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  • Writer's pictureWilde Irishe

Donnell O’Hagan’s Company of Shot: 1593

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

This brief note focusses on details of the organisation, equipment, clothing and training of a typical company of ‘shott’ in the service of the Earl of Tyrone. The indispensable work for the Nine Years War is Jim O’Neill’s book of the same name (right). This, coupled with his prolific writing on, has provided a long-missing evaluation of this crucial conflict and gives us the necessary strategic overview. The titanic struggle in Ireland during the last 10 years of Elizabeth’s reign was without doubt her major foreign policy issue. Yet a standard work like Elizabeth’s Army by C. G. Cruikshank (1966) ignores it altogether, considering it beneath notice as a dirty guerilla war. Jim O’Neill proves it was nothing of the sort, with the rebels fielding regular troops and utilising field works, as well as the sort of petite guerre also seen in the contemporary Low Countries.

O’Hagan’s Company

In 1593 the State Papers give us a glimpse of the military force the Earl of Tyrone had been building for several years. On June 9, a company of his ‘shott’ are reported at ‘bonnought’ (i.e., billeted) in Maguire’s country, where they have just taken part in a raid on Sligo. The informant Donald the Scot (‘Donell Albanaghe’) enumerates the shot used by Maguire as follows:

[By the way, bonnaught (Ir. bunnacht), the term for billeting, could be applied to the billeted soldiers themselves, whether galloglas or kern. In the Nine Years War, the term came to signify specifically these modernised infantry raised by Tyrone and his confederates.]

This was the Proxy War stage of the emerging conflict now known as the Nine Year’s War. Tyrone remained officially loyal, while aiding Ulster border lords like Maguire who were in active revolt. These O’Hagan officers were especially trusted servants of the Earl, as he had been fostered among them. Fosterage was the closest tie in Gaelic society, and O’Hagan was seneschal to Tyrone, occupying the inauguration site of the O’Neills at Tullyhogue.

The number of Donnell’s shot (85) accords with the Earl of Tyrone’s proclamation for the recruitment of bonnaughts (see ‘Recruitment,’ below), which states that a nominal company of 100 shot will include 84 men ‘on their legs,’ with the pay of the remaining 16 (the so-called ‘dead pays’) going 10 to the captain; five to Tyrone’s Marshal (Shane MacDonnell Groome); and one to Tyrone’s Galloglas (his personal bodyguard—still drawn from his now largely obsolete MacDonnell galloglas).

Tyrone’s Infantry had a proportion of 80% shot to 20% pikes; thus his forces are estimated in 1595 to be about 4,000 shot and 1,000 pikes. The inclusion here of 15 pikes with the 85 shot for Donnell’s company yields similar proportions. This is smaller than the contemporary Spanish infantry company (250), but about the size of English companies, with this difference; English companies were half shot, half ‘armed men’ (i.e., armoured pikes and halberds). English companies frequently had half their shot armed with unwieldy 20lb. muskets, whereas Tyrone’s army were armed with the lighter caliver (or the equivalent Spanish arcabuz). The Irish use of muskets was largely limited to the wards of forts such as Inishloughlin.

A company was commanded by a captín or constabla (constable). The individual soldier was called buanna (bonnuaght), though the word saighdiuir (archer) is used alternatively in Tyrone’s recruiting proclamation of 1601. [Was this word used of Tyrone’s shot in the same sense streltsi was used for the new Russian shot—literally archer, but meaning ‘shooter?’]

The chart above is based on a report of November 1594 saying: “They appoint leaders to 40, to 20, and to 10 of their foot, for the fitness of the service of the passes; for in plains they mean not to fight.”(see Appendix) This is a much higher percentage of officers and non-coms than found in English companies, and the report specifies that this was to facilitate skirmishing. Captain Nicholas Dawtrey lists the ranks of “shott entertained by the Earl of Tyrone,” suggesting deserters be offered ploughlands as follows: 10 to a captain of shot; 6 to a lieutenant; 4 to “every other officer”; 2 to “every soldier that is a shott . . . if he comes in with his armor or furniture.”(1) The ‘other officers’ are represented above as sergeants and corporals, but the Spanish would call the ‘half platoon’ an esquadra, led by a cabo de esquadra, and the sections a camara (chamber), led by a cabo de camera. With the influence of Spanish trainers, it is possible some of this terminology was adopted; Elizabethan officers were lampooned for returning from Low Countries service speaking a jargon of foreign military terms. Indeed, Hugh Collier says some Midlands rebels “scornes the name captens, thinckinge it to base,” so that “they call themselves territory commanders, having their Lieutenant Traynors vnder them to bring vp their followers to learne feates of Armes.”(2) A list of Connacht bonnaught captains slain in Munster in 1600 includes one Theobald McGaderig ‘the chiefest trainer of all the Connaughts.’(3) And we occasionally hear of higher ranks among the Connacians in Munster; Brian O’Kelly was ‘a colonel of the buonies,’ and Dermond O’Connor was styled ‘Generall of Bonoughs.’(4)

