Celtic Warriors

Print PDF

 

John of Dunlop with a Roman CenturionCeltic Warriors

Vercingetorix (from wikipaedia)

Between 58 and 53 BC, Julius Caesar had secured domination over the Celtic tribes beyond the Provincia Narbonensis (modern day Provence) through a careful divide and rule strategy. Previous attempts at revolt, for example that of Ambiorix in 54 BC, had secured only local support, but Vercingetorix, whose father, Celtillus, had been put to death by his own countrymen for seeking kingship over all of Gaul, managed to unify the Gallic tribes against the Romans and adopted more modern styles of warfare.

Vercingetorix began raising his forces in the winter of 52 BC, while Caesar was in Cisalpine Gaul. He faced some initial resistance from the nobles of the Arverni, including his uncle Gobanito, but raised an army of the poor, overthrew his opponents and was hailed as king. He made alliances with other tribes, and having been unanimously given supreme command, imposed his authority through harsh discipline and the taking of hostages. He adopted the policy of retreating to natural fortifications, and undertook an early example of a scorched earth strategy by burning towns to prevent the Roman legions from living off the land.

Caesar and his chief lieutenant Titus Labienus lost the initial minor engagements, but captured the tribal capital at Avaricum (Bourges), killing the entire population of 40,000. The next major battle at Gergovia resulted in a victory for Vercingetorix because Caesar was too anxious and had attacked instead of besieging and starving the city in standard Roman fashion. When Vercingetorix thought Caesar was in retreat (which he did not intend because it might have ruined his career) he abandoned the cautious tactics he had adopted before and attacked head on. Due to losses he had to retreat and moved to another stronghold, Alesia.

In the Battle of Alesia, however, Caesar was more patient and built a fortification around the city. However, because he himself was surrounded by the rest of Gaul, and Vercingetorix had summoned his Gallic allies to attack the besieging Romans, Caesar built another outer fortification against the expected relief armies (resulting in a doughnut-shaped fortification). The relief came in vast numbers: an estimated 100,000 soldiers (although Caesar claimed there were 250,000). Vercingetorix, the tactical leader, was cut off from them on the inside, and without his guidance the attacks were initially unsuccessful. However, the attacks did reveal a weak point in the fortifications and the combined forces on the inside and the outside almost made a breakthrough. Only when Caesar led the last reserves into battle in person did he finally manage to prevail. This was a decisive battle in the creation of the Roman empire.

Vercingetorix surrendered in magnificent fashion, allegedly riding his horse out of Alesia and around Caesar's camp before throwing his arms at Caesar's feet, stripping naked , then kneeling to Caesar with a flourish. He was imprisoned in the Tullianum in Rome for five years, before being publicly displayed in Caesar's triumph in 46 BC. He was executed after the triumph, either by strangulation, or (less likely) by beheading.


 

Somerled, Lord of the Isles

Somerled was born around 1113 in Morven, Argyleshire. He was the son of Gillebride Mac Gille Adomnan and a Viking woman.  His father was apparently either of the Royal line of Dalriada, Gall Gael (which is Cruithni or Pict) or both. Somerled's name means 'summer wanderer', a name used by his contemporaries to describe the Vikings.

Sometime in Somerled's early youth, the Lochlans and the Fingalls (Clans or tribes) expelled Somerled's family from their home. They took refuge in Ireland, where Gillebride managed to persuade the Colla (an Irish tribe) to assist him in the recovery of his possessions or holdings. A large force of approximately 500 men accompanied the family home. The mission was a failure, however, and his father either died in the battle or soon afterwards.

Somerled lived for a while in the caves of his homeland, fishing and hunting for his survival. In one story, Somerled put himself at the head of the inhabitants of Morven and attacked the Norwegians. He was successful, and recovered his family's lands at the same time. He then was master of Morven, Lochaber and northern Argyle. Soon after this he conquered the southern portions and pronounced himself Thane or Regulus of Argyle around 1135.

His newfound power greatly increased his standing, but it also drew the attention of his neighbors, the Vikings in the Isles. Somerled, however, still did not have the force required to take on the Olaf the Red, the Viking Lord of the Isles. Instead he chose to woo his enemy for the hand of his daughter, Ragnhild. Eventually he succeeded in obtaining Olaf's daughter's hand and the two were married in approximately 1140.

In 1154, Olaf was murdered by his nephews who quickly took control of the northern half of the Kingdom of the Isles. Olaf's son, Godfred heard of the events and returned from Norway, quickly regaining possession of the entire Kingdom.  Some of the chieftains of the Isles appealed to Somerled for help. He joined them and defeated Godfrey, in the process taking the southern half of the Kingdom for himself. About two years later Godfrey and Somerled again went to war, this time Somerled was using new ships with a rudder and Godfrey was defeated again. Somerled became King of the Isles in about 1156.

