Breaking Step


All across the world armies have standing orders for troops to break step when crossing bridges.

The reason for this comes down to an Irish Family, the Fitzgeralds.

The Fitzgerald family (Geraldine Dynasty) was one of the most powerful anglo-norman Irish families. It is the “F” in John F Kennedy. Over the years the family accumulated vast estates in Ireland, England and in various colonies.

One Scion of the family, a John Fitzgerald of Castle Irwell House in Manchester, at his own expense built the Broughton Suspension Bridge in 1826.

Some years later, in 1831, another Scion of the Fitzgerald family, Lieutenant Percy Slingsby Fitzgerald, led the troops who demolished the bridge. The 60th Rifle Corps were returning from exercises. As they marched they set up a resonance on the bridge. Finding this to be pleasant they struck up a marching song and pounded their feet even harder. The vibrations caused the bridge to fail. Forty soldiers were thrown into the water. Luckily it was only two feet deep on the day, and nobody died. But many were injured, six seriously.

The British Army issued the order to all troops to break step when crossing bridges. The French followed with the collapse of the Angers suspension bridge, when marching was considered to have contributed to the collapse.

The said Percy Slingsby Fitzgerald was brother to the poet, Edward FitzGerald, famous for his translation of the Rubayiat of Omar Khayyam. We will let Edward have the last word with a poem about the madness of spring.

Old Song; by Edward FitzGerald

TIS a dull sight
To see the year dying,
When winter winds
Set the yellow wood sighing:
Sighing, O sighing!

When such a time cometh
I do retire
Into an old room
Beside a bright fire:
O, pile a bright fire!

And there I sit
Reading old things,
Of knights and lorn damsels,
While the wind sings–
O, drearily sings!

I never look out
Nor attend to the blast;
For all to be seen
Is the leaves falling fast:
Falling, falling!

But close at the hearth,
Like a cricket, sit I,
Reading of summer
And chivalry–
Gallant chivalry!

Then with an old friend
I talk of our youth–
How ’twas gladsome, but often
Foolish, forsooth:
But gladsome, gladsome!

Or, to get merry,
We sing some old rhyme
That made the wood ring again
In summer time–
Sweet summer time!

Then go we smoking,
Silent and snug:
Naught passes between us,
Save a brown jug–

And sometimes a tear
Will rise in each eye,
Seeing the two old friends
So merrily–
So merrily!

And ere to bed
Go we, go we,
Down on the ashes
We kneel on the knee,
Praying together!

Thus, then, live I
Till, ‘mid all the gloom,
By Heaven! the bold sun
Is with me in the room
Shining, shining!

Then the clouds part,
Swallows soaring between;
The spring is alive,
And the meadows are green!

I jump up like mad,
Break the old pipe in twain,
And away to the meadows,
The meadows again!

Firearms in Ireland

Medieval Irish Soldiers

Medieval Irish Soldiers

The Battle of Knockdoe in 1504 is one of the earliest recorded uses of firearms in Ireland.  We can’t say that firearms made a difference to the outcome or that they were central to military strategy.  Indeed we must question if anyone knew exactly how to use them.  According to the Book of Howth, one soldier of the Clanrickarde Burkes was beaten to death with a handgun!

The Battle was fought between the Hiberno-Norman “De Burgh” (Burkes) and their allies from the Dalcassian Sept (Kennedy’s, O’Briens, McNamaras) on one side against the Anglo-Norman Fitzgeralds on the other.  Although calling the Fitzgeralds “Anglo” is  a bit of a misnomer.  The Geraldines were Marcher Lords from Wales, not English.

Gerald, Earl of Kildare, was the deputy of the King of England, who also styled himself “Lord of Ireland” since the Norman invasion of the late 12th century.  As such Kildare carried a semblance of authority and the battle was considered to be a “policing” action to keep the King’s peace.

The Burkes were throwing their weight around and the Fitzgeralds had to sort them out to keep them in line.

The Fitzgeralds claimed the field after what was said to be a particularly bloody encounter.  The battle was dominated by Gallowglass, the heavy infantry of Medieval Ireland.  Many were Scottish mercenaries, heavily armoured.  Their primary weapon was the Claidh Mór, now called the Claymore, meaning “big sword”. As seen in the above illustration it is a two-handed broadsword of considerable length.

The poem below is held in folklore to have come from the pocket of a dead soldier.

Battle of Knockdoe (Anonymous)

Loud blares the trumpet, the field is set.
Loud blares the trumpet, the foe men are met.

Steep slopes the hill, at Knockdoe in the West.
There stood in Battle, the South at its best.

Hi Manny O’Kelly, with the Burkes is at War,
and Clanrickard has gathered his friends from afar.

Kildare he advances like the fox that doth stalk,
O’Kelly sweeps down with the speed of a hawk.

Loud sounds the trumpet, the sunset is fair.
Hi Manny triumphant. The Earl of Kildare.