Besides renegade Englishmen such as Hugh Mostian or Palesman Richard Tyrrell, Tyrone’s new shot were captained by Irish veterans of Spanish service in the Low Countries; Morgan Kavanaugh, Richard Owen, Alexander Walshe, Hugh Boye MacDavitt, etc. Such were the ‘three Irishmen’ spotted at Ferrol in 1597 that ‘went after the Spanish fashion,’ or ‘Garret and Mortagh Kavanaugh, that came out of Scotland, are two proper men, and go in English apparell.’ Of such returnees, Parr Lane (nephew to Muster-Master Ralph ‘Raff’ Lane, and a captain in these wars) would later versify:

“as on came latlie from the Flemish warres

sparckling with silver as the night with starres

but marke within this yere and you shall see

a lowsy mantle will his wardroabe bee

and all the discipline that their he learnd

the next rebellion you shall see it kerned.”(5)


Tyrone’s army was raised by formal proclamation read in the churches in February and March, with enlistment being for the campaign season. It was a volunteer force. Shot received three pence a day, pikes half that. This is a statement of priorities—in the Spanish service it was the pikes who were favoured and received more pay. Rates for clothing and armour were set by Tyrone’s marshal, who also regulated payment of victuals measured in methers of butter and oat meal. In 1601, the bonnaughts are promised a bounty of four shillings twice a year, (called uaisle, literally ‘the gentry’).(6)

The newly recruited bonnaught was allowed a fortnight to collect his victuals from the “tenant or husbandman on whom the victuals are allotted.” Afterwards, he was to remain in camp to answer the bi-weekly musters. His share of ransom money and spoil is defined—“every good horse and shirt of mayle to be the Lord’s” i.e., O’Neill’s. Finally, “The Bwonagh to be bound to ward by day and watch the bed by night; and to afford the service of cethernus aradhna (i.e., to attend to the horses, to clean, polish and repair their bridles, trappings, &c.) to his Lord on pain of fine.” Tom Walker, the would-be assassin who visited Dungannon in 1601, described Tyrone “ordering his men out of the victualling cabins, for here was all the victuals dressed that served the whole camp, being more than two miles off . . .”(7)

Notices of this process show up in the State Papers. On February 21, 1594, Sir Henry Bagenal advised the Lord Deputy that “The Earl of Tirone hath made proclamation in churches that they shall give pay and victual to 1,900 men for defense of the country.” On March 24, 1596, Sir Edward Moore wrote to the Lord Deputy “Concerning the Earl of Tyrone’s proclamation to receive men into his pay.” Two days later, the Lord Deputy duly informs the Queen’s Privy Council that “The Earl, having seemingly treasure out of Spain, offers by proclamation 12d. the day to such as will serve him.” This, however, was a complete exaggeration of their pay.

In the State Papers on July 17, 1600, an informant says: “. . . Richard Weston is chief auditor for Tyrone, and keeps all his reckonings between him and his mercenary soldiers, or bonnaughts. Moreover, the Archtraitor never maketh any ‘levell’ [sic. levy] of money or cows, or cutting (as they call it) . . . but this Richard Weston is sent for; and he lays it down and appoints the Earl’s officers, where and upon whom they shall take it; and so keeps account of all.” This is a glimpse of the bureaucracy put in place by Tyrone at Dungannon, staffed often by Englishmen such as Weston and the Hovenden brothers, some of whom were double agents. The proclamation of 1601 for recruiting bonnaughts (facsimile below) can be downloaded and read from our Research page as Tyrone’s Proclamation, with English translation by the great Gaelic scholar, John O’Donovan.

Facsimile of Tyrone’s military proclamation for recruiting bonnaughts, 1601.
Facsimile of Tyrone’s military proclamation for recruiting bonnaughts, 1601.


Irish pike column  at the capture of Ormond, 1600.
Irish pike column at the capture of Ormond, 1600.

The pikes were unarmored, comparable to the ‘pica seca’ (dry pikes) of the Spanish. They were trained neither to form ‘squadrons,’ nor to take offensive action, forming instead mobile ‘sleeves’ [Spanish: mangas] to keep pace with the skirmishing shot as a refuge should the latter be threatened by English cavalry. A Scottish visitor to Tyrone later in the war (1602) described the training of his pikemen: “…some Spanish leaders who were with him, began to train their ‘sogers,’ but after a common sort only, to discharge their pikes and run up and down. . . I wondered the men were not better drilled to march in order, &c. He answered that, by reason of the country, order could avail nothing.” (CSPI, 1601-03, Vol. 11, p.342)

In the State Papers, Captain Francis Kingsmill writes of the Irish pikes in 1599; “Let it not be any marvel if we, as in other places one time or another, happen on a blow [defeat], being to fight against men that are generally in all the world reputed valiant, that live in their own country, and in much better estate than ever they did, which carry arms equal to ours, saving the cuirasses only, which the pikemen want, and which, through the want our soldiers have in many times had too good fortune against them.”

