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Irish Galley c.1580 by Deperdussin1910 - 1:24 - Radio - Scratch - POF

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I usually scratch-build RC ship models of the 19thc.  Recently, my interests changed to earlier time periods where I have little source material.  So, I'm posting here for your help.  I've read/viewed some great build logs here of earlier ship types.  I hope my efforts may add to that interest.


I'll begin to post my research that I need to do to determine what the model will look like.  As far as I know, no plans exist of a of Irish Galley c.1580.


Historical background:

It’s hard to research Irish Maritime history for several reasons. At first glance, you’d think it wouldn’t be. It is an island. Of course, they’d be interested in the water and boats. But, that has not been the case. They are a culture that has been suppressed for over half a millennium. Since English King Henry VIII in the 1500s, Ireland has been under siege and then conquered by a policy called Surrender and Regrant. Later, there was the Plantation Policy by Queens Mary and Elizabeth I. Their language, customs, laws, and certainly history have altered to demoralize them through the filter of a conquered nation. Any state promotion of an anti-English history (which this model represents) was suppressed. And this in turn, lead to a perpetual rebellion against a corrupt authority.

One of those rebelling clans was the O’Malley clan in western Ireland in the County of Mayo. In the 1500s and as it had been for many centuries, Western Ireland was the far west of western Europe. So far west, that it was not even conquered by the Romans or Vikings. This gave the Island a longer period of insolation to form their own customs than any other peoples of Europe. Ireland never had the unifying force of the Roman government and army. Various clans ruled and warred amongst themselves for limited control of limited parts of the Ireland. The O’Malley clan was one of those Western clans. They ruled over the baronies of Murrisk and Burishoole. They were somewhat unique in that their power came from a combination of warriors to control land and seafarers to trade and war on the sea. This gave them the ability to trade not only with other clans but also other lands. It’s recorded that they travelled to the ports of England, France, Spain and Portugal. Theirs was no small enterprise. English State Papers record O’Malley maritime activities from the mid-1200s to the early 1600s. Some of their vessels, oared galleys, were recorded to hold 300 warriors. That is a significant size vessel of the 16th century.

The most famous of the O’Malley clan leaders, called chieftains, was a woman called Grace O’Malley. She lived from circa 1530 to 1603. It is her life I find the most interesting. Because she grew up when the old Irish customs were still in force in Ireland. But by the time she ruled and for the rest of her life, England was conquering Ireland clan by clan. Usually, it a was a process of the superior English power making deals by granting money and titles to those who would submit to them with the least effort. Often clan was pitted against clan with the backing of English power on one side. In the midst of this upheaval, Grace refused to submit her clan to this transition and warred on land and sea against the English. She is called in English State Papers as a “nurse of all rebellions”. The clan motto in Latin, a common language of the educated in the period, proclaims their importance with Terra Marique Potens. This means Powerful By Land and Sea.

The vessel:

It is stated many times that this clan used galleys or oared rowing craft. But, what type and how large? Surely a clan that was known for ‘piracy’ by the English were not using the same vessels for trade and warring. ...more next time.



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Research on what type of galley:

It is a challenge determining which full size vessel to model. No archeological remains have been found which would enable a detailed reconstruction of the Irish galley in question. So, I need to determine the most logical choice of vessel given my level of research. There will be no absolute correct choice until they un-earth an O’Malley galley.

-There is no shortage of information about galleys used in the Mediterranean during the Greek and Roman empires. These are well before the late 1500s that I’m researching. It is harder to find information outside the Med. However, there were two very important naval battles that can shed some information. The 1571 Battle of Lepanto and the 1588 Armada show galleys with triangular sails. Countering this is a 1588 minted English Armadian medal depicting a single square sail on a Spanish galley. Is this just artistic license?

-The battle of Lepanto was fought in the Med. and the Armada was fought in the English channel. This shows that galleys were used outside of the Med. Importantly, galleys where still used into the early 19th century in the Baltic. This shows that given the right coastal conditions, they could still be an effective fighting force.  

-Which type of sailing rig would have been used: square sail, lug sail, or triangular/ lateen sails? It’s generally considered that fore-and-aft sails are more maneuverable in-shore than square sails. Grace O’Malley used the islands, bays, and coves, of Western Ireland to her advantage. Would she have been sailing these waters or rowing? Importantly, here crews were free clansmen and not chained galley slaves. I think she would have kept the strength of her oarsmen until the last rush towards an enemy and for fighting. So, a more maneuverable fore-and-aft sails is likely.

-For hundreds of years, the O'Malley clan traded with Spain and Portugal. This would have given them an extensive exposure to Mediterranean craft of the leading maritime powers. For clan strength, they probably incorporated any Mediterranean design that would have given them a trading or raiding advantage.

