seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Battle of Glenmalure

The Battle of Glenmalure (Irish: Cath Ghleann Molúra) takes place in Glenmalure, a steep U-shaped glacial valley in County Wicklow that is surrounded by forests and bogs, on August 25, 1580, during the Desmond Rebellions. A Catholic army of united Irish clans from the Wicklow Mountains led by Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne and James Eustace, 3rd Viscount Baltinglass of the Pale, defeat an English army under Arthur Grey, 14th Baron Grey de Wilton, at Clan O’Byrne‘s mountain stronghold of Glenmalure.

Grey had landed in Ireland with reinforcements from England to put down the rebellion. His strategy is to meet O’Byrne’s threat to the English heartland of Dublin and the Pale by attacking through the highlands to the south of the city. Against the advice of veteran commanders, he chooses to lead his army (around 3,000 strong) through lowland Kildare and into the Wicklow Mountains, with the aim of taking the fastness at Balinacor in the Glenmalure Valley.

While climbing the steep slopes of the valley, the inexperienced English soldiers are ambushed by the Irish who were hiding in the woods. The English are sniped at for a long period of time before their discipline collapses and they turn and flee down the valley. It is at this point that most of their casualties occur, as the Irish leave their cover and fall upon the English with swords, spears, and axes. Hundreds of English soldiers are cut down by the pursuing Irish as they try to escape the field. The remaining English have to fight a rearguard action for several miles until they reach the town of Rathdrum.

Irish sources state that around 800 English soldiers are killed, though the English put their losses at 360 dead. Among those killed is Peter Carew, cousin of his namesake colonist who had made claims to, and won, large tracts of land in southern Ireland. The remainder of the English force retreat to lowland Wicklow and from there to Dublin. However, the following year, when offered terms, most of the Irish soldiers, including O’Byrne, come in and surrender. The exception is Baltinglass, who flees to France.

The battle is commemorated in the folk song “Follow Me Up to Carlow.”

(Pictured: “Battle of Glenmalure 1580 Wicklow,” painting by Val Byrne)


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The Battle of Aughrim

The Battle of Aughrim (Irish: Cath Eachroma), the decisive battle of the Williamite War in Ireland, is fought on July 22, 1691, near the village of Aughrim, County Galway. It is fought between the largely Irish Jacobite army loyal to James II and the forces of William III. The battle is possibly the bloodiest ever fought in the British Isles with 5,000–7,000 people being killed. The Jacobite defeat at Aughrim means the effective end of James’s cause in Ireland, although the city of Limerick holds out until the autumn of 1691.

After heavy mist all morning, Dutch officer Godert de Ginkel, who is leading William’s forces, moves his forces into position by about two o’clock in the afternoon, and both sides cannonade each other for the next few hours. Ginkel planns to avoid fully joining battle until the next day. He orders a probing attack on the Jacobites’ weaker right flank led by a captain and sixteen Danish troopers, followed by 200 of Sir Albert Cunningham‘s 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons. The Jacobite response demonstrates the strength of their defence, but also means that the attackers are no longer able to break off the engagement as Ginkel had planned. A conference is held at about 4:00 p.m. Ginkel still favours withdrawing, but the Williamite infantry general Hugh Mackay argues for an immediate full-scale attack.

The battle is joined in earnest between five and six o’clock. In the centre, the largely English and Scots regiments under Mackay attempt a frontal assault on Major-General William Dorrington‘s infantry on Kilcommadan Hill. The attackers have to contend with waist-deep water and a tenacious Irish defence of the reinforced hedgelines. They withdraw with heavy losses as the Jacobites pursue them downhill, capturing colonels Thomas Erle and Henry Herbert.

On their left centre, the Williamites advance across low ground exposed to Jacobite fire and take a great number of casualties. The Williamite assault in this area, led by St. John’s and Tiffin’s regiments and the Huguenot foot, is driven back into the bog by the Irish foot fighting with clubbed (reversed) muskets. Many of the attackers are killed or drowned. In the rout, the pursuing Jacobites manage to spike a battery of Williamite guns. The Jacobite regiments of the Royal Irish Regiment of Foot Guards and Gordon O’Neill are said to have fought particularly strongly. The musketry is so intense that “the ridges seemed to be ablaze” according to Andreas Claudianus, a Norwegian fighting with the Danish infantry.

The Jacobite right and centre holding firm, Ginkel tries to force a way across the causeway on the Jacobite left, where any attack would have to pass along a narrow lane covered by Walter Burke’s regiment from their positions in Aughrim castle. Four battalions led by Lieutenant General Percy Kirke secure positions near the castle, following which Sir Francis Compton‘s Royal Horse Guards get across the causeway at the third attempt. Dorrington, having earlier withdrawn two battalions of infantry from this area to reinforce the Jacobite centre, are faced only with weak opposition, reaching Aughrim village. While a force of Jacobite cavalry and dragoons under Henry Luttrell have been tasked with covering this flank, their commander orders them to fall back, following a route now known locally as “Luttrell’s Pass.” He is later alleged to have been in the pay of William, though it seems most probable that Luttrell withdrew as he had little or no infantry support. The cavalry regiments of Henri de Massue, Lanier, Langston and Robert Byerley also cross the causeway, attacking Dorrington’s flank.

Most commentators, even those sympathetic to William, judge that the Irish foot fought exceptionally well. Appearing to believe that the battle could be won, General Charles Chalmot de Saint-Ruhe is heard to shout, “they are running, we will chase them back to the gates of Dublin,” before riding across the battlefield to direct the defence against the Williamite cavalry on his left wing. However, as he rides over to rally his cavalry, he pauses briefly to direct the fire of a battery, and is decapitated by a cannonball. His death is said to have occurred around sunset, shortly after eight o’clock.