Yet, Irish pikes are depicted drawn up in the usual column of fives used on the march by the English; we see them thus at Harrington’s overthrow at Wicklow, 1599, and at the capture of the Earl of Ormond, 1600. But the implication is that they did their actual fighting in looser formations. O’More’s pikemen at his capture of Ormond were 300 ‘choice pikes,’ bonnaughts on loan from Tyrone. They were “the best furnished men for the war, and the best apparelled that we have seen in the kingdom,” drawn up “as close as they might, every one trailing his pike and holding the cheek of the same in his left hand to push.”(6)

Contemporary tercio formations weren’t attempted until Kinsale, but the Irish didn’t have sufficient pikes for them.
Contemporary tercio formations weren’t attempted until Kinsale, but the Irish didn’t have sufficient pikes for them.

Likewise, Tyrone’s shot were trained in marksmanship and skirmishing. The Spanish held that it was green men who were needed for fighting battles in squadrons, and veterans who were needed for skirmishing. In 1592, a Spanish military text describes skirmish drill:

“... To carry out this skirmishing it is necessary that the Captain who leads the arcabuzeros be practiced and the soldiers too, because as such, they can really punish the enemy with little loss to themselves. It is convenient if he has good knowledge of the enemy and can note whether he is practiced, with repose and in good order. And beginning with the blessing of God, advance from the main body taking three files of five soldiers each, 15 paces from each other, and without agitation but with just repose, and only the first file shoots, then turns their face to make room for the other rank which comes to shoot, countermarching to the left side, turning the side to the enemy, which is the narrowest part of the body, and with a length of three paces between one file and another, and with five or six balls in the mouth, and two ends of match alight, very toasted and good, and loading quickly, always ramming his powder with the ram rod, which makes a lot more action than not ramming it, and returning to shoot in their own order, and in the same place. But the arcabuzero does not walk when shooting the enemy. Looking along the sight of the arcabuz, the left eye looks over the serrated sight and keeps the enemy a little high, but right and quick, which is sure: and so these three files each fire four shots and no more …”(8)

Scheme for firing an arcabuz contained in “Military Dialogue” by Diego Garcia de Palacio. Printed in 1583.
Scheme for firing an arcabuz contained in “Military Dialogue” by Diego Garcia de Palacio. Printed in 1583.

Some idea of the precision of the Irish shot’s fire can be can be drawn from an incident at the siege of Darenclare, in 1599, where Dymmock records an English captain being hit by three bullets, one in each cheek and the third through the left shoulder and out through his right armpit, ‘which hurts were miraculous, for that there were only three shots made, and his body in all [other] places covered with an armour of musket-proof.’(9)

Cyril Falls wrote; “Fynes Moryson tells a story worth repeating. (He became Mountjoy’s secretary and came over with him in 1600.) An English force had halted. A single Irish shot appeared in the open. The handful of English cavalry of the advanced guard began to walk their horses quietly to and fro. Moryson, a raw soldier, could not think why, until he was hit in the thigh by a spent bullet. He does not mention the range, but since the bullet was a spent one, it was probably three hundred yards or nearly. A lucky shot, of course, but the inference is that it was aimed, since only Moryson’s horse was standing still.”(10)

Falls further notes; “The Irish shot up Lord Mountjoy, who exposed himself a great deal, in a most extraordinary way. They killed his chaplain, his secretary, and one of his gentlemen. They wounded two more of his entourage. They killed his best horse and the greyhound that trotted at his stirrup. They dented his helmet in the hands of his galloglass.”

CAPTION: Above, we see a Spanish martinet drilling recruits in the shadow of Dungannon castle. Each is using his own hurling camán as dummy caliver. A Scottish report describes Tyrone “training children as he does now with wood shaped like pieces for lightness and training them for shooting and giving pay for it.”(11) His men were said to be infinitely belaboured with training in all parts of Ulster, and they are said to love the worst Englishman better than the best Spaniard! In the foreground, two of O’Hagan’s shot carry the Spanish arcabuz, supplied with their large and small flasks—all based on Armada recoveries, including the yellow tassels! They wear morions, one ‘graven’ and one blacked, both now in the National Museum collections. The swords are of supposed Irish origin, c. 1600, from the Baron of Earlshall’s book on the Highland basket hilted broadsword. The closed example on the right is said to have been taken from an Irish chief. They are sheathed in Irish-style square ended scabbards. Clothing is trews, brogues, and English contract cassocks of red. They are young—O’Sullivan Beare describes Tyrone’s skirmishing shot at the Yellow Ford as ‘beardless youths . . . boyish and silly sort of men’ who harassed the English with their usual highly verbal interplay.(12) And when Marshal Bagenal was shot in the forehead as he lifted the visor of his closed helmet that day, tradition states it was fired by a beardless youth from the townland of Creaghan nearby. Finally, Sir John Harrington visited Tyrone in 1599 and said; “His guard, for the most part, were beardless boys without shirts; who in the frost, wade as familiarly through rivers as water spaniels. With what charm such a master makes them love him I know not, but if he bid come, they come; if he say do this, they do it . . .”(13)


