Ireland’s distant past. I also write about my special little daughter, Carys, who was born with a rare syndrome called Cardiofaciocutaneous Syndrome. Look under ‘Life with a Special Needs Child‘, if you’re interested.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

There are quite simply very few novels out there based on Irish Mythology. Not only that, but my books take into account the daily lives of the early peoples of Ireland, and so much of what takes place is based on archaeological and historical fact. I link all these characters to the archaeological sites where they lived, and take you there, as they exist in the present. In fact, you could make a tour of Ireland based on the sites visited in my books! I find it quite difficult to accurately define my genre; I have to settle for Contemporary Fantasy, as book retailers give authors little choice, but its also mythology, history, archaeology, fairy-tale and magic.

In addition, Conor is the ultimate flawed hero; not only does he have his personal demons and insecurities to face, but he has the obstacles provided by his disabilities to get over, too. Without preaching, I hope I have shown that anyone can be a hero, not just the perfect, and the able-bodied.

My first book-baby...yaaaaay!
My first book-baby…yaaaaay!
Book-baby 2... due in a matter of weeks!
Book-baby 2… due in a matter of weeks!

Why do I write what I do?

I love Ireland! And I love archaeology, history, mythology. I’m fascinated by the legends of the Tuatha de Denann, and Fionn mac Cumhall and the Fianna. And I was inspired by my daughter to create a hero unlike any other I have encountered. What else would I write?

How does my writing process work?

Well…I am the most disorganised, illogical person you could ever hope to meet, so ‘process’ might be too kind a word, lol! I sit at my shiny red desk, and tap away at my shiny red laptop, start at the beginning, and keep on going till I arrive at the end. That’s basically it! Are you disappointed? I know some people work in Scrivenor and such like, creating complex story arcs and files for this that and the other, writing scene by scene, following a complicated flow chart annotating what happened when to whom and how, with accompanying files on character development, plot and world-building.

Not me. I want to have fun! And writing is fun, and escapism for me. I write manual notes for my research, which I keep by my side as I’m writing. I also have a VERY BASIC outline on one side of an A4 sheet clipped to the top of it, as a guide…this changes all the time. I edit as I go along, always reviewing  the previous days writing before starting a new chapter, which gets me into the right frame of mind. At the end, I have a couple of big edits, then my beta readers make me do it all again. And that’s it, ready to format as each retailer requires.

You can find Conor Kelly and The Four Treasures of Eirean at just about any retailer, but here are the links for Amazon and Smashwords. Conor Kelly and The Fenian King is due out very VERY soon…I promise! In the meantime, you can view the trailers for both books in the sidebar of this website.

And now I would like to introduce you to some new writing talent…

The Sound of What Happens‘ – Éilis found me by quite by accident when trawling the web one night. We were drawn together by our mutual love of all things Denann and Fianna. In her poetry, Éilis creates tiny snatches of intense, vividly detailed imagery within broader all-encompassing themes, which I find quite compelling. I’d love to give you examples, but I won’t withhold the pleasure of discovering her work for yourself, when you hop over to her blog to take a look.

CL Deards | Living in Alternate Realities‘ – When I read the very first line of Chris’s ‘About’ page, I just KNEW I was going to like him. Here was someone who just came right out and said exactly how I had felt all my life! He has gone to extraordinary lengths in visualising and then creating the world-building which underpins his novel, The Tome of Worlds, something I can only stand back and observe with awe and wonder, as I never had to do this; it was already waiting for me in mythology. You will get a really good sense of what goes on in Chris’s head by visiting his Pinterest pages.

Both of these writers have been particularly supportive of me…thanks, guys! Make sure not to miss their Writing Process posts next weekend!

 

Almu | Home of Irish Legendary Hero Fionn mac Cumhall

The top of the conservatory at the top of the tower on the top of the hill.
The top of the conservatory at the top of the tower on the top of the hill.