-The Clare Island Abbey where Grace O’Malley is reported to be buried has a carved stone ship image which shows a high sided, single-mast (square-sail yard?) of a 12-oar vessel. All visual evidence must be weighed with written evidence because artists may have never seen the vessel they are depicting. And, this carving may have been created well after the death of Grace.

-The best supporting evidence for the Clare Island carving is the recreation of a Scottish galley. The most surprising thing I found out about these vessels is that "Celtic Berlinn Nyvaigs (Scotish Galley) preceded Viking longboats, not the other way around". The recreation vessel built and sailed in the 1990s is called the galley Aileach which has a single mast and carries a square sail. But, later research stated this design misleading in its short length (40’) and cramped rowing stations. In its favor, it does have a high sided bow to handle the rougher northern European waters. Along with, “Both Celtic & Nordic galleys could have two or three men on each oar so even a small galley could transport 40 to 50 warriors quickly…The larger galley could hold more than 100 warriors" This suggest that one could count crew by the number of oars, then double or triple that and then add a speculative number of transported warriors.

-Some of Grace O’Malley’s struggle against the English is recorded in the written evidence of the English State Papers. For example in 1559, "There are three very good galleys with Tibbot ne Longe, sone to Grany O’Malley, his brother and O’Malley that will carry 300 men apiece…” This suggests a much larger vessel than the typical 8 to 12 oar vessels common at the time. And in July of 1601, the HMS Tramontana captured an O'Malley 30-oar galley with "a hundred good shots"...which suggests more than 100 aboard. The transporting of warriors was part of the O’Malley trading practice.

…more research to come

galley Grania tomb clare-island-county-mayo-ireland-detail-of-17-c-detail-of-altar.jpg

galley Aileach Hebridean Galley or Birlinn.jpg

galley Spanish Battle of Lepanto in 1571 b.jpg

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A very interesting project, Deperdussin1910. You've really taken on a huge research job and I wish you well with it. I find research and speculative reconstruction just as interesting (or perhaps even more) compared with the actual building of the model.


I was going to say ignore the Mediterranean galleys in your reconstruction, but on second thought the Venetians and probably the Genoans were trading in galleys to Western European ports in the 16th century (there's one shown in an Antwerp harbour scene dated 1515 -1521 at https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/antverpia-mercatorum-emporium/RwFbg96tzEartg?hl=nl ), so the Irish could have been exposed to them. However, I doubt they'd have copied the design if they had their own tradition of shipbuilding, particularly galleys.


Another possible source of information is the Anthony Roll - https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Anthony_Roll/Third_roll - dated 1545, showing Henry VIII's navy, and including a number of "rowbarges". These are shown with furled sails, but I'd hazard a guess they were square rigged, as were most northern/Western European ships of the time.


Though it's extremely limited as a source, I'd say the best evidence you have is the carving from the Clare Island abbey.  To my eye it shows a double-ended, clinker-built ship with a single mast, very similar in design to Viking ships of centuries earlier, but with a stern rudder. It doesn't show any yards, so it's impossible to tell what its rig is, but I'd be prepared to bet money on a square sail, as this was the rig used throughout this region for centuries when the lateen sail dominated the Mediterranean, and in fact came to largely displace the lateen as the main motive equipment in the following centuries.


Another image that may be of help is from the 1528 tomb of Alexander MacLeod in St Clement's church, Rodel, Harris.


Though this is Scottish rather than Irish, I think there's a pretty high likelihood of trade and cultural/shipbuilding influences passing both ways between the two Gaelic nations. It is an elegant vessel, and as with the Clare Island carving, had I been asked to give a date to this image I would have put it centuries earlier, as it is very reminiscent of ships associated with the Vikings, and their successors of the 12th and 13th centuries. Like the Clare island carving it is double-ended with oars, a single mast and a stern rudder. In this case it is shown to have a square sail. I think this image might well be a good candidate for the design of one of Grace O'Malley's "galleys".


I hope that helps and I wish you every success with your project. 



Edited by Louie da fly
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Louie, thank you for your reply.  The likes of which is why I began to post here.  I enjoy reading of your galley efforts. 


This subject has really pushed me into new areas of interest.  This O'Malley clan was one of the few maritime clans of Ireland.  For centuries, they traded with Spain and Portugal.  I feel they would have been influenced by the maritime technology coming out of the Mediterranean.  And as you noted, the Venetian galleys were trading in Flanders and England.  But, what maritime technology would the O'Malley clan adopt during the centuries of trading and raiding?  I'm lacking the academic term for it.  But, human nature suggests that if they saw a better tool, they'd use it.


More research...


