Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Sack of Cashel, September 1647

The Munster Mutiny

On the 12th of June in 1647, Donough MacCarthy, the Viscount of Muskerry entered the camp of the Irish Confederate Munster army. The Viscount Muskerry was probably the most powerful Confederate leader in Munster and was known to be sympathetic to the powerful Irish Royalist Ormonde. At that time, the Munster army was commanded by Glamorgan, an English Catholic nobleman who had been granted command of the army by the Confederate Supreme council for reasons of political expediency. Glamorgan was not popular, partly because he was English but also because he lacked money to regularly pay the soldiers. Muskerry was unsatisfied with the direction the Irish Confederate Supreme Council was headed under the influence of Rinuccinni and realised that he was in a position to influence the army of Munster and thereby strengthen his hand. He won the army over within an hour. A ceremony was afterwards arranged in which Glamorgan handed over command to Muskerry but this was merely to save face. Muskerry desired to turn his full attention to the politics of the Irish Confederations supreme council, and so immediately after the ceremony, Muskerry resigned in favour of Theobald Taaffe, a nobleman who had joined the Irish Confederates but who was known to be sympathetic to Royalism. Unfortunately for the Confederates, Lord Taaffe would subsequently prove to be one of the more incompetent leaders to command an Irish army during the 1640s.

Inchiquin's Offensive

In April 1647 Murrough O'Brien, the Protestant Baron of Inchiquin replaced Philip Sydney, Lord Lisle as the Parliamentarian Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland as Sydney's one year appointment had by then expired. Because of his Gaelic background O'Brien was not trusted by many Parliamentarians, not least by Lord Lisle, however the latter had achieved little in his time as Lord-Lieutenant and as a result Inchiquin did not need to deal with any serious opposition by the English Parliament.

O'Brien immediately embarked upon a vigorous summer offensive, rapidly capturing Dromana, Cappoquin and Dungarvan in County Waterford to the east. Raiding parties were dispatched northwards against the counties of Limerick and Clare, and Inchiquin next turned his attention to the bountiful County of Tipperary in central Munster. In early September, his forces quickly took the Castle of Cahir. This strong Tipperary castle was well positioned to become a base for the Cork Protestant army, and it was used to raid and devastate the surrounding countryside. The Munster army under Lord Taaffe did not make any serious effort to oppose Inchiquin, probably the result of the political scheming of Muskerry and other powerful Irish lords who hoped to keep the Munster army intact for their own ends. As such, Inchiquin was allowed to make a furthur push eastwards towards the town and ecclesiastical centre of Cashel.

The Attack

Inchiquin had already launched two minor raids against Cashel, and he now had the opportunity to launch a major assault. The Parliamentarian forces first stormed nearby Roche Castle, putting fifty warders to the sword. This attack terrified the local inhabitants of the region, some of whom fled to hiding places, while hundreds of others fled promptly to the rock of Cashel, a stronger place than the town itself. Lord Taaffe had placed six companies in the fortified churchyard that sat upon the rock, and considered the place defensible, though he did himself did not stay to put it to the test, leaving command to the Governor Lieutenant-Colonel Butler.

Arriving with his army at the Rock, Inchiquin called for surrender within an hour. The defenders of the churchyard offered to negotiate, but that was refused, and on the afternoon of the 15th of September the assault commenced. The Parliamentarians were first reminded of earlier atrocities against Protestants, and then began to deploy. The attack was led by around 150 dismounted horse officers (who wore more armour than the foot) with the remainder of the infantry following; troops of horse rode along the flanks of the advancing force to encourage the infantry. The Irish soldiers attempted to drive off the attackers with pikes while the civilians inside hurled rocks down from the walls: in turn the attackers hurled fire-brands into the compound, setting some of the buildings inside on fire. Although many were wounded, the Parliamentarians gradually fought their way over the walls, pushing the garrison into the church.

Initially, the Irish defenders managed to protect the Church, holding off the attackers trying to get through the doors, but the Parliamentarians then placed numerous ladders against the many windows in the church and swarmed the building. For another half an hour fighting raged inside the church, until the depleted defenders retreated up the bell tower. Only sixty soldiers of the garrison remained at this point, and they thus accepted a call to surrender. However, after they had descended the tower and thrown their swords away, all were killed.

