Warriors are a prevalent, but often hidden part of medieval Irish society. Warriors were mostly the noble class that began as fían. The link to fian will provide insight as to this phase of Irish warrior's lives.

This page deals with what happens when warriors stay in the fian and the positions they obtain throughout their lives. It is often very difficult to sift through the legal tracts to understand what parts warriors played in the túath. The main positions of the warriors were the airé echta and fergnia. Men-at-arms and guards were a regular part of warrior culture, however they weren't as high as senior members and advisors to the kings.

Airé Echta

Many fénnid chose to become "adivsors" to the king rather than become fully integrated members of society. This choice depended on whether the warrior had any inheritance or family left or if he just plain enjoyed life in the fíanna. The term fergnia is used to describe a similar position that was held by warriors with similar duties to the túath.

The airé echta would enjoy the fochla fénneda or the "seat of the fían-champion," as fought over in The Tale of Macc Da Thó's Pig and Bricriu's Feast.[1] They enjoy a ten chattel honor price (5 for their own house and 5 for their retinue). [2] Airé echta may also have been included in a "senate" or a panel of advice givers for a king as stated by Cormac Mac Airt for what is best for the túath, "listen to elders."[3] The king used his warriors to "check unlawfulness" and "protect the just" throughout the túath.[4] The "Tecosca Cormac" also hints that the king was in charge of keeping the warrior bands (fían) in check.[5]

Leaders also used their warriors to "dispatch great battalions to the borders of hostile neighbors"[6] and "[uses them to] defend borders and tribes... [and] attack and be attacked."[7]

In various Ecclesiestical law texts, you would see obvious Church references to the airé echta (the former fían) as sinful people to avoid. They would use the term díberg to talk about fíanna. For information on the differences between the two and the Church's attempt to slander the fíanna click here. The Church used their law codes to try and single out the airé echta and fían by saying that they weren't entitled to "nursing" if they "avoided obligations to kindred, evaded obligations to lord, and avoided obligations to Church."[8] This "nursing" was a major aspect of fían, who would rely on the túath for food and medical attention during hard times. The Church also tried to degrade the status of druids, airé echta, and satirists (including poets) by giving them the injury maintenance of a böaire and stating that "it is more fitting in the sight of God to repudiate them than to protect them."[9]

Regular Men-at-arms and Guards

Men-at-arms were another important aspect of Irish culture. They were the king's law enforcement and defense against other túathe. The class of kings, "king of troops" were stated that they are "vice-king of two troops or three troops. Seven hundred in each troop." [10] King's were supposed to have at least 4 guards positioned on the south side of the house and are to accompany him "from house into field, from field into house."[11] These guards were called frontman, henchman, and two sidesmen. On the north side of the house, a king needed a man-at-arms and a "man of action"[12] with "each of them having his spear in front of him always against confusion of the banquet house [attack from without]".[13]


Often, fénnid would become mercenaries instead of integrating to society or becoming an airé echta. While these mercenaries could decide to stay with a túath, they could also continue to sell themselves to kings as law enforcers and border defenders, gaining prestige for their military prowess. An example from ancient literature is Fergus in the Táin and Mac Con in Cath Maige Mucrama.[14] Mac Con is expelled from Ireland after fighting with his foster brothers and takes his band of 27 warriors to serve the king of Scotland.
  1. ^ Gantz, "Early Irish Myths and Sagas" (The Tale of Macc Da Thó's Pig) pg. 179 and (Bricriu's Feast) pg. 219
  2. ^ MacNeill, Crith Gablach pg. 297
  3. ^ McCone, "Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland" pg. 12; "Tecosca Cormac" pg. 11
  4. ^ "Tecosca Cormac" pg. 7
  5. ^ "Warrior bands without overbearing [are best for the good of the tribe]" Tecosca Cormac pg. 9
  6. ^ Kelly, "Audacht Morainn" pg. 7
  7. ^ Kelly, "Audacht Morainn" pg. 19
  8. ^ "Bretha Crólige" pg. 15
  9. ^ "Bretha Crólige" pg. 41
    These attacks can possibly be explained by the Church's wishes to upset the prestige of certain groups such as the druids and poets, while attacking their paganism and trying to establish themselves as advisors of kings (airé echta).
  10. ^ MacNeill, Crith Gablach pg. 300
  11. ^ MacNeill, Crith Gablach pg.305
  12. ^ "Man of action" may refer to the man who would be in charge of announcing and admitting guests to the banquet hall and any other persons seeking admission.
  13. ^ MacNeill Crith Gablach pg. 306 (brackets included)
  14. ^ http://www.ria.ie/Publications/Books/Irish-Texts-Society/Irish-Texts-Society-Main-Series/Irish-Texts-Society-Volume-50--Cath-Maige-Mucrama.aspx
    McCone, "Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland" pg. 12