seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Siege of Smerwick

smerwick-massacre-memorialFollowing a three-day siege, the English Army beheads over 600 Papal soldiers and civilians at Dún an Óir, County Kerry on November 10, 1580.

On November 5, a naval force led by Admiral Sir William Wynter arrives at Smerwick Harbour, replenishing the supplies of Arthur Grey, 14th Baron Grey de Wilton, who is camped at Dingle, and landing eight artillery pieces. On November 7, Lord Grey de Wilton lays siege to the Smerwick garrison. The invading forces are geographically isolated on the tip of the narrow Dingle Peninsula, cut off by Mount Brandon, one of the highest mountains in Ireland, on one side and the much larger English force on the other. The English forces begin the artillery barrage on Dún an Óir on the morning of the November 8, which rapidly breaks down the improvised defences of the fort.

After a three-day siege, the commander Sebastiano di San Giuseppe surrenders on November 10. Accounts vary on whether they had been granted quarter. Grey de Wilton orders the summary executions, sparing only the commanders. Grey has also heard that the main Irish rebel army of 4,000 are somewhere in the hills to his east, looking to be rearmed and supplied by Di San Giuseppe, and they might in turn surround his army but this army never appears.

According to Grey de Wilton’s account, contained in a despatch to Queen Elizabeth I dated November 11, 1580, he rejects an approach made by the besieged Spanish and Italian forces to agree to terms of a conditional surrender in which they would cede the fort and leave. Lord Grey de Wilton claims that he insisted that they surrender without preconditions and put themselves at his mercy, and that he subsequently rejects a request for a ceasefire. An agreement is finally made for an unconditional surrender the next morning, with hostages being taken by English forces to ensure compliance. The following morning, an English force enters the fort to secure and guard armaments and supplies.

Local historian Margaret Anna Cusack notes in 1871 that there is a degree of controversy about Lord Grey de Wilton’s version of events to Elizabeth, and identifies three other contemporary accounts, by O’Daly, O’Sullivan Beare and Russell, which contradict it. According to these versions, Grey de Wilton promises the garrison their lives in return for their surrender, a promise which he breaks. Like Grey himself, none of these commentators can be described as neutral, as they are all either serving the state or opposed to it. Cusack’s interpretation of the events cannot be described as unbiased, given her position as a Catholic nun and fervent Irish nationalist at the time.

According to Cusack, the few that are spared suffer a worse fate. They are offered life if they renounce their Catholic faith. On refusal, their arms and legs are broken in three places by an ironsmith. They are left in agony for a day and night and then hanged.

According to the folklore of the area, the execution of the captives takes two days, with many of the captives being beheaded in a field known locally in Irish as Gort a Ghearradh (the Field of the Cutting). Their bodies are later thrown into the sea. Archaeologists have not yet discovered human remains at the site, although a nearby field is known as Gort na gCeann (the Field of the Heads) and local folklore recalls the massacre.

(Pictured: A memorial to the victims of the massacre at Dún an Óir)


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Birth of Sir Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh

oliver-plunkettSir Oliver Plunkett,  Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland who was the last victim of the Popish Plot, is born on November 1, 1625 in Loughcrew, County Meath, to parents of Hiberno-Norman ancestors.

Until his sixteenth year, Plunkett’s education is entrusted to his cousin Patrick Plunkett, Abbot of St. Mary’s, Dublin, and brother of Luke Plunkett, the first 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, travelling 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, Plunkett refuses to leave his flock.

Plunkett is arrested in Dublin in December 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.


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The End of the Siege of Limerick

king-johns-castle-limerickAn alliance of Irish Confederate Catholics and English Royalists led by Hugh Dubh O’Neill surrender to Henry Ireton on October 27, 1651 after a protracted and bitter siege of Limerick during the Irish Confederate Wars.