The losses amongst the Parliamentarian soldiers were light. One contemporary states that as few as eight Parliamentarians were killed in the attack, apart from another hundred or so injured.

The Sack

In the end all the soldiers (save a single major) and most of the civilians on the Rock were killed by the attackers. The Bishop and Mayor of Cashel along with a few others survived by taking shelter in a secret hiding place. Apart from these a few women were spared, after being stripped of their clothes, and a small number of wealthy civilians were taken prisoner, but these were the exceptions. Overall, close to 1,000 were killed, amongst them Lieutenant-Colonel Butler. Theobald Stapleton, a clergyman who in 1639 published the first religious work in the Irish Gaelic language, was another prominent victim of the atrocity. Afterwards, a witness of the slaughter would record that the bodies in the churchyard were in piles five or six deep.

The slaughter was followed by extensive plunder. There was much of value inside, for apart from pictures, chalices and vestments of the church, many of the slain civilians had also brought their valuables with them. The sword and mace of the mayor of Cashel, in addition to the coach of the Bishop were captured. The plunder was accompanied by acts of iconoclasm, with statues smashed and pictures defaced. The deserted town of Cashel was also torched.


The atrocity at Cashel caused a deep impact in Ireland, as it was the worst single atrocity committed in Ireland since the start of fighting in 1641. Previously, the most infamous massacre amongst the Catholic population was that at Timolin in 1643, when 200 civilians were killed by Ormonde's army, but many more than this were killed at Cashel, and this atrocity was compounded by the fact that the Rock of Cashel was one of the chief holy places of Ireland. The political ramifications in the Irish confederation were also profound, serving to exacerbate the split between the Catholic party headed by Rinuccini and those sympathetic to the Royalist lord Ormonde. The former were enraged by the attack, and desired retribution against Inchiquin and his army, but the Ormondist faction saw the Sack of Cashel and a subsequent raid by Inchiquin's men into Kilkenny as evidence of the futility of defending Ireland without Royalist support. Taaffe was subsequently put under intense pressure by the Confederate leadership to engage Inchiquin, but when he did so at the battle of Knocknanauss in November of the same year the Munster army was destroyed. The divisions amongst the Confederates would subsequently exacerbate, leading to the brief but bloody Irish Confederate Civil War in 1648.


Manning, Roger, Oxford (2006), An Apprenticeship in Arms: The Origins of the British Army 1585-1702
Meehan, C.P (1882), Confederation of Kilkenny
O'Brien, Ivar, Whitegate: Ballinakella (1991), Murrough the Burner
Stevenson, David, Edinburgh: Donald (1980). Alasdair MacColla and the Highland problem in the seventeenth century

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Siege of Charlemont, July-August 1650

Eastern Ulster

The Siege of Charlemont took place in July - August 1650 during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. The fortress of Charlemont in County Armagh, in the north of Ireland, was besieged by Charles Coote’s Parliamentarian army, which was largely composed of soldiers of the New Model Army. The force led by Coote eventually took the town from its Irish defenders, but not before they suffered heavy losses, with some 5-600 Parliamentarian Soldiers being killed during the assault on the formidable citadel. In terms of the number of soldiers killed in battle, The Siege of Charlemont was the second bloodiest engagement fought by the Parliamentarians in Ireland, only surpassed by the Siege of Clonmel.


Charlemont was the first stronghold to be captured in the Irish uprising of 1641, seized by a force led by Felim O'Neill within 24 hours of the outbreak of the rebellion. Built in 1602, the last year of the Nine Years War in Ireland, It was one of the most modern fortifications in Ireland and as such was one of the few strongholds in Northern Ireland to remain in Irish Confederate hands throughout the 1640s.

At the end of 1649, after the storm of Drogheda, a force of New Model Army soldiers under Robert Venables moved into Ulster and linked up with Charles Coote's small army. The combined force conquered eastern Ulster easily, routing the Scottish Royalist Ulster army at Lisnagarvey in December. The only serious opposition to the Parliamentarian army came from Felim O'Neills Ulstermen, who launched a night attack on the Parliamentarian camp, though to little effect.

