IRISH CHIEFTAIN

An extract from Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066
by Ian Heath


37.      IRISH CHIEFTAIN

This figure is based mainly on carvings from the Cross of the Two Scriptures at Clonmacnois, dating to the 10th century. He wears a leine, a long tunic usually of linen (hence its name) but sometimes of wool or silk, which in battle would normally be shortened by being drawn up through the belt. Over it he wears a dyed 'shaggy mantle', a cloak made to look like fur by the incorporation of tufts of unspun wool between the threads whilst weaving. Normally a semi-circular woollen cloak, the brat, would be worn instead; this often had a fringe, and those of chieftains could be of satin or silk.

The brat was most often purple, crimson or green but could also be black, blue, yellow, speckled, grey, dun, variegated or striped. The leine, usually described as 'bright' or 'light-coloured', was generally bleached, often with a coloured border, but was sometimes striped or embroidered. It is not known when the characteristic saffron tunic of the mediaeval era came to be adopted, but the earliest evidence dates to the mid-14th century.

Helmets are often mentioned in Irish poetry but appear to be a literary convention, while mail was unknown in Ireland until the Viking invasions and even then was apparently not adopted by the Irish until after the close of this period, though the 12th century 'War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill' credits Irish chieftains at Clontarf in 1014 with mail corselets as well as helmets.

Irish swords were short and inflexible, averaging 20-24 inches in length. That the scabbard was suspended from a waist-belt is shown quite clearly in one of the Clonmacnois carvings.
[Based on the Cross of the Two Scriptures at Clonmacnois]



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