Let’s compare the armament of Donnell’s company, as outlined above, with typical English companies for Ireland. In the table, the left column shows two English companies in 1595, while the right column shows the changes taking place after 1600.

Companies armed like those on the left suffered an unbroken series of defeats from 1593 to 1600. With Mountjoy in 1600, the war reached its turning point, and Elizabeth’s government at last found a winning general. Years of pleas by Irish hands such as Captain Thomas Lee finally gained a hearing, and Mountjoy’s turn in strategy was seconded by a reform in the clothing and arming of new English companies for Ireland. Jim O’Neill has shown that much of this was in direct imitation of the Irish.(14)

An island nation like Ireland, England’s military establishment proved more conservative than the traditional Gaelic Irish, and had only decisively abandoned the bill and bow a few years prior to the outbreak of war in 1593.

Spain remained the premier power, particularly on land, and English captains of experience had often learnt their trade partly under Spanish colours. Tyrone’s force benefited from the most advanced instruction, both from Spanish officers themselves, and Irish veterans returning from the Spanish Army of Flanders. The Irish use of targetiers (Sp. rondeleros), armed with sword and round shield, may have been due to this new exposure to Spanish advisers, but the Gaelic Irish had a long tradition of traffic with Spain, and there is evidence of the sword and target being characteristic of them 20 years before the war of 1593. Dedicated targetiers probably existed in most of Tyrone’s companies in the proportions imitated by the English after 1600, as seen above. Donnell’s company shows no such category, however, but some of his shot themselves may have carried targets.

Captain Nicholas Dawtrey’s A Booke of Questions and Answars, 1597 (i.e., the middle of the Nine Years War), says of the Irish, “They have Musketts, Curriers, and Calyuers, and euery of them shott, a sworde, a Murrian, and a Targett.” thus making the sword and target a standard for Tyrone’s new Irish shot.(3) But whether or not the Irish shot really did carry a target, we know that Tyrone had many ‘targeteers’ armed exclusively with sword and target, who ‘did ye execution’ at the Yellow Ford in 1598. On that occasion they may have been converged from several companies. Indeed, even some pipers had this basic armament, Lord Delvin being accused in the State Papers in July 1598 of receiving a ‘piper of the said rebels’ whom he had ‘set at liberty, and given a target, a sword, and a head-piece, whereupon the said piper went to the rebels.’

Spanish shot and targets skirmish, 1577. Note, several of the shot also carry targets on their backs, per Dawtrey..
Spanish shot and targets skirmish, 1577. Note, several of the shot also carry targets on their backs, per Dawtrey.

The Irish targets were “round leather targets in the Spanish fashion, who used it for the most part painted, which In Ireland they use also in many places, coloured after their rude fashion” as mentioned by Edmund Spencer in 1596, and probably similar to the later Highland targe judging from a couple of surviving examples. Targets are not mentioned as being imported. They had a wood core, and at least one English levy after 1600 had targets specifically said to be of wood. While lighter than targets of proof, they might still turn a bullet, as bonnaught captain Dermot O’Connor’s did in Munster in 1600.

Irish targetiers, lower left, with mixed targetiers and shot on the brown bog above (F). Yellow Ford, 1598.
Irish targetiers, lower left, with mixed targetiers and shot (V) on the brown bog above (F). Yellow Ford, 1598.

The swords of Tyrone’s foot seem frequently to have been ‘close’ or basket hilts. After 1600, English levies are specifically furnished with swords ‘with the best basket hilts.’ Nine Years War veteran Francis Markham (Three Decades of the Epistles of Warre, 1621), advises the use of ‘a basket hilt of a nimble and round proportion after the manner of the Irish.’ Could this be one more element borrowed from Tyrone’s army? (This subject merits its own future blog. . . )

English stock provided the initial supply of firearms. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet located a report on the firearms recovered from the Alderney wreck (1592), but the musket seems much like those seen in the Lant roll of 1587, and several brazen bandolier bottles were brought up. Curved stocks predominate.