After Saint-Ruhe’s death the Jacobite leave, devoid of a senior commander, collapse very quickly. The regiment of Horse Guards leave the field almost immediately, followed shortly by the cavalry and dragoon regiments of Luttrell, Dominic Sheldon and Piers Butler. Chevalier de Tessé attempts to head a cavalry counter-attack but is seriously wounded shortly afterwards. The Jacobite left flank is now exposed. Mackay and Thomas Tollemache also attack again in the centre, pushing the Jacobites towards the hilltop. Burke and his regiment, still holding the castle, are forced to surrender. Most of the infantry remain unaware of Saint-Ruhe’s death, however, and John Hamilton‘s infantry on the Jacobite right continues to counter-attack, fighting the Huguenot foot to a standstill in an area still known locally as the “Bloody Hollow.” At around nine o’clock towards nightfall the Jacobite infantry are finally pushed to the top of Killcommadan hill and broke, fleeing towards a bog in the left rear of their position, while their cavalry retreat towards Loughrea.

Patrick Sarsfield and Butler briefly try to organise a rearguard action but as in many battles of the period most of the Jacobite casualties occur in the pursuit, which is ended only by darkness and the onset of mist and rain. The defeated infantry are cut down by the Williamite cavalry as they try to get away, many of them having thrown away their weapons in order to run faster.

In addition to the rank and file the Jacobite casualties and prisoners include many of its most experienced infantry officers. The dead include brigadiers Barker, O’Neill and O’Connell, and colonels Moore, Talbot, O’Mahony, Nugent, Felix O’Neil and Ulick Burke, Lord Galway. The two major-generals commanding the Jacobite centre, Hamilton and Dorrington, are both taken prisoner, Hamilton dying of wounds shortly afterwards. Though the killing of prisoners to prevent rescue is a common practice at the time, Jacobite soldiers are accused of having “cut to pieces” colonel Herbert after his capture. One contemporary Jacobite source, Charles Leslie, alleges that about 2,000 Jacobites are killed “in cold blood” with many, including Lord Galway and colonel Charles Moore, killed after being promised quarter.

An eyewitness with the Williamite army, George Story, writes that “from the top of the Hill where [the Jacobite] Camp had been,” the bodies “looked like a great Flock of Sheep, scattered up and down the Countrey for almost four Miles round.”

Estimates of the two armies’ losses vary, but they are extremely heavy overall. It is generally agreed that 5,000–7,000 men were killed at Aughrim. Aughrim has been described as “quite possibly the bloodiest battle ever fought in the British Isles,” but earlier medieval battles, although poorly recorded, may rival this battle in casualty numbers. At the time, the Williamites claimed to have lost only 600 and to have killed fully 7,000 Jacobites. Some recent studies put the Williamite losses as high as 3,000, but they are more generally given as between 1,000–2,000, with 4,000 Jacobites killed. Another 4,000 Jacobites deserted, while Ginkel recorded 526 prisoners taken of all ranks. While Ginkel had given word to Dorrington that the captives would be treated as prisoners of war, general officers were instead taken to the Tower of London as prisoners of state, while the majority of the rank and file were incarcerated on Lambay Island where many died of disease and starvation.

Aughrim is the decisive battle of the conflict. The Jacobites lost many experienced officers, along with much of the army’s equipment and supplies. The remnants of the Jacobite army retreats to the mountains before regrouping under Sarsfield’s command at Limerick. Many of their infantry regiments are seriously depleted. The city of Galway surrenders without a fight after the battle, on advantageous terms, while Sarsfield and the Jacobites’ main army surrender shortly afterwards at Limerick after a short siege.


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Death of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde

James Butler, 12th Earl and 1st Duke of Ormonde, dies on July 21, 1688 at the Kingston Lacy estate near Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England. An Anglo-Irish Protestant, he is the leading agent of English royal authority in Ireland during much of the period from the beginning of the English Civil War (1642–51) to the Glorious Revolution (1688–89).

Butler is born at Clerkenwell, London on October 19, 1610, into the prominent Butler family, the eldest child of Thomas Butler and his wife Elizabeth Poyntz. He grows up in England and succeeds to the earldom of Ormonde in 1633. That same year he begins his active career in Ireland by offering his services to Lord Deputy of Ireland Thomas Wentworth, later Earl of Strafford. Upon the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 in Ireland, he is appointed a lieutenant general in the English army. He defeats the rebels of the Catholic Confederacy at Kilrush, Munster on April 15, 1642 and at New Ross, Leinster on March 18, 1643. Those triumphs, however, do not prevent the confederates from overrunning most of the country.

Butlers’s attempts to conclude a peace are blocked by a Catholic faction that advocates complete independence for Ireland. The situation deteriorates further and, in July 1647, he departs from Ireland, leaving the Protestant cause in the hands of the parliamentarians, who had defeated King Charles I in the First English Civil War (1642–46).

Returning to Ireland in September 1648, Butler concludes a peace with the confederacy in January 1649. He then rallies Protestant royalists and Catholic confederates in support of Charles II, son and successor of Charles I. For several months most of Ireland is under his control. But the parliamentarian general Oliver Cromwell lands at Dublin in August 1649 and swiftly conquers the country for Parliament. Butler flees to France and becomes one of Charles II’s closest advisers at his court-in-exile in Paris.