-What type of hull construction would the O’Malley galley vessel likely have? A typical Irish galley used for trading would have been clinker built similar to the most historically popular Viking long ships. But, Grace’s maritime influences were far wider. From the RTE Archives Ireland's National Television and Radio Broadcaster, a1976 broadcast (like other sources) mentions the O’Malley's sailed galleys, lived by raiding merchant shipping, probably copied from like those of Spain, fast mobile ships, outmaneuver their prey, and that they were successful and dreaded. …a solid vote for Spanish influence which would not have a clinker hull.

- As to the size of the vessel…During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Genoa, Venice, and France maintained fleets powered by 25 three-man oars to a side and, later, five-man oars. Such ships might have a displacement of 200 tons and be approximately 164′ × 20′ in size. These were large enough to have cannons mounted on a platform at the bow. I’ve found no record that Grace’s galleys had cannon but this does give a good approximation of the size less the need for cannon.

- As to the sail shape…Some of the images show triangular sails that could also be lug sails. The lug sail was one of the earliest fore-and-aft rigs. The lug sail is considered an intermediate step between the square sail and the lateen sail, The lug developed in north Europe, most probably evolving directly from the square sail. In fact, many early lugs were nearly square. This could account for the images which look like square sails but are really lugs.
Lugs are useful in beach boats when rigs (and masts) need to be dropped. These galleys were used off the beach. And, the O’Malley’s had large crews to quickly down rig to lower their profile when hiding from a superior force. The lug rig was widely used in Europe from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries for small fishing vessels and other coasters because of their good performance to windward. This popularity extended to smugglers and privateers. Before the lug was widely used, could Grace have been using it?
If the O’Malley galleys probably had triangular shape sails, either lateen or lug, there is a curious modern connection called the Achill yawls of county Mayo. (In Ireland, yawl means a boat over 18 feet, anything shorter is a punt.) They have a short-luffed, triangular, almost lateen shaped dipping lug which has been favored for small working boats on the south and west coasts of Ireland. And, these early yawls were double-enders which are a favorable hull shapes for beach boats. Could these be the descendants of Grace’s galleys?

-As to the number of masts, by the late 15th century, the standard merchant hull size became large enough to efficiently carry two or three masts with lateen sails. There was quite a transformation in ship design going from the cog, to the carvel, and finally to the carrack. The O’Malleys would have been exposed to all this as traders with Portugal and Spain. Given the size of crews that Grace was able to employ. I see it likely that their long hulls would have demanded multiple masts to drive them.

-There is also a ‘Barbary Pirates’ possible influence to what craft the O’Malley clan vessels rowed and sailed. First, these pirates were contemporaries. Their predation extended throughout the Mediterranean, south along West Africa's Atlantic seaboard and into the North Atlantic as far north as Iceland. Their galleys, called xebecs, had high bows and sterns to handle rough water. In 1830 the French took the lines off a captured Algerian xebec which has a much plainer constructions than the ornate versions shown in most paintings.  In 1631, Barbary Pirates even invaded the harbor village of “…Baltimore, County Cork, captured almost all the villagers and took them away to a life of slavery in North Africa.” There is even a direct link to Grace’s galley being attacked by Barbary Pirates shortly after one of her pregnancies. Long after Europeans had abandoned oar-driven vessels in favor of sailing ships carrying tons of powerful cannon, many Barbary warships were galleys carrying a hundred or more fighting men armed with cutlasses and small arms. This was Grace’s way of warfare. It’s likely she would have adopted any of their methods or technology for her advantage.

-An esteemed maritime source is Fredrik Henrik af Chapman’s Architectura Navalis Mercatoria. In this, he shows a galley of 16 pairs of oars, with two men on every oar, rigged with lateen sails. Her length stem to stern is 114′ 6″; Beam is 17’0″; Draft is 6’3″. This length could have carried the size crews that Grace commanded. The vessel has a higher bow for northern waters than the lower style Mediterranean bows and two masts to drive the hull. Could Grace have commanded similar versions without the ornamentation of a state-owned craft?

-In review, a general description of the galley reads as, “The galley’s size, structure, and oar-based propulsion varied from one country’s fleet to another, but they all shared certain characteristics. All had hulls about 136 feet long by about 17 or 18 feet wide topped by an outrigger assembly. They were deceptively long and light, and they were capable of transporting large numbers of soldiers, who could be rapidly disembarked to storm a fortress or engage an enemy force.” This is an excellent description of Grace’s gallowglass carrying trade.  One of the traditional jobs of the O'Malley clans was to ferry Scotish warriors to other Irish clans who hired them as mercenaries.  The Chapman’s galley 16 pairs of oars may be the closest ship plan I can find.