Tyrone and his associates received shipments of weapons from Spain. In June 1599, 1,000 pikes and 1,000 arcabuzes, with their large (frasco) and small (frasquillo) powder flasks, and in April 1600, 2,000 pikes and 2,000 arcabuzes. Spanish arcabuzes had stocks of cherry wood and barrels that were octagonal for their whole length. The figure at right shows the barrel of an arcabuz of 3/4 ounce ball; The smaller circular section corresponds to the ball diameter, the larger circular section corresponds to the internal diameter of the gun barrel. The smaller chamfered section corresponds to the outside perimeter of the barrel at its mouth, and the larger chamfered section corresponds to the perimeter of the barrel at its breech..

Spanish arcabuz
Spanish arcabuz
Musket, above, and arcabuz, below, from Trinidad Valencera wreck, 1588, Antrim N.I.
Spanish musket, above, and arcabuz, below, from Trinidad Valencera wreck, 1588, Antrim N.I.
Large (frasco) and small (frasquillo) powder flasks, from Trinidad Valencera wreck, 1588, Antrim N.I.
Large (frasco) and small (frasquillo) powder flasks, from Trinidad Valencera wreck, 1588, Antrim N.I.

Several thousand Spanish arcabuzes had already been distributed among the Irish by the Armada in 1588, and foreign military aid being what it is, the ones sent 1599-1600 were likely of similar vintage. But regular Scottish trade provided larger quantities over time. In March of 1595, for one instance, Fenton advises Burghley of powder, calivers and muskets being landed in Lough Foyle by Scottish merchants.(CSPI) In May of 1595, Glasgow merchants supplied Tyrone with swords, guantlets, pistols, hagbuts, steel bonnets, powder and lead.(15) In August that year, his agents were arrested at Lammas Fair in Glasgow for the intent to transport “powder, lead, halberts, and other ‘fornessing’ to Ireland,” but were released. The trade continued. In February 1597, Sir James MacSorley MacDonnell of Antrim “purchased with his own money in this town [Glasgow] three hundred muskets and hagbuts, six hundred pistols, and three tun full of fire lints and other such pertinents.”(CSP Scotland) Much of the Scottish trade was re-export from German sources. But there was a lively Lowland Scots arms trade, and distinctive forms of pistol and musket (fowling pieces, really) had emerged.

Scottish fishtail pistols came in left/right pairs with belt clips, with a very thin butt, all of plain wood. Dated 1598.
Scottish fishtail pistols came in left/right pairs with belt clips, with a very thin butt, entirely of plain wood. Dated 1598.

Scottish musket or fowling piece, with snaphance lock like the pistols. Dated 1599.
Scottish musket or fowling piece, with snaphance lock like the pistols. Dated 1599.

In the State Papers, the Scots merchant Alexander Stewart is said to have brought the Earl £2,000 worth of powder and three ‘Scottishmen;’ workmen who are reported in July 1596 making ‘muskets, cuilvers and pistols,’ or ‘culivers and fowling pieces,’ in his house at Dungannon. By January 1598, they are said to have been ‘enticed away.’

Presumably, most of the work of the Scots gunsmiths must have been on munition firearms. The fowling pieces are interesting but would have seen only occasional use in war, yet there are a surprising number of mentions. A English company muster of 1589 includes ‘John Fitz-John, a birding piece.’ And John Dowdall in 1596 says the rebels ‘want no furniture neyther of mvsketts fowling peeces.’ Upon the Flight of the Earls in 1607, Pedro Blanco, a Spanish captain who had served with Tyrone, was found to have left behind ‘ij. fouling pieces . . . xx s.’(16) And in a deposition of 1615, we hear O’Cahan has six men on foot, and ‘one of those six carried a fowling-piece and his name is Rory O’Doherty, and had a powder bag and a bag of bullets.’(17) The Scottish pistols were carried by Tyrone’s horse, Captain Dawtrey noting in 1597 that there were ‘many of them with a pistol, or a cuple of pistolls.’(1)

Pikes we have dealt with above. Several thousand came from Spain (where they averaged three and three-quarter yards in length), with long langets (cheeks) to prevent the lozenge-shaped head being cut off. Below, Ulster bonnaughts serving O’More hold their pikes ready to push, per the manuals. Two wear morions, their scabbards are of square-ended Irish type, and their jackets are like that from Kilcommon (and those illustrated by Derricke, 1581), with a short pleated skirt and long rectangular back panel, apparently sometimes in a different colour. Undyed or “raw white frise” predominates in their clothing.