Somerled is generally credited with breaking the power of the Vikings in the Isles as his descendants remained Kings of the Isles for centuries after his death. One of Somerled's grandsons, a Donald, is also considered the ancestor of the Clan Donald, for his sons were the first to carry the name MacDonald.

Raibert Rudah aka Robert The Red (Rob Roy Macgregor)

At Loch Katrine on the 7th of March 1671, the 3rd son of Chieftain Donald (Glas) Gregor of Glengyle and Margaret Campbell, cousin to John Iain (Glas) Campbell 11th Laird of Glenorchy, later in 1681 The Earl of Breadalbane, was born and baptised at Buchcanan Parish as Robert MacGregor. This was to see the start of one of the remarkable stories of the Highlands - that of Raibert Rudah (Robert the Red) as he was nicknamed because of his wild red hair. For most others though he would be known by his anglicised name of ‘Rob Roy’.

 

 

Although a Protestant, he was a Jacobite sympathiser (follower of James Stuart the ‘Old Pretender’) and the next we hear of Rubah (Rob Roy) is at the age of 18 as he rallied the Gregors to join Jacobite leader Viscount Dundee, John Graham of Claverhouse. Dundee, known by his supporters as ‘Bonnie Dundee’, was to meet the Hanoverian army of William of Orange led by General Hugh MacKay at Killiekrankie on the 17th of July 1689. It was a bloody battle and although the Jacobites were victorious, Dundee was killed and sometime later Rob’s father, Donald (Glas), was captured and imprisoned for two years on doubtful treason charges. On Donald’s release from prison his wife Margaret was dead (1691) and Donald was never to return to his former spirit and health and died in 1702.

Although now in his early twenties, Rob concentrated on the family business with his brother - cattle rearing with a wee bit of reiving (stealing) thrown in which was fairly normal practice in the Highlands. During this time his business aptitude was growing, as was his political knowledge and he became fairly respected as a businessman, well known throughout Scotland with respectable holdings in Inversnaid and Graigrostan. Some say he also ran cattle as a protection racket. Now 22 Rob was to marry Helen MacGregor of Comar, born at Leny Farm, Strathyre on January 1693 at Glenarklet. They were to have 4 sons - James (Mor) the tall, Ranald, Coll, and Robert known as Robin (Oig) or young Rob. They also adopted a cousin – Duncan.

In 1711, wanting to expand his cattle trade, Rob borrowed the sum of £1000 from James Graham, 1st Duke of Montrose with whom he had been doing business for some 10 years. Montrose (known for his greed) had made a lot of money through his investments in MacGregor's trade but when one of Rob’s trusted associates disappeared with the money, a fortune at the time even for a wealthy cattle and land owner, Montrose showed no mercy to Rob who was unable to repay the sum and pressed home the advantage hoping to claim Rob’s land and cattle. Rob was branded ‘Outlaw’ by Montrose and he confiscated his lands and cattle.

Rob then rented land in Glen Dochart from his mother’s cousin John Campbell, the Earl of Breadalbane, (who earlier in 1703 had been made the

Highland Charge

2nd Duke of Argyle’) a political enemy of Montrose. Argyle, who we assume knew that Rob was a Jacobite sympathiser, was prepared to turn a blind eye as Rob wreaked his revenge on Montrose by raiding his lands. Montrose however did manage to capture Rob but he escaped and by now his escapades were attaining folk hero status in the glens.

The Battle of Sherifmuir in 1715 saw Rob with mixed allegiances as the Duke of Argyle took the government side against the Jacobites and he was forced to miss the battle. Even so he became a marked man with High Treason charges over his head and spent the next 10 years a hunted man. Although he was involved in various skirmishes like the one in Glen Sheil in 1719, he managed to escape capture on various occasions until in 1725 he was captured by General Wade and imprisoned in the famous Newgate Prison in London. Rob was sentenced to transportation to Barbados but before he was due to be deported he received a pardon from King George 1st and returned home to his family in 1727.


Rob Roys Grave with Helen, Coll & James

Rob was to live out his life with his family in relative tranquillity, changing his religion from Protestant to Catholicism. He died at Inverlochie on the 28th of December 1734 at the age of 63 and was laid to rest at Balquhidder Kirkyard. His death was reported a week later in the Caledonian Mercury in Edinburgh. He had left his wife twenty three English pounds. His grave can still be seen today alongside that of Helen his wife and two of his sons Coll and James.