When Charles II returns to England in the Restoration of 1660, Butler, who had urged constitutional rather than military rule, is made commissioner for the treasury and the navy. Appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1662, he makes vigorous attempts to encourage Irish commerce and industry. Nevertheless, his enemies at court persuade Charles to dismiss him in 1669. He is restored to royal favour in 1677 and is again appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Although he is created a duke in the English peerage in 1682, he is recalled from Ireland in 1684 as a result of new intrigues at Charles’s court and because of the determination of James, Duke of York, to strengthen his supporters in Ireland.

Butler dies on July 21, 1688 at the Kingston Lacy estate, Dorset. He is buried in Westminster Abbey on August 4, 1688. His eldest son, Thomas, 6th Earl of Ossory, predeceases him, but Ossory’s eldest son James succeeds as 2nd Duke of Ormonde (1665–1745).

(Pictured: “James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde,” oil on canvas by William Wissing, National Portrait Gallery)


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Birth of Thomas Butler, 6th Earl of Ossory

Vice Admiral Thomas Butler, 6th Earl of Ossory, KG, PC, PC (Ire), Irish soldier and politician, is born on July 8, 1634 at Kilkenny Castle. He is the eldest son of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond, and Elizabeth Preston. He predeceases his father and therefore never becomes duke.

When Butler is born, his father is then the 12th Earl of Ormond but is raised to marquess and duke. His family, the Butler dynasty, is Old English and descends from Theobald Walter, who had been appointed Chief Butler of Ireland by King Henry II in 1177. His mother is a second cousin once removed of his father as she is a granddaughter of Black Tom, 10th Earl of Ormond. Her father, however, is Scottish, Richard Preston, 1st Earl of Desmond, a favourite of James I. Both parents are Protestants. They married on Christmas Day 1629.

Butler is one of ten siblings, eight brothers and two sisters, but five of the sons die in childhood. As the eldest living son, he is the heir apparent and is styled with the corresponding courtesy title, which at first is Viscount Thurles but changed to Earl of Ossory when his father becomes marquess in 1642. His early years are spent in Ireland until 1647 when he accompanies his father to England. In 1648 his father renews his support for the royalist cause and he and his son have to flee to France, arriving in Caen in February 1648. Lady Ormond also moves to Caen, where she arrives on June 23, 1648 with his siblings.

Butler is an accomplished athlete and a good scholar. Having come to London in 1652 he is rightly suspected of sympathising with the exiled royalists, and in 1655 is jailed by Oliver Cromwell. After his release about a year later he goes into exile to the Netherlands where Charles II has his exile court at the time.

On November 17, 1659, while in exile, Butler marries Emilia van Nassau, the second daughter of Louis of Nassau, Lord of De Lek and Beverweerd. They have eleven children, including two sons: James (1665–1745), who becomes the 2nd Duke of Ormonde in 1688; Charles (1671–1758), who becomes the de jure 3rd Duke of Ormonde following his elder brother’s attainder in 1715; Elizabeth (died 1717), who marries William Stanley, 9th Earl of Derby in 1673; Amelia (died 1760), who inherits the estates of her brother Charles and never marries; and Henrietta (died 1724), who marries Henry de Nassau d’Auverquerque, 1st Earl of Grantham.

Butler accompanies Charles II back to England in 1660. In 1661 he becomes a member of both the English and the Irish houses of commons, representing in the former Bristol and Dublin University in the latter.

In 1662 Butler is called to the Irish House of Lords under a writ of acceleration as the Earl of Ossory. His father holds the title “5th Earl of Ossory” as one of his subsidiary titles. The acceleration makes Thomas Butler the 6th Earl of Ossory. This is the only substantive title he ever holds, as he predeceases his father and therefore never succeeds to his father’s titles. His eldest son, however, would later become the 2nd Duke of Ormond and the 7th Earl of Ossory.

Butler holds several military appointments: lieutenant-general of the army in Ireland (appointed in 1665); created an English peer as Lord Butler (in 1666); Lord of the Bedchamber to Charles II (appointed in 1660), a post he holds until his death.

In 1665 a fortunate accident allows Butler to take part in the Battle of Lowestoft against the Dutch, and in May 1672, being now in command of a ship, he fights against the same enemies in the Battle of Solebay, serving with great distinction on both occasions. He is partly responsible for this latter struggle, as on March 12, 1672, before war is declared, he attacks the Dutch Smyrna fleet, an action which he greatly regrets later in life. While visiting France in 1672 he rejects the liberal offers made by Louis XIV to induce him to enter the service of France, and returning to England he adds to his high reputation by his conduct during the Battle of Texel in August 1673. From 1677 until 1679, he serves alongside his father as a Lord of the Admiralty.

Butler is intimate with William, Prince of Orange, and in 1677 he joins the allied army in the Netherlands, commanding the British contingent and winning great fame at the siege of Mons in 1678. He acts as deputy for his father, who is Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and in parliament he defends Ormond’s Irish administration with great vigour. In 1680 he is appointed governor of English Tangier, but his death prevents him from taking up his new duties.

Butler dies on July 30, 1680 at Arlington House in London. He is buried provisionally in Westminster Abbey on July 31, 1680. The ceremony of burial is performed belatedly on November 13, 1680. Some say Butler’s body is later taken to Ireland and reburied in the family vault in St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. James, his eldest son, succeeds him as the 7th Earl of Ossory and in 1688 becomes the 2nd Duke of Ormond.

One of Butler’s most intimate friends is John Evelyn, who eulogises him in his Diary.

(Pictured: “Thomas Butler, Earl of Ossory” by Peter Lely, painting, circa 1678, National Portrait Gallery)


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Execution of Oliver Plunkett, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh

Oliver Plunkett (Irish: Oilibhéar Pluincéid), Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland who is the last victim of the Popish Plot, is executed in Tyburn, London, England, on July 1, 1681. He is beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975, thus becoming the first new Irish saint in almost seven hundred years.