A morion was the only armour worn by Tyrone’s foot. In 1596, John Dowdall says the rebels ‘want no furniture neyther of mvsketts fowling peeces Calivers swords Graven morions.’(11) In August 1594, Tyrone is reported arriving after the defeat of the English at the Arney to take his share of spoils, including ‘three graven armours and two black armours.’(18) The illustration above uses two morions—one black, one graven—now in the collections of the NMI. It may be surprising to hear of engraved armour in quantities, but they may not have been used only by officers. The Alderney excavation dredged up a surprisingly decorative powder flask with an elaborately embossed surface of tinned iron. In the context of 16th century armour, Dr. Tobias Capwell, curator of the Wallace Collection in London, has cautioned that the modern mind splits the functional from the impressively made. For us, if it looks precious it must be non-functional; “That has be for parade, they wouldn’t fight in that would they?”

In 1600, in the State Papers we see “Sir Arthur Chichester desires that 100 men that he is to have may be armed, viz., pikes, without cuirasses, 30; and the rest, culivers, with bandoliers, 70.” The elimination of armour and muskets, and the reduction in the number of pikemen was derived from Irish practice, as was the adoption of the targetier and, possibly, the basket hilt, as noted above.


At the Ford of the Biscuits, August 7, 1594, Cormac MacBaron led a contingent of Tyrone’s shot, assisting Maguire against Duke. A camp follower of Duke’s defeated army, Joan Kelly, grew up at Dungannon, later marrying an English soldier. Rescued by one of Tyrone’s Scots (her gossip), she recognized among Maguire’s forces “Patrick Peynneye, Donogh McKygan, Edmund O’Cahan and Owen Corr (a leader of 10 of the earl’s shot: These four were brought up attending on the earl in his chamber as his pages and were that day of the fight all in red cassocks being the earl’s livery.” Also listed; “Henry O’Hagan and Donell O’Hagan: Chief leaders of the earl’s shot and brothers to the seneschal, O’Hagan, and both hurt that day.”(19)

On May 27, 1595 at the battle of Clontibret, the Lord Deputy says of the Earl of Tyrone “He has 300 shot in red coats like English soldiers.” These were some of the companies, probably 600 men, trained by the six ‘butter captains’ in the days of Tyrone’s loyalty. They would have been armed out of English stores, and quite likely received their coats (no doubt their only uniform item) from one of the London contractors who clothed so many contemporary English levies—possibly Babington & Bromley, who gradually cornered the market for military clothing contracts after 1598. (Lord Deputy to Burghley, June 4, 1595, CSPI)

The bulk of the clothing for Tyrone’s forces was home-produced. On October 10, 1596, Baron Delvin wrote that “Philip O’Reilly came with three companies of shot, ‘all apparelled in cassocks of divers colors,’ probably sent by the Earl.(CSPI) We know that sometime in the 1580’s, the old Irish liene croich (saffron shirt) had gone out of use. Captain Cuellar, cast up in Ireland with the Armada in 1588, makes no mention of it. He describes the Irish now wearing short, lose sayos (cassocks), and calzas (hose, but meaning trews.) So the cassock (i.e., ‘coat’) was already being adopted on the eve of the Nine Years War, possibly in imitation of the English army.

The traditional rents of Irish chiefs, called ‘cuttings’ by English contemporaries, included clothing for their followers. In the 1620’s, Red Hugh O’Donnell’s stewards (Donnell O’Gallagher and Tadhg MacLinchy) recalled that the territory of “Tirenda provided forty two coats out of each of its thirty quarters.”(10) In 1607 the O’Dunne (O’Doyne), chieftain of Iregan in County Laois, received rents including; “Item, seven pair of brogues every year to O’Donne’s marshals and officers to be paid by every shoemaker inhabiting upon the said freeholder’ lands. Item, 16 horseshoes unto O’Donne yearly and 8 horseshoes to each of his horsemen of every smith dwelling upon the said freeholders’ lands.”(20)

Trews were best suited to conditions, and universally worn. In 1601, Tyrone chided his would-be assasin, Tom Walker, who offered to fight at his side when Dungannon was suddenly threatened; “if thou didst, so those great breeches were off, and thou had a pair of trousers on, for if thou shouldst be forced to running in them, thou were not able in this country where is nought but wood and bog.”(7) It was the habit to take off the trews when settling down to sleep. In August of 1597, the Annals of the Four Masters inform us that O’Donnell’s troops, pursuing Clifford’s force in its precipitate withdrawal from Ballyshannon, had to turn back when rain showers hit. Rushing from their camp to catch Clifford, they had left behind their trews and mantles. Dowcra in his Relation describes the pursuit of the rebel Turlough MagNylson O’Neill, who would light fires in three or four places in the woods to throw off his pursuers before lying down to sleep. An Irish boy was sent to follow him, and “after divers remoues, hee lookt in & sawe him pull of his trowses, & ly downe to sleepe, then came, & tould them.”(21)

As noted above in the discussion of pikemen, those in the watercolour of the taking of the Earl of Ormond (1600) wear a short jacket like that from Kilcommon, rather than the cassock. The jackets seem to have red edging to the deep V-neck opening, and closed sleeves, since they are apparently worn without shirts. In the detail below, the two leftmost figures do wear shirts tucked into trews, one with a sleevless vest. Headgear is the bairead, the conical cap discussed in our last blog post on Wright’s chieftain paintings. Some are flat topped, like that of the kern engraved by Ruiz in 1588 (inset, top left). Is this a bairead with its pointed top punched in? Walker’s 1786 engraving of a scalloped bairead is inset, below right.

