Its amazing what you can get up to when you have no work to do and are sat in front of a computer. I was doing a spot of light reading and came accross multiple references to what could be described as medieval Gaelic dreads.
The Glib is a hairstyle worn my medieval Irish warriors in the 16th Century which the OED and chamber dictionary describes as "A thick mass of matted hair on the forehead and over the eyes".
Most descriptions of it specifically as matted seems to date from much further on but the definition seems to have persisted through writting of the 19th century "With axe and sling, their feet and bosoms bare, No helmet but their matted glibbs of hair". Though to 20th century writtings on the O'Neill Clan. Which at least suggests some consensus.
But we can in contemporary wood cuts such as this one from Albrecht Durer, that it seems to have been based on fact
The lads on the right are showing Glibs but are not clearly showing as the nice neat dreads that all of us like to sport.
Looking further, an awfull lot of the descriptions come from the time of the Desmond rebellion.
But how strange the view of these savage personages (most wearing glibs,
and armed in mail, with pesantes and skulls and rising upon pillions), seemed to our strangers
: lord Justice Drury to Sir Francis Walsingham, June 26 1579 on the surrender of the OReilly Mór
They generally go bare-headed save when they wear a headpiece, having a long head of haire, with curled Gleebes, which they highly value and take it hainously if one twitch or pull them.
Camden's Britannia written by William Good
So looking for woodcuts of this rebellion (which was a major factor in the tudor reconquest of Ireland) I came accross this
This depicts the Turlough Lynagh O'Neill, King of Tyrone surrendering to Sir Henry Sidney.
Now they look a bit more like the nice neat dreads we were going for. also the quote above from Good indicates shaving the back of the head wasnt neccesary for the Glib.
So what was it for?
Edmund Spenser, who you can take as something of a propagandist said of it
likewyes their goinge to battaile without armor on their bodies or heads,
but trusting onelie to the thickness of their glybbes, the which they say will
somytimes beare of a good stroke, is meare salvage and Scythian, as you may see
in the said Images of the old Scythes or Scottes, set forth by Hodianus and other
A view of the present state of ireland 1596
So basically this seems to have been grown thick and matted to be used as armour. Probably why we lost.
I feare not the blame of any undeserved myslyke; but for the Irish glybbes,
I say that besyde ther falstye, bruitishnes and fythines which is not to be named;
they are [as] fit maskes as a mantle is for a theife
Also he seems to think its good for thieving. Not really, just look for the guy in the dodgy fringe! Now I wouldnt take this guys word for it as firstly this is contradicted by Dury, Durer and all other accounts and secondly the mans obviously a clep!
All that being said it seemed to have caused so much consternation that the English tried unsuccessfully to ban it in 1537. And you thought the idea of banning hoodies was new, shame on you
Also, it appears that Gaelic dreads hampered Irish interests in another way. When Turlough Lynagh O'Neil predecessor Shane O'Neill tried to petition Queen Elizabeth not to abolish the Gaelic tradition of elected leaders in favour in of premogeniture, succession through first born son, the appearance of the Gael put them off so much that they were thrown out. Take that democracy!
So in conclusion, if you have dreads, you suck at fighting