...more to come

galley Grania image from 1567.jpg

galley Irish Achill yawl 5 West Cork 1930's dipping lug rig.jpg

galley Barbary ancient_galley_01PL0036_ 36 benches_5 rowers per bench.gif

galley Fredrik Henrik af Chapman’s Architectura Navalis Mercatoria Galley of 32 oars, 2 men on every oar, rigged w Lateen sails. Length stem to stern 114′ 6″; Beam 17’0″; Draft 6’3″.gif

Edited by Deperdussin1910
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I just finished reading two books that might bear tangentially on your thinking.  The first is the World of the Newport Ship.  This is a collection of essays placing the mid fifteenth Century ship excavated in Newport (Wales) in an historic context.  There is nothing about Irish ships, galleys or otherwise but there is much about trading in the region.  The book is published by the University of Wales and is listed on Amazon.


The second is In The Land of Giants by Max Adams.  Max Adams is an Archeologist who lives in Northern England.  His book is about a number of trips that he took in Britain and one in Ireland to try to connect with Dark Age Civilizations.  One trip is to what was once the ancient kingdom of Dal Riata, now part of Scotland’s Western Isles, that was originally colonized by Irish people.  Another describes a “dig” at the Northwestern Irish site of Inishowen.  Again, there is no ship information in this book but as background relating to the ancient ties between the Irish and Scottish cultures it is interesting.


In the Spanish Armada Canpaign the Mediterranean style galleys used by the Spaniards never made it to the English Channel.  If I were a Chieftainess on the West Coast of Ireland, I would want something more seaworthy.  I would lean towards a large Viking/Highland Galley type vessel.




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The Alamy image may be a little misleading. It is a coat of arms, with the galley in the lower left (sinister) quarter. The line that could be interpreted as a horizontal yard seems to be the division of that quarter from the rest of the field, as there is also an adjoining vertical line.

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Perhaps a dumb observation...  I would assume that Grace's fleet was a mixed bag of local ships and captured ships, so they would have picked up improvements and new designs from the captured ships wouldn't they?  I can't see design being static as history reflects that armies and navies continually upgraded using captured ships as a source of information. 

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Knowing a bit about the relevant history, albeit less scholarly-researched than you have done, I'd suspect that Grace O'Malley's "pirate fleet" was more along the lines of todays Somali pirates taking on oil tankers in the Horn of Africa than anything else. Their shore based territory was incredibly impoverished. I doubt there would be much trade to be had, given what was essentially a subsistence economy in western Ireland at the time. That much remained true into the 20th Century.


They were, however, a strongly maritime oriented culture, to be sure. It was not possible to inhabit the western coastal islands of Ireland, which were inhabited continuously at least from the Dark Ages forward, without vessels to support that. They were, however, relatively small coastal vessels, not large ocean-going ones. This is not to say they weren't seaworthy, though. They had to be, sailing from small and often unsheltered harbors on a lee shore. The rocky terrain did not support much in terms of timber, either for firewood or any large scale shipbuilding. The people relied upon peat dug from mainland bogs for fuel which had to be shipped to the islands from the mainland and from village to village along the shore. Hookers, some over 100 years old and still in service, carried peat to the islands until as recently as the late 1960's. Again until recent times, the traditional sailing craft fished, of course, and operated in the seaweed harvesting industry. The seaweed was an essential fertilizer for the poor soil of the region.


The framed, carvel planked Irish hookers and related types, all generally less than about 50 feet long, evolved to essentially their current form sometime prior to the mid-1700s, but historians are uncertain of their origins and can only speculate whether they were based on other craft or locally developed.  The smallest hooker variant, the pucan, being distinguished from the others by rig only, notably carries a lateen mainsail. Other types of west coast Irish craft were skin-on-frame construction which has also continued to modern times. Oars were a significant means of propulsion and the term "galley" seems to have been a generic reference to any multi-oared naval vessel of the time.


It was not only the geographic isolation of the region that kept it out of the mainstream of larger shipbuilding technological development, but also the simple fact that there were locally no forests that might have supplied the timber needed to build the sort of large sea-going "galleys" you believe are described in historical references. Such vessels may have been captured, but it is unlikely that many vessels ventured into the western approaches of Ireland at the time (unless, as with the Armada survivors, fortune and the winds blew them off-course.) The fact was, the inhabitants of remote western Ireland had little if anything at all to export and no money to buy imported goods. A look even at the ports of modern Ireland illustrates how inhospitable the western coast of Ireland was and is. Once a vessel heading west clears Cork in the south ("Queensland" under British rule,) it may as well continue on to Boston or New York, for there's little to be had "around the corner."


