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 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 'Foreign 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.  They 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.



Gall Ghaeil Lord and warrior circa 1000 AD


In medieval primary sources we are only given negative reports on the Gall Ghaeil for the most part.  There are reports of their kings, their raids, and of their employment with Irish chiefs.  The Church considered them pagan and 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. 

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.  

In some cases, 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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