By 1650, The Irish Confederates and their English Royalist allies have been driven out of eastern Ireland by the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. They occupy a defensive position behind the River Shannon, of which Limerick is the southern stronghold. Oliver Cromwell himself had left Ireland in May 1650, delegating his command of the English Parliamentarian forces to Henry Ireton. Ireton moves his forces north from Munster to besiege Limerick in October 1650. The weather, however, is increasingly wet and cold and Ireton is forced to abandon the siege before the onset of winter.

Ireton returns the following June with 8,000 men, 28 siege artillery pieces and four mortars. He then summons Hugh Dubh O’Neill, the Irish commander of Limerick, to surrender but is refused. The siege is on.

Limerick in 1651 is split into two sections, English town and Irish town, which are separated by the Abbey River. English town, which contained the citadel of King John’s Castle, is encircled by water and known as King’s Island. Thomond bridge is the only entrance onto the island and is fortified with bastioned earthworks. Irish town is more vulnerable, but is also more heavily fortified. Its medieval walls have been buttressed by 20 feet of earth. In addition, Irish town has a series of bastions along its walls, mounted with cannon covering its approaches. The biggest of these bastions are at St. John’s Gate and Mungret gate.

Due to Limerick’s fortification, Ireton does not risk an assault on its walls. Instead he secures the approaches to the city, cuts off its supplies and builds artillery earthworks to bombard the defenders. His troops take the fort at Thomond bridge, but the Irish destroy the bridge itself, denying the Parliamentarians land access to English town. Ireton then tries an amphibious attack on the city, which is initially successful, but O’Neill’s men counterattack and beat them off. After this failed attack, Ireton resolves to starve the city into submission and builds two forts on nearby Singland Hill. An Irish attempt to relieve the city from the south is routed at the battle of Knocknaclashy. O’Neill’s only hope is to hold out until bad weather and hunger force Ireton to lift the siege. O’Neill tries to send the town’s old men, women and children out of the city so that his supplies will last a little longer. However, Ireton’s men kill 40 of these civilians and send the rest back into Limerick.

O’Neill comes under pressure from the town’s mayor and civilian population to surrender. The town’s garrison and civilians suffer terribly from hunger and disease. Ireton finds a weak point in the defenses of Irish town and knocks a breach in them, opening the prospect of an all out assault. Eventually, in October 1651, six months after the siege had started, part of Limerick’s garrison mutiny and turn some cannon inwards, threatening to fire on O’Neill’s men unless they surrender. Hugh Dubh O’Neill surrenders Limerick on October 27. The inhabitants lives and property are respected, but they are warned that they could be evicted in the future.

The garrison is allowed to march to Galway, which is still holding out, but has to leave their weapons behind. However, the lives of the civilian and military leaders of Limerick are excepted from the terms of surrender. Catholic Bishop Terence Albert O’Brien, an Alderman and the English Royalist officer Colonel Fennell are hanged. O’Neill is also sentenced to death, but is reprieved by the Parliamentarian commander Edmund Ludlow and imprisoned instead in London. Former mayor Dominic Fanning is drawn, quartered, and decapitated, with his head mounted over St. John’s Gate.

(Pictured: King John’s Castle on King John’s Island, Limerick)


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Birth of Reverend John Abernethy

john-abernethyJohn Abernethy, Irish Presbyterian minister and church leader, is born at Coleraine, County Londonderry on October 19, 1680. He is the grandfather of the surgeon John Abernethy.

Abernethy’s father, also named John, a Presbyterian minister, accompanies Patrick Adair on a deputation from the general committee of Ulster presbyterians, who present a congratulatory address to William III in London in 1689, and obtain from the king a letter (November 9, 1689) recommending their case to Meinhardt Schomberg, 3rd Duke of Schomberg.

At the age of 13, Abernethy enters the University of Glasgow and, upon concluding his course there, goes on to the University of Edinburgh, where he soon moves in the most cultured circles. Returning home, he is licensed to preach from his Presbytery before he is twenty-one. In 1701 he is called to accept charge of an important congregation in Antrim. After an interval of two years, mostly spent in further study in Dublin, he is ordained there on August 8, 1703. He becomes a noted debater in the synods and assemblies of his church and a leading evangelist. He has been described as being at this time “the young minister of Antrim … a man of studious habits, heretical opinions, and remarkable ability.”