At the end of 1649, the Irish Ulster army had been momentarily paralysed as a result of the death of Owen Roe O'Neill. In 1650 Heber MacMahon was chosen to lead the Ulster army, and by mid 1650 the force was once again active, pushing into Ulster and threatening the forces under Coote. MacMahon however was a bishop rather than a military man, and at the battle of Scarriffholis he led the Ulster army to its destruction.

The only senior Irish commander to escape Scarriffhollis was Sir Felim O'Neill. Along with a small number of survivors, he fled to Charlemont Fort, the last remaining Irish stronghold in Ulster.

Realising that the fort would be near impossible to capture without heavy artillery, Venables and Coote brought Siege Cannon and Mortars with their army when they commenced their attack in late July.

The Commanders

Charles Coote, who led the mostly English Ulster army, had a savage reputation- during the Parliamentarian offensive in Ulster in late 1649, he exhibited brutal behaviour, committing atrocities not only against Irish Catholics but also against any Scottish Protestants who resisted his advance. After his victory at Scarrifholis, he executed all the soldiers, regardless of rank, who had surrendered to the lower ranking Parliamentarian officers: Even Henry O'Neill, the son of Owen Roe, was put to death. This was considered to be a shocking atrocity, even by the standards of the time. As a Gaelic Irish Catholic, Phelim O'Neill had good enough reason to fear Coote, but O'Neill had also featured prominently in English Propaganda pamphlets during the 1640s as the author of a massacre of Protestants. He was thus hated by many Protestant soldiers in Ireland, and the army surrounding him would therefore be particularly vigilant.

O'Neill did however have a few small points to his advantage. Firstly, the fortress at Charlemont was one of the most modern and toughest fortresses in Ireland. Secondly, Coote's reputation was by now well known, and no Irish Catholic would be mad enough to willingly surrender to him. The defenders of Charlement were thus well aware that they would have little hope of survival if the Parliamentarians captured the fortress. The fighting would invariably prove to be fierce.

The Assault

By early August, the Parliamentarians had managed to batter a breach in the fortifications. Coote then ordered his troops to cut approach trenches up to the walls. On the 8th of August the English prepared to launch a major assault. As the soldiers approached the walls, Coote observed from a safe distance, casually smoking tobacco . Felim O'Neill rallied the entire garrison as well the civilian inhabitants to mount a vigorous defence at the breach- even the women had armed themselves as best they could. The defence was in many respects a repeat of the defence of Clomnel in 1650: Hundreds of English soldiers were killed or maimed, the desperate defenders employing close range gunfire, clubbed muskets and potts of boiling urine to devastating effect. The Parliamentarian Colonel Venables, unlike Coote, fought in the thick of it with his soldiers, and only narrowly escaped with his life. After two hours of savage fighting, the attackers retreated from the breach and back to their lines. After this huge effort the garrison was however exhausted, and had used up almost all of its gunpowder and ammunition. As a result, on August 14 O'Neill requested terms of surrender. Sir Phelim O'Neill demanded hostages from Coote before he would negotiate the surrender. The terms that O'Neill obtained were that he and his men would march out with bag and baggage after their wounds had healed, and proceed to a port where Coote would have ship waiting to carry them overseas. (ftnte Manning pg225) These were a remarkably generous set of terms from Coote: He probably had no other option, for by now few would be willing to surrender to Coote unless under extraordinary conditions were offered.


The fighting at Charlemont was one of the bloodiest conflicts to be fought in Ireland by the Parliamentarians. Although many more soldiers died at the siege of Limerick (1651-52), these deaths were mostly the result of disease. By contrast, almost all the 500 or more soldiers who died at Charlemont were killed in the attempted storm of the fort. Coote bore a great deal of responsibility for the massive casualties he suffered during the siege. Like other Irish Protestant commanders such as Roger Boyle in Cork, he had proven himself to be a ruthless commander on a number of occasions, executing any enemy who fell into his hands. As such, the Ulster Irish defenders were willing to fight to the death.

Felim O'Neills defence of Charlemont, as well as his overall defence of Ulster in 1649-50, was vigorous, a contrast to his often incompetent handling of the early years of the Irish uprising. Although the terms of surrender allowed O'Neill to leave, he tried to remain in Ulster, and was eventually executed.

