Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Gall-Gael

Gall Ghaeil Lord circa AD 1000

During the reign of Coinneach Mac Ailpín (AD 844-860) a people appeared in mid Argyll who were closely connected to Norwegian vikings.  These people joined with these vikings on their plundering expeditions and they were called the Gall Ghaeil.  The name itself is a combination of the word Gall meaning a 'stranger'  or 'foreigner.'   The second element in the name is 'Gael'  i.e. a Gaelic speaking Celt. Gall-Gael is the anglicised form of the Gaelic term Gall-Ghaeil. They were literally the 'stranger Gaels.'

Mid Argyll was the epicentre of Gall Ghaeil society. Later in their history they were also connected with the Kingdom of Galloway (Dumfries and Galloway, and southern Ayrshire) in present day southwest Scotland.  In this area of Scotland they were called the Galwyddel, which is the Cymreag Celtic (Welsh) form of Gall-Ghaeil.   There was both a Gaelic and Cumbric component to Gall-Ghaeil society.  The Gall Ghaeil were a fascinating part of the history of Old North in the dynamic Viking age.

The Gall-Ghaeil were generally Celtic in ethnicity with some Norse admixture, and were influenced by their exposure to Norse vikings.  They essentially became Gaelic Vikings. They adopted Norse accoutrements of war and shipbuilding.  The Gall-Ghaeil developed a strong warrior caste based society.

Gaelic Lord and warrior circa 1000 AD (c) Ulster Heritage

Gaelic Lord and warrior circa AD 1000 in Argyll.  Mid Argyll was one of the homes of the Gall-Ghaeil, or the 'foreign Gaels,' in the early medieval period (AD 850 to 1150).

In medieval primary sources we are only given negative reports on the Gall Ghaeil for the most part.  Generally, we only see reports of their raids or of their employment with an Irish chief in the Irish annals.  The Church considered them pagan and  actively condemned them.  The Gall Ghaeil were active from the late 9th Century into the 12th Century. The Gall Ghaeil lived in a twilight world between pagan and Christian, between Gael and Norse, and they and their descendants were, are, a dynamic people. 

Their descendants gave rise to the families and clans that became the Gallóglaigh and later the Redshanks. Many of these families and clans migrated to Ireland; the Gallóglaigh circa AD 1300 to 1450 and the Redshanks in the 1500s.  

Viking was a profession, not an ethnicity.  In parts of Argyll, Galloway, and northern Ireland, some Gaels went viking, and became Gall-Ghaeil. 

© 2018 Barry R McCain 

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Monday, April 2, 2018

Book Review: A Bullet In His Forehead

(a book review, this work by a Peruvian born writer; I like South American writers, I love their perspective, dry wit and a cultivated sense of irony, and in general, the verging on metaphysical ambience of so many of the South American writers)

A Bullet In His Forehead is the first installment in a trilogy by Peruvian born writer Manuel Aguirre.  The book is a study of the fascinating and engaging world of Second Lieutenant Gerardo Arrieta.  It’s setting is in Peru with much of the action taking place in the Forward Operation Base located on the border between Peru and Bolivia, close to the famous Lake Titicaca.  It is a cold and arid environment where Aimara Indians, bloodthirsty smugglers, and even the Devil himself vex the protagonist.  Second Lieutenant Arrieta has only the local Indian shaman to help him find a path to survive. 

Photo: Percy Ramírez

I was hooked on the book from the opening pages. It is not only interesting, but also a glimpse into the very different world of the Peruvian highlands.  The familiar use of South American irony and dry humour kept me smiling as the narrative unfolded.  A Bullet In His Forehead uses changes in narrative point of view and chronology to expertly lay out an enchanting tale.  The back cover blurb insightfully describes the book as a ‘surrealistic transgressive-fiction.’  It is also a masterpiece of storytelling.  I highly recommend A Bullet In His Forehead.  This book is available on Amazon. 

Barry R McCain