In 1712, he is devastated by the loss of his wife, Susannah Jordan. Five years later, he is invited to the congregation of Usher’s Quay, Dublin, and also to what is called the Old Congregation of Belfast. The synod assigns him to Dublin. After careful consideration he refuses and remains at Antrim. This refusal arouses disapproval and a controversy follows, with Abernethy standing firm for religious freedom and repudiating the ecclesiastical courts. The controversy and quarrel bears the name of the two camps in the conflict, the “Subscribers” and the “Non-subscribers.” Abernethy and his associates sow the seeds of the struggle (1821–1840) in which, under the leadership of Dr. Henry Cooke, the Arian and Socinian elements of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland are thrown out.

Much of what Abernethy contends for, and which the “Subscribers” oppose bitterly, is silently granted in the lapse of time. In 1726, the “Non-subscribers” are cut off, with due ban and solemnity, from the Presbyterian Church of Ireland. In 1730 he moves to Wood Street, Dublin. It is said of him that, although a “Non-subscriber,” he is a Trinitarian. However, Dr. Cooke states that Arianism “made very considerable progress under the patronage of high names, as Abernethy, the author of a very excellent work upon the Attributes, who gave it a great deal of eclat.”

In 1731 comes the greatest controversy in which Abernethy is involved. It is nominally about the Test Act, but actually on the entire question of tests and disabilities. His stand is against all laws that, upon account of mere differences of religious opinions and forms of worship, exclude men of integrity and ability from serving their country.

Abernethy is nearly a century in advance of his age. He has to reason with those who deny that a Roman Catholic or Dissenter can be a “man of integrity and ability.”

John Abernethy dies on December 1, 1740.


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Death of Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork

richard-boyle-1st-earl-of-corkRichard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, English-born politician who serves as Lord Treasurer of the Kingdom of Ireland and is also known as the Great Earl of Cork, dies on September 15, 1643 in Youghal, County Cork. He is an important figure in the continuing English colonisation of Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries, as he acquires large tracts of land in plantations in Munster in southern Ireland.

Boyle is born at Canterbury, Kent, England on October 3, 1566, the second son of Roger Boyle, a descendant of an ancient landed Herefordshire family, and of Joan, daughter of John Naylor. He goes to The King’s School, Canterbury, at the same time as Christopher Marlowe. His university education begins at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, England, in 1583. After this he studies law at the Middle Temple in London and becomes a clerk to Sir Roger Manwood, who is then Chief Baron of the Exchequer.

Boyle goes to Ireland in 1588. He becomes deputy Escheator under Ireland’s Escheator General John Crofton and uses his office to enrich himself, only to lose his property in the Munster rebellion in 1598. Returning to England, he is imprisoned on charges of embezzlement arising from his activities in Ireland. He is acquitted by a royal court, however, and in 1600 Elizabeth I of England appoints him clerk of the council of Munster.

Two years later, Boyle purchases Sir Walter Raleigh’s estates in the Irish counties of Cork, Waterford, and Tipperary. By employing settlers imported from England, he develops his lands and founds ironworks and other industries. The enormous wealth he accumulates brings him honours and political influence. Created Earl of Cork in 1620, he is appointed a Lord Justice of Appeal in 1629 and Lord High Treasurer in 1631. Nevertheless, soon after Sir Thomas Wentworth (afterward Earl of Strafford) goes to Ireland as lord deputy in 1633, Boyle is fined heavily for possessing defective titles to some of his estates. Thereafter his political influence declines.

Boyle dies at Youghal on September 15, 1643, having been chased off his lands in the Irish Rebellion of 1641. His sons, however, recover the family estates after the suppression of the rebellion.

Boyle’s first wife, Joan Apsley, the daughter and co-heiress of William Apsley of Limerick, whom he marries on November 6, 1595, dies at Mallow, County Cork on December 14, 1599 during childbirth. By his second wife, Catherine Fenton, daughter of Sir Geoffrey Fenton, he has eight daughters and seven sons, including the renowned chemist Robert Boyle and the statesman-dramatist Roger Boyle, 1st Earl of Orrery.


