Saturday 24 December 2011

The Battle of Kinsale - fought 410 years ago on Christmas Eve 1601

Fought in Co Cork this day 410 years ago on Christmas Eve 1601 the Battle of Kinsale was one the greatest watersheds in Irish history. After near on seven years of victory in the field it signalled the beginning of the end for the Irish confederate alliance under Hugh O'Neill and Hugh O'Donnell and ultimately paved the way for the Jacobean Plantation of Ulster.

The battle was fought to relieve a Spanish expeditionary force which had been under siege by an English army of some 7000 men under Lord Mountjoy in the town of Kinsale. The Gaelic lords of the north after much deliberation on O'Neill's part and less so on O'Donnell's marched to the aid of their Spanish allies. In brief - militarily - the battle was essentially won by the English cavalry who after an initial riposte by skirmishing Irish kern calivermen carried the light Irish cavalrymen before them. Although adept at skirmish warfare the non-stirrup wearing Irish cavalry were the weak spot in O'Neill's army and their loss may not have counted for much excepting that when they routed from the field they routed directly into the flank of O'Neill's main unit of foot. This was a disaster for the well trained bonnachts of Tir Eoghan as it allowed the English horse to drive deep into the pike and shot unit which otherwise would have been impenetrable with its defensive continental style 'tercio' formation. After some support from elements of English infantry soon after and after sustaining heavy losses - the Irish unit cracked and the troops began to rout. It appears then that the small Irish/Spanish unit under Captain Richard Tyrell attempted to screen the Tir Eoghan men from the worst of the English pursuit when they themselves were attacked. They made a brief stand before retreating to a hill from where they themselves then fled the field. Having witnessed the defeat of the main battle and the vanguard - O'Donnell commanding the third and last Irish unit or 'battle' extorted his troops to intervene but it was too late but they at least departed the field in relatively good order.

Of a total of roughly 6500 the Irish lost 2000 dead or dying including 14 captains according to English sources. The English also captured 11 flags, O'Neill's entire baggage train and 2000 weapons. An unknown haul of Irish captives were further executed by hanging. The English in turn lost less than 12 men in addition to one officer but lost many horses - doubtless impaled by the Irish pikemen. It is speculated that Irish casualties would have been far worse only for the physical weakness of the near starved horse which caused the pursuit to be called off after one mile.

In the immediate aftermath O'Donnell sailed for Corunna to enlist more help but it was not to be and O'Donnell died not long before his 30th birthday - most likely of tapeworm - in Spain and was buried at Simancas in September 1602. With his death fell away any real hope of further assistance from the King of Spain, Philip III. Meanwhile - the ever resourceful O'Neill continued to hold out and did not actually surrender to Lord Mountjoy until the end of March in 1603 - and then under extremely generous terms. At this stage we could now get into Arthur Chichester's machinations, the price on O'Neill's head, the Flight of the Earls, O'Doherty's Rising etc but in another time and space.

The picture attached is a very small part a large canvass of the Battle of Kinsale which is now hanging in Trinity College, Dublin - where it has been kept since 1784. The painting is remarkable for its accurate portrayal of topographical features around Kinsale and in it's seemingly accurate serialisation into byte size pieces of the battle itself. It was most likely commissioned by Lord Mountjoy himself. In this particular section we see a group of O'Neill's bonnacht soldiers as they rout for their lives from the English horse. Although it could merely be the artist's own device - it is interesting to note that many of the Irish pikemen are still carrying their cumbersome weapons - albeit in the early stages of rout. Of cultural interest, and indeed of practical interest too from the historical interpreter's POV, are their short - Dungiven like - yellow (saffron?) doublets and their close fitting trews/trousers (quite unlike the baggier English knee length breeches of the day) and their wearing of what appear to be cabasset style helmets.

'Happy' Kinsale Day everyone (and a happy Christmas too) from Claíomh : )

Tuesday 29 November 2011

The Last Grasp - the latest short pilot by Claíomh set in 16thC Gaelic-Ireland

Ireland, 1584: 'In the aftermath of a cattle-raid into enemy territory two Gaelic-Irish warriors - a light infantry kern and a mailed galloglass - are despatched to comb the woods for stragglers...'

