The “Sparth Axe”

Sparth is an Anglo Saxon name for an Axe

The Galloglaich ("Galloglas") were Scottish mercenaries in Ireland, forming the backbone of the Irish armies from the late 1200s through the early 1600s. They were drawn from the best fighters in the Hebrides. The word galloglaich means "foreign young warrior", and refers not only to the fact that they were from outside Ireland, but that they were of mixed Scottish-Viking stock, the result of many centuries of Viking raids on the Western Isles and Scotland's western coast.

Their favored weapon was a large axe, about six feet long, variously described by foreign observers as a halberd or bardiche, but generally what we now call a sparth axe; it had a long, narrow, curved blade about 18" long, attached by its center and bottom to the pole. Other designs have also been illustrated, of course, but it was the sparth axe for which they were famous.

The Galloglaich that were 'established' or owned land were usually accompanied by two Kern or a kern and a younger horse boy. The Kern would carry his armor and the horse boy carrying enough utensils for all three and preparing camp in the evenings, doing the cooking and mending any equipment that needed attention and also providing a limited medical service to Galloglaich. In battle the Kern was usually equipped with at least a pole-arm while the horse boy was equipped with the Irish Short bow or more likely a sheaf of Darts.

This trio fought as a unit called a 'Sparr', the name taken from the axe wielded by the Galloglaich; the armored Galloglaich would fight to the front supported by the kern with the pole arm while the horse boy showered the enemy with darts before the sparr could make contact possibly opening up a gap in the enemy lines.


The famous 'Sparth' axe, approximately 6ft long (various heads of several different styles and shapes have been found in Ireland), was by far the most common weapon.