On Monday, after much waiting, I finally got to visit the Hill of Allen (Cnoc Alúine in modern Irish) in Co Kildare. This iconic hill, jutting out of the flatlands of the Curragh, is said to be the site of Almu, the home of Irish legendary hero and leader of the Fianna, Fionn mac Cumhall, and as my second book, Conor Kelly and the Fenian King is based upon his story, and ready to be formatted, I was anxious to pay a visit as soon as possible.

I wonder when it was built?
I wonder when it was built?

I visit all the sites I feature in my books; I think it’s important. I want you to really get a feel for these fantastic ancient places, and I can’t give you that if I don’t go and soak them up myself first.

But it’s not always that easy in Ireland; many sites are on private property, and visitors are not always welcome. Finding the landowner to request permission can be an arduous task.

On this occasion, I would like to thank my WP friend and fellow blogger, Ed Mooney, who had already done all the legwork, and passed me on his contacts. Cheers, Ed!  Please take the time to click through to his blog, he is the most amazing photographer of ancient buildings and landscapes, if you don’t already know.

View from the top of the hill.
View from the top of the hill.

But I have to say, it’s all a LOT confusing! The County Kildare Failte (tourist board) informed me that there was NO public access to the Hill of Allen, or Aylmer Folly, AT ALL.

Kildare Heritage say it is owned by Roadstone Quarry (more of this later), and permission must be obtained from them. Roadstone were only too happy to facilitate a visit, thanks Tim Cullen for taking so much time out of your schedule to show us around!

However, according to Roadstone, the Folly and the hillside with the path leading up to the Folly, is still in public ownership. Despite this, there were no signs to the site along any of the roads leading up to the hill, and the car park has been completely blocked off by three large boulders across the entrance. It doesn’t seem to be Roadstone who don’t want visitors there.

The quarrying has stopped only metres away from the tower...don't know how it hasn't collapsed!
The quarrying has stopped only metres away from the tower…don’t know how it hasn’t collapsed!

But back to Almu. It’s a wonderful location. The views from the top of the tower are breathtaking. It’s name in Irish means ‘the great neck’. Although it doesn’t look very high, it rises out of the extensive flat lands of Allen to a summit of 676ft. Apparently, on a clear day, you can see Dublin, Wicklow, and the Slieve Bloom mountains from the top.

The plains of the Curragh are spread all around,  a chequered blanket of orderly crops, lush pasture, and only a few remaining patches of brown bog, where turf cutting is no longer permitted. I completely understand why Fionn would have wanted to make his home here; it’s beautiful, inspiring, the land was good for farming and hunting, and it was very defensible… you would have seen everything which moved across that flat vista.

83 steps lead up to the top of the tower, engraved with the names of those who built it.
83 steps lead up to the top of the tower, engraved with the names of those who built it.

In mythology, Fionn was given the fort of Almu by his grandfather, Tadg (who was the son of King Nuada of the Tuatha de Danann), when as a boy he slew the fire-breathing Sidhe, Aillen mac Midhna, who had been terrorising Tara for years.

High King Cormac was so grateful, that he re-instated Fionn’s birth right to the leadership of the Fianna. However, he spent much time out with his men, training on the Curragh, or hunting and camping during the summer months.

It is said that Almu was whitened with lime, so to the visitor approaching across the distant plain, it must have shone like a jewel in the sunshine on top of the hill. The evidence of any such building is long gone, although it is said that the summit of the hill was surrounded once by earthen banks and trenches, with a small mound known as Fionn’s Chair at the centre. I didn’t see it.

almu8

In 1859, Sir Gerald George Aylmer, lord of Donadea castle, decided to build a tower on top of the hill. It took four years to construct, working in the summer only, as the winters were too harsh and the hill too exposed for building work.

Known as Aylmer’s Folly, the tower stands 60ft high, has an internal diameter of 9ft, and is fashioned from limestone blocks quarried from Edenderry (which is somehow ironic, when you consider the size of the quarry which now almost undermines its foundations!).