The fall of the stronghold was another blow to the reputation of Ormond, the overall Royalist commander of the Irish forces. In September the Irish bishops excommunicated any Catholic serving Ormond, and he left Ireland in December.
From a Parliamentarian perspective, the fall of Charlemont completed the English conquest of Ulster and left Sir Charles Coote free to advance on Athlone, the passage to the province of Connacht.

Scot-Wheeler, James (1999). Cromwell in Ireland, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan.

Manning, Roger (2006), An Apprenticeship in Arms: The Origins of the British Army 1585-1702, Oxford

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Portadown Massacre

The Massacre of Portadown occurred in the Irish county of Antrim, in Ulster, during early stages of the Irish Uprising of 1641. Up to 100 mostly English Protestants were killed by a group of armed Irishmen. It was by probably the worst massacre of Protestants to occur during the 1641–42 Irish Uprising; certainly it would become the most notorious.

In November 1641, armed parties of Ulstermen were rounding up British Protestant settlers and marching them to the coast, from which they were forced to board ships to Britain. One such a group of Protestants were imprisoned in a church in Loughall. They had been informed that they were going to be marched eastwards where they were to be expelled to England. The Irish soldiers were said by to be led by either Captain Manus O'Cane or Toole McCann- later accounts of the event differed on this point. The area was technically under the control of Phelim O'Neill, although the massacre which was to occur seems to have been spontaneous in nature. After some time,the English civilians were taken out of the Church and marched to the Portadown bridge over the river Bann. Once on the bridge, the group was stopped. At this point the civilians, threatened by pikes and swords, were forcibly stripped of their clothes. They were then herded off the bridge into the icy cold river waters at swordpoint. Most drowned or died of exposure, although some were said to have been shot by musket-fire as they struggled to stay afloat.

Estimates of the number of those killed varied from less than 100 to over 300.

William Clark's account

In 1642, the Lord Justice of Ireland appointed eight Protestant Clergymen led by Henry Jones, Dean of Kilmore, to take evidence of all robberies and murders that had taken place in 1641. Of all the incidents recorded, the Portadown massacre was the most frequently mentioned.

William Clark was a survivor of the massacre, who managed to escape after paying the sum of 15 pounds to the attackers. During the 1642 depositions, Clark stated that around 100 were killed at the bridge. Of all those involved in the depositions, Clark was one of only ones to have witnessed the massacre, and his figure is generally accepted as being the most credible.

Clark stated that the victims were forced to go onto a bridge, and then stripped of their clothes, before being forced into the river headlong, after which they soon perished. The account by Clark is backed up by the version of the events found in a work by an anonymous British Officer in the regiment of Sir John Clotsworthy. This officer made his own enquiries about the 1641 massacres and concluded that the worst occurred at Portadown. He estimated that up to ninety were killed, a figure close to that given by Clark.

Atrocities in Ulster, 1641

Although the 1641 uprising later became associated with massacres of Protestants, the most common atrocity was what was known as 'stripping': the victims had their clothes torn off them, and were driven away from their homes under threat of violence. This atrocity had occurred in Ireland before the 1641 rebellion: for example, in Munster in 1598 many of the Elizabethan planters suffered this indignity at the hands of rebels. However, the scale of these attacks was far greater in 1641, and a second important point was that the attacks took place in the sub-zero temperatures of winter.

This was the cause of the vast majority of civillian deaths during the early months of the Ulster insurrection. The intent of this kind of attack was obviously to humiliate the victim, though robbery was also a motive, given the relative expense of clothing in the 17th century. Given the scale of the attacks, and the time of year, such acts of mass brutality proved fatal for many thousands of the victims.