Plunkett is born on November 1, 1625 (earlier biographers give his date of birth as November 1, 1629, but 1625 has been the consensus since the 1930s) in Loughcrew, County Meath, to well-to-do parents with Hiberno-Norman ancestors. A grandson of James Plunket, 8th Baron Killeen (c. 1542-1595), he is related by birth to a number of landed families, such as the recently ennobled Earls of Roscommon, as well as the long-established Earls of Fingall, Lords Louth, and Lords Dunsany. Until his sixteenth year, his education is entrusted to his cousin Patrick Plunkett, Abbot of St. Mary’s, Dublin, and brother of Luke Plunket, 1st Earl of Fingall, who later becomes successively Bishop of Ardagh and of Meath.

As an aspirant to the priesthood, Plunkett sets out for Rome in 1647, under the care of Father Pierfrancesco Scarampi of the Roman Oratory. At this time the Irish Confederate Wars are raging in Ireland. These are essentially conflicts between native Irish Catholics, English and Irish Anglicans and Nonconformists. Scarampi is the Papal envoy to the Catholic movement known as the Confederation of Ireland. Many of Plunkett’s relatives are involved in this organisation.

Plunkett is admitted to the Pontifical Irish College in Rome and proves to be an able pupil. He is ordained a priest in 1654, and deputed by the Irish bishops to act as their representative in Rome. Meanwhile, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–53) had defeated the Catholic cause in Ireland. In the aftermath the public practice of Catholicism is banned and Catholic clergy are executed. As a result, it is impossible for Plunkett to return to Ireland for many years. He petitions to remain in Rome and, in 1657, becomes a professor of theology. Throughout the period of the Commonwealth and the first years of Charles II‘s reign, he successfully pleads the cause of the Irish Catholic Church, and also serves as theological professor at the College of Propaganda Fide. At the Congregation of Propaganda Fide on July 9, 1669 he is appointed Archbishop of Armagh, the Irish primatial see, and is consecrated on November 30 at Ghent by the Bishop of Ghent, Eugeen-Albert, count d’Allamont. He eventually sets foot on Irish soil again on March 7, 1670, as the Stuart Restoration of 1660 had begun on a basis of toleration. The pallium is granted him in the Consistory of July 28, 1670.

After arriving back in Ireland, Plunkett tackles drunkenness among the clergy, writing, “Let us remove this defect from an Irish priest, and he will be a saint.” The Penal Laws had been relaxed in line with the Declaration of Breda in 1660 and he is able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670. A year later 150 students attend the college, no fewer than 40 of whom are Protestant, making this college the first integrated school in Ireland. His ministry is a successful one and he is said to have confirmed 48,000 Catholics over a four-year period. The government in Dublin, especially under the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde (the Protestant son of Catholic parents), extend a generous measure of toleration to the Catholic hierarchy until the mid-1670s.

On the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, to which Plunkett does not agree for doctrinal reasons, the college is closed and demolished. He goes into hiding, travelling only in disguise, and refuses a government edict to register at a seaport to await passage into exile. For the next few years he is largely left in peace since the Dublin government, except when put under pressure from the English government in London, prefer to leave the Catholic bishops alone.

In 1678 the so-called Popish Plot, concocted in England by clergyman Titus Oates, leads to further anti-Catholic action. Archbishop of Dublin Peter Talbot is arrested, and Plunkett again goes into hiding. Despite being on the run and with a price on his head, he refuses to leave his flock. He is arrested in Dublin on December 6, 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle, where he gives absolution to the dying Talbot. He is tried at Dundalk for conspiring against the state by allegedly plotting to bring 20,000 French soldiers into the country, and for levying a tax on his clergy to support 70,000 men for rebellion. Though this is unproven, some in government circles are worried about the possibility that a repetition of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 is being planned and, in any case, this is a convenient excuse for proceeding against Plunkett.

Plunkett is found guilty of high treason in June 1681 “for promoting the Roman faith,” and is condemned to death. Numerous pleas for mercy are made but Charles II, although himself a reputed crypto-Catholic, thinks it too politically dangerous to spare Plunkett.

Plunkett is hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on July 1, 1681, the last Catholic martyr to die in England. His body is initially buried in two tin boxes, next to five Jesuits who had died previously, in the courtyard of St. Giles in the Fields church. The remains are exhumed in 1683 and moved to the Benedictine monastery at Lamspringe, near Hildesheim in Germany. The head is brought to Rome, and from there to Armagh, and eventually to Drogheda where since June 29, 1921 it has rested in St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. Most of the body is brought to Downside Abbey, England, where the major part is located today, with some parts remaining at Lamspringe. On the occasion of his canonization in 1975 his casket is opened and some parts of his body given to the St. Peter’s Church in Drogheda.


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The Battle of Scarrifholis

The Battle of Scarrifholis takes place on June 21, 1650, near Letterkenny, County Donegal, during the Irish Confederate Wars. A force loyal to the Commonwealth of England commanded by Charles Coote defeats the Catholic Ulster Army, commanded by Heber MacMahon, Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher.

Although slightly smaller than their opponents, Coote’s troops consist largely of veterans from the New Model Army and have three times the number of cavalry. After an hour of fighting, the Ulster army collapses and flees, losing most of its men, officers, weapons, and supplies. The battle secures the north of Ireland for the Commonwealth and clears the way to complete the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.

