IRISH HORSEMAN c.1400

An extract from Armies of the Middle Ages, volume 1
by Ian Heath



29.      IRISH HORSEMAN c.1400

This javelin-armed figure, wearing a grey coccula (hood) and failang (cloak), and a saffron, blue or red tunic, is from the same source as the next. He is probably representative of those Irish horse at Rouen who Monstrelet described as riding 'excellently well on small mountain horses', using cushions ('panniers') in place of saddles. He concludes: 'They were, however, miserably accoutred in comparison with the English, and without any arms that could much hurt the French whenever they might meet them.'

However, Juan de Perelhos describes horsemen more heavily-armed and considerably better equipped than those described by Monstrelet or pictured here, who are probably only 'horseboys' (see page 17). He describes the retinue of Niaill O'Neill, King of Tyrone, as '40 horsemen, riding without saddle on a cushion, and each wears a slashed cloak; (they are) armed with coats-of-mail, and wear them girded, and they have hoods of mail and round iron helmets, with swords and sword-blades and lances very long, but very thin . . . and they are 2 fathoms (12 feet) long they wear neither hose, nor sandals nor breeches, and they put their spurs on their bare heels.' Froissart too, who had his information from an esquire once held captive by them, confirms that the Irish 'always rode without saddle or stirrups'. Spurs are first recorded in use by the Irish c. 1300, replacing the earlier riding goad. A brass snaffle bit was used in Ireland rather than the curb bit in use in England and France.

Although Perelhos does not mention shields, other 14th-15th century sources indicate that Irish horsemen often wore a targe (called a starra) on their backs in battle, just as is depicted in one of Derricke's 16th century prints.
[Based on a miniature of MacMorogh, the Irish chieftain, coming to confer with the Earl of Gloucester]



Next: 30. IRISH CHIEFTAIN, ART OGE MACMURROUGH KAVANAGH, 14th-15th Centuries in Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 1 by Ian Heath