The Portadown Massacre should perhaps be viewed in light of this. William Clark's account makes it clear that weapons were not employed in the initial stages of the attack, and also mentions that he was allowed to leave after giving the attackers some money, making it likely that robbery was the initial motive of the attackers rather than bloodshed. The victims were driven naked into to water in a brutal humiliation, perhaps a crude sectarian joke relating to the Catholic sacrament of baptism. The attack was brutal, and can fairly be called an atrocity, but the attack may not have been a premeditated act of mass murder. Having said that, while the incident likely began as robbery and assault, it quickly degenerated into something far more serious. By mid November 1641, the insurgency in Ulster had lost momentum, providing an opportunity for the British Planter forces to regroup and counter-attack. In this tense environment, a single bloody minded individual would have been more than capable of inciting a crowd to deadly violence.

The Portadown Ghosts

Not all of the accounts contained in the depositions were as reliable as that of Clark. One woman, called Elizabeth Price, claimed to have seen at the spot of the massacre a spirit in the shape of a woman: 'her eyes seemed to twinkle in her head and her skin as white as snow...divulged and then repeated the word "Revenge, Revenge, Revenge". It continued to appear for some time and only disappeared when the settler force reached the town.

The message of these stories is readily apparent. Over two hundred years later, such fantastical accounts would lead sceptical Victorians such as the historian Robert Dunlop to argue that the depositions were 'worthless' as evidence. Dunlop's idea was taken up by later by a Catholic school teacher, Thomas Fitzpatrick, who shed a great deal of ink attempting to debunk allegations of atrocities such as that at Portadown. Modern historians generally accept that there were in fact a number of atrocities in Ulster in 1641, though the scepticism of Dunlop and Fitzpatrick regarding much of the evidence was not entirely misplaced.


The atrocity at Portadown was used to support the view that the Irish Uprising was a conspiracy to massacre all of the Protestant inhabitants of Ireland. The atrocity featured prominently in Parliamentarian propaganda works in the 1640s, most famously by John Temple's The Irish Rebellion of 1646, an inflammatory work which would go on to be published at least ten times between 1646 and 1812. The immediate goal of this propaganda was to isolate King Charles, who many prominent English Protestants such as John Pym viewed as being sympathetic to Irish Catholics. In the longer term, accounts of the massacre strengthened the resolve of many Parliamentarians to launch a reconquest of Ireland, which they did in 1649. For about a century after the Williamite wars, infamous massacres such as that at Portadown were often cited as a justification for the discriminatory Penal Laws in Ireland. Invariably, much of the research published on the massacre within the past two centuries has been coloured by bias: writers with nationalist sympathies such as FitzPatrick have tended to be predictably sceptical about such claims of atrocity, whereas writers with Protestant sympathies (Geoffrey Robertson is a recent example) regularly display an uncritical acceptance of propagandist sources relating to such atrocities.


MacCuarta, Brian, Ulster 1641, Institute of Irish Studies, Queen's University of Belfast, 1993
Connolly, S.J, Divided Kingdom Ireland 1630-1800, Oxford University Press,2008
Robertson, Geoffrey, The Tyrannicide Brief, London, Vintage Books, 2006
E.H, The History of the Warr of Ireland from 1641 to 1653, McGlashan & Gill Dublin, 1873 ed.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Battles of the Eleven Years War

The Series of conflicts in Ireland between 1641 and 1643 are collectively known as the Eleven Years War ('The Irish Confederate Wars' is another name sometimes given to these wars; though to be exact the Confederate Wars only began in October 1642 and ended in 1649, shortly before the Cromwellian invasion.) This conflict was probably the most devastating war to be fought in Ireland- William Petty, the 17th Century English scholar, estimated that the war resulted in the deaths of 600,000 people- this estimate is thought by modern historians to be on the high side, but the lowest modern estimate is around 200,000 killed, with somewhere in between these two extremes being the mainstream view.

Despite the magnitude of this conflict, outside of Ireland it is surprisingly hard to get information on this conflict: the English Civil War, a considerably smaller contemporary conflict has been written about in far greater detail. The general lack of interest in this major Irish war is obviously unjustified, and I am attempting to generate a clearer picture of the conflict than can be found in the small amount of available material on the war.

Battles of the Eleven Years War

Below is an attempt to list the major battles of the Eleven Years War. There were three phases of the war- the initial Uprising (lasting approximately 12 months, from October 1641 until the foundation of the Confederation of Kilkenny in October 1642); the Irish Confederate Wars of the 1640's, and finally the Cromwellian Wars (or Cromwellian Invasion) which dates from early 1649 when the Irish Confederates entered into an alliance with the Royalist supporters of Charles I. This was a major threat to the Parliamentarian regime in England, and thus in August 1649 a major invasion into Ireland was orchestrated by Cromwell.