Alasdair MacColla (General Alexander MacDonald) (from Wikipedia)

Alasdair MacColla (circa 1620 to 1647) was a Scottish-Irish soldier. His full name in Scottish Gaelic was Alasdair MacColla Ciotach MacDomhnaill (in English: Alasdair the son of Colla the Left-handed, of the clan MacDonald).  He is sometimes mistakenly referred to in English as "Collkitto", a nickname that properly belongs to his father. He fought in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, most notably in the Scottish Civil War. He died in the battle of Knocknanauss in 1647.

MacColla was born in the Western Isles of Scotland in the early seventeenth century into Clan Donald. His early life encompassed both Gaelic Ireland and the Gaelic western Highlands of Scotland - as the MacDonalds had a presence in both countries. Like his father, Colla, Alasdair made his name as a soldier, being particularly noted for his use of a Scots broadsword called the claymore. In his young days, he saw fighting against the Campbell clan, with whom the MacDonalds had a long running feud over territory and power. This enmity was deepened by religious factors. The Campbells were Presbyterians, whereas the MacDonalds, among whom a Franciscan mission had settled, were Roman Catholics.

However, MacColla really came to prominence with the onset of the conflict knowns as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The MacDonald clan, which was spread over north-western Scotland and north-eastern Ireland, sided with the Royalists and Irish Confederates. Their deadly enemies, the clan Campbell, sided with the Scottish Covenanters. Early in the war, MacColla was forced to flee the Western Isles, which were attacked by a Covenanter/Campbell force. Colla, his father was taken prisoner by the Campbells. On the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, MacColla found himself in Antrim, under the command of Randal MacDonald, the chief of the Irish MacDonalds. MacColla, who was a Catholic, quickly became involved in fighting the Protestant settlers there. He was implicated in some massacres of Protestant civilians, but also scored some notable military victories. However, he was defeated and wounded in an attempt to take Lisburn. In 1642, the Scottish Covenanters landed an army in Ulster and drove the Irish Catholic forces out of the province.

In 1644, he was selected by the Supreme Council of Confederate Ireland to lead an expedition to Scotland to aid the Royalists there against the Covenanters. He was given a command of 1500-2000 men, mostly from Ulster. When in Scotland, MacColla linked up with the Royalist James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose. He was also able to raise men among his MacDonald clansmen and other anti-Campbell Scottish clans. In the subsequent Scottish Civil War, MacColla and Montrose won a series of victories at Tippermuir, Aberdeen, Inverlochy, Auldearn, Alford and Kilsyth. MacColla also took the opportunity to pillage the Campbell lands, killing all the men he could find there. However, he and Montrose parted company because MacColla's priorities lay in the western Highlands, whereas Montrose wanted to secure the Lowlands and ultimately England for the Royalist cause. As a result, both of them were defeated separately by the Covenanters in 1646.

MacColla has been credited with inventing the tactic of the Highland charge in the Civil Wars - where his men ran at enemy infantry, fired a volley at close range and then closed hand to hand. This proved remarkably effective in both Ireland and Scotland, due to the musket's slow reloading time and the poor discipline and training of many of the troops MacColla's men faced.

MacColla's men committed a series of atrocities against the civilians of clan Campbell. During his two periods in occupation of Argyle, the Campbell territory (1645 and 1647), MacColla had all men of military age killed, whether they were in arms or not. On one infamous occasion, MacColla had a whole barn full of Campbells (including women and children) burned, in an incident known as the "Barn of Bones".

MacColla's father, who was a prisoner of the Campbells, was killed in retaliation for his son's atrocities in the Campbell country. MacColla himself retreated to Kintyre and then to Ireland, where he re-joined the Irish Confederates in 1647. His troops, (both Irish survivors of the 1644 expedition and Scottish Highlanders) were split up and assigned to the Leinster and Munster armies, with MacColla attached to the latter. MacColla's men were mostly killed in the Confederate defeats at the battle of Dungans Hill in Meath and then at the battle of Knocknanauss in Cork. Alasdair MacColla himself was killed by English Parliamentarian soldiers at Knocknanauss after he had been taken prisoner.

After his death, MacColla became a figure of minor folklore in Gaelic Ireland and Scotland. He is commemorated in the Scottish Gaelic poetry of Iain Lom MacDonald and in Ireland by a piece of traditional music named MacColla's March or Alasdair MacColla that dates from the mid seventeenth century and is still performed, notably by the band Clannad.