You may wish to check out the Traditional Boats of Ireland Project and their great book, The Traditional Boats of Ireland, for further information on the subject. The Project may have information of interest to you concerning the earlier seafaring history of the western Irish coast. If you want to connect with Irish maritime historians, they are the place to go. (A "virtual museum" of Irish boats and c

ontact information on their website at: http://tradboats.ie/about.php)



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A few more observations. If you haven't already done so, get hold of the book "Age of the Galley" and read the section on Renaissance galleys, particularly regarding the arrangements for rowing more than one man to the oar - known as a scaloccio, if I remember correctly. It could be useful in working out your plans. Also, the interscalmium, the distance between oarbenches usually ends up as about a yard (0.9M). Closer together is too cramped for the oarsmen, further apart just adds extra weight for no gain. This could give you some idea of the dimensions of your reconstruction.


Ships were often portrayed shorter than they really were, to save space on a page (or on a seal, as with the seals of the maritime towns in the Middle Ages).


I'd agree with Bob Cleek regarding the size and type of ships that would have been used. I wouldn't base too much on Mediterranean examples.


I don't know when the lug came into use, but I'd be wary of extending information too far backwards in time. Chapman is up to two centuries after Grace O'Malley, and so are many of the ships you mention. There were considerable variations in ship design from period to period and from region to region. I'd recommend going with what you can be sure of, and only extrapolating with great care and when no other means serve.


Having said that, have fun with the research!



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Roger, Thank you for your book suggestions.



Druxey, you have sharp eyes.  I had not noticed those lines as field divisions.



Mark, not a dumb question at all.  I believe she would have used any technology or vessel that would have been to her benefit.  Capturing vessels was not her primary purpose.  The clan was involved with trade, fishing, ferrying, and taking.  Their prizes would likely have been Spanish and English trading vessels…maybe like the Newport Ship.  I agree that the design of her vessels would not have been static.  I think I’m interested in portraying her at the 1559 reference point where she had vessels that could carry 300 warriors...a mixture of free clansmen rowers and warriors.  That would have been a significant size craft.  That would also help me build it in my preferred RC scale of 1/24.


Bob,  Thank you for your response.  For 2000 years, the O’Malley clan is mentioned in connection with the sea..mainly as traders.  Unlike Somali pirates, long sea voyages had been a part of this activity.  They traveled around Ireland, Scotland, England, and Northern Europe.  Traditionally, they took 30-40 vessels at a time filled with wool and cereal (oats/barley/wheat) to Portugal and Spain.  Their sailing took them out of the isolation you mentioned.  And in the time of Grace O’Malley, even Galway City had 600 vessels a year in their port.  For generations, the O’Malley’s imposed fines/tolls for transiting in their territorial waters.  Grace took that to a whole new level during the total social trauma that was the English invasion.  I feel, as need arose with the destruction of her lands by the English, she stepped-up her maritime takes.  As to the size of the vessel, the English State Papers mention her vessels as carrying 300 warriors a piece in 1559 and 100 warriors in 1601.  Trees were sacred to the ancient Celts.   Brehon Law even protected certain trees and shrubs.  In the 1500s, they still had massive forests.  But by the 19th century, Ireland only had about 1% of her massive pine and oak forests because of the pressure of Industrialization, the Plantation Policy, and Population Growth.   I do admire the skin-on-frame construction.  My last RC model was of St. Brendan’s 6th century curragh. See photos of her partially framed, tubes stabilized to handle weighted false keel, and her sailing JUST above a beam reach.


More research to come...




article 6 supports for keel and rudder.JPG

article 9 St. Brendan second sailing at TF 50 Aug 2018 b.jpg

Edited by Deperdussin1910
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That's a nice model of the Brendan. I have The Brendan Voyage at home, and recently re-read it. Quite an adventure!


A few more thoughts. In the 15th century, Spanish and Basque carracks (such as the Newport ship which was Spanish before the English captured it) were at the cutting edge of maritime development, but by the mid-late 16th the galleon had become master and the focus had moved north, particularly to Holland, whose fleets of galleons were able to sail directly to  Asia, bypassing the the overland route upon which the Venetians and Genoans relied and depriving them of their monopoly of trade.


Though Mediterranean galleys certainly traded to the north Atlantic, they weren't designed for it and were very vulnerable to rough seas - many's the galley fleet that sank in a rough Med storm (which is why the fighting season was confined to the summer months). I believe that vessels built for the North Atlantic would have been much more robust, even at the cost of the lightness necessary to an oar-propelled vessel.


And I think any oar-propelled vessel would be described at the time as a galley, whatever its form, simply because it would be so unusual to see one - the great majority of seagoing vessels of the time were sailed.