Defining which conflicts can be called 'battles' is not clear cut; there is a very Encyclopedia Britannica definition which describes a battle as an engagement in which over 1,000 soldiers are killed, but this description is obviously too neat (by this definition the engagement at Valmy in 1792- one of the more important conflicts of the French Revolutionary wars- would not be classed as a battle, despite involving tens of thousands of soldiers). In my view the number of soldiers engaged in the overall fight is of more importance: therefore the list below comprises battles in which around 1,000 soldiers altogether were engaged.

The dates below conform to the Julian Calender: as was the case in Britain the Greogorian calender was not widely used in Ireland until the 18th century.

The Irish Uprising: October 1641- October 1642

  • November 1641- Battle of Lisburn

  • November 1641- Battle of Julianstown

  • December 1641-March 1642- First Siege of Drogheda

  • January 1642- Battle of Swords

  • March 1642- Siege of Carrickmines

  • March(?) 1642- Siege of Cork

  • April 1642- Battle of Kilrush

  • May 1642- First Siege of Limerick

  • July 1642- Battle of Liscarrol

  • August 1642- First Siege of Galway

  • The Confederate Wars: October 1642- January 1649

  • November 1642- Battle of Bandonbridge

  • February 1643- Battle of Rathconnell

  • March 1643- Siege of Timolin

  • March 1643- Siege of New Ross

  • March 1643- Battle of Ross/Ballibeg

  • May 1643- Battle of Clones

  • June 1643- Battle of Funcheon Ford

  • September 1643- Battle of Portlester

  • May(?) 1644- Battle of Finae Bridge

  • Janurary-March 1645- Siege of Duncannon

  • June 1646- Battle of Benburb

  • August 1647- Battle of Dungans Hill

  • September 1647- Siege of Cashel

  • November 1647- Battle of Knocknanauss

  • July 1649- Raid of Castletown

  • The Cromwellian Wars: 1649-1653

  • March- August 1649- Siege of Derry

  • August 1649- Battle of Rathmines

  • September 1649- Second Siege of Drogheda

  • October 1649- Siege and Sack of Wexford

  • November 1649- Siege of Waterford

  • November 1649- Battle of Arklow

  • December 1649- Battle of Lisnagarvey

  • March 1650- Siege of Kilkenny

  • April - May 1650- Siege of Clomnel

  • May 1650- Battle of Macroom

  • June 1650- Battle of Ticroghan

  • June 1650- Battle of Scarrfholis

  • July 1650- Siege of Charlemont

  • August 1650-Siege of Athlone

  • October 1650- Battle of Meelick Island

  • October 1650- October 1651- Second Siege of Limerick

  • January 1651- Raid on Balenoy

  • March 1651- Siege of Finea

  • June 1651- Siege of Gourtenshegore

  • July 1651- Battle of Knocknaclashy

  • August 1651- May 1652- Second Siege of Galway

  • February 1652- Raid of FitzPatrick Fort

  • Sunday, September 14, 2008

    Battle of Ticroghan, June 1650

    Castle Ticroghan

    The castle of Ticroghan, also known as Queen Mary's Castle, was located on a bog-island in Westmeath, not far from Trim, in central Ireland. The castle was of only a few miles from the main road from Dublin to Athlone, a strategically important town acting as a gateway to the Province of Connaught. During the conflict of the 1640s it was described as a formidable castle- A number of strongholds in Ireland, such as Charlemont Fort in Ulster had been modified in the cannon-proofed Renaissance manner and it is possible that this was also the case with Ticroghan. That said, it was located in a desolate and boggy region in the heart of Ireland so the impregnable nature of the castle may have simply been due to the fact that it was problematic to get heavy cannon anywhere near it. Owen Roe O'Neill frequently employed the castle as an operations base for the Ulster army while in the midlands, and his rival Thomas Preston fled to Castle Ticroghan the night after his crushing defeat at Dungans Hill, emphasising the strength of the stronghold.