Conn Cea'd Cathach

Conn of the hundred battles is a legendary king of Irish pre-history.  The compilers of the Annals placed him as living and ruling in the 3rd century A.D.  The famous Lia Fail or stone of Destiny brought to Ireland by the Tuatha De Danann cried out under him and allowed him to see how many of his lineage would rule at Tara up until the coming of Patrick of Armagh.

One of his ancestors was the legendary Goidel Glas who created the gaelic language from an amalgamation of seventy two known languages under the instruction of Fenius Farsaid.  Therefore the Goidels of Connaught were named after him and modern Gaels and gaelic speakers can all claim an association with him. Tuathal Techtmar was Conn's grandfather and it was claimed he created the province of Mide from portions of the other territories of Leinster, Ulster, Connacht and Munster, but this may be just a way of saying he conquered land from various tribes already existing in Ireland and also that Tuathal Techtmar was a foreign interloper. Conn of the hundred battles seized power from Cathair Mór a legendary king of Leinster, whose daughter was Eithne Tháebfhota.  He had to be ever vigilant in guarding his territories at Tara lest they be seized by the Fomorians or the Tuatha De Danann.  In his early career he is described at being almost constantly at war with the Dál nAraide of North Eastern Ireland (considered to be Cruithne/Picts by the surrounding tribes).  Because of these 'wars' he earns the name Conn the Battler or Conn of the Hundred Battles.

He allies himself with the Fianna an allied force with members from many tribes who pledge themselves to keep Ireland free of invaders.  His greatest rival is Eógan Mór also known as Mug Nuadhat of Munster with whom he makes a division of Ireland.  The division is made along a ridge known as the Eiscir Riada running across Ireland from Dublin to Galway Bay.  Conn's territory to the north is called Leth Cuinn, while the portion belonging to Munster is called Leth Moga Nuadhat.

Conn defeats Eógan Mór and exiles him for a while however he returns to fight again and is defeated at the battle of Mag Léna (near Tullamore, Co. Offaly).  Conn is described as having being slain by thirty Ulstermen who disguised themselves as women and took him by surprise, under the leadership of Tiobraide Tíreach.

Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig (926 or 941 – 23 April 1014


Brian Boru was no legend although his life deeds were legendary. He was very much a real man and was in fact the last great High King of Ireland and perhaps the greatest military leader the country has ever known.

Brian Boru was born Brian Mac Cennétig. He mother was sister to the mother of Conor, the King of Connaught.

His brother, Mahon, had become King of Munster in 951, upon the death of their father, Cennétig. Together they fought against the invading Norsemen, who had imposed taxes in Munster. This struggle eventually led to the murder of Mahon in 975 Mahon by the Ostermen (Norse). Brian avenged his brother's death by killing the King of the Ostermen of Limerick, King Ímar.
From this point onwards Brian held Munster as his own, including the pivotal trade-centre of Limerick. He marched into Connaught and Leinster and joined forces with Mael Sechnaill II in 997. Together they divided Ireland between them. The Norse settlers in Dublin especially ranged against Brian but were defeated at Glen Máma where the King of Leinster was captured. The King of Dublin, Sitric Silkenbeard, was soon defeated too.  In 1002 Brian demanded of his comrade Mael Sechnaill that he recognize him as King of Ireland. Mael agreed, partially because many of his own people viewed Brian as a hero who had restored Ireland to greatness after the Viking invasions. The rule of the UíNéill's was thus at an end as a non-O'Neill was proclaimed as King. The O'Neill's had been rulers for over 600 years.
He earned his name as 'Brian of the Tributes' (Brian Boru) by collecting tributes from the minor rulers of Ireland and used the monies raised to restore monasteries and libraries that had been destroyed during the invasions.  The Norsemen were not done yet however, and once more waged war on Brian Boru and his followers at Clontarf in Dublin in 1014. The King of Connaught, Tadhg O'Conor refused to ally with Brian against the Ostermen although Uí Fiachrach Aidne and Uí Maine did join with him.
Despite the lack of backing from the men of Connaught, the Munstermen won the day but lost Brian Boru in the battle. This battle was a major turning point as it finally subjugated the Norse presence in Ireland who were henceforth considered subordinate to the Kingships of Ireland. Their military threat had been ended and they retreated to the urban centres of Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, Wexford, and Cork. They eventually became completely hibernicized and integrated into Gaelic culture.   After his death and the death of one of his sons, his remaining sons, Tadg and Donnchad, were unable to assume the kingship which was assumed by Mael Sechnaill. He died in 1022 after which the role of High King of Ireland became more of a position in name only, rather than that of a powerful ruler.
Perhaps the best that should be said of Brian Boru therefore, is that he was the last great High King of Ireland.
http://www.ireland-information.com/articles/brianboru.htm