While few guns of Irish origin immediately pop to mind, the weave of modern gun culture has several threads sewn by Ireland's firearm history.

Some of the first written references to firearms on the island are of early matchlock arquebuses carried by German-speaking Landsknecht mercenaries operating in circa 1487 Dublin. By the 1590s, firelocks were more than a novelty in Ireland and had to some extent moved into local production. 

In the Nine Years War, English troops with heavy arquebuses that required a shooting stick to balance were outgunned by Irish musketeers with lighter calivers, which could be loaded faster as they used a standard caliber and didn't need to be braced to fire. (Photo: John Derricke, "The Image of Irelande, 1581")

As a result, Confederate buannacht, armed with lightweight matchlock calivers and serving with Irish patriot Hugh O'Neill, played a big role in the Nine Year's War rebellion against the English, where an Irish ball laid Sir Henry Bagenal, Queen Elizabeth I's marshal, to rest at the Battle of the Yellow Ford (Béal an Átha Bui). 

Notably, Yellow Ford was fought in County Armagh, where later generations of Irish snipers were still active as late as the 1990s, but that is another story. Further, General Washington's best-known marksman was of Irish heritage. 

Moving past the era of firelocks, some key thinkers in modern weaponry hailed from Ireland. This included Dublin-born William Palliser, a noted riflery instructor who held over 20 ordnance-related patents in the 19th Century. Among his better-known inventions was the eponymously termed Palliser shot and shell – which remained a staple of naval warfare for almost 50 years – and a conversion process for turning muzzleloaders into functional breech-loading rifles. 

Another famed Irish-born firearms wonk was John Rigby, who formed his rifle works in circa 1775 Dublin. Although the 246-year-old company today has its principal workshop, showroom, and museum in London, having left Dublin in 1894, it is still in operation. If the name "Rigby" rings a bell, the company has held numerous patents, created the magnum Mauser action, and developed notable dangerous game cartridges such as the .450 Nitro Express and .416 Rigby. Similarly, should you come across a Rigby-made rifle, it is very likely to be a functional work of art. Many are on display in the finest museums as such. 

Professional hunter Jim Corbett's .275 Rigby. Corbett was noted for taking the infamous "man-eating tigress of Champawat" a Bengal tigress that was said to have "killed an estimated 436 people before Corbett tracked it down." (Photo: John Rigby & Co)

While the modern Irish Defense Forces have used a wide range of firearms imported into the country and assorted Steyr M1895s, Vetterli-Vitali, Tommy Guns, and ArmaLite Rifles to make a mark on the history of the Northern counties during "The Troubles," at least one gun was still in production domestically as late as the 1960s. 

Old footage of Ireland's only modern gun works, J Kavanagh, in Birr Co Offaly, and the Irish proof house in Dublin recently reemerged. Kavanagh's gun was called "The Fenian" and had a unique sliding lock design, with some 40 made per week in 1968. 

Around the same time as The Fenian was in production, Irish balladeer Larry Cunningham released his ode, The Old Fenian Gun, which probably has no relation but is still a great way to close out this piece. 


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