Although able to put together an ‘ersatz’ Irish force for some time the appearance of the Wargames Atlantic Irish box prompted making a proper job of it. There are 30 warriors and 10 dogs in the box. An Irish army is only allowed 8 dogs, although 1 more makes a nice accompaniment to a warlord base. Anyone buying multiple boxes will be up to their necks in relatively useless dog models.
In historical terms the Irish could also show up in Scotland and the Norse Gael might be in Ireland, the Isle of Man or Scotland. The situation is best explained within ‘1066 and all that’ by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman.
The Scots (originally Irish, but by now Scotch) were at this time inhabiting Ireland, having driven the Irish (Picts) out of Scotland; while the Picts (originally Scots) were now Irish (living in brackets) and vice versa. It is essential to keep these distinctions clearly in mind (and verce visa).
There is a good summary of contemporary illustrations of Irish warriors at ‘warfare.gg‘. The plastic box and metal Footsore models use an almost random mix of the 2 dark age tropes. Breeches and little else or long shirt and no breeches. The figures in trews would be a variant of the breeches model. There is some proof of the 2 existing at the same time from the ‘Cross of the Scriptures‘ which is ‘only’ some 100 years older that the ‘Book of Kells’.
Bare lower legs make some sense in a wet, boggy environment as any lower leg covering is going to be swiftly and constantly wet through. Breeches are definitely the way to go around the time of the Book of Kells (about 800 AD). By the time of Gerald of Wales in 1187 we are talking long shirts and cloaks. There are 10 cloaks in the box, these are shown throughout the dark ages and medieval periods although those of Gerald’s time are oval at the bottom and some of the earlier cloaks appear square ended. By the 1500s Irish cloaks had a fur-like fringed edge; an item that had become a popular export. It is probable that this look was not a feature in the dark ages although the in-period stone carving evidence is far from clear. The Irish cloak is called a ‘brat’, oddly in Welsh a ‘brat’ is an apron. A possible rare Q-Celtic word slipping into P-Celtic (or vice versa). It could even have slipped into English as a child wears a brat and a brat is a badly behaved child (the English and Welsh pronunciation of brat is the same).
A major influence on Ireland was the Viking conflicts from 795. This could be the beginning of a change in dress. It certainly brought about military changes such as the use of the long axe. In Saga game terms we have the advantage of using the same army as Irish or Norse Gaels. The major difference in weaponry being the Norse Gael do not get any sling armed levy in Saga. This influences building the Irish levy as javelin or sling armed. Another deciding factor is there are only 5 slings in the box but enough javelins for all 30 infantry. The load out can be improved by using the 5 ‘stone throwing’ arms as slings or having a go at cutting apart the shillelagh to form slings. The only compatible ‘Irish’ slingers are from Footsore. These also include stone throwers amongst their mixed pack of slingers. Note that the plastic figures in breeches and trousers (10 in total) have no sleeves and have a ball and socket mount to attach their arms. These take the hand weapons or javelins. The models in shirts have a flat arm joint, these take javelins, axes, swords and slings. So without cutting and gluing slings at the wrist onto ‘bare arms’ all slingers are going to be in shirts but javelin armed levy can wear what they like. Warlord’s plastic celts are designed for centuries earlier but the bare chested types would fit in our period. Unfortunately none of them are armed with slings.
There are no large axes on the sprue which poses another problem for building it up as Saga Norse Gael. Although the Norse Gael do not have to run any heavy weapons units they can run warriors as heavy weapons making that an attractive list choice. Two of the Norse Gael abilities benefit shooting so a mix of heavy weapons and javelins is probably their best load out.
This box has been built up with the light armed levy getting small shields for easy identification. The warriors all got large shields with the overall assignment of heads and arms being largely random. Model features show up a lot more clearly when painted and it is clear that some part combinations are a lot better than others.
Here we see the 5 human body variants in the plastic box together with the dog. The figures with shirts look better with a cloak added but there are only 10 cloaks for 15 shirt guys. At a certain angle the shirt clad figures have an odd appearance like a capital ‘X’ with huge shoulders and hips but a narrow waste. Cloaks hide this effect.