    By the summer of 1650, Things were looking increasingly dire for the Irish. Cromwell had launched his invasion of Ireland in August 1649, quickly capturing the important towns of Drogheda and Wexford, on the eastern coastline of Ireland. Before the end of the year many towns and strongholds in the south and east were under the control of the English Parliamentarian army. In the same month of Cromwell's arrival a second invader appeared on the opposite side of Ireland: The bubonic plague, brought to the town of Galway via a ship from Spain, would soon go on to decimate the population of many parts of the country. Despite these twin disasters, in mid 1650 the Irish still controlled the major towns of Waterford, Galway and Limerick, as well as all of the province of Connaught. A veteran force of several thousand Ulstermen was still active in the North. But the English were starting to threaten central Ireland. Ormond, the royalist overall commander of the Irish forces felt that a major effort was required to check the English advance. Ticroghan, strategically located and containing a considerable number of cannon, had come under threat by the Parliamentarians in May. The powerful Connaught nobleman Clanricarde was appointed to lead a force across the Shannon to relieve the castle, although he himself was not enthusiastic about the operation. Ormond's decision to appoint an outsider seems to have been motivated by a desire to avoid creating jealousies amongst the local Leinster generals, but in the end a general of the Leinster forces, Castlehaven, would direct most of the subsequent relief effort. The Connaught soldiers brought across by Clanricarde were however to play an important role in the following engagement.

    English forces led by Reynolds and Hewson appeared before the Castle in May, but the Parliamentarian commander Hewson led some English companies away to the Wicklow Mountains to hunt the Irish partisans known as tories. This weakened the besieging force, leaving it around two and a half thousand strong.

    The Connaught forces of Clanricarde and the army of Castlehaven planned to rendezvous at Tyrellspass in Westmeath. The combined force was 2,600 strong, including 800 horse. The two leaders realised that given the reduced size of the Parliamentarian force, their united army might have a chance to come to the castles relief.

    The Commanders

    Ulick Burke, the earl of Clanricarde was the most powerful landholder in Connaught and amongst the most influential figures in Ireland. In contrast to all other Catholic aristocrats in Ireland in the 1640s, Burke never joined the Confederation of Kilkenny. In appearance Burke had an intimidating tall physique, but he was possessed of a sickly nature which compromised his ability as a military commander.

    James Tuchet, the English born Earl of Castlehaven was by contrast a vigorous tactical leader. With the exception of Owen Roe O'Neill, he proved to be the only Irish Confederate leader able to win major set-piece battles during the 1640s. Dubbed the 'little lord' by some Irish Confederates, on account of his short stature, he was distrusted because of his Royalist sympathies.

    John Hewson was a former shoemaker who managed to work his way up the ranks of the Parliamentarian army during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s. Known for his religious extremism, Hewson became infamous as one of the signatories of the death warrant of King Charles in 1649. Later in the same year, Hewson travelled with Cromwell's army to Ireland, playing a part in the brutal capture of Drogheda in September. Later the same month, he was appointed as governor of Dublin by Cromwell, which in part explains his decision to lead hundreds of soldiers from the castle Ticroghan to pursue the Wicklow tories. This left Reynolds alone to conduct the defence of the Siege at the time of the Irish push. John Reynolds was a young man (only 25 at the time of the battle) but he was by no means green, being a veteran of the battle of Rathmines and possessing several years of fighting experience.

    The Battle

    In 18 June Clanricarde and Castlehaven had arrived with their force of several thousand strong at Tyrellspass. Observation revealed that the castle was surrounded by 1,400 English Infantry and 1,200 cavalry, many of them entrenched behind palisades or crude earthworks. The English Cavalry was a major danger to the Irish, who were mostly infantry, but much of the terrain around Ticroghan was boggy ground upon which cavalry would have difficulty. A council of war drew up a plan for the relief of the castle. All the infantry, as well as 300 of the dismounted cavalry would advance through the bog and attempt to breakthrough the besieging force. Each soldier was given packages of gunpowder and food to carry about their person in addition to their weapons. Shortly before the battle Clanricarde withdrew, on the grounds of poor health, and thus Castlehaven was left to direct the combined armies.

