DBA Resource Page

Medieval Army Lists

Norse Irish (846-1260 AD)
DBA #112

By Peter Murray

The Vikings made a large (but surprisingly little known!) impact on the history of Ireland.  The first Viking raids are reported in 795 AD, and raids continued frequently thereafter with the Norsemen often making great progress inland.  Vikings founded the town of Dublin in 838 and fought some large-scale invasions in the north of Ireland.  Gradually, the Norse rulers of Dublin took a less antagonistic approach to the native Irish, and began to trade and partially normalize relations with the Irish.  There was some intermarriage and adoption between the Norse and the native Irish, and the Gall Gaedhil ("Foreign Gaels") were of mixed Norse and Irish heritage. The Norse Irish never gave up the Viking life of plunder and raid entirely, though, and raided Britain as far north as the Orkney Islands.

At their height of power, the Norse Irish ruled an extensive territory on the east coast of Ireland, including the cities of Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford at the height of their power. In 968, they lost the city of Limerick and from then on their power continued to wane. High King Brian Boru's victory at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 effectively ended any chance that the Norse would fully rule Ireland, but the Norse Irish continued to strongly influence the commerce in Ireland under the rulership of the Irish kings.

The Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland and Henry II's claim to the title of Lord of Ireland effectively spelled the end of the Norse Irish, as a Norman system of government and the dominance of England gradually spread through Ireland.  Even today, however, there are still Norse words in the Irish Gaelic lexicon, lasting testament to the power the Norse Irish once held.

From a research standpoint, it can be rather difficult to distinguish which Viking actions were accomplishments of the Norse Irish versus the native Norsemen. Since many records of the Vikings came form their opponents (who weren't concerned with such details), I suppose this isn't too surprising. Any enlightenment the reader can provide would be heartily welcomed.

Composition

1 x 4Aux or 4Sp Commander in Chief and his best armed retainers. Warriors who either fought as a shieldwall or adopted the loose-order formations of the native Irish. Most warriors carried only a shield for armor and fought with spear, sword, or axe.
4 x 3Aux Irish mercenaries or local troops, equipped as above. Later these would be Bonnachts, who would carry sword, spear, and javelin and wear coats of mail with shield and helmet.
3 x 2Ps or
2 x 4Bd (Ostmen) & 1 x 4Bd (Gall Gaedhil)

Psiloi are Irish Kerns, who most likely skirmished with javelins or slings. Archers were also used as skirmishers, but much less frequently (it was considered unmanful to shoot at a foe from such a distance!)

Ostmen were Norse mercenaries or native Vikings living in Ireland. Like most vikings, they should have helmets and coats of mail and carry swords or axes and round shields. Gall Gaedhil were adopted native Irish from Norse families or men of mixed Norse and Irish heritage. Legend is that their ferocity on the battlefield gave them the fanciful nickname "Sons of Death." Equipment should be similar to that of Vikings.

3 x 2Ps More kerns or skirmishing archers.
1 x 3/4Wb or 3Aux More lightly-armored warriors who are either very angry or much less angry, but armed as the first two groups.

Tactics

The Norse Irish can be fielded as a 6Aux and 6Ps army, but unless you are unduly fond of Bad Going or painful defeats, it is probably in your best interest to field the Sp and Bd options.

Deploy with Bd elements as the center of your line and use the Aux to guard your flanks. Against a horse-heavy opponent like the Anglo-Normans or Feudal English, try taking the fight into Bad Going, or position your Bd on a flank and use your Aux as "throwaway" troops (especially if playing with the Knights QK against Blade).

This army has excellent Bad Going capabilities, so occupy the rocky ground and fight there when possible. I haven't found the Wb option to be particularly useful, since there's only one and its impetuous nature tends to get it in trouble. With three elements of Ps and some skill, you can tie up your opponent's progress until you can properly line up your own forces to attack.

Fully half of this army is Auxilla, which aren't the most robust unit in DBA. This means some knowledge of tactics is required and beginners may have a harder time using this army than would a more experienced player.

If you find yourself losing a lot, simply settle for dominance of the local trade networks. The general should never carry a Raven Standard, but ask that a good friend or close enemy do so.

Enemies

The Norse Irish proclivity to enjoy the occasional sack of their neighbors gives them quite a selection of opponents from all over the British Isles. Listed enemies are: Norman (#102c), Viking (#106a), Pre-Feudal Scots (#111), Norse Irish (#112), Scots Isles & Highlands (#128), Anglo-Norman (#134), and Anglo-Irish (#144). The Norse Irish also appear as a faction in the Feudal Britain 1250 AD campaign on page 13 of DBA v.1.1, which adds the Feudal English (#145), Welsh (#92), and Scots Common (#140) as opponents.

Although their listed time ends at 846 AD, the Scots-Irish (#61) are hypothetical opponents, represesenting the last few inland Irish clans resisting the spread of the Norsemen and their Irish allies. In this case, substitute Cav for the LCh elements. The Anglo-Danish (#113) are also plausible opponents for some more merry raiding.

Battles

The Battle of Clontarf (1014 AD) pits Norse Irish (Brian Boru of Leinster) vs. Norse Irish (Mael Mordha of Munster, King Syrgtrygg of Dublin and their Viking allies). Historically, this is regarded as Norse Irish vs. Viking, but large numbers of Vikings and Irish fought on both sides, suggesting that a mix of Bd and Aux on both sides is more accurate. Furthermore, unless a good 80% of the terrain is Bad Going, the Norse Irish will have a very hard time winning against a Bd-heavy army like the Vikings.

Miniatures

I own a Falcon pre-packaged Norse Irish DBA army, with which I am generally pleased. The casting is clean and the figures are chunky and easily identifiable. I am especially fond of the more Viking-esque figures with their "goggle" style helmets and mail.  However, there's little pose variety (Look! Synchronized warbanding!) and the Ps elements are represented by bows, which aside from their historical rarity are a bit too late-medieval in appearance.

Essex also sells a pre-packaged army, though you could easily morph a Norse Irish army from leftover Viking figures, generic Dark Age skirmishers and spearmen, or from one or two other Dark Age Anglo-Saxon or Scots armies.

Camps

Appropriate camps can encompass both traditional Viking and Gaelic iconography (although I would stop short of Stonehenge or druid's circles), so a longboat, longhouse, a crannog, or motte-and-bailey fort would be appropriate. A pile of (looted or traded) goods or an angry Gaelic saint atop a barrow would also make for a picturesque camp. A plashed woodline is appropriate. A circle of tents or generic Dark Ages camp could also be used by the less imaginative.


| Top of Page | Norse Irish Index | Medieval Armies | DBA Resource Page |


Last Updated: March 17, 2000.

Original page located at http://php.indiana.edu/~pemurray/norse-irish.html and reproduced with author's permission.

Questions, comments and suggestions welcome. You can contact the author Peter Murray or send your feedback to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.