“The great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men God made mad,
For their wars are always merry,
And their songs are always sad.”
Ireland has a long history of tribal warrior culture. While the legions of Rome were “civilizing” the native cultures of Europe at the point of a gladius, Ireland remained forested and wild. When the Romans later fled from Britain to defend their homeland as it was invaded and burned by Germanic tribes, leaving the Romanized Britons defenceless and impoverished, the Irish were raiding their former territories for plunder, slaves, and tribute. While the Norse invaders were founding walled towns and trading outposts in Ireland at Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, and Wexford, the native Gaelic population continued to live as they always had done; rural and tribal and free. The Gaels did not build towns or large settlements, preferring to live in small closely-knit communities that farmed and raided for what they needed.
The Viking settlers built what are now our major cities upon the burned out remains of Gaelic communities. Eventually, the Norse who settled here were “Gaelicized” and adopted many of the customs of the native Irish, including Gaelic names. I have my theories as to why the way of life of these people was so difficult to eradicate over thousands of years. Tribalism is the natural state of mankind and has been since the very infancy of our species. We band together in small communities with people who are like ourselves in order to cooperate towards the achievement of some shared goal or vision. I could write ad nausium about the many intricacies and benefits of tribal culture, but others have done so who are far more qualified than I, and this is not an essay about Tribe. This is an essay about Woodkern.
Throughout the long, turbulent history of this island there have always been those who forsake the fickle world of civilized society and take to the woods. The wild places have a certain indescribable allure that draws out a certain kind of man and grabs hold of his soul. I believe the descendants of the Gael have always lived tribally because we have always lived very close to the land and the untamed earth. When the sun (seldom) shines this is the most beautiful country in the world and it is a common sight on a sunny day to see people head for the mountains and the forests in great hordes. We are still captivated by the trees and the realms that lie beyond the boundary of civilization. But what we now pursue in leisure was once a way of life for those men who were known as Woodkern.
The word Kern is an anglicized version of the Gaelic word “Ceithern” which translates roughly as “a warlike group”. Woodkern can thus be described as “bands of warlike men who dwell in the woods”. Though the phrase Woodkern refers to men who lived during a specific period of time, they belonged to a very old tradition that dates back throughout the ages of recorded history into times of legend and myth. These men were often described as outcast or outlaws, but in reality they were usually men of good social standing and wealth. They would have needed the funds to supply their own arms and equipment and they would also have needed more skill in the arts of warfare than the average peasant or farmer would have had. Warbands such as these were common throughout history and those who operated in this manner have been known by many names at different periods of time.
Fionn MacCumhal (anglicized as Finn McCool) was the mythical leader of a warband known as Na Fianna (The Warband). The Fianna lived in the woods amongst the wilds and offered their services as warriors and shamans to those who they deemed worthy or in need. In the legends, Fionn and his men are mostly treated with respect and an unusual reverence by the people they encounter. The men who fight with Fionn are wealthy, respected, skilled, and free. To become a part of the group a man had to pass extreme physical and mental tests, such as defending oneself from attack using only a shield whilst being buried in the ground up to the armpits. Peasants and farmers honoured these men, whilst the Chiefs and Kings provided them with hospitality and shelter during the winter months. The stories of Fionn’s adventures with his Fian are largely mythological, but we know that there were men in reality who joined warbands such as these and dwelt in the woods and mountains around the time that the tales of The Fianna were recorded.
As time went by warbands such as The Fianna became known as Woodkern and they were an invaluable asset to any Irish Chieftain who could win (or buy) their allegiance. The modus operandi of Woodkern was fairly specific and consistent throughout history. Kern were self-contained light infantry troops who could stage vicious ambushes and retreat to the cover of the trees before the enemy had a chance to regroup. British agent Edmund Spenser, who had no love of the barbarous Irish, admired the stoic resilience of the Kern and described them as ‘great endurers of cold, labour, hunger, and all hardness’, and ‘very great scorners of death’. Young lads would be inducted into the band as squires or apprentices to learn the ways of war from the more experienced Kern, who had learned their trade in bloody inter-tribal cattle raids and battles against their enemies, both foreign and domestic. Typically their weapons included the bow (boga), short sword (scian), throwing spears (gae), and a small shield, while their armour was minimal and usually consisted merely of a light tunic, a jacket and a cloak.
Though men have always banded together beyond the borders of “civilized” society, the time at which the Woodkern became most significant was following the Norman invasion of Ireland in the late 12th century. The arrival of the heavily armoured Norman Knights and Men-At-Arms on Irish soil was the fulcrum upon which the whole of modern Irish history pivots. The invasion marked the beginning of the end for the old Gaelic Order, and tied the fate of the Irish people to the whims of British aristocracy for the rest of all time. If you look around this island today you will see very little culture that is Gaelic and very much culture that is a product of Norman-British influence. But first, a little background on the war-like Normans and their relevance to this discussion:
The Normans were the descendants of Norse Vikings and Settlers who had established homes for themselves in the North of France under the leadership of Rollo. Over the years these Norsemen (Norman) settlers interbred with the local Frankish women and forsook the pagan gods of their forefathers in exchange for Orthodox Catholicism. A unique culture was eventually birthed in which Christianity, music, fealty, and war were valued above all else. They had previously conquered the Anglo-Saxon tribes of England in 1066 under William the Conqueror (or William the Bastard), and the Kings of England ever since that day had not been English at all. England was now ruled by the foreign Normans.