One of the lovely, curious quirks of the tower, is that all the names of the people who worked on the building have been inscribed into the 83 steps which lead up to the top, and these look as fresh and clear as if they were carved yesterday.

Unfortunately, there is some graffiti inside the tower, which is why Roadstone have taken to locking it, but on the day we visited, the door already stood open, (which is just as well, as Tim didn’t have the key!).

There is a kind of glass conservatory structure at the top, but one of the windows was open, so we were able to climb out and stand on the roof, peering between the crenellations so as to better appreciate the view… just be very careful if you have small children.

A rather large blot on the landscape.
A rather large blot on the landscape.

Although the Quarry is undoubtedly an eyesore in the landscape, it is possible to look beyond it and appreciate Almu for what it is, and once was. I’m sure Roadstone paid handsomely for the right to quarry there, and created many much needed jobs in so doing.

But I wish the authorities could have found another, more imaginative way to make money; a Fionn mac Cumhall heritage site and visitor centre, maybe, with reconstructed hill fort; a training academy for young wannabe warriors of the Fianna; maybe even a regular hog roast fullachta fiadh style.

Fionn is one of Ireland’s most well-loved and well-known heroes around the world… I’m sure tourists would have come. What a missed opportunity.


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Junk Food Past and Present; The Diet of Our Ancient Irish Ancestors

junk food“The menu for this evening is pasta or chicken nuggets and chips,” I announced, smiling smugly to myself. Two ten year old boys in the house; it was obvious what they’d choose.

“Pasta!” they both chorused, much to my surprise. Dammit, I thought. That means I actually have to make a real pasta sauce. Whoever heard of kids who didn’t love junk food?

Not that that was a problem. We don’t tend to eat much junk food in our family. In fact, I never ate junk food as a child myself, perhaps due to the fact that much of my childhood was spent abroad. I don’t think I even stepped into a MacDonalds until I was nineteen.

Nowadays, after Carys’s Troubles, we tend to eat according to our blood type. Which, as we are ‘O’s, is very similar to the paleo diet. And that got me thinking; What did our ancient Irish ancestors actually eat?

Irish stew
Irish stew

What is the first thing which springs to mind when we think of Irish food? Yep, the potato! It appears in everything, Colcannon, Irish Stew, Boxty, Champ, Shepherd’s Pie, to name but a few. There’s no getting away from it, the Irish love their spuds. But the potato didn’t make its appearance until the 17th century, so how on earth did we manage before?

Well, it seems the Irish diet did not change much from Neolithic times until the potato. Meat was their preferred staple.To anyone who’s ever read any Irish mythology, there are two huge clues as to their diet; their fondness for hunting, and the value they placed on their cattle. We know that they chose to hunt on foot with their beloved wolf hounds; they were after deer, maybe even the giant Irish elk, and wild boar. These animals would be roasted on spits made from peeled and pointed hazel rods, or butchered and boiled in their outdoor cooking troughs known as fullacht fiadh. They also hunted and ate animals we wouldn’t dream of eating today, such as badgers and seals.

Donn CúilngeAs for the cattle, in the mythology of the Ulster Cycle, Queen Medb (Meyv) famously went to war over ownership of the great bull Donn Cúailnge , to disastrous consequence. The Tuatha de Denann were renowned for their graceful milk-white cattle, and even in historical times, the various clans often invaded their neighbours territories to steal their herds, or demand cattle-tribute for previous wrongdoings. Why were cattle so highly prized? Undoubtedly, they were a sign of wealth, but more than that, they ensured survival.

