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Battle of Thurles (1174 AD)
Normans Ambushed By the Irish

By Tim Donovan

Earl Richard "Strongbow," a Welsh Marcher invaded Ireland in 1169, ostensibly as an ally of the deposed and exiled King of Leinster, Dermot MacMurrough. Together they quickly reconquer Leinster and take the principal towns of Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, and Limerick. Dermot suddenly dies in late 1171 and by agreement the Earl assumes the throne of the Kingdom of Leinster. The Irish now belatedly realize the threat of a foreigner on the throne of one of the five provinces but are unsuccessful at every attempt to dislodge him.

Then in 1172 King Henry of England, fearing the creation of a rival Norman state, invaded Ireland with a massive host and secured the loyalty all of the Norman and most of the Irish Lords and astutely plays the remaining Gaelic Irish against the conquering Normans to curb their power while taking Dublin, Waterford and Wexford for the crown.

After the King's departure the Norman's continue their conquest until 1173 when the Earl and most of his principal allies are summoned by King Henry to France for military service. When they return in 1174 they find the majority of the Irish in open rebellion. They invade the province of Munster, the seat of the rebellion, and after a few minor successes are ambushed by a powerful Irish army and suffer a severe defeat. The Earl barely escapes with his life and retreats back to Waterford where he is besieged until his brother arrives from Wales with reinforcements.

The Battle and Scenario

Very little is known of the armies or terrain for this battle and this is perfect as it allows for the players to do just about whatever they want. The map is based upon a contemporary drawing done by an English officer of an Irish ambush he suffered in the Elizabethan Wars. The Norman army list is based on the forces he was known to have at Dublin in 1171, when he brigaded 40 knights with 40 Irish horse and 400 foot composed of Welsh bows, mercenary Fleming Pikes and Irish. The Irish army is my own creation, a melding of the Norse Irish and Medieval Irish army lists.

The Armies

The Irish

  • Big Battle DBA -- 2 Cv or Bd (Generals), 4 LH (Irish Horse), 4 Bd (Ostmen), 8 Ax (Bonnachts), 6 Ps (Kern)

  • Standard DBA -- Cv or Bd (General), 2 LH (Irish Horse), 2 Bd (Ostmen), 4 Ax (Bonnachts), 3 Ps (Kern)


  • Big Battle DBA -- 4 Kn/Bd (Generals), 4 LH (Irish Horse), 4 Sp (Welsh or Flemish Spear), 4 Bw or Ps (Welsh Longbow), 4 Ax (Bonnachts), 4 Ps (Kern)

  • Standard DBA -- 2 Kn/Bd (General, knights), 2 LH (Irish Horse), 2 Sp (Welsh or Flemish Spear), 2 Bw or Ps (Welsh Longbow), 2 Ax (Bonnachts), 2 Ps (Kern)

The Gaming Map

     ------------------Irish Baseline---------------
      * *                     R                  * * *
                * * * *       R              * * * * *
             * * Steep* *     R              * * * Bog
              * * Hill* *     R                   *  *
              * * * * *                              #
      * *                     R                    # #
      Bog* *                  O                # Woods
      * *             #       A         * *      # # # 
      *         # # # #       D      *More * *     # #
              # Woods# # #             * Bog*          
               # # # #        R          *            
                              R     w w w w w w w w w 
      w w w river w w w w w w w w w  R                    
      -----------------Norman Baseline---------------


All of the terrain marked on the map is bad going. The river is diced for as usual except for at the ford which is considered bad going but need not be diced for to cross and allows for column movement.


The ambushed Anglo Normans deploy first, followed by the Irish who may place up to one half of the army in ambush.

Special Ambush Rules

The defending Irish may elect to place up to half their elements in ambush anywhere on the 2/3 of the board from their baseline forward. The elements deployed in concealment and their location should be recorded secretly in writing. All of the terrain types on the map are eligible for concealment for any element The terrain feature may only conceal as many elements as can physically fit within its area.

Once deployed, an element or group in ambush may not move without revealing its location. The element or group of elements in ambush must be announced and placed on the table at the recorded spot prior to executing its first bound of movement.

As long as it does not move, a concealed element need not be placed on the table until it falls within the unobstructed line of sight of an opposing element. Elements hiding behind the hill can be spotted at a range of 300 paces while all others can be spotted by an observer at 100 paces. Spotting is automatic and does not need to be requested. It is the responsibility of the Irish commander monitor the line of sight and deploy ambushed troops when they are spotted. An element(s) may emerge from ambush at any point during its commanders bound and moves and engages in close combat or distance shooting normally.

Victory Conditions

Normal victory conditions, each army will break at 4 or 8 elements destroyed unless the Norman player wins an automatic victory.

The Normans win automatically if they exit more than half of their elements, excluding the Knights, along the road on the Irish baseline and have destroyed more Irish elements than they have lost, Good Luck !

Background Resources

The Norman Invasion of Ireland, Richard Roche, 1995, Anvil
Cambridge Illustrated Atlas of Warfare: Middle Ages, 1996, Hooper & Bennet
Early Medieval Ireland, Daibhi O' Croinin, 1995, Longman History of Ireland
Medieval Warfare Sourcebook, David Nicolle, 1995, Arms and Armour

Armies of the Dark Ages, Ian Heath,
DBM Army Lists, Book 3 : 476 AD to 1071 Ad

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Last Update: March 18, 2000

My thanks to Tim Donovan for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.