An illustration from a manuscript of
Topographia Hibernica
(The Topography of Ireland)
written in 1187
by Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales)

British Library Ms. Royal 13 B VIII
This copy made in 1196-1198 or 1207-1208

One Irish axeman carries another

Illustration from the bottom margin of folio 27v (Topographia Hibernica)

Click for a larger image.

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Another picture of One Irish axeman carries another on his back in National Library of Ireland Ms. 700

Source: British Library Ms. Royal 13 B VIII

Chapter X: Of the Character, Customs, and Habits of this People

From 'The Topography of Ireland' by Sylvester Giraldus Cambrensis, 1187

Edited by Thomas Wright, 1863


Their custom is to wear small, close-fitting hoods, hanging below the shoulders a cubit's length, and generally made of parti-coloured strips sewn together. Under these, they use woollen rugs instead of cloaks, with breeches and hose of one piece, or hose and breeches joined together, which are usually dyed of some colour.[1] Likewise, in riding, they neither use saddles, nor boots, nor spurs, but only carry a rod in their hand, having a crook at the upper end, with which they both urge forward and guide their horses. They use reins which serve the purpose both of a bridle and a, bit, and do not prevent the horses from feeding, as they always live on grass. Moreover, they go to battle without armour, considering it a burthen, and esteeming it brave and honourable to fight without it.


[1] Seu braccis caligatis, seu caligis braccalis. The account given by Giraldus of the ancient dress of the Irish, in a language which supplied no equivalent terms, is necessarily obscure; but, connecting it with other sources of information, we find that it consisted of the following articles: --1. What our author calls caputium, was a sort of bonnet and hood, protecting not only the head, but the neck and shoulders from the weather. It was of a conical form, and probably made of the same sort of stuff as the mantle. 2. The cloak or mantle; to describe which Giraldus has framed the Latin word phalingium, from the Irish falach, which signifies a rug or covering of any sort. This cloak had a fringed border sown or wove down the edges. It was worn almost as low as the ancles, and was usually made of frieze, or some such coarse material. It was worn by the higher classes of the same fashion, but of better quality, according to their rank and means; and was sometimes made of the finest cloth, with a silken or woollen fringe, and of scarlet or other colours. Many rows of the shag, or fringe, were sown on the upper part of the mantle, partly for ornament and partly to defend the neck from the cold; and along the edges ran a narrow fringe of the same texture as the outward garment. 3. The covering for the lower part of the body, the thighs and legs, consisted of close breeches, with hose or stockings made in one, or sewn to them. It was a garment common to the Celtic nations, and is often mentioned by Roman writers. One of the provinces of Gaul had the name of Gallia Braccata from this distinguishing article of the native dress The word might be translated "trowsers" (Fr., trusser, to truss), or "trews," with which and the plaid, both used by the Scots, there seems to have been a great similarity in shape, material, and the particolour. The Irish were so much attached to this national costume, that, in order to break down the line of demarcation between the natives and the English settlers, they were forbidden to wear it by laws passed in the 5 Edw. IV., 10 Henry VII., and 28 Henry VIII, just as the distinguishing dress of the Scotch Highlanders was prohibited, in order to break the spirit of the clans, after their faithful adhesion to the Stuart princes had drawn upon them the severities of the English government. Griraldus might have added to the list of articles formerly worn by the Irish the brogues, made of dried skins, or half-tanned leather, and fastened with latchets, or thongs of the same material.

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