In fact, I'd say that rather than maneuvring by sail they'd be using oars to attack ships that were becalmed and unable to escape. Mediterranean war-galleys were pretty much built around the gun platform at the bow, but it's likely that Grace's "galleys", being packed with men, would simply board and overwhelm the (much smaller) crews of their prey by sheer numbers.


Regarding the number of masts, the pictorial evidence seems to suggest a single one, and in the absence of information to the contrary I'd think a single mast would be the way to go.


However, these are only suggestions for your consideration - this is your model, and the final decision regarding the form of the ship is yours. I'm enjoying following the detective work.



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The often overlooked question is the technology available to build large vessels.  By the 1500’s Northern builders had 500 years of experience building large lapstrake ships “skin first” without drawings.  I believe that the Draaken? Viking ship that recently visited the US was 80 feet long.  These lapstrake methods also allowed use of timber that had been split rather than sawn.


the skeleton construction technique was based on a geometric methods.  Unless your Irish builders had shipwrights trained in these proprietary techniques, I would lean  to a skin first lapstrake ship.





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Steven, my research lines up with your thoughts that a North Atlantic galley would be more robust.  I particularly think they would have a higher bow, more sheer, and a single bank of oars...maybe broader beam as well.  My information on operations lines up with what you already know.  I'm still uncertain of the number of masts...one or two.  A single sail on a higher mast would have a higher center-of-effort would create more heel on a narrow beam galley.  Two masts would have sails with lower center-of-efforts for a narrow beam galley.  I'm still waiting for a response from THE historian on Grace O'Malley, Anne Chambers.  Interestingly, a recent promotion of her efforts shows a vessel with two masts with lateen sails which looks like a 17th c. Dalmatia model I found on the web.


Roger, you bring up an interesting question.  When did the transition occur from lapstrake to carvel on the west coast of Ireland?  I contend that this clan had early and longer exposure to Mediterranean practices then most clans and certainly those that stayed on the Irish sea.  Could or would they have tried to use lapstrake skin on a Mediterranean design?  This is the clan, fighting to keep the Celtic world alive, that went against tradition by following a female chieftain.



-Since I have several references to Grace exposure to ‘Barbary Pirates’ , I wanted to learn how they operated their galleys for information on how Grace may have used hers…

-The attacking ship’s captain would aim to ram the victim, so that the fighters could swarm aboard from the raised prow. (this is the main reason for the high prow…faster boarding of enemy vessels.

-The long boarding prow was called a spur…(Irish Galleys) were probably similar but simpler… to (xebecs)

-The Barbary slave galleys were enclosed at the stern to provide shelter for the company of Janissaries who formed the ship’s fighting force. (Here is a clear advantage that Grace had…her free oarsmen were also fighters…a massive increase to her fighting power….this is noted in other sources).

-Galleys relied on speed for their success, and this was impossible without frequent careening. The galley would be beached, and laboriously scraped to remove the coating of barnacles and weed that adhered below the water-line. A coating of wax helped it to slip smoothly through the water. Careening had to be repeated every two months or so.

-Lateen sail(s) propelled the galley when there was enough wind, but it was the oarsmen who provided the power in a chase, when sailing into the wind, or on a calm day. (So as I thought, the sail(s) were used as much as possible to save the strength of the rowers for a chase...especially if your free Irish rowers are also part of your fighting force.)

-The Knight’s (of Malta starting in the 1530s) galleys had a legendary reputation for speed and maneuverability; they could sail very close to the wind, and their 3-foot (1 meter) draught allowed them to pursue their quarry in the shallowest water. (Grace would need a vessel with these qualities as her galleys sailed the bays and inlets of the western coast of Ireland.

-In the era of the galley, there seems to have been a fairly consistent approach to pursuit and capture. As the pirates closed in on their victims, they would fire the canon at the bows(and the crew makes fearsome noises), but more by way of a warning than for the destructive power of the ball.(I've found no records of her galleys using cannon and I think she would not have wanted to row the additional weight for the minimal impact).

At this point, I'm still leaning toward a plain galley with two sails that has a raised prow and a covered stern house. I'm still waiting on an important email response that would be influential to my build.


More research to come...

galley Grania Anne Chambers image .jpg

galley Dalmatia 17 to 18c  became Croatia a.jpg

Edited by Deperdussin1910
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Lapstrake, skin first construction limits hull form to the shape that wood takes naturally when bent - a cubic function.  The skeleton system allowed more choice in hull shape.  Actually, by the 1500’s Irish boatbuilders had been using skeleton construction for many years. The skin covered boats represented a type of skeleton construction.



