Cutting edge

Carabiner

Ulster Carabiner of the 9 years war

What is considered to be at the “cutting edge” of military development can be very surprising.  In the 1590’s the dominant force in Europe was Spain.  They ruled the continent with their Tercios, the mixed phalanxes of Musketeers, Pikemen and Swordsmen.

Los Tercios fueron invencibles

They were highly disciplined, highly drilled and worked as a cohesive unit.  Cavalry charges could not break the infantry lines.  The Musketeers were protected by the pikes and swords.  The great muskets and arquebuses were so heavy they acted like small cannon.  Firing them required a support stand to steady the barrell.

The English who invaded Ireland under Elizabeth I were armed and armoured like the Tercios.  They had good shoes and warm socks.  The pikemen wore half armour for protection against cavalry sabres.

In Ireland they met the pride of Ulster, the carabiners of Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell.  This yellow garbed barefoot lad with a spanish pattern helmet does not look like much but looks can decieve.

His weapon is a carbine, lighter and shorter than the muskets and arquebuses of the English, and the very cutting edge of firearms technology in its day.  O’Neill equipped his men with a lighter weapon for very good reasons.

Ireland is not a flat land of grainfields and open plains.  The open country of the continental mainland where the Tercios fought against the French and the Dutch accommodated large formations.  Ireland is a country of hills and bogs cut all over with small streams and rivers.  Uneven and wet land.

Anyone who hikes regularly in Ireland knows how the acid water from the peat bogs will eat the boots off your feet.  Good waterproofing is vital for modern boot materials.  In the Elizabethan era the fine footwear of the soldiers melted off their feet within days.  Even when the shoes were in good shape they gave no good purchase in wet boggy hills.

So the yellow cloaked Irish carabiner in his bare feet actually knew what he was about.  Stay light, stay agile, stay warm.  That great shapeless yellow thing he is wearing was the butt of many jokes by English soldiers over the years.  But it is made of raw wool dyed saffron, the royal colour of Ulster.  The wool is warm and waterproof.  Even when it is soaking wet it keeps you warm.  Vital in Ireland.  It acts as cape, cloak, greatcoat, groundsheet and sleeping bag.

O’Neill spent his money wisely, on good shot, good powder, good firearms.  He drilled his men to use the natural advantages of the countryside, fighting a guerilla war against the English.  He fought them to a standstill for nine years.

The eventual demise of the Irish comes down to the incompetence of the Spanish.  The Armada had been a great failure, and English protestants were assisting the Dutch rebellion against their Catholic Spanish Majesties.  The Spanish Kings felt that Ireland represented a possible second front to keep the English bottled up.  The great soldiers of Spain sent to assist the Irish did not land in Ulster.  Battered by storms many never made it to Ireland and those that did landed in Kinsale and Baltimore, at the very other end of the Island from the strongholds of Ulster.

The Ulstermen marched south to link up with the Spaniards but the English got to Kinsale first and were able to dominate the Spaniards with their Artillery.  When the Irish arrived the English Cavalry were able to decimate them.  Irish units, highly effective in guerilla warfare, were not trained for formation battle.  That skill was supposed to be provided by the Spaniards, but the English successfully kept the allies apart.

In that defeat at the Battle of Kinsale lies the root of the current situation where Northern Ireland remains part of the UK.

The yellow carabiner in the photo forms part of an exhibit in the Irish National Museum at Collins Barracks, Dublin, which traces Irish involvement in Military Engagements all over the world through history.

Feliz cumpleaños José Zorilla

Jose_zorrilla

José Zorilla Y Moral

Spanish romantic poet José Zorilla was born on this day in 1817.  He lived a live of poetry and poverty until the very end of his days when he at last achieved recognition, a pension, honours and the post of Poet Laureate of Spain.  He was so happy with all this recognition that he died within 4 years of getting it.

I like to fool around with poetry translations.  You can’t just translate a poem word for word.  Even if it makes sense it loses all meaning.  So I have made a stab at translating this one and updating it a bit to convey the same sentiment but to make it more relevant and more accessible.

Hope you like it!

 

Ay del triste; de José Zorrilla.

¡Ay del triste que consume
su existencia en esperar!
¡Ay del triste que presume
que el duelo con que él se abrume
al ausente ha de pesar!

La esperanza es de los cielos
precioso y funesto don,
pues los amantes desvelos
cambian la esperanza en celos.
que abrasan el corazón.

Si es cierto lo que se espera,
es un consuelo en verdad;
pero siendo una quimera,
en tan frágil realidad
quien espera desespera.

 

Feck Hope; by Donal Clancy (apologies to José Zorilla)

Feck Hope!  Don’t waste this life on dreams.
Don’t wager your outcome in the game of life
in the scales of some imagined judge.

