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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Did Alasdair Mac Colla invent the Highland Charge?

I’ve blogged about the Highland Charge before and so it was with keen interest that I read David Stevenson’s case that the tactic was invented by Alasdair.  Stevenson, a financial journalist by trade is author of Highland Warrior a biography of Alasdair, of Scottish Covenanters and Irish Confederates and a fair bit more.

To briefly summarise his case:

Mac Colla originated the Highland charge at the battle of the Laney fought in Ireland in February 1642 as this seems to be the first recorded incidence of it we have.  The tactic was enabled by the adoption of the musket, sword and targe as standard equipment. The abandonment of Cotun and Mail armour also resulted in a swifter closing speed.  The inspiration came from the traditional tactic of sword and targe armed Kern but substituted a volley from  the more effective musket for the less deadly shower of darts.

I find this interesting and think Stevenson could well be right.  The impact of a Gaelic charge was a serious matter.  Mountjoy, Elizabeth the First’s most successful general noted “When it comes to hand-strokes the Irish will usually prevail”.  That said the Irish tended to separate out their shot from their targeteers not least because the latter were drawn from the traditional military class.  Many of the Irish shot, better shots than the English says Mountjoy, were not drawn from the military classes and so were not all trained swordsmen. They therefore could have carried out the effective volley required but not the superior swordsmanship needed upon contact, nor for that matter did they carry targes.

Although the ‘New Scots’ Highland soldiers who fought alongside the Irish were dual armed we find them shooting with their bows or charging fiercely with two handed swords depending on the tactical situation.  I cannot think of a single incidence during the Nine Years War of the combined shooting and assault required by the Highland charge .  

I can note that some of the McDonnell’s of the Route are recorded as carrying targes in the time of Shane O’Neill.  It was a targe that saved Sorley Buidhe (Blonde Charles) McDonnald from being brained by a Galloglaich axe.

All of which suggests that the tactic was an innovation and one that might well lie with Alasdair Mac Colla of Clan Donald.

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