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The Siege of Drogheda

st-laurences-gate-droghedaThe Siege of Drogheda begins on September 3, 1649 and runs through September 11, at the outset of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.

The Royalist rebellion that breaks out in Ireland against the new English republic in 1649 is met by a prompt English response. On August 15 Oliver Cromwell and 15,000 troops land in Dublin. His merciless policy toward the Irish Royalists becomes brutally clear within a month.

The defeat of the Irish Royalists at Rathmines in early August is fortuitous for Cromwell, for without it, the English would have held only the small port of Derry (known as Londonderry from 1662) in the north, making his invasion almost impossible to effect. Cromwell quickly finds that the Irish Royalists have retreated into fortified towns. He therefore prepares for a series of sieges.

The first such siege occurs at Drogheda, 28 miles north of Dublin. Cromwell arrives at Drogheda on September 3. His siege guns, brought up by sea, arrive two days later. He finds the town surrounded by high but relatively thin walls and its governor, Sir Arthur Ashton, is confident of his defenses and refuses an order to surrender. On September 10 Cromwell begins an artillery bombardment of the walls. These are breached the following day, but the gap created is too small to allow troops to enter the city. Twice they are repelled until Cromwell himself leads an assault and overwhelms the defenders on September 11.

The carnage inside the city is appalling. Cromwell’s troops kill priests and monks on sight and set fire to a Catholic church sheltering some soldiers. Civilians as well as soldiers are massacred, and Ashton is bludgeoned to death with his own wooden leg. The few Royalist soldiers who survive are transported to Barbados. What happens at Drogheda is replicated at Wexford the following month and Clonmel the next May. By the time Cromwell has put down the rebellion and returned to England in that same month, he has become forever hated by Irish Catholics.

During the eight day siege the British lose 150 of their 12,000 men while 2,800 Irish are killed and 200 captured of the 3,100 at Drogheda.

(Pictured: St Laurence’s Gate – the last remaining of the ten original defensive gates at Drogheda)


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The Fall of Athlone

siege-of-athloneThe fall of Athlone occurs on June 30, 1691 during the Williamite War in Ireland. Despite the bravery of legendary Sergeant Custume and others, severely outnumbered, the Connacht side of the town falls. The remainder of the Irish garrison retreats to Limerick.

The first assault on Athlone comes in 1690 after the defeat of the Irish at the Battle of the Boyne. General Douglas, leading a substantial force of possibly ten thousand consisting mostly of Ulster regiments, is the Williamite commander. When he arrives at Athlone he is confident that he will quickly conquer the town for King William III. However, he had not reckoned on the spirited defence of Athlone by Colonel Richard Grace. Grace, who is at that time over seventy years of age and a veteran of the Irish Confederate Wars and Governor of Athlone, refuses to surrender. After a week the Williamite army retreats.

In 1691, determined to capture Athlone, the Williamites return with their full army of almost 25,000 men. The army is under the command of a Dutch general, Goderd de Ginkell. The Jacobite forces are under the command of a French general, the Marquis de St. Ruth. The Williamites breach the town wall and capture the Leinster town. The Jacobites, in a desperate attempt to keep the enemy at bay, break down several arches of the bridge and the Williamites quickly attempt to repair them. Sergeant Custume leads his men onto the bridge to dislodge the Williamite repair work. They succeed in doing so before meeting their death at the hands of enemy fire.

Ironically the capture of Athlone comes when the Williamites discover the ford that gave Athlone its name and in a surprise attack dislodge the Jacobites and take the castle by storm resulting in wholesale carnage and slaughter. For his services to King William III, but certainly not to Athlone, Ginkle is given the title Earl of Athlone. The bravery of Sergeant Custume has not been forgotten as the military barracks in Athlone is called Custume Barracks in his honour, the only barracks in Ireland named after a non-commissioned officer. A street adjoining the town bridge is named Custume Place.