Hope, that dismal gift of the heavens
becomes a heart rending jealousy
in the clutches of restless lovers.

So what if your dreams come true anyway!
This chimera, this fragile reality
always ends in doom.  Feck Hope.

FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS ANDRÉS SEGOVIA

segovia4

Born today in the year 1893 Andrés Segovia Torres, 1st Marquis of Salobreña and virtuoso of the guitar.  Here is a link to one of his pieces:  Capricho Arabe

“The guitar is the easiest instrument to play” he said, “and the hardest to play well.”

Challenge for tonight is to hit the link and listen to the poetry of the guitar at the hands of a master.

 

The Spanish Ulcer

Cadíz

Cádiz is the oldest city in Spain.  It was founded by the Phoenicians who called it Gadir, or Agadir, which was their name for an enclosure, or port.

The Romans called it Gades.  Later came the Arabs who called it Qádiz.  Most English speakers pronounce it incorrectly.  The accent is on the first syllable.

On this day, Feb 5th, 1810, Cádiz became the last chance saloon for the Spanish Cortes.  The government fled from Madrid ahead of the advancing Napoleonic armies.  They holed up in the last Spanish city, and held out for two years of siege.

Marshalls Victor and Soult failed to break the Spaniards.  The British and the Spanish mounted a number of daring counter attacks to relieve the siege.  The most famous was the Battle of Barrosa, where Patrick Masterson of the 87th Royal Irish Fusiliers captured an Imperial Eagle from the French, the first ever won by British forces.

But it was the actions of another Irish born soldier, Lord Wellington, that eventually relieved Cádiz.  The battle of Salamanca threatened to cut off the French and they were forced to retreat and regroup.

The war in Spain became known as the “Spanish Ulcer”.  It was the open sore that bled France and weakened her.  Spain was Napoleons Vietnam.  Army after army was sent to Spain.  Some died on the battlefield in the big war, la Guerra.  But more died in the little war, la guerrilla, a word invented by the Peninsular war.

Sometimes the lowest point, the last gasp, becomes the foundation for new growth.  From the ashes of disaster the Cortes sowed the seeds of eventual success.

 

The Girl of Cádiz; by Lord Byron

O, NEVER talk again to me
Of northern climes and British ladies;
It has not been your lot to see,
Like me, the lovely Girl of Cadiz.
Although her eyes be not of blue,
Nor fair her locks, like English lassies,
How far its own expressive hue
The languid azure eye surpasses!

Prometheus-like, from heaven she stole
The fire that through those silken lashes
In darkest glances seems to roll,
From eyes that cannot hide their flashes;
And as along her bosom steal
In lengthened flow her raven tresses,
You ’d swear each clustering lock could feel,
And curled to give her neck caresses.

Our English maids are long to woo,
And frigid even in possession;
And if their charms be fair to view,
Their lips are slow at love’s confession;
But, born beneath a brighter sun,
For love ordained the Spanish maid is,
And who, when fondly, fairly won,
Enchants you like the Girl of Cadiz?

The Spanish maid is no coquette,
Nor joys to see a lover tremble;
And if she love or if she hate,
Alike she knows not to dissemble.
Her heart can ne’er be bought or sold,
Howe’er it beats, it beats sincerely;
And, though it will not bend to gold,
’T will love you long, and love you dearly.

The Spanish girl that meets your love
Ne’er taunts you with a mock denial;
For every thought is bent to prove
Her passion in the hour of trial.
When thronging foemen menace Spain
She dares the deed and shares the danger;
And should her lover press the plain,
She hurls the spear, her love’s avenger.

And when, beneath the evening star,
She mingles in the gay Bolero,
Or sings to her attuned guitar
Of Christian knight or Moorish hero,
Or counts her beads with fairy hand
Beneath the twinkling rays of Hesper,
Or joins devotion’s choral band
To chant the sweet and hallowed vesper,

In each her charms the heart must move
Of all who venture to behold her.
Then let not maids less fair reprove,
Because her bosom is not colder;
Through many a clime ’t is mine to roam
Where many a soft and melting maid is,
But none abroad, and few at home,
May match the dark-eyed Girl of Cadiz.

 

When the world turned

La_Rendición_de_Granada_-_Pradilla.jpg

On this day,  January 6th in 1492, the world turned.  Ferdinand and Isabella entered Granada, ending over 700 years of Muslim occupation of Spain.  The Joint monarchs, Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon, ended a journey that began in the year 718 at the Battle of Covadonga when Pelagius led his small Asturian army to glory against the Umayyad Caliphate.  The Muslim armies swept across the Strait of Gibraltar in 711 and by 719 they were across the Pyrenees and fighting in southern France.  For the next 700 years the Spanish and Portuguese Christians fought the long road to drive the Muslim armies from “Al Andalus” ( the land of the Vandals).

