I came across some interesting ‘Fianna’ warriors on the website of ‘Gripping Breast’ (an English ‘Wargames miniatures’ manufacturer) yesterday which made me smile. They’re currently selling ‘Oirish’ figurines for Wargamers and, for sure, it’s meant to be a bit of fun, but you’d think they’d at least try to get some of the basics right.
What struck me as particularly bizarre was ‘Griping Bleat’s’ translation of ‘fianna’ as “hearth guards” (er…?!).
Even more strange was their inclusion of “Irish mounted Fianna hearth guards” (do they really think people in 1st and 2nd century Ireland were using horses for large scale battles?).
My personal favourite, however, was the ‘Irish Fianna with Danish axes’ (the Danish axes turning up several hundred years after the Fianna were meant to be around).
‘Gripping Beats’ also seem to have a bit of a fascination with the ‘Irish Dark Ages’ (which is something I’ve not come across before).
Anyway, if you’re a Wargamer and you want ‘Oirish’ figurines, clearly ‘Gritty Bream’ looks like the place to supply you!
Attached is a short but interesting video on Brian Boru from an old television series called ‘Ancient Warriors‘.
This being an American series, much of the pronunuciation of Irish names and terms is pretty dodgy and the producers seem to have got their locations badly mixed up. That said, they do cover the inter-tribal discord and Brian Boru’s early years fighting the Danes quite well.
For several years, when Brian Boru was in his early twenties, he waged a guerilla war against the Danes around Limerick and other parts of western Munster. Although records of the time are sparse, he seems to have created some serious disruption for them over that period. Living a tenuous existence with his fian, his shortage of men, tribal support and resources menat that he coudl never do more than carry out ambushes and surprise attacks before quickly retreating to the relatively safety of marshes and hidden caves.
This and violent lifestyle inevitably led to attrition over time and many of Brian’s followers were either killed or deserted him. It wasn’t until his tribe – the Dal gCais – finally committed some resource, that Brian was able to move on to bigger and better things.
Unlike many of the Irish heroes described as warriors, Brian Boru did appear to deserve that description and the ‘up close and personal’ battle experiences would have helped his later – far more strategic – battle planning.
Over those early two to three years however, Brian and his men lived a life very much like Na Fianna as described in some detail in my own books on the topic.
You can find the link to the video here: Brian Boru
I was intrigued by a recent image I came across from Polish illustrator Piotr Chrzanowski, as it includes an intriguing level of cultural authenticity that lifts him far above the usual visual representations of (what passes for) early Irish warriors/culture. Chrzanowski’s own description notes on the image describe it as:
‘Gaelic Irish raiders’ – a slavers warband. From the 7th century. Some wearing captured Saxon or Norse helmets.
For me, Chrzanowski’s image and note are particularly interesting as:
- he doesn’t fall into the well-trodden fantasy trap of using the word ‘Celtic’ to describe Gaelic, Welsh, Manx, Breton and other cultures
- his notes display a level of knowledge of certain ancient Irish culture/history that most people don’t have
What probably intrigued me most about the image was the reference to ‘slavers’ as it covers an aspect of ancient Irish culture many people prefer to gloss over – Irish slavery. Not to be confused with the “Irish were the First Slaves’ fantasy pushed by white supremacist nutters, this actually refers to the period when the Roman Empire deserted current-day Great Britain. For two to three centuries afterward, the country was left in such disarray, opportunistic Irish raiders were able to raid parts of it on a regular basis for goods and slaves.
That is, after all, how we managed to snaffle our national saint!
Apart from this personally appealing snippet, Chrzanowski’s work is worth checking out as his character design illustrations are particularly well done. You can find him at: https://www.facebook.com/piotr.chrzanowski.art/
Fiachail mac Codhna
Fiacail mac Codhna is a swaggering and irrepressible warrior from the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series. Handsome, charming, and shrewdly strategic in battle, Fiacail’s potential for tribal greatness is undermined only by an over-sexed libido and a strong weakness for women, particularly where it relates to Bodhmhall ua Baoiscne – aunt of the famous Fionn mac Cumhaill.
Fiacail’s quite a lot of fun to write. He has no delusions of grandeur and he can be charmingly crass at times – particularly where it relates to sex – but his humour and genuine attraction to Bodhmhall means he’s a credible third player in the love triangle with Bodhmhall and Liath Luachra. His bawdy humour and blunt demeanour, meanwhile, offers some welcome relief from some of the more serious and intellectual characters in the series.
When not chasing women, Fiacail likes to walk around naked in the morning having conversations with Great Father Sun. Much of this involves trying to convince Father Sun not to cause the end of the world but also to give him a pony.
Over the course of the original Fenian Cycle narratives, Fiacail turns up on several occasions, usually as a kind of foster father/advisor to the young Fionn mac Cumhaill although, at one point, he’s also referred to as a reaver.
In modern Irish, ‘fiacail’ is actually the word for ‘tooth’, so it’s an odd name for a character and the ancient Fenian Cycle manuscripts offer little explanation of its derivation.