Wilde Irishe: What’s in a Name?
Updated: Nov 22, 2019
We arrived at the name of our group, and this website/blog, after using a possibly more dignified name in the Irish language for a number of years. For American audiences at living history events it became a stumbling block—requiring explanations of pronunciation, translation and meaning—all before addressing our real subject matter. In adopting the name “Wilde Irishe” we utilize the official government term for the independent Gaelic Irish of Tudor Ireland. A government document on pacifying the Leinster clans (#gaelicsociety) refers to “Irishmen of the wilde Irishe nation,” for instance. The term would be appropriated by the Irish themselves in latter years, depriving it of its sting. It appears in Sydney Owenson’s 1806 novel, The Wild Irish Girl, and the traditional reel, “The Wild Irishman.”
“Wilde Irish” or “King’s Iryshe enymyes” were distinguished from the English nation in mid-16th century Ireland, and were considered to have no constitutional rights. A individual of Gaelic origin could request a Charter of English Liberty; essentially a grant of citizenship. Emmet O’Byrne in his book, ‘Civilizing’ Gaelic Leinster, cites one such case: “Dermot O’Raghlly . . . of the Irish nation and blood, that he be of free estate, and quit all Irish servitude . . .” (Cal. Pat. Rolls, Henry VIII, -14941509, p.25.)
The government position was spelled out in 1549 by John Alen, former lord chancellor; “the wilde Irishmen shall not be enfranchised, as it is their desire to enjoy all liberties as the king’s English natural subjects of the conquest do, only they first become English and obey one law and use one habit with us . . .” Note the emphasis on clothing (“habit,” archaic English for clothing). This is a recurring feature of Tudor policy towards the Gaelic Irish, one we feel is under-appreciated today and which we will return to in detail on these pages . . .