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


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The Navigation Act 1651

The Navigation Act 1651 is passed on October 9, 1651, by the Rump Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell. It authorises the Commonwealth of England to regulate trade within the colonies. It reinforces a long-standing principle of government policy that English trade should be carried in English vessels. The Act is a reaction to the failure of the English diplomatic mission led by Oliver St. John and Walter Strickland to The Hague seeking a political union of the Commonwealth with the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, after the States of Holland had made some cautious overtures to Cromwell to counter the monarchical aspirations of stadtholder William II, Prince of Orange.

The stadtholder dies suddenly, however, and the States are now embarrassed by Cromwell taking the idea too seriously. The English propose the joint conquest of all remaining Spanish and Portuguese possessions. England would take America and the Dutch would take Africa and Asia. But the Dutch have just ended their war with Spain and already taken over most Portuguese colonies in Asia, so they see little advantage in this grandiose scheme and propose a free trade agreement as an alternative to a full political union. This again is unacceptable to the British, who would be unable to compete on such a level playing field, and is seen by them as a deliberate affront.

The Act bans foreign ships from transporting goods from outside Europe to England or its colonies, and bans third-party countries’ ships from transporting goods from a country elsewhere in Europe to England. These rules specifically target the Dutch, who control much of Europe’s international trade and even much of England’s coastal shipping. It excludes the Dutch from essentially all trade with England, as the Dutch economy is competitive with, not complementary to the English, and the two countries therefore exchange few commodities. This Anglo-Dutch trade, however, constitutes only a small fraction of total Dutch trade flows.

The Act is often mentioned as a major cause of the First Anglo-Dutch War, though it is only part of a larger British policy to engage in war after the negotiations have failed. The English naval victories in 1653 (the Battle of Portland, the Battle of the Gabbard and the Battle of Scheveningen) show the supremacy of the Commonwealth navy in home waters. However, farther afield the Dutch predominate and are able to close down English commerce in the Baltic and the Mediterranean. Both countries hold each other in a stifling embrace.

The Treaty of Westminster (1654) ends the impasse. The Dutch fail to have the Act repealed or amended, but it seems to have had relatively little influence on their trade. The Act offers England only limited solace. It cannot limit the deterioration of England’s overseas trading position, except in the cases where England herself is the principal consumer, such as the Canary Islands wine trade and the trade in Puglian olive oil. In the trade with the West Indies, the Dutch keep up a flourishing “smuggling” trade, thanks to the preference of English planters for Dutch import goods and the better deal the Dutch offer in the sugar trade. The Dutch colony of New Netherland offers a loophole through intercolonial trade wide enough to drive a shipload of Virginia tobacco through.

The 1651 Act, like other laws of the Commonwealth period, is declared void on the Restoration of Charles II of England, having been passed by “usurping powers.” Parliament therefore passes new legislation. This is generally referred to as the “Navigation Acts,” and, with some amendments, remains in force for nearly two centuries.

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The