The Irish Confederate Wars, sparked by the Irish Rebellion of 1641, are initially fought between the predominantly Catholic Confederation, and a largely Protestant Irish Royal Army, led by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond. Both claim to be loyal to Charles I, while there is a three sided war in Ulster. The latter involves Royalists, Gaelic Catholic leader Eoghan Ruadh Ó Néill, and Presbyterian militia, known as the Laggan Army, supported by Scots Covenanters under Robert Munro.

In September 1643, Ormond agrees a truce, or ‘Cessation’, with the Confederation, freeing his troops for use in England against Parliament in the First English Civil War. Some Irish Protestants object, and switch sides, including Sir Charles Coote, who becomes Parliamentarian commander in Connacht. Charles surrenders in 1646, while a Covenanter/Royalist uprising is quickly suppressed in the 1648 Second English Civil War. On January 17, 1649, the Confederation allies with Ormond’s Royalists. Following the execution of Charles on January 30, they are joined by the Laggan Army, and remaining Scots troops in Ulster.

There are various reasons for this. The Covenanter government, who provide support for Scottish settlers in Ulster, consider Oliver Cromwell and other leaders of the new Commonwealth of England dangerous political and religious radicals. As Scots, they object to the execution of their king by the English. As Presbyterians, they view monarchy as divinely ordained, making regicide also sacrilegious, and they transfer their allegiance to his son, Charles II of England.

However, this is offset by a split within the Confederation, between Catholic landowners who want to preserve the position prevailing in 1641, and those like Ó Néill, whose estates had been confiscated in 1607. As a result, he agrees a truce with Coote, and refuses to join the Alliance, depriving them of their most effective fighting force in the north. Despite this, by late July, Ormond’s combined Royalist/Confederate army control most of Ireland.

Ormond’s defeat at the Battle of Rathmines on August 2 allows Cromwell and an army of 12,000 to land in Dublin unopposed. After capturing Drogheda on September 11, his main force heads south towards Wexford. Colonel Robert Venables is sent north with three regiments, or around 2,500 men, to take control of Ulster. Munro’s garrisons surrender with minimal resistance, and by the end of September, Venables has occupied Dundalk, Carlingford, Newry, and Belfast. These are accompanied by the mass expulsion of Scots settlers, as punishment for their defection. When Coote captures Coleraine on September 15, he massacres the largely Scottish garrison.

Ó Néill’s death in November 1649 and Coote’s defeat of a combined Royalist/Covenanter force at Lisnagarvey in December leaves the Catholic Ulster army as the only remaining opposition to the Commonwealth in the north. At a meeting at Belturbet on March 18, 1650, Heber MacMahon, Catholic Bishop of Clogher, is appointed in his place. Although a leading figure in the Confederation, MacMahon has no military experience and opposes the alliance with Ormond’s Royalists. His election is essentially a compromise between supporters of Henry, Ó Néill’s son, and his cousin, Felim Ó Néill.

By May 20, MacMahon and his deputy Richard O’Farrell have assembled an army near Loughgall, with 5,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry. They lack both arms and artillery but after Ormond promises to send these from Connacht, they march north, intending to divide Coote’s troops at Derry from those commanded by Venables at Carrickfergus in the east. To do this, MacMahon establishes a line of garrisons with its northern end at Ballycastle, then moves south, intending to cross the River Foyle just below Lifford and maintain contact with Ormond through Ballyshannon.

At this point, Coote has only 1,400 men and seems vulnerable. The Irish cross the river on June 2, beating off an attack by the Commonwealth cavalry and occupy Lifford, where they spend the next two weeks and Coote withdraws to Derry. However, the supplies promised by Ormond fail to arrive, leaving MacMahon short of provisions, while on June 18 Coote is joined by an additional 1,000 infantry under Colonel Roger Fenwick sent from Belfast. At the same time, detaching men for the new garrisons leave MacMahon with around 4,000 infantry and 400 cavalry.

MacMahon now relocates to the Doonglebe/Tullygay Hill overlooking the pass at Scariffhollis, a strong defensive position two miles west of Letterkenny on the River Swilly. When Myles MacSweeney takes his regiment off to recapture his ancestral home at Doe Castle, it leaves the two armies roughly equal in number. However, Coote’s men are well equipped veterans and he has three times the number of cavalry. When he appears at Scariffhollis on June 21, MacMahon’s subordinates advise him not to risk battle. They argue Coote will soon be forced to retreat due to lack of provisions, allowing the Irish to withdraw into Connaught in good order.

For reasons that are still debated, MacMahon ignores this advice and on the morning of June 21, 1650 orders his troops down from their mountain camp to give battle. Coote later reports that although the ground is still “excessive bad,” it allows him to use his cavalry, although the initial fighting is conducted by the opposing infantry.

The Irish army is drawn up in a large mass formation with 200–300 musketeers in front, which may have been due to their shortage of ammunition. The battle begins when Colonel Fenwick leads a detachment of 150 men against the advance guard. After an exchange of fire, during which Fenwick is mortally wounded, it turns into a hand-to-hand struggle. As Coote feeds in reinforcements, the Irish musketeers fall back on their main force, which has no room to manoeuvre and is now subjected to devastating volleys at close range. After an hour of bitter conflict, the Irish are out of ammunition and at this point the Parliamentarian cavalry charges their flank. Thrown into disarray, the Irish break and run.

In most battles, flight is the point at which the defeated suffer the heaviest casualties, exacerbated by the lack of Irish cavalry and the brutal nature of the war. Most of the infantry dies on the battlefield or in the pursuit that follows, including Henry Ó Néill and many officers, some of whom are killed after surrendering. Estimates of the Irish dead range from 2,000 – 3,000, while Coote loses around 100 killed or wounded.