    On 19 June the Irish column moved into the bog. At a place known as Tocar Gearr, four miles away from the castle the Irish ran into the 2,600 English soldiers deployed in a battle line. After deploying, Castlehaven ordered those cavalry men who had remained behind to distract the enemy at the flank; immediately afterwards the Irish infantry attacked, the Irish left wing (composed of Connaught men under colonel Richard Burke) attacking the English right. Shortly after nightfall Burke's men broke through, the English falling back in an ordered retreat. On the Irish right flank things did not go so smoothly. As the English army became aware of what was happening, a sudden attack was arranged against the Leinster men, led by Thomas Dillon, who made up the Irish right flank. The Irish fell back into the woods and bog. Castlehaven tried to prevent panic taking hold in the Irish centre, but failed. The remaining Irish force was thus soon in retreat. Even so, hundreds of the Irish soldiers on the left flank were able to make it to the safety of the Castle with their packages. On the way they managed to destroy part of the English siege works and capture a cannon.

    In the following few days, the reinforced and encouraged garrison sallied out against the English, killing some soldiers.
    Although the Irish forces were driven off, the battle of Ticroghan can in some regards be considered a small Irish victory, as they had achieved their objective with minimal loss of life: Dr Henry Jones, an English observer in Ireland at the time, records in his notes that only eight Irish soldiers were killed in the battle (though Carte, writing several decades later, put the figure at 40). The number of English soldiers killed is not known, though in both the battle and the siege it is likely that dozens perished. Even so, the English forces were reinforced and Castlehaven and Clanricarde realised by 23 June that further efforts to relieve the castle were hopeless.

    On 25 June Sir Robert Talbot and Lady Fitzgerald surrendered the castle. The terms were lenient, allowing the garrison to march out with their weapons and serve elsewhere in Ireland. Reynolds however did not allow the garrison to take the cannon in the castle with them. There were suggestions at the time that Talbot had treacherously surrendered the castle earlier than needed, as there were some weeks worth of supplies remaining, but these allegations are difficult to substantiate.
    The battle of Tecroghan was a very closely fought affair, with some contemporary sources even suggesting that the Parliamentarians were on the brink of collapse. In the end however, the Irish had lost another important stronghold.

    Only a few days after the battle took place the veteran Ulster army was destroyed at the battle of Scarrifholis, severely denting any prospect of resisting the English conquest.


    Kerrigan, Paul, (1995). Castles and Fortrifications in Ireland, 1485-1945, Collins Press, Cork

    Scot-Wheeler, James (1999). Cromwell in Ireland. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan.

    O'Siochru, Micheal, (2008). God's Executioner- Oliver Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland, Faber & Faber, London

    Lenihan, Padraig, (2001).Confederate Catholics at War, Cork University Press, Cork

    Sunday, September 7, 2008

    Aliph- Introduction

    Inchiquin is a blog page devoted to the much neglected history of Early Modern Ireland. The main focus of the site is the eleven years of war between 1641 and 1653, though natually at times the focus will deviate into other periods if a broader understanding is required. Although at this time the site is a blog page if all goes to plan it will in future be upgraded to a proper webpage in its own right.

    Although there are some very good internet resources for the Early Modern conflicts in England and Scotland to be found, it is hard to find anything devoted to the same era of Irish history. This is despite the fact that the wars in Ireland of this period were larger and more destructive than those of Britain of the same era. The exact reason for this neglect is a matter of debate: Perhaps the recent conflicts in Ireland from 1798 to 1998 have distracted attention from the larger earlier wars of Irish history. At any cost, I would like to make a small attempt to correct this oversight with this page.

    I normally write up and edit articles on Wikipedia, but there are obvious limitations to this. I hope to put up information relevant to to the period in the future: Certainly accounts of battles of the era, particularly the more obscure ones of the period. To begin with I aim to put up one article every few month. Obviously, biographies and overviews of the wars are important also, but I hope to deal with these in the future.

    If nothing goes wrong I'll be gradually updating the page, ideally once a month or more. I've got a couple of digits crossed that I can handle this (to be honest, massive) project.

    Thanks for your attention, and I hope you check in again some time .

    Patrick F