by Garry Bryant/Garaidh Ó Briain
When Roman finally met the Celts of Gaul and Britain, Rome had already disbanded the cart's use in war. The chariot used by the Irish was a quantum leap above Rome's version. In fact the Celtic word for modern 'car' is 'karros,' or in Old Irish as 'carr' which means chariot or cart. [Irish Medieval History.com, accessed 1 Aug 2015, hereafter referred to as IMH.] [P.W. Joyce, A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland. (Chapter xxiv #2, Chariots & Cars. 1906. http://www.libraryireland.com/SocialHistoryAncientIreland/Contents.php]
How does one know that the Irish used chariot's? Not only Ireland used the two wheeled cart, but Continental Europe as well for at least 1300 years. [eircom.net/~archaeology/chariot.html, hereafter referred as eircom.] One only needs to take a look at the Ahenny High Cross to see a chariot but not of the Roman style. They can also be found at Clonmacnoise, Tuam, and Monasterboice. The chariot was in use from about 500 B.C. down to 800 A.D. in Ireland. [eircom.] This chariot has a shaft that isn't low down between the horses, but high over the back allowing the horses hind quarters to go under the shaft meaning that the chariot could pivot about its own axis making it highly maneuverable. The Irish chariot was easier to drive too, for the charioteer had the reins for directing the horses and could rest his feet on the horses back or be able to steer the horse by pushing the hind quarters in the opposite direction to the turn, while simultaneously pulling on the reins. [IMH.] It was also very common for the driver to balance himself on the yoke or on this yoke between the two horses.
Chariot versions found in Continental Europe use more metal for functionality and decoration. Other then that the European and Irish chariots were the same style, and painted in flashy colors. They were associated with the noble families. Not only were chariots used for war, but for racing at the various feasts. In Ireland served as a death bier for the owner, and in Europe they were buried with the deceased. [eircom.]
The greatest warrior of Irish legend is none other than Cúchullainn whose escapades by chariot are renown in Irish literature. A good example can be found in the text of Tain Bo Cuailnge ("The Cattle-Raid of Cooley"):
"When the spasm had run through the high hero Cúchulainn he stepped into his sickle war-chariot that bristled with points of iron and narrow blades, with hooks and hard prongs, and heroic frontal spikes, with ripping instruments and tearing nails on its shafts and straps and loops and cords. The body of the chariot was spare and slight and erect, fitted for the feats of a champion, with space for the lordly warrior's eight weapons, speedy as the wind or as a swallow or a deer darting over the level plain. The chariot was settled down on two fast steeds, wild and wicked, neat-headed and narrow bodied, with slender quarters and roan breast, firm in hoof and harness—a notable sight in the trim chariot-shafts. One horse was lithe and swift-leaping, high-arched and powerful, long-bodied and with great hooves. The other flowing-maned and shining, slight and slender in hoof and heel. In that style, then, he drove out to find his enemies" (Tain Bo Cuailnge ("The Cattle-Raid of Cooley") p. 153.) [The Tain. (1969) translated by Thomas Kinsella.]
The crew of a war-chariot consisted of two; a driver and champion or noble warrior. There use in battle was as the mix of cavalry and infantry tactics. The best description of the use of war-chariots by the Celts is probably best described by Julius Caesar in 55 B.C. on his first journey into Britain:
"In chariot fighting the Britons begin by driving all over the field hurling javelins, and generally the terror inspired by the horses and the noise of the wheels are sufficient to throw their opponents' ranks into disorder. Then, after making their way between the squadrons of their own cavalry, they jump down from the chariot and engage on foot. In the meantime their charioteers retire a short distance from the battle and place the chariots in such a position that their masters, if hard pressed by numbers, have an easy means of retreat to their own lines. Thus they combine the mobility of cavalry with the staying power of infantry; and by daily training and practice they attain such proficiency that even on a steep incline they are able to control the horses at full gallop, and to check and turn them in a moment. They can run along the chariot pole, stand on the yoke, and get back into the chariot as quick as lightning" (Gallic War, IV.33). [Caesar: The Conquest of Gaul. (1982) translated by S. A. Handford (Penguin Classics)]
My name is Garry Eugene Bryant, or in Irish, Garaidh Eóghan Ó Briain. My O'Bryan family emigrated from Ireland to Canada around 1830. They were devout Catholics and my 2nd great-grandfather, William, was informed by his parents that he was to become a priest like his two older bro-thers. He ran away changed his name by dropping the O' and adding a 't,' and ended up at Black Hawk, Col-orado about 1861. But this story was family tradition, no paper doc-ument to that gives the name change. To the rescue came Family Tree DNA and the O'Brien Surname Project which confirmed that I was not only of the Dál gCais Tribe with the R-L226 & FGC5659 snp marker's, but a distant cousin to Sir Conor M. E. O'Brien, Chief of the O'Brien Clan. So I'm not an English Bryant, but an Irish O'Brien! I have three children, all grown and married, and two grandchildren. I'm a retired photojournalist, am passionate about family history and heraldry.