MacMahon escapes with 200 horse but is captured a week later and executed. Phelim Ó Néill and O’Farrell make it to Charlemont, which is besieged by Coote and surrenders on August 14. With the exception of a few scattered garrisons, this ends fighting in the north. Limerick is taken by Hardress Waller in October 1651 and the war ends when Galway surrenders to Coote in May 1652.

(Pictured: A view of the mouth of River Swilly at Lough Swilly, Letterkenny, County Donegal)


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King William III, William of Orange, Arrives in Belfast

William of Orange, King of Holland, and recently declared King William III of England, arrives with his fleet in Belfast on June 14, 1690. He remains for twelve days, departing on June 26. For his part he likes what he sees. “This country is worth fighting for,” he says.

William’s departure from London is held up by parliamentary business until the end of May, when he announces that he can wait no longer and adjourns Parliament. He sets out early in the morning of June 4, reaching Northampton before nightfall. On Sunday, June 8, he attends divine service in Chester Cathedral and goes on to inspect the ships at Hoylake on the tip of the Wirral Peninsula.

For two days the wind is contrary, but on June 11 he embarks on board the yacht “Mary” with a fleet escorted by Sir Cloudesley Shovell‘s squadron. On June 14 the hills of Ireland come in sight and in the afternoon the fleet casts anchor off Carrickfergus. He is rowed ashore in the Rear Admiral’s barge and at about 3:30 p.m. lands at the Old Quay under the shadow of the great Norman Castle.

The Garrison of the Castle has drawn up a Guard of Honour and the townspeople add their applause. The chosen spokesman is a Quaker, whose principles forbid him to doff his hat, or use such titles as Sir and Majesty. He gets around the difficulty by taking off his hat and laying it on a stone and then stepping forward and saying “William, thou art welcome to thy Kingdom” which pleases the King so much that he replies, “You are the best bred gentleman I have met since I came to England.” With these words he mounts his horse and sets off for Belfast.

Halfway along the shore is the little port of Whitehouse, where most of the army disembarks. The Commander-in-Chief, Frederick Schomberg, 1st Duke of Schomberg, and his senior commanders are waiting here to welcome the King. To cover the disembarkation, earthworks have been thrown up by the engineers at Fort William and garrisoned by troops ready for action.

In 1690 Belfast consists of about 300 houses in five streets. It has two churches, the Parish Church, where St. George’s Church still stands in the High Street, and the Presbyterian Meeting House in Rosemary Lane. The town had been surrounded by a rampart in 1642 and had been captured by Colonel Robert Venebles for Oliver Cromwell after a four-day siege and an assault on the North Gate in 1649.

It is at the North Gate that King William enters Belfast where North Street now crosses Royal Avenue. Here he is welcomed by the magistrates and burgesses in their robes and by the Rev. George Walker, now Bishop-elect of Derry. A Royal Salute is fired from the Castle and is echoed and re-echoed by the guns which Schomberg had placed at wide intervals for the purpose of conveying signals from post to post. Wherever it is heard it is known that King William has come. Before midnight all the heights of Antrim and Down are blazing with bonfires.

The next day being Sunday, William attends church at the Corporation Church, now St. George’s Church. On Monday, June 16, addresses of loyalty are presented on behalf of the Church of Ireland and Presbyterian Church clergy, the civic authorities of the city of Londonderry, the town of Belfast and by the Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace and Gentlemen of the Counties of Down and Antrim. The next two days are spent in military preparation.

In the previous season Schomberg had conducted a slow and cautious campaign but William says he has not come to Ireland to let the grass grow under his feet. He orders a general muster of the army in the Parish of Aghaderg which includes Scarvagh and on Thursday, June 19, begins his southward march from Belfast Castle.

The line of march continues along Upper Malone by the Old Coach Road and past the ruins of both Drumbeg and Lambeg Parish Churches which had been burned down in 1641. William reaches Schomberg’s headquarters in Lisburn Castle for lunch on the same day that he left Belfast Castle. The afternoon and evening are spent inspecting troops on Blaris Moor, and then on to Hillsborough Castle for the night.

The cavalcade moves on through the little round hills of County Down, crosses the Upper Bann between Huntly and Ballievey by ford over the hill of Banbridge and on to the rendezvous on the north west of Loughbrickland.

After the disappointments of the previous season and the appalling loss of life through disease, Schomberg had dispersed his army into winter quarters all over Ulster. The Derry and Enniskillen men had gone home to pick up the threads of their lives. Now the farmers among them have the crop in and are recalled to the colours and ready to be reviewed. There are four regiments of Enniskillen men – Wynns, Tiffins, Lloyds and Cunninghams, one of foot and three of horse. There is only one regiment of Derry men, St. John’s, commanded by Mitchelburne with Rev. George Walker as chaplain.

On June 22, William sits in the saddle for hours reviewing his 36,000 men. Marching past are 10,000 Danes, some of whom came from Norway and Sweden, and even Finland, 7,000 Dutch and Brandenburgers, 2,000 French Huguenots, 11,000 English and Scots, 800 Derrymen, 4,500 Inniskilleners and two companies from Bandon, County Cork.

On June 24, an advance party reaches beyond Newry to the edge of Dundalk and brings intelligence that the deposed King James II has fallen back on Ardee. The following day the main army advances to Newry and camps on the side of a hill. On June 25, with the King at their head, wearing an Orange colour sash, they go through the Moyry Gap and pass out of Ulster en route to the Boyne.