The primary thinking behind Claíomh making this short film was to showcase the potential of museum-quality archaeological reproductions when utilised with modern media - in this case relating to 16th century Gaelic-Ireland when native Irish traditions were at their zenith. Set against an environment of what was the most commonly pursued 'sport' at the time i.e. cattle-raiding, and while promoting awareness of an archaeologically accurate portrayal of the visual appearance of Late Medieval Gaelic warriors - the production also lightly touches upon the complicated political situation in Ireland at the time.

As a zero-budget pilot 'The Last Grasp' was shot within a couple of hours on entirely a voluntary basis with the aim to make vividly assessable this fascinating and rich depository of Irish heritage to a wider audience beyond the conventional confines of academia.

Claíomh regards film as a forum into which latest archaeological and historical research can be utilised to harness a realistic graphic to provide a window into Ireland's history and in so doing to create an artistic whole. As short films, 'The Last Grasp' as well as our 1640's themed 'The Flag', represent proto-steps in what is hoped will be a long journey of discovery in the medium.

Reconstructed artefacts featured in this film include swords from Co Offaly (Ballylin) and Co Galway (one each from the River Corrib -- near Galway City - and the River Suck -- near Ballinasloe), and a 'sparth' axe from Co Tyrone (River Blackwater, Clonteevy). The sets of clothing worn by the characters are copied from contemporary illustrations such as the anonymous 'Drawn on the quick' (c.1544) kept in the Ashmoleum Museum in Oxford and Albrecht Dürer's 'Thus go the soldiers of Ireland, beyond England...' (1521) at the Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen in Berlin.

The film was shot in Ireland in Autumn 2010 by members of Claíomh with the invaluable assistance of Josh Plunkett, Alan Mac Úa hAlpine, and Rob Hunt. The primeval soundtrack was specially composed and performed by Brian Conniffe. It's first appearance was at the Experimental Cinema of the Hunter Moon Fest in Carrick-on-Shannon in October 2011.

Monday 3 October 2011

Battle of Monasternenagh

On this day - 3rd October 1579 - was fought the Battle of Monasternenagh in Co Limerick between the English forces of Sir Nicholas Malby and an Irish/Anglo-Irish host under John of Desmond - half of the latter whose numbers were composed of the MacSheehy Galloglass sept. Despite the tenacity of the galloglasses making up to three frontal charges on the English lines and breaking through the English pike formations in more places than one - the impact of English small arms fire-power was to be telling and the Irish forces were hurled back in retreat after failing to make the decisive breakthrough. The Irish only began to give ground when pressed by English cavalry on their flanks and rear - 'a great number of constables of the Clan Sheehy' were cut down 'probably from gunfire rather than in close combat...' It was to be the only large set piece engagement of the Second Desmond Rebellion.

Monday 18 July 2011

Battle of the Red Sagums 1561

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Tuesday 31 May 2011

New short film: 'The Flag'

New in-house short film called 'The Flag' relating to the Siege of Drogheda in 1649 has just been uploaded to the Claíomh FB page - please click this link to check it out:

Thursday 26 May 2011

Claymore c.1550

For a time there was a claidheamh mór very similar to the one pictured below which was preserved and kept here in Dublin at Clontarf Castle. Likely it's original owner was a Redshank mercenary on seasonal service from the Isles - or perhaps he was one of those who was massacred on Rathlin in 1575 by Crown Forces and the sword a trophy of that grisly affair - maybe both, maybe none of the above... Thankfully, that stalwart of Irish military history - Gerald Hayes-McCoy - made a record of the sword some time prior to the late 1970s shortly before it passed into an unknown private collection presumed to be outside the state. Traditionally the preserve of the Scots of the Western Isles, this 'twahondit' sword was the only known example of its kind with a provenance in Ireland. The old sword bore several marks on the blade of which, most prominent of these, was the motif of the running wolf. This latter was originally associated with the bladesmiths of the southern German town of Passau and was subsequently 'adopted' in later centuries by the famed bladesmiths of Solingen at which time surely that blade was made prior to export to the Western Isles...
Claymore c.1550-1600

Tuesday 17 May 2011

New and interesting site narrating practical explorations into the authentic reconstruction of women's clothing from the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods: Highly recommended!!
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