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Gallie subtile is a direct transliteration from the Italian term galea sottile which means "narrow galley" - i.e. intended purely for warfare. This is the only one of Henry VIII's oar-propelled warships that is built like a Mediterranean galley - naturally enough, since Henry imported Venetian shipwrights to build her. I don't believe she is characteristic of the type of oar-propelled vessel that Grace would have used. 


On the other hand, though skin-first clinker building was traditional in the north Atlantic, by the mid-late 16th century it had been almost completely superseded by carvel. Additionally, to get any sort of speed through the water when propelled by oars, a vessel has to be extremely smooth below the water line. So I would incline towards carvel construction.


9 hours ago, Deperdussin1910 said:

A single sail on a higher mast would have a higher center-of-effort would create more heel on a narrow beam galley.  Two masts would have sails with lower center-of-efforts for a narrow beam galley.

I agree. I went through this whole issue when working on my dromon. Certainly it would be preferable for a galley to be narrow - it reduces water drag. However, it may not have been as narrow as the galeae sottile, which, by the way, are often shown with a single huge lateen - see many of the contemporary pictures of Lepanto, and several by Bruegel. So perhaps it's not so much an issue after all. If the Mediterranean galleys performed like the Olympias, the only galley reconstruction I know that's seen sea service, they'd be very unstable, and would capsize if they heeled more than 10 degrees - so they'd only use the sail if they were directly before the wind. In which case centre of effort is not an issue, and a single mast may be ok.



Edited by Louie da fly
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Backer, thank you for your informative response.  Another historical reminder of the power of imported technology.  FYI, I enjoyed living near Tervuren for a few years.  


Steven,  the beam question is important to me because this will be a working RC model.  I can't just have it sail downwind.  I'll need it to be able to sail upwind to come back to me.  I'll have a detachable false keel and expanded rudder to combat the "scale effect" of non-scale wind and water conditions.  I've been thinking about ratios...


A comparison of galley beam ratios:

1450 Venetian 164’ x 20’ 8.2:1

1540 Barbary galiot  87' x 10' x 6.5'  8.7 :1  (new info Dec 29)

1581 Lepanto 136’ x 18’ 7.5:1

1700s Chapman 114.5 x 16 6.7:1



Galleys getting shorter and beamier.  But, I only have a few examples with dimensions.

Edited by Deperdussin1910
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More evidence of Spanish/Barbary influence...


-In re-reading my notes, I found an Irish lecturer using these words about Grace O'Malley.  She had "numerous encounters with Barbary Pirates".

-A new reference shows that one of those "encounters" was long-standing....


"It is said that Grace O’Malley and her ally Don Bosco –who may have had a fortress on Port Island before Cromwell – used to stretch a chain boom across the harbour to trap and loot ships with valuable cargo." 


I did not know who Don Bosco was.  It turns out that he is...




"Don Alonzo Bosco was a 16th-century Barbary corsair or Spanish pirate who, according to folk tradition on Inishbofin, Galway, settled on the island in the 16th century and built a castle where a Cromwellian-era ruined castle now stands. From there, he raided the mainland and passing ships.

He became an ally of Gráinne Ní Mháille (Grace). Together they prevented unwanted intruders from entering the surrounding waters, or they used the natural harbour as a trap to attack and loot those ships with valuable cargo on board. They succeeded by stretching a chain boom across the harbour entrance from the castle at the harbour to Scealp na gCat at the opposite end. His ultimate fate is unknown."


This island is well with-in "O'Malley" waters.  Don Bosco could not have existed there without Grace's permission.  Probably, a mutually profitable relationship as mentioned with the chain boom.  Importantly, this highlights her Atlantic/Mediterranean influences in actions and probably her vessel use.


Maybe it's me.  But if you stare at Mirabell61's chebec picture long enough, you can see a Northern Atlantic/Celtic/Viking mid-ship and high bow.  Or, do I need new glasses?



I'm still working on a possible design...








galley Irish map Inishbofin.jpg

galley barbary xebec 1753 6 viking like.jpg

Galley Aileach under sail.jpg

Edited by Deperdussin1910
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Even earlier, the galleys of Charles of Anjou (c. 1280) were 130' long and 14'7" in beam (8.86:1).


It seems that the raised prow would need to be shaped so that it would form a bridge to the enemy ship, rather than an obstacle, as those of the two pictures above would be.


You might think of having your galley row away and back to you, as in the RC bireme at 

After all it is a galley, which is makes it different and unusual.



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Steven, thank you for bringing that Build Log to my attention.  By the late 16thc., I agree that the spur was angled to be more a bridge than a ram.  Among the frustrations in building this RC model, is it's dual propulsion...oar and sail.  Can I fit both inside and have both working?  I think I should make it sailing first and retrofit rowing mechanics by saving room for it.  