After the Norman invasion, bands of native English united into small groups of guerrillas who took to the woods and waged a bloody campaign of rebellion. The most famous leader of this resistance movement was known as Hereward the Wake, but his forces were eventually defeated and scattered at Ely. The term that the English had for these guerrilla troops was “green-men” to signify that they made the forests and fens their home whilst they fought the invader. Once the rebellion had been put down for good, the elite ruling classes of England (now predominantly Norman men) started planning how they would invade their Irish neighbours. The invasion was sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church, who considered the Irish to be “semi-pagan and barbarous” due to the many customs and habits that had survived from the ancient Celtic pagan culture.
As it was with the native English, so it would be for the Gael. In 1169, Norman invaders turned their eye towards the fertile and untamed land of Ireland, having been offered an opportunity for great adventure and conquest by an Irishman in exile. Diarmad MacMurrough had been the King of Leinster until he was dethroned by the High King of Ireland, Ruaidri Ùa Conchobar, for eloping with another man’s wife. Diarmad fled to King Henry II of England who swore to help him regain his crown in return for Diarmad’s pledge of service. In Normandy and Wales, MacMurrough hired the aid of a coalition of Norman lords, to whom he offered lands and titles and riches and even his own daughter in marriage. When the foreigners (called Gall or Sassanach by the Gaels) landed on Irish soil, they began a series of wars that would bleed this nation dry and condemn her sons to exile and slavery up until this very day. Diarmad MacMurrough’s betrayal and scheming lead to a cataclysmic event that irreversibly changed the face of Gaelic Ireland and Irish culture. It is not uncommon for a Christian to refer to a treacherous man as “a Judas”, and likewise the Irish may call such a traitor “a MacMurrough”.
But as is to be expected, the tribes of the Gael did not bow down and surrender feebly to the impressively armoured Knights of the Gall. Much like what happened in England a century before, the Norman invasion of Ireland was followed by a long and turbulent period of resistance and guerrilla warfare. Many of the native Gaelic kings and chieftains allied with the Norse-Gaels who dwelt within the walled Norse cities of Waterford, Dublin and Wexford, and fought the invaders. But the heavily armed mounted cavalry and men-at-arms of the Normans were a formidable force for the lightly armed Irish tribes to fight in open combat. So they fought the invaders on their own terms wherever they could. Bands of warriors operated Guerrilla style ambush and withdrawal tactics from the dense forests and the misty boglands that they knew better than any foreigner. These men formed tightly-knit warbands, much like Fionn MacCumhals Fianna of old. They became Woodkern, and it was within the dark woods that the forces of Irish resistance and independence struggled against their invaders for centuries to come. The following years brought many invaders and conquerors who sought to take from the Irish whatever they could, and contemporary sources constantly make reference to Kern as being ferocious and barbarous warriors. In time, the warriors who dwelt in the woods assumed an almost mythical guise in the minds of their enemies.
Even today, a man might walk in the woods alone and feel the overwhelming urge to run or climb branches or swim in streams. Being surrounded by the sturdy ancient barks of the trees and covered over by the limbs of their canopy draws out certain primitive instincts in us. I can say this for certain because I have spent much time in forests and I have felt the call of the woods in my bones. But though it is a pleasant thing to pass time in the forests on a fair day, there is a power lurking there that can chew men up and drive them to the point of insanity and death. A man who dedicates his entire life to the forests must be hard and unrelenting, but a man who also resolves to fight against a seemingly invincible enemy whilst only lightly armed and armoured must be a special breed of wildman. It would be impossible for a modern mind, so accustomed to comfort and security, to fathom the reality of the lives that these Woodkern lived. But we know that they did it and it was the norm in this country for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
There are men amongst us today who feel the call of the woods and welcome the savage instincts that bubble up to the surface when we find ourselves in wild places. Many voices cry out in condemnation of the globalist, consumerist, multi-cultural vacuum that has replaced the old cultures and that makes slaves and robots of men who have the potential to be strong. Jack Donovan has described the modern world as the Empire of Nothing, which offers men only the chance to be mediocre, small, insignificant and silent. Anti-Modernism is a school of thought that seems to be on the rise as huge swathes of the population realize that they do not want the hollow trinkets that the agents of Modernism offer them. They have decided that they would rather burn out in vicious physical pursuits than grow idle and fat watching the Empires propaganda broadcasts. They have decided to ignore the many platitudes that the Empire waves in front of our faces in order to distract us from the lives that we were meant to live.