How so? Well, they were a readily available meat source, of course, but in actual fact, if something is precious to you, you are unlikely to kill and eat it. No, it was all about their produce, in other words, banbidh, or ‘white foods’. They ate a lot of dairy. Butter was highly prized, especially fresh unsalted butter. Sometimes, they flavoured it with onions or wild garlic. They even had the strange tradition of burying it in bogs, some say to develop the flavour, some say for storage; the true reason is not clear, but examples of ‘bog-butter’ have been recovered, and may be seen in the National Museum in Dublin. They drank milk, sometimes fresh or mixed with honey, sometimes soured, even something they called bainne clabair, meaning ‘thick milk’, which was a cross between regular milk and thick sour cream. They mixed it with grains to form porridge, and used it in the baking of bread. They also made many varieties of cheese. They also consumed the colustrum produced by cows after calving. Another strange practice was that of bleeding the cattle, then mixing the blood with barley and seasoning to make black puddings.

quern stoneThe Neolithic people were great farmers. As well as keeping livestock, mainly sheep, goats and pigs in addition to cattle, they cultivated their own crops. Wheat was difficult to grow in the damp Irish climate, but barley and oats were more successful. All grains were ground by hand on quern stones, and then sifted through nets to produce finer flours for baking. It was back breaking and time consuming work. There were no ovens, so flat cakes and breads were cooked on flag stones heated up in the fireplace. These grains did not make very good bread, so they were used in porridge mostly. Barley, however, had a more popular use; it brewed a fairly acceptable ale. called cuirm.

Honey was a very important food, as it was their only source of sweetness. It was taken so seriously, that it had a whole Brehon Law devoted to it, called bechbretha. meaning ‘bee judgements’. It concerned such rules as, if a hive swarmed onto another man’s land, what portion of the honey produced should be allotted to each man, and was quite detailed and complicated. Honey was used to sweeten porridge, in baking, to baste roasting meats and fish, and to flavour drinks. It was also used to produce the alcoholic beverage mead, known as mid in Irish (mee).

Apart from apples, fruit and vegetables were not cultivated in Ireland before the 8th century. Much of their fresh foods were gathered in on a regular basis, such as wild berries of all kinds, nuts, watercress, garlic, seaweed such as dulse in coastal areas, about which there were also serious laws, kale, onions and strawberries. Later on, they grew cabbages, carrots, leeks, parsnips and turnips.

salmonThe hazel nut was particularly prized for its nutritional qualities. In mythology, Fintan, the Salmon of Knowledge became so wise and highly sought after from eating the hazel nuts which fell into the river from the nine sacred hazel bushes. He swam down the Boyne and was caught by Fionn mac Cumhall for his mentor, the druid Finegas, yet burned his thumb while cooking it. Although warned not to eat the fish by Finegas, he put his burned thumb into his mouth to cool it, thereby accidentally ingesting the morsel of flesh which clung there, so cheating poor old Finegas out of the knowledge he so desperately craved.

Many types of fish and shellfish were eaten, including salmon. Fionn mac Cumhall and his Fianna were said to have regularly visited Belleek in the autumn to feast on the annual salmon run, and sharpen their weapons there. He is also associated with the River Finn in Co Monaghan, where he caught bream, roach and pike.

Various condiments, known as annlann in Irish, were used to flavour their foods, such as lard, olar ( a rich gravy), inmar (dripping), butter, salt, honey, herbs, in fact, anything not considered the main constituent of the meal was called annlann.

Producing food and then cooking it was not a quick and easy task in ancient Ireland. There were no convenience foods, no junk foods. Interestingly, they seem to have been a fairly healthy bunch, on the whole; as far as we can tell, there seems to have been relatively little evidence of obesity and other lifestyle/diet related illnesses. Perhaps we could learn more from the people of ancient Ireland than stone masonry and star gazing…and by the way, it took me half a pack of S&V stackers  two glasses of prosecco to write this post! Oh well, tomorrow is another day…

The Irish Wolfhound

The Irish Wolfhound http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

The Irish Wolfhound, known as Cú Faoil in Irish (pronounced Koo-Fil), is the tallest breed of dog in the world. Originally, it was used in battle to pull enemy warriors from horse-back or chariot, and also for hunting wolves, after which it is named, wild boar, deer and some stories even say, the Giant Irish Elk. It is a sight hound, which means it hunts by speed and sight rather than scent, as the bloodhound does. It is said that the Irish Wolfhound is the only dog fast enough to catch a wolf, and strong enough to kill it.