(From: “History of Orangeism: King William in Ulster,” Museum of Orange Heritage, http://www.orangeheritage.co.uk)


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The Battle of Benburb

The Battle of Benburb takes place on June 5, 1646 during the Irish Confederate Wars, the Irish theatre of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It is fought between the Irish Confederation under Owen Roe O’Neill, and a Scottish Covenanter and Anglo-Irish army under Robert Monro. The battle ends in a decisive victory for the Irish Confederates and ends Scottish hopes of conquering Ireland and imposing their own religious settlement there.

The Scots Covenanters land an army in Ulster in 1642 to protect the Scottish settlers there from the massacres that follow the Irish Rebellion of 1641. They land at Carrickfergus and link up with Sir Robert Stewart and the Laggan Army of Protestant settlers from County Donegal in northwest Ulster. The Covenanters clear northeastern Ulster of Irish rebels by 1643 but are unable to advance south of mid-Ulster, which is held by Owen Roe O’Neill, the general of the Irish Confederate Ulster army.

In 1646, Monro leads a force composed of Scottish Covenanter regiments and Ulster settlers armies into Confederate-held territory. According to some accounts, this is the first step in a drive to take the Confederates’ capital at Kilkenny. Other sources say it is only a major raid. The combined force is about 6,000 strong. Monro has ten regiments of infantry, of whom six are Scottish and four are English or Anglo-Irish, and 600 Ulster Protestant cavalry. Stewart and the Laggan Army are slated to join Monro’s force in the attack, however, on the day of the battle the Laggan Army is in Clogher, nearly 30 kilometres away. O’Neill, who is a very cautious general, had previously avoided fighting pitched battles. However, he has just been supplied by the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, with muskets, ammunition and money with which to pay his soldiers’ wages. This allows him to put over 5,000 men into the field, an army slightly smaller than his enemy’s. The Covenanters have six cannon, whereas the Confederates have none.

Monro assumes that O’Neill will try to avoid his army and has his soldiers march 24 kilometres to intercept the Irish force at Benburb, in modern south County Tyrone. Gerard Hayes-McCoy writes, “many of them must have been close to exhaustion before the battle began.” Monro’s men draw up with their backs to the River Blackwater, facing O’Neill’s troops who are positioned on a rise.

The battle begins with Monro’s artillery firing on the Irish position, but without causing many casualties. Monro’s cavalry then charges the Irish infantry, but are unable to break the Confederates’ pike and musket formation. When this attack fails, O’Neill orders his infantry to advance, pushing the Monro’s forces back into a loop of the river by the push of pike. It is noted that the Irish pikes have longer shafts and narrower heads than those of their opponents, meaning that they outreach them and are “better to pierce.” At this point, the fatigue of Monro’s troops is apparent as they are gradually pushed back until their formation collapses in on itself. The Confederate infantry then breaks Monro’s disordered formation with a musket volley at point-blank range and falls in amongst them with swords and scians (Irish long knives). Monro and his cavalry flee the scene, as, shortly after, does his infantry. A great many of them are cut down or drowned in the ensuing pursuit. Monro’s losses are estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 men, killed or wounded. The Irish casualties are estimated to be 300.

O’Neill’s victory means that the Covenanters are no longer a threat to the Confederates, but they remain encamped around Carrickfergus for the rest of the war. O’Neill does not follow up his victory but takes his army south to intervene in the politics of the Irish Confederation. In particular, he wants to make sure that the treaty the Supreme Council of the Confederates has signed with the English Royalists will not be ratified.

The battle is commemorated in the ballad “The Battle of Benburb.”


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Death of James Bronterre O’Brien, Chartist Leader, Reformer & Journalist

James Bronterre O’Brien, Irish Chartist leader, reformer and journalist, dies of complications from bronchitis on December 23, 1684.

O’Brien is born near Granard, County Longford, in 1804 or 1805. He goes to a local church school, where one of his teachers recognises his intellectual abilities and arranges for him to be educated at the progressive Lovell Edgeworth School. In 1822 he proceeds to Trinity College, Dublin, where he wins several academic prizes including the Science Gold Medal. After studying law at King’s Inns, he moves to England in 1829 with the intention of becoming a lawyer in London.

In London he joins the Radical Reform Association where he meets Henry Hunt, William Cobbett, Henry Hetherington and other leaders of the struggle for universal suffrage. In 1836 he joins the London Working Men’s Association.

O’Brien begins contributing articles to Henry Hetherington’s Poor Man’s Guardian. He signs these articles with the pseudonym ‘Bronterre’ and he eventually adopts it as his middle name. He works very closely with Hetherington and when he is imprisoned for publishing an unstamped newspaper, O’Brien takes over the editorship of Poor Man’s Guardian. He and Hetherington also collaborate on other unstamped newspapers such as The Destructive and the London Dispatch. In 1837 he begins publishing Bronterre’s National Reformer. In an attempt to avoid paying stamp duty, the journal includes essays rather than ‘news items.’ During this period, he and Hetherington lead the struggle against the stamp duty and are consistent in their arguments that working people need cheap newspapers that contain political information.

O’Brien is influenced by the socialist writer François-Noël Babeuf, who had been executed during the French Revolution. In 1836 he begins publishing translations of Babeuf’s work in the Poor Man’s Guardian. He also includes Filippo Buonarroti‘s account of Babeuf and the Conspiracy of Equals. He becomes fascinated with the history of radicalism and begins work on books on Maximilien Robespierre, the French Revolution and the English Commonwealth. However, the authorities raid his house in 1838 and seize his manuscripts and the projects are never completed.