But for all the talk and the discourse on the pros and cons of urban civilized society, there is not a lot of action. The Internet is a truly wondrous creation that has given each of us powers that were hitherto the domain only of the gods. But both the strength of and the problem with the Internet is that it facilitates communication between people from all across the globe with almost no time delay. This is obviously good when it comes to the dissemination of information, but it also means that people spend more time talking to strangers than they spend building personal bonds with people that they can actually meet. Words are wonderful and powerful things, but they tend to lead only to more words. Action is what spawns action, and now is a time where the actions of strong and noble men are sorely needed. We are all guilty of spending too much time on the Internet, and not enough time in the arena.
However, there are a number of men who have heard the call of the wilds and have taken the steps to follow the example of our ancestors. Men across the world have begun to band together in forests and fens, in gyms and garages, on mountains and in metropolises, with the sole purpose of reclaiming some of that savage wildness that we have lost and pressuring their sworn brothers into walking the path of strength. These men are modern Woodkern who forsake the many laws and conventions of tame civilization, so that they may live more purely human and natural existences. They have forsaken the smartphone for the sound of the wind that shakes the branches. They reject the vacuous TV programming that rots the mind and instead stare wild-eyed into the blazing ritual fire. They have abandoned the comforts of indolence and convenience to pursue hardship and toil and physical labour in demanding conditions. Men such as these exist all over the world and in the past few years we have heard a number of rallying calls which seek to unite these solitary Kern into small tribal bands with common goals and values.
A common trait that seems to be shared by these men is the realization that they are living in a society that despises them. A corrupted, insincere, distracting, soul-sucking, degenerative, enfeebling system of administrative tyranny and societal shame that seeks to suck the marrow from the bones of strong men to leave them crawling on their knees for whatever scraps they can swindle. The world has one desire for us and it is that we be obedient slaves and productive consumers. These wildmen recognize this system for what it is; a hostile and repulsive behemoth that must be forsaken and resisted by strength of will and arms. These men feel most at home in the woods and mountains where the law of nature still reigns, the Law of Claw and Fang.
Some of these groups, such as the Wolves of Vinland and Operation Werewolf, model themselves after the age-old tradition of the wolf-cult. They make themselves into archetypal wolves, prowlers at the edge of civilization probing for signs of weakness to exploit, and they seek to subvert or exploit the Empire of Nothing as it collapses and eats itself up from the inside. Men such as these are reviled by the society they oppose and are often hunted and vilified like the wolves they emulate. This is good and as it should be. In older times, Woodkern were reviled as barbarous savages and demons by the enlightened aristocratic British gentlemen who they fought. These Kern made their dens in the dark places beyond the reach of the rule of foreign law, and at every opportunity they attacked in pack formation to bring some small dose of wildness and savagery back into the world of false order. It was the fact that Woodkern were hunted down like the wolves that stalked through the same forests as they did, that forced them to grow strong and tempered their resolve and their bodies into primal engines of power and ferocity. Kern were not hunted because they were fierce. Kern were fierce because they were hunted.
And so like Woodkern and Werewolves and outlaws of old, we too must become lost in the woods to find our true selves again. Not all men are called to the life of a Kern, but those who do feel the call of the wilds cannot ignore it for long. If you have grown tired of the false promises and tyrannical demands that modern society places upon you, if you yearn for the chance to let loose the animal in you to run free through the night, if you would rather howl at the moon and temper your weapons with men of your own ilk by firelight than grow soft and fat watching TV or masturbating, then go forth into the wild places wherever you can find them. Become worthy of the respect of strong men and strong men will be drawn to you. Unite with those who have grown from the same roots and soil as you have in order to better yourselves and become worthy of your barbaric ancestors of old. Do these things now before the Empire collapses, because when it all falls down the world will belong to those who have become one with the wilds.
Those who dwell within the protective walls of “civilized society” will revile you, ridicule you, ostracize you, and brand you as regressive xenophobic barbarian madmen. Let them. When they call you mad, or stupid, remember that it is their world that is truly mad. Western civilization has become a breeding ground for weak minded, physically frail, socially incompetent, intellectually vacuous, milkbloods who wouldn’t even know how to survive a bar fight, let alone a life-or-death situation in an uncivilized environment. When G.K. Chesterton described the Irish warriors and Kern as “the men God made mad”, he was paying us a greater compliment than his pampered respectable mind could fathom.
Remember, there is a constant battle between all forces in the universe that encapsulates every molecule and conscripts every living being. This battle is fought between wildness and tameness, individuality and conformity, freedom and slavery. To be truly free, one must be partly savage. Amongst the trees and around blazing campfires, men are forced to stare into the eyes of the wilderness which bows not to our whims, and which will feed on our rotting corpses.
August 2016 ò na coillte na hÉireann.