I've made my first attempt at the lines.  I have little confidence they are right.  What I'll do is make a keel with light test frames.  I'll tack on stringers and play with the frame positions and shapes until I'm happy or frustrated to the point of calling it 'good enough'.  I've always been a 'rack of eye' scale builder knowing most early vessels were rarely documented and builders often made 'adjustments'.




115' x 17' x 6.5' with a ratio of 6.76:1 in 1/24 scale is 57.5" x 8.5" x 3.25" or a model that is stem to stern 4'9" plus bowsprit/spur.


This should be a galley with 32 oars or 64 rowers.  With additional warriors, this galley should hold "a hundred good shots" aboard as captured in 1601.


Edited by Deperdussin1910
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I think it might be better to do the oars first as there's quite a bit of mechanical linkage involved.  You might want to sketch out your linkages for both and see what accomodations have to be made.   I saw one or two builds a long time ago (galleys as I recall) that had working oars and it was pretty tight inside.   If I can remember where I've seen them, I'll post a link.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...
On 11/3/2018 at 10:30 AM, Deperdussin1910 said:

It’s hard to research Irish Maritime history for several reasons. 


Totally agree with this. Right now I am trying to record several Irish vessels with the aim of producing plan sheets that can be used by others to build models.  I am researching ships far more modern than what you are attempting and it is really surprising how little information is out there even for ships that still exist! A good example of this would be Galway Hookers and the Asgard. The latter is now a museum ship in Collins Barrack Dublin and was recently completely rebuilt to preserve her yet I can't find any information on her!

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  • 3 months later...

Hi, I just came across this link which I hope is of interest. http://clandonald-heritage.hmstudiosllc.com/the-galley/


It's Scottish rather than Irish, but you might find it useful, particularly the sculpture with the ship on it.


the clach chlannicailean


Unfortunately, there's no information on the date or origin of this artefact, but it's certainly very interesting.The towers on the castle look 14th century to me, and if the thing above the ship is a helmet, as I believe it to be, it is of a type (known as a barrel helm)which began to see use about 1250 and stayed in use for about 100 years.


The text is rather partisan, and probably should be taken with a pinch of salt. But it brings up several references to Gaelic galleys before the advent of the Vikings.


Oh, and following up on the seal shown in the above article, I discovered another link, with even more pictures of, and information about Gaelic (specifically Scottish) galleys - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alasdair_Óg_of_Islay


And following up on Pinterest, some more pics, at https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/92112754860158326/ and  if you click on the more interesting images they take you to subsequent pages with more ships of the same type.


Hope this helps,



Edited by Louie da fly
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  • 2 years later...

Hi All,

Just a thanks to all who contributed to this post. I'm a film maker based in Ireland and last year we need an Irish  galley and this forum was execellent for our research. Obviously since none exist anymore we built a model (a really really big model!) You can see some shots in this trailer:  Gráinne Ní Mháille & Risteárd an Iarainn trailer    Here are some behind the scenes of the build 

Thanks again








Edited by rupertmac
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I'm glad this discussion has been of help to you, rupertmac. I was going to say the planking should curve upward at the ends, but as you're doing close-ups this really isn't an issue. The sail and the planking look good in the trailer. Can I say, however, that the woman with a naked sword hanging from her belt would be an accident waiting to happen . . . apart from cutting her belt, she'd be likely to hurt herself on the blade . . . Still, that's just me (having been a mediaeval re-enactor for many years) - nobody else is likely to notice.


Unfortunately we haven't heard from deperdussin1910 since November 2018 - it would be really nice to see if he continued with his project (hint, hint).



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2 hours ago, Louie da fly said:

Unfortunately we haven't heard from deperdussin1910 since November 2018 - it would be really nice to see if he continued with his project (hint, hint).



He was last on this past weekend.  I hope he lets us know what's going on with this project.

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  • 1 year later...

Hi There,

Great research, of great help. I do have some points to make and some questions please.

There was no shortage of timber in O'Malley country up to the early 17th century. Contemporary maps.


There are several mentions of shallow draught vessels escaping from the open sea to within 'the islands' in Mayo. Suggesting that they were shallow draught vessels, shallower than their pursuers at least, and were also able to operate in the open sea - Atlantic.


The carvings on Grace's tomb have been of great interest, but as you say no one seems certain about their date of origin. The shape of the tomb's outline gives a very interesting 'hull shape' as does the whole outline of the tomb shape,  upside down.

My question relates to later galley design, those of privateers and merchant ships in the 18th century. As there seems to be a dichotomy arising from the use of cannons, especially on the privateers, where were the oars placed. On the upper or lower deck? Were the rowers seated or standing?

Regards and best wishes,

Roy Stokes   

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