WHY IS DUERER DRAWING IRISHMEN?
This is a very strange drawing that Albrecht Duerer did in 1521 while still in Antwerp setting up his new art shop headquarters in Antwerp, after attending the coronation of Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor and having achieved getting back his pension promised to him by Charles’ grandfather, the former Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian.
WHAT MAKES THIS DRAWING STRANGE?
First, we must note that this IS a drawing that was part of his own personal sketchbook. It also has his authenticated writing on it. It is dated 1521 and the writings are translated as “The two men on the left are soldiers, the three men on the right are peasants, and they come from the land beyond England, Ireland.”
QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS
The first odd thing that comes to mind in this drawing is that it is an encoded one, and did Duerer actually get to see Irishman as they were dressed this way or was he making up in his head what he thought Irishmen, especially soldiers, should have looked like to him.
Secondly, the drawing was part of a sketchbook and thus, it is a reasonable assumption to make, that this sketch book would have been kept for future reference for other artwork, and yet he encodes this drawing. Why would he do such a thing? Who would have been his target audiences to get his message(s)?
Third, he specifically indicates that the two figures on the left are soldiers and the three on the right are peasants. Why would he have to make this distinction?
And fourth, why does he have to make special reference to these figures that “they come from beyond England, Ireland”? Why would it be so important for him to indicate that they specifically come from Ireland? When England would have done?
WHO WERE THE GALLOGLASS?
For nearly 100 years after the arrival of the Normans in 1169 AD the old world of Gaelic Ireland was in retreat. The Normans brought to Ireland superior weapons, the long sword, lance, Welsh crossbows, and iron helmets, and chain mail protecting much of the body. This was in contrast to the native Irish with their axes and short swords and dressed in linen tunics. To halt the Norman onslaught the remaining independent Irish Chieftains needed a new weapon and they found it in the mercenary warriors from the Western Isles of Scotland. These Gallowglass or ‘foreign Gaels’ had served as elite warriors in the Western Isles of Scotland for over 100 years prior to their arrival in Ireland.
The first 160 Gallowglass, who appear to have been from Clan MacDoughall arrived in Ireland in 1259AD as part of Dougall MacSorley’s (King of the Hebrides) daughters dowry in her marriage to Aedh O’Connor, the then King of Connaught. The Gallowglass fought like the Normans protected in mail coats and iron helmets. But they were notable with their characteristic two handed axes and Claymores (a large 2 handed sword). This trickle of warriors became a flood as many mercenary Gallowglass Clans either sought new lords after backing the losing side in the Scottish wars of Independence or just somewhere to ply their trade, and given the battle against the encroaching Normans or the constant inter-Clan warfare there was always a demand for the services in Ireland.
Many Clans like the McCabe’s and MacSweeney’s transplanted completely to Ireland, see Figure. The MacSweeney’s vacated their homeland around Castle Swin on the Argyll peninsula in Scotland for life in the service of the O’Donnell’s in Donegal. Others remained seasonal travellers appearing in the spring and summer offering their services to the highest bidder (everybody appears to have decided that making war in autumn and winter in Ireland was a bad idea). While others like the MacDonald’s/MacDonnell’s’ and MacNeill’s established territories in County Antrim in the northeast of Ireland to complement their lands in Scotland (the MacNeill’s appear to have been the new occupants of Swin Castle vacated by the MacSweeney’s). County Antrim provided the shortest crossing point between Scotland and Ireland and the presence of Scottish Clans there may have been an attempt to monopolise this lucrative trade.
What is certain is that the tide had turned, the Norman Conquest had lost momentum, and the Irish Chiefs with the aide of their new weapon rolled back the Normans By the 14th and 15th Centuries a stalemate developed, with Ireland divided into spheres of influence as reflected in the medieval ethnicity map of Ireland. There was a mini Gaelic revival and although not all the Normans adopted Gaelic ways and customs, the habit of hiring Gallowglass was adopted by all, including the English authorities who’s rule was restricted to the area known as ‘The Pale.’ Some of the Gallowglass Clans had by this time become independent establishing their own territories.
THE STRANGE INSCRIPTION
So if the Galloglass were mercenaries soldiers known for their oversized weapons, why is Duerer specifically saying that the three men on the right are specifically peasants? that makes no sense, and why does he has to specifically identify them as from Ireland? Everyone had known for a long time that these type of mercenaries were from Ireland, despite their transplantation to Scotland.
And especially why is he indicating the three on the right are not soldiers but are peasants? Two of them don’t even wear shoes. If they are peasants, by definition they are not Gallowglass, they are Kerns, wqho fought with Galloglass. And yet they are definitely carrying very large weapons and very distinctive weapons for the Irish.
WHO’S HOLDING THAT STRANGE LONG AXE BEHIND THE MAN IN THE CLOAK?
Who is actually carrying that long axe? We really can’t tell and that’s one of Duerer’s tricks he uses often. We see the axe rest on the shoulder of the peasant boy in the middle of the three figures, but we see no right arm of the guy in the robe or the peasant boy in the middle. WHO IS REALLY CARRYING THE AXE? AND WHY DOES THIS BECOME IMPORTANT?
More to come.