Some minor conversion to make a warlord with an axe together with a Footsore axe-man. The size match is very close.
The best bet to get a good size match and wide range of model stances would be to buy the plastic box from Footsore and fill up with their metal models. The plastics providing the warriors and hearthguard supported by metal levy, warlord and Curaidh.
Lacking hindsight our blog armies relied on Victrix Vikings for plastic heavy weapons figures. There are 4 long axes on each sprue of 8 models but 2 of the 4 are 2-part axes that take some fiddling to get into place. Crusader Miniatures Irish filled up the Norse Gael. These are nice sculpts but are notably smaller than the Wargames Atlantic plastics. Some of the slingers would work as boys; unfortunately others sport full beards. Another issue is that a pack of 8 includes 2 each of 4 sculpts so making them all look different involves some work with shields or cloaks.
A Wargames Atlantic plastic next to a 1st Corps Scot.
Footsore, Crusader and Victrix Axemen
It would be rude not to trot the armies out for a swift game.
6 points of Irish, 2 Curaidh (1), 12 Levy (2), 32 Warriors (6) including 8 war dogs. No Hearthguard, relying on the Curaidh for heavy hitting.
6 points of Norse Gael, 12 Hearthguard (3), 16 Warriors (5) all with heavy weapons and 12 Levy (6).
Set up, Irish to the South of the field. In this scenario from ‘Book of Battles’ the aim is to capture and run off with the 3 objectives along the centre line of the table (one is just behind the woods to the West).
Irish advance as best they can with 3 Saga dice.
The Norse Gael also come up. They lose a Hearthguard to shooting from the nearby rocky terrain. They have pushed themselves so although close to 2 objectives they are fatigue heavy.
Slow and steady from the Irish. Some javelins thrown with limited effect
The Norse Gael try a combo. Loaded up with Saga dice they hit the Irish 12 Warrior unit with Hearthguard and then with their own unit of 8 Warriors. The Irish roll well and both units of Warriors are down to 3 and no longer generating Saga dice.
The Irish decide to stop messing about and try for a win. The Curaidh each make a grab for an objective and head back towards their own lines. Other Irish units try to block the inevitable Norse Gael chase.
One Curaidh is safely away but the Norse Gael Hearthguard also have an objective and are not threatened. In the centre an assault by the other Hearthguard and Norse Gael Warlord takes the Irish Warlord down.
The Irish are down to 2 Saga dice although the Curaidh can activate once a turn for free. They concentrate on getting the objectives off table.
The Norse Gael are best positioned to retake the centre objective. They push into the Irish Warriors but fail to wipe them out. Their Levy go into the Irish Levy but again fail to destroy the unit.
The Irish pull back again, the Eastern Curaidh will be off table next turn.
The Norse Gael Warlord takes the centre objective. Next turn the Irish Warriors charge the Norse Gael Warlord. They are all lost but take out the Warlord leaving the objective in the open.
Neither side will generate enough Saga dice to take control of the centre objective nor get the West objective off-table by the game end. A count of survival points and bonus points for objectives gives a score of 13 to 12 for the Norse Gael. A close run thing although as in many Saga games there are not many models left on the table at the end of the game.
The Norse Gael could really stack up their combat dice by using their abilities that gave a bonus as well as adding ‘free’ dice back into the combat pool. No use was made of their ‘Expendable’ ability to put fatigue on their own levy as the levy unit was positioned too far from the bulk of the army. Most of the army sported heavy weapons, against the Irish units with armour of 3, removing 1 fatigue in combat would reduce that armour to 2+ (the minimum allowed). As the heavy weapons hit on a +1 those weakened Irish were hit on a 1+ (they still have a combat save).
The Irish made use of ‘Sons of Dana’ nearly every turn to take 4 free shots from uneven terrain. This seemed best used against the Hearthguard as although the chance of wiping them out was low it could be done with a small target unit. Against larger targets any losses would probably be insignificant. ‘The Old Way’ got units up the field quickly, moving 3 units for 1 Saga die. The army’s javelin load out was not the best for this type of battle as it gives a combat benefit when attacking. When you need to capture loot you want to get the goods then get out of dodge. Attacking will send the lads in the wrong direction.