The Irish brogue, stitched with leather thong, would expand and shrink with wet without falling apart like an English shoe. And the Irish mantle was “excellent, warm, spungy” and “be it never so wet, with a little wringing, will be presently dry.” The mantle was cast aside for action and doesn’t appear in pictures of fighting. Hugh Collier in 1597 describes an English force retreating upon meeting a larger force of CaptainTyrrell’s bonnaughts, “which the enemy espyinge, threwe away theire mantles and made after him so fast that they fell in skirmish.”(2) We will have future blog articles on these two articles of native dress, which were recognized as better suited to local conditions by English captains. However, the captains’ requests to be allowed to purchase mantles and brogues for their men were denied until 1600. Along with other reforms, that year English soldiers finally began receiving Irish brogues and mantles, with hose and stockings of Irish frieze and shirts of stout Irish linen, mirroring the changes in armament already noted.

Finally, snapsacks and bottles of some sort were carried. English troops carried non-issue knapsacks, as per Chichester’s infamous story of the discovery of starving children, who were left with ‘a proportion of victuals from among the soldiers’ knapsacks.’(22) And as early as 1583, during the Desmond Rebellion, Irish rebels were surprised by government troops who ‘took all their bags, bottles . . . and other stuff.’(C.S.P.I. Lord Roche to Ormond, Sept. 23 1583) And in 1595 Tyrone’s footmen are described throwing away “their weapons, their victuals, and all other things that might hinder their flying. . .” (C.S.P.I., Ld. Dep. to Privy Council. July 20 1595) For the march to Kinsale, each of Tyrone’s soldiers would “carry no provisions with him other than meal and butter, every soldier bearing his own allowance thereof and powder and shott. A course which freeth him from the trouble of carriages and every horseman carrieth double shoes for his horses and every footman double brogues for himself.”(23) The Life of Hugh Roe O’Donnell (Beatha Aodha Ruaidh Uí Dhomhnaill), describing a stop on O’Donnell’s raid in Thomond in 1599, says “They lit fires and brands and proceeded to prepare their supply of food and to lighten their knapsacks (etromugad a menbholg) after their long march. . .” The same source indicates that pouches may have been used occasionally in place of powder flasks; before the Battle of the Curlews, Red Hugh’s shot are described “warming and sunning their grain powder and filling their pouches and casting their leaden bullets and heavy round balls.” (ag gríanad a ngran-phudair & ag builglíonadh a pocóidedh ag coimhleghadh a ccaor luaidhe). And the Annals of the Four Masters says that in 1597, at the English retreat from Ballyshannon, the Irish shot were incapacitated by rain, which soaked their ‘bpocoide pudair’—or, powder-pouches.


The swift modernisation of the native Irish forces in the last decade of the 16th century calls for a reassessment of Gaelic society in general. The institutional soldiery of this profoundly traditional culture for three centuries, the galloglas, underwent conversion or eclipse without apparent internal turmoil. This is in stark contrast to the trauma involved in the dissolution of the traditional soldieries of Moscovy and the Ottomans—the Streltsi and Janissaries—which attended the military modernization of those societies. These latter were national institutions, the increasingly corrupted Praetorian guards of a single ruling house, and had long aspired to be king-makers. It seems the decentralized nature of Gaelic Irish society itself meant that the galloglas could remain loyal, effective, and largely apolitical till their obsolescence.

Gaelic society in the 16th century was on the one hand very conservative, fighting to preserve its ancient institutions. Irish historians and writers (e.g. O’Dowd & O’Faolain) have criticised these institutions for their backwardness, and the collapse of that society has been considered inevitable. Contemporary English commentators abound in such statements as; “Custom is a metal amongst them that standeth which way soever it be bent.”(24) Yet, Jim O’Neill has pointed out other references that broaden our view. Captain Francis Stafford noted the Irish rebels were “ever disposed to innovation,” while Sir George Carew says they are “naturally inclined to desire change and innovation.”(25) A major revelation of Jim O’Neill’s recent work is that, rather than adopt wholesale the military system of the English or Spanish, the Earl of Tyrone adapted only those elements best suited, indicating a robust cultural self-confidence.

