During the eighteenth century, Ireland was Europe’s wild west, where the sword was the constant companion of every gentleman, soldier, and rogue. Here, in the dimly lit rooms of Dublin’s popular coffee and chocolate houses, among its public parks and cloistered back yards, fearsome duelists such as George Robert “Fighting” Fitzgerald, Alexander “Buck” English, and Captain David “Tyger” Roche fought for life and honor with the sword and pistol. Here, countless swordsmen—colorfully dressed in ruffled silk—stained the ground of St Stephen’s Green with blood, and celebrated their survival over glasses of cherry brandy.
In this lecture, we will begin by discussing eighteenth century Ireland’s sword culture—its renowned fencing schools, its famed swordsmen, its gladiators (the Irish Masters of Defence), its notorious armed gangs, and its most celebrated fencing society, the Knights of Tara. We will discuss the methods of swordsmanship which existed in Ireland during this time, the treatises that were written about them, and the greatest Irish fencing masters who taught them. This includes applications of geometrical and mathematical principles to swordsmanship, how to utilize one’s own shadow as a training device, and defenses against assassins and so-called “dirty tricks.” We will also discuss how the Irish invented bayonet fencing, and how this system found its way into the hands of America’s founding father, George Washington. Lastly, we will discuss the use of the Irish pike, the treatises which were written about it, and its continual use as the “Queen of Weapons” in Irish rebellions throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We will examine the last use of the pike in Ireland during the War of Independence and Civil War in the 1920s, and the traditional “pike drills” which have survived in the Irish language. There will be visual accompaniment. Following the lecture, and time permitting, we will open the floor to questions.