In 1838 O’Brien adds his support for a more militant approach to winning the vote that is being advocated by Feargus O’Connor and George Julian Harney through the London Democratic Association. However, he, unlike O’Connor, refuses to support the use of violence to achieve universal suffrage. He argues that the Chartists should adopt a policy that is midway between the petitioning supported by William Lovett and the Moral Force Chartists, and the violence being threatened by O’Connor’s Physical Force group.

After Bronterre’s National Reformer ceases publication, O’Brien works for O’Connor’s Northern Star. His articles play an important role in increasing the circulation of what had become the most important of the radical newspapers. As well as writing for the Northern Star, he also finds time to publish his own newspaper, The Operative.

O’Brien continues to be active in the Chartist movement and in 1840 he is arrested and charged with making a seditious speech in Manchester. He is convicted of sedition and sentenced to eighteen months in Lancaster Prison. When he is released from prison he finds it difficult to continue working with Feargus O’Connor. The two men disagree over the issue of physical force. Another source of dispute concerns parliamentary elections. O’Brien favours the idea of putting up Chartist candidates whereas O’Connor prefers the tactic of putting pressure on the Whig government by threatening to vote for Tory candidates. He is involved in standing Chartist candidates against Government Ministers in key seats, particularly in standing against Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston in Tiverton.

O’Brien finally breaks with O’Connor when, along with Henry Vincent and Robert George Gammage, he joins the Complete Suffrage Union. He continues to publish newspapers. He joins with his old friend Henry Hetherington to revive the Poor Man’s Guardian in 1843 and this is followed by the National Reformer in 1844. These newspapers are not a financial success and by May 1847, both papers cease publication.

After the failure of these two newspapers, O’Brien concentrates on writing for other publications such as Reynold’s Weekly Newspaper and the Glasgow Sentinel. He also gives public lectures and in 1851 he opens the Eclectic Institute in Denmark Street, Soho, London, where adult education classes are offered in English, French, science and mathematics.

By the 1850s O’Brien’s poverty begins to damage his health. He suffers from bronchitis and his Chartist friends attempt to raise money in recognition of the great sacrifices that he had made in the struggle to win universal suffrage and the freedom of the press. However, the damage to his health is so bad that he spends his last years bed-ridden. He dies on December 23, 1864, and is buried in Abney Park Cemetery.


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The Arrest of Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh

Oliver Plunkett,  Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, is accused of instigating the Popish Plot and arrested on December 6, 1679. He is the last victim of the Popish Plot.

Plunkett is born on November 1, 1625 in Loughcrew, County Meath, to parents of Hiberno-Norman ancestors. Until his sixteenth year, his education is entrusted to his cousin Patrick Plunkett, Abbot of St. Mary’s, Dublin, and brother of Luke Plunkett, 1st Earl of Fingall, who later becomes successively Bishop of Ardagh and of Meath. As an aspirant to the priesthood, he sets out for Rome in 1647.

Plunkett is admitted to the Pontifical Irish College in Rome and proves to be an able pupil. He is ordained a priest in 1654, and deputed by the Irish bishops to act as their representative in Rome. Meanwhile, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–1653) has defeated the Roman Catholic cause in Ireland. As a result, it is impossible for Plunkett to return to Ireland for many years so he petitions to remain in Rome. At the Congregation of Propaganda Fide on July 9, 1669, he is appointed Archbishop of Armagh and is consecrated on November 30 at Ghent. He returns to Ireland on March 7, 1670, as the English Restoration of 1660 has begun on a basis of toleration.

Plunkett sets about reorganising the ravaged Roman Church and builds schools both for the young and for clergy. The Penal Laws have been relaxed in line with the Declaration of Breda in 1660 and he is able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670, which becomes the first Catholic-Protestant integrated school in Ireland.

On the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, to which Plunkett does not agree for doctrinal reasons, the college is closed and demolished. Plunkett goes into hiding, traveling only in disguise, and refuses a government edict to register at a seaport to await passage into exile.

In 1678 the so-called Popish Plot, concocted in England by clergyman Titus Oates, leads to further anti-Roman Catholic action. Archbishop Peter Talbot of Dublin is arrested, and Plunkett again goes into hiding. Despite being on the run and with a price on his head, he refuses to leave his flock.

Plunkett is arrested in Dublin on December 6, 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle. He is tried at Dundalk for conspiring against the state by allegedly plotting to bring 20,000 French soldiers into the country, and for levying a tax on his clergy to support 70,000 men for rebellion. The trial soon collapses as the prosecution witnesses are themselves wanted men and afraid to appear in court. Plunkett is moved to Newgate Prison in London in order to face trial at Westminster Hall. The first grand jury finds no true bill, but he is not released. The second trial is generally regarded as a serious miscarriage of justice as Plunkett is denied defending counsel.

Archbishop Plunkett is found guilty of high treason in June 1681 “for promoting the Roman faith,” and is condemned to death. Plunkett is hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on July 1, 1681, the last Roman Catholic martyr to die in England. His body is initially buried in two tin boxes in the courtyard of St. Giles in the Fields church. The remains are exhumed in 1683 and moved to the Benedictine monastery at Lamspringe, near Hildesheim in Germany. His head is brought to Rome, and from there to Armagh, and eventually to Drogheda where it has rested in St. Peter’s Church since June 29, 1921. Most of the body is brought to Downside Abbey, England, where the major part is located today, with some parts remaining at Lamspringe.

Sir Oliver Plunkett is canonised in Rome by Pope Paul VI on October 12, 1975, the first new Irish saint in almost seven hundred years, and the first of the Irish martyrs to be beatified. For the canonisation, the customary second miracle is waived.