Apart from its great size, it has a distinctive shaggy rough coat, most commonly grey, but also brindle, red, black, white or wheaten. Its build is much like that of a greyhound, with a broad, deep chest, long lean powerful limbs, and a long neck with head held high, essential for its role as a sight hound. When standing on its hind legs, it can reach over 7ft tall. It is said to be intelligent, easy-going and quiet-natured, and extremely loyal. Sadly, however, this gentle giant has a short life-span, averaging only 6-8 years.

Hunting wolves in ancient Ireland with the Cú Faoil

The Cú Faoil has a long history, believed to have been brought to Ireland around 7000BC. When the Celts attacked Delphi in C3rd BC, survivors told fearful stories of the great hounds which fought alongside their masters. Julius Caesar wrote of them in his account of the Gallic Wars. The Roman citizen Flavianus gifted seven of the hounds to his brother, the Roman Consul Symmachus, to fight bears and lions in the Games of AD391, and later wrote of them in a letter, ‘All Rome viewed them with wonder.”

In his History of Ireland, published in 1571, Edmund Campion describes the hounds used to hunt the wolves of Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains as ‘bigger of bone and limb than a colt’ (for those who don’t know, a colt is a young horse, sort of the teenager of the equine world). So many of the hounds had been exported overseas to meet the demand of foreign nobles and royalty, that stocks in Ireland became seriously depleted, and Oliver Cromwell published a declaration in April 1652 to ensure sufficient numbers be maintained in Ireland to cope with the wolf population.

The last wolf in Ireland was said to have been killed in Co Carlow in 1786 by a pack of wolfhounds belonging to a Mr. Watson of Ballydarton. Whilst the wolf posed a serious problem to the safety of livestock, its shocking to think they could have been so wantonly hunted into extinction. With the demise of the wolf, the need for the wolfhound itself decreased, and the breed was only revived in the mid 1800’s by Captain George Augustus, when he cross-bred the few remaining descendants with Deerhounds, Great Danes and mastiffs.

According to ancient Brehon law, the ownership of the Cú Faoil was governed by status. Only the nobility were permitted to own the hounds; the Fili, a classification of bard and poet, was limited to the possession of only two hounds, for example. Contrast this with the legendary hero of the Fianna, Fionn mac Cumhall, who famously loved the Irish Wolfhound; he was said to have owned in excess of five hundred!

There are many stories of the Irish Wolfhound in mythology. The most famous hounds are, without doubt, Fionn’s two favourites, Bran and Sceolán. They were brother and sister, of human descent, their poor mother, Tuirrean, (Fionn’s aunt) having been turned into a hound whilst she was pregnant by jealous Uchtdealb, woman of the Sidhe, and lover of Tuirrean’s husband. They were said to have been so tall, that their heads reached chest height to a man. Bran was described as ‘ferocious, white-breasted, sleek-haunched, with fiery deep black eyes that swim  in sockets of blood’. Sceolán was slightly smaller, ‘small-headed, with the eyes of a dragon, claws of a wolf, vigour of a lion, and the venom of a serpent’. They feature as prominently in the exploits of the Fianna as do the warriors themselves.

Equally well known, is the story of Cú Chulain. As the boy Setanta, Cú Chulain is set upon by Chulain’s favourite hound, and kills him by smashing his head against a rock. Chulain is distraught by the loss of his favourite hound, and Setanta offers to serve for a year in the hound’s place as faithful companion, guard, and hunter. He is known forever after as Cú Chulain, ‘the hound of Chulain’, and goes on to become one of Ireland’s most best-loved heroes.


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