The gallowglass were a mercenary warrior élite among Gaelic-Norse clans residing in the Western Isles of Scotland (or, Hebrides) and Scottish Highlands from the mid 13th century to the end of the 16th century. As Scots, they were Gaels and shared a common origin and heritage with the Irish, but as they had intermarried with the 10th century Norse settlers of the islands and coastal areas of Scotland and the Picts, the Irish called them "Gall Gaeil" ("foreign Gaels").

They were the mainstay of Scottish and Irish warfare before the advent of gunpowder, and depended upon seasonal service with Irish lords. A military chieftain would often select a gallowglass to serve as his personal aide and bodyguard, because as a foreigner, the gallowglass would be less subject to local feuds and influences.


The term "gallowglass" or "galloglass" is an anglicisation of the Irish, "gallóglaigh" (lit., "foreign soldiers"), incorporating the Celtic word "Óglach", which is derived from "oac", the Old Irish for "youths", but later meaning "soldier". Encarta specifies the plural of gallowglass to be "gallowglasses", but this article assumes that the singular and plural terms are both "gallowglass", as the English term is derived from an Irish plural. Shakespeare uses the form "gallowglasses" in the play "Macbeth".


The first record of gallowglass service under the Irish was in 1259, when Prince Aed O'Connor of Connaught received a dowry of 160 Scottish warriors from the daughter of the King of the Hebrides. They were organised into groups known as a "Corrughadh", which consisted of about 100 men. In return for military service, gallowglass contingents were given land and settled in Irish lordships, where they were entitled to receive supplies from the local population. By 1512, there were reported to be fifty nine groups throughout the country under the control of the Irish nobility. Though initially they were mercenaries, over time they settled and their ranks became filled with native Irish men. They were noted for wielding the two handed Sparth axe (a custom noted by Geraldus Cambrensis to have derived from their Norse heritage) and broadsword or claymore ("claidheamh mór"). For armour, the gallowglass wore chain mail shirts over padded jackets and iron helmets; he was usually accompanied by two boys (like a knight's squires), one of whom carried his throwing spears while the other carried his provisions.

Shakespeare mentions gallowglass in his play "Macbeth", although along with other aspects of the play it is an anachronism, as the historical Macbeth lived in the 11th century:

:The merciless Macdonwald, :Worthy to be a rebel, for to that :The multiplying villainies of nature :Do swarm upon him, from the Western isles :Of kerns and gallowglasses is supplied

The importation of gallowglass into Ireland was a major factor in containing the Anglo-Norman invasion of the 12th century, as their ranks stiffened the resistance of the Irish lordships. Throughout the Middle Ages in Ireland, gallowglass troops were maintained by Gaelic Irish and Hiberno-Norman lords alike. Even the English Lord Deputy of Ireland usually kept a company of them in his service. ("See Also: Norman Ireland")

In a paper entitled "A Description of the Power of Irishmen", written early in the 16th century, the Irish forces of Leinster are numbered at 522 horse, 5 battalions of gallowglass (galloglaigh) and 1432 kerne, and those of the other provinces were in like proportion. MacCarthy Mór, commanded 40 horse, 2 battalions of gallowglass, and 2000 kerne; the Earl of Desmond 400 horse, 3 battalions of gallowglass, and 3000 kerne, besides a battalion of crossbowmen and gunners, the smaller chieftains supplying each their quota of men. In the year 1517, "when the reformacion of the countrye was taken in hand," it was reported that the Irish forces in Thomond were 750 horse, 2324 kerne, and 6 "batayles" of gallowglas, the latter including 60 to 80 footmen harnessed with spears; each of these had a man to bear his harness, some of whom themselves carried spears or bows. Every kerne had a bow, a 'skieve' or quiver, three spears, a sword, and a skene, each two of them having a lad to carry their weapons. The horsemen had two horses apiece, some three, the second bearing the 'knave' or his attendant.