To quote G. A. Hayes-McCoy, “No student of the warfare of 1593-1601 can fail to be struck by the fact that in the glimpses which his work affords him of the Irish forces he establishes contact with the very best of the old Irish civilisation. An order of life that could produce such an organisation as the Ulster army gave much promise for the future, for it was at once adaptable and strong in its heritage of the past.”(6) “Thus is added one more piece of evidence to what we know of the distinctive character of native Irish society before the Tudor conquest steamrolled institutions, costumes, weapons and everything else into the flat pattern of an interpreted internationalism.”(26)


Calendar of Carew MSS 1589-1600, p. 101

“Nov. 11

Vol. 612, p. 10

“47. Forces of the Earl of Tyrone

“An Advertisement of th’ Earl of Tyrone’s Forces received the 11th of November 1594.

“Foot.—Th’ Earl hath ceased [cessed] to attend himself 800 shot, whereof be present on foot but 400, led by those whose names ensue:

“Con McTyrlagh O’Neale, 100;

Donagh O’Hagan, 100;

Tyrlagh Boy O’Hagan, 100;

Neale O’Hagan, 50;

Patrick Pevy, 50;

Cormock th’ Earl’s brother, 200;

Henry Oge, 100;

Con the Earl’s son, 100;

Bryan McArt, 300;

Sir Art O’Neale, 40.

“These be their chiefest force of footmen, trained after th’ English manner, having many pickes among them, so as all these are not shot. In their charge they cesse above 2,000, which dead pays these chieftains turn to their own commodity. I omit to speak of the rascals and kerne, whereof there are very many.

“Horses.—Th’ Earl himself, 100 [and] 40;

Cormock, 80;

H. Oge, 80;

Sir Art and Slight Arte, 80;

Art McBaron, 20;

Turlagh McHenry, 40;

O’Hagan, 100.

“I omit to speak of O’Donnell, and McMahounds, and them of Clandeboy—their forces are so well known. The above number is very little defective. They appoint leaders to 40, to 20, and to 10 of their foot, for the fitness of the service of the passes; for in plains they mean not to fight.”


(1) A Booke of Questions and Answars; Nicholas Dawtrey, Ed. Hiram Morgan, Analecta Hibernica, No. 36 (1995) p. 123

(2) Dialogue of Silvynne and Peregrynne, Hugh Collier, Ed. Hiram Morgan, accessed via CELT—

(3) The Buannadha: Irish Professional Soldiery of the Sixteenth Century, M. Ó Báille, JGAHS, Vol. 22, No 1/2 (1946) p. 64.

(4) ibid., p. 63.

(5) Newes from the Holy Ile, c., Parr Lane, 1621, PRIA, Vol. 99C, No. 4 (1999), p.127

(6) The Army of Ulster, 1593-1601, G. A. Hayes McCoy, Irish Sword, i, 1950, 147-9.

(7) Documents on Thomas Walker’s plot against Tyrone, 1601, Ed. Hiram Morgan, accessed at CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts—

(8) Military Discourse and Rule, Martin de Eguiluz, Soldier. 1st ed. Madrid, 1592.

(9) Armies of the Sixteenth Century, Ian Heath, Foundry Books, 1997, p. 87.

(10) The Growth of Irish Military Strength in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century, Cyril Falls, Irish Sword, 2 (1954-6), p. 104.

(11) Tyrone’s Rebellion, Hiram Morgan, 1993, Boydell Press, p. 182

(12) Ireland Under Elizabeth, O’Sullivan Beare, Ed. Matthew Byrne, 1903, p. 109.

(13) Nugae Antiquae, Sir John Harrington, Vol. I, 1804, p. 247.

(14) The Nine Years War 1593-1603, James O’Neill, Four Courts Press, 2017, p. 125.

(15) Scots Mercenary Forces in Ireland, G. A. Hayes-McCoy, Edmund Burke, 1996, p. 260.

(16) The Topographer and Geneologist, Vol. 3, John Gough Nichols, 1858, p.83

(17) The Ulster Clans, Mullin and Mullan, 1966, p. 123.

(18) Maguire, MacBaron and Henry Duke’s crackers: the Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits, 7 August 1594, blog by James O’Neill for Ancient Clan O’Neill, 7 August 2001

(19) ibid.

(20) Gaelic and Gaelicised Ireland in the Middle Ages, Kenneth Nicholls, 1970, p.32.

(21) Dowcra’s Relation, Micellany of the Celtic Society, Ed. John O’Donovan, 1849, p. 259

(22) The Elizabethans and the Irish, D. B. Quinn, 1966 p. 140.

(23) The Battle of Kinsale, Ed. Hiram Morgan, Wordwell, 2004 p. 104

(24) A New Description of Ireland, Barnaby Rich, 1610, p. 27

(25) The Nine Years War 1593-1603, James O’Neill, Four Courts Press, 2017, p. 208.

(26) Sixteenth Century Irish Swords, G. A. Hayes-McCoy, National Museum of Ireland, p. 18

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