gal·​low·​glass ˈga-lō-ˌglas How to pronounce gallowglass (audio)
: a mercenary or retainer of an Irish chief
: an armed Irish foot soldier

Word History


borrowed from Irish gallóglach "soldier from a Scottish clan in the service of an Irish chief," from gall "Gaul, Scandinavian invader, foreigner" (going back to Middle Irish, borrowed from Latin Gallus "a gaul") + óglach "young man, warrior, soldier," going back to Middle Irish óclach, óglaech, originally derivative (probably after echlach "messenger, attendant," midlach "man incapable of bearing arms, coward") of óc "young," going back to Old Irish óac, going back to Celtic *yowanko- (whence also Welsh ieuanc "young," Breton yaouank), going back to Indo-European *h2i̯̯u-h2n-ḱo- — more at young entry 1

Note: The final -ss in the English form is difficult to explain. It may be an English plural -s added superfluously to the Irish plural gallóglaigh, though one would expect this to be evident in early use of gallowglass as a plural. The apparent first known occurrence of the word, however, is galloglasseis, which already shows a singular galloglas(s) as the base form.

First Known Use

circa 1515, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of gallowglass was circa 1515

Dictionary Entries Near gallowglass

Cite this Entry

“Gallowglass.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Sep. 2023.

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