The 16th century in Ireland saw an escalation in military conflict, caused by the Tudor re-conquest of Ireland. Gallowglass fighters were joined by native Irish mercenaries called "buanadha" (literally "quartered men") and by newer Scottish mercenaries known as "redshanks". The flow of mercenaries into Ireland was such a threat to English occupation that Queen Elizabeth I took steps against them in 1571 - around 700 of them were executed after the first of the Desmond Rebellions. In spite of the increased use of firearms in Irish warfare, gallowglass remained an important part of Hugh O'Neill's forces in the Nine Years War (Ireland). After the combined Irish defeat at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, recruitment of gallowglass waned, although Scottish Highland mercenaries continued to come to Ireland until the 1640s (notably Alasdair MacColla). The Gallowglass of the MacCarthy Reagh are recorded as having attacked Mallow in County Cork as late as 1645. Images of Gallowglass fighting as mercenaries in European mainland armies were sketched by Dürer in 1521 and later by French and Dutch artists.Fact|date=June 2008 Gallowglass served in the forces of King Gustav Adolphus of Sweden in his invasion of Livonia during the Thirty Years War.Fact|date=June 2008


Though the Gallowglass were abolished as military units, their Clan names endure to this day - often concentrated in areas where their ancestors were settled in the service of Irish lordships. The most common names derived from gallowglass clans include:

* Mac An Gallóglaigh (Gallogly)- Original Clan Gallowglass
* MacCába (MacCabe)
* MacDómhnaill (MacDonnell / McDonald)
* MacRuairi (MacRory)
* MacSíthígh (Sheehy / MacSheehy)
* MacSuibhne (MacSweeney / MacSwiney)

ee also

*Norman Ireland
*Kern (soldier)
*Warfare of Scotland in the High Middle Ages
*Celtic warfare
*Gaelic warfare


* G.A. Hayes McCoy, "Irish Battles", Appletree Press, Belfast 1990
* Colm Lennon," Sixteenth Century Ireland - the Incomplete Conquest", Gill & MacMillan, Dublin 1994.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Gallowglass — Gal low*glass , n. [Ir. galloglach. Cf. {Gillie}.] A heavy armed foot soldier from Ireland and the Western Isles in the time of Edward ? Shak. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • gallowglass — [gal′ō glas΄] n. alt. sp. of GALLOGLASS …   English World dictionary

  • Gallowglass — Soldado hébrido. Los Gallowglass fueron unos guerreros mercenarios de élite entre los clanes Noruego gaélicos que residían en las islas y montañas del oeste de Escocia, las Hébridas, desde mediados del siglo XIII hasta el final del siglo XVI …   Wikipedia Español

  • gallowglass — noun Etymology: modification of Irish gallóglach, from gall foreigner + óglach young man, warrior Date: circa 1515 1. a mercenary or retainer of an Irish chief 2. an armed Irish foot soldier …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • gallowglass — /gal oh glas , glahs /, n. Irish Hist. galloglass. * * * …   Universalium

  • gallowglass — noun A mercenary warrior élite among Gaelic Norse clans residing in the Western Isles of Scotland and Scottish Highlands from the mid 13th century to the end of the 16th century …   Wiktionary

  • Gallowglass — Bands of *mercenaries, foot soldiers, from Scotland, who went to fight the English in Ireland. They wore a light armour, with distinctive helmets, their weapon of choice being a *poleaxe. They were often attended by two squires. Later the word… …   Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases

  • gallowglass — n. Irish foot soldier; servant of an Irish chief (also galloglass) …   English contemporary dictionary

  • gallowglass — gal·low·glass …   English syllables

  • gallowglass — ˈgalōˌglas noun ( es) Etymology: Irish Gaelic gallōglach, from gall foreigner + ōglach servant, soldier, youth, from Old Irish ōclach youth, from ōac young; akin to Welsh ieuanc young, Old English geong more at young 1. : one of a class of… …   Useful english dictionary

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