Several Irish weapons-based martial arts were recently brought to my attention (through the writings of John Hurley):

  • Scianóireacht - knife arts
  • Tuadóireacht - various forms of axe-fighting
  • Corránóireacht - sickle fighting
  • Spealadóireacht - scythe fighting
  • Súisteáil - flail fighting

I'm somewhat familiar with the more common shillelagh style (aka Irish stick fighting), but these others are unknown to me. A survey of medieval fighting style resources and other sources familiar to me came up empty. Are there any reliable sources of information (manuals, transcriptions of oral traditions or living practitioners) on any of these old, weapons-based Irish martial arts?

  • Just a suggestion but I found some good stuff on the site below. Maybe try your question there? If you're successful would you mind updating your post? thearma.org You might also try theclann.co.uk
    – Wudang
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 19:47
  • And a friend pointed me to myarmoury.com/search
    – Wudang
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 19:56
  • OK so I'm getting interested now paganachd.com/articles/celticmartialarts.html
    – Wudang
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 20:02
  • This guy here (subject-control-and-combative-systems.com/…) seems to be practicing and teaching some celtic martial arts that were passed down throughout his family's history. Might be interesting to contact him.
    – Dungarth
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 23:29
  • My problem is this: John Hurley doesn't provide evidence for the existence of a codified system. It seems more likely that "Scianóreacht" for instance refers to the use of or skills with a knife in general, rather than a particular set of techniques, which likely existed in a less unified, familial training sort of form, much the way many european traditions were passed. In the 19th c. traditional weapons were banned, and the shillelagh became a popular replacement – after all, how do you ban tree branches?
    – stslavik
    Commented May 2, 2013 at 17:37

1 Answer 1


Scianóireacht (Pronounced SKEE un a rakt) was basically just the Irish term for knife fighting in general, as are the rest of the terms. Other than some possible adaptations for the local "flavor" in the style of how the knife was crafted, there isn't anything that makes any of it uniquely Gaelic.

Much of original Gaelic fighting was based upon the Ceithearn (Kern), who were basically the bombadiers of the time and would harass with missiles such as barbed arrows and darts. Before the Vikings came over and introduced new items and technique, combat was very ritualized. Often started with duels between chosen champions before any battle was actually joined.

Armor of the period was essentially almost non existent, usually just a leine (lehn, or loose shirt), or possibly padded clothing, so there wasn't a need for heavy arms (This also explains the prevalence/success of the Ceithearn). Once the Vikings started invading, there was a need for heavier weapons in combat, which is where you start seeing the heavier swords and axes being brought into play.

  • Excellent answer; do you have any citations?
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 10:09
  • 1
    Unfortunately, other than the wiki entry on it, no. My wife teaches Irish dance, so we hang out with a lot of Irish and Irish ex-pats, and I talked about it with an amateur Irish historian guy at our Irish Cultural Center a couple weeks back.
    – JohnP
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 16:14

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