The taking of Granada had a profound impact upon the entire world.  For the first time the Spanish could turn from looking inwards to looking outwards.  Instead of devoting their energies to the reconquista, the reconquering of their hereditary home, they could look beyond their natural borders.

In Granada Christopher Columbus presented to Ferdinand and Isabella his scheme to round the world and reach the spice islands by sailing west across the Atlantic.  The Catholic Monarchs decided to sponsor Columbus and funded him to the tune of three ships.

So it was that in 1492 Europe discovered a “New World”.

Fabian Strategy II

Fabian strategy is named after a dictator of the Roman Republic, Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus.

The Second Punic War occured when Hannibal took an army overland from “New Carthage” in modern Spain, across southern France, over the Alps and into Cisalpine Gaul.  His strategy was to divide Rome from her allies by weakening her in battle.  Once isolated Rome could be defeated.

Initially Hannibal fought the perfect campaign.  He scored resounding victories in the battles of Trebbia and at Lake Trasimene in what many analysts believe to be the greatest ambush in history.

Rome was in panic.  In 221 BC Quintus Fabius Maximus was elected dictator to handle the situation.  The post of dictator, giving sole control to a single individual, was only taken “in extremis” by the Senate.  It was awarded only a handful of times in the history of the Roman Republic.

Fabius recognised that Hannibal needed victories to maintain his impetus.  Keeping an army supplied in a foreign land is not an easy matter.  Many of his troops were mercenaries, who were looking for short campaigns, easy victories and lots of plunder.  The strategy devised by Fabius was to avoid large scale pitched battle.  If Hannibal advanced he withdrew.  If Hannibal moved he followed.  All the time he harassed the Carthaginian foraging parties, scouting expeditions or reconnaissance missions.

He employed a scorched earth policy to deny Hannibal food.  He used asymmetrical battle opportunities to score small victories and deplete the Carthaginian forces.

As time went by the Romans became impatient with this approach.  Used to decisive victories they struggled to understand a general who avoided contact with the enemy.  It smacked of cowardice.  The situation became politically untenable and when his tenure as Dictator expired Fabius was not reinstated.

He was replaced by the consuls Varro and Paullus.  The consuls put together a massive army of 88,000 legionnaires and marched on Hannibal.  Hannibal obliged them by taking control of a supply depot at Cannae, threatening to deprive the Romans of vital supplies.  The legions marched in.  Hannibal fought the greatest battle in history, a double envelopment. He killed approximately 75,000 Roman and Auxiliary troops and sold the remainder into slavery.  The Roman army was obliterated.

The Senate again turned to Fabius who reinstated his previous tactics.  Hannibal was unable to follow his victory at Cannae with an attack on Rome because he lacked the siege equipment to do so.  Fabius was successful in wearing down the Carthaginians until Rome could recover.

Then it was the turn of the young and dynamic Scipio, who took the war to Africa and Spain and defeated the Carthaginians in their own homeland.  As a result Carthage had to call Hannibal home from Italy.  He was defeated in Africa at the Battle of Zana where Scipio earned his nickname “Africanus”.

Now, there is an entire article about Hannibal Barca and I never once mentioned the E word, you know, Grey, Trunk, Tusks, Large Quadruped, useful in battle.

Quintus Fabius Maximus also gave his name to the “Fabian Society” a British Organisation which seeks to better society by the introduction of Socialism through Gradualist and Reformist means.

Mid-Point

July 2nd is an interesting day in the calendar.  In a normal (non leap) year it is the midpoint of the calendar year.  There are 182 days before and 182 days after July 2nd.

It was on this mid-point day in the year 1494 that Castille signed the treaty of Tordesillas.  The treaty was designed by the pope to avert military conflict between Castille and Portugal over newly discovered lands.  Only two years after Columbus discovered the new world it looked like the new lands would spark a global war between the two superpowers of the Christian world.  In effect the treaty divided the “New World” in half, giving half to each kingdom.

It is because of this treaty that the Brazilians speak Portuguese while the other South Americans mostly speak Castilian Spanish.

A subsequent treaty, the treaty of Zaragoza in 1529, set down the anti-meridian in the pacific ocean and had the effect of making the Philippines Spanish while East Timor and Japan fell under Portuguese influence.

500 years later these events continue to have ramifications for the people in these countries.

In Japan deep fried food, tempura, is known as the Portuguese method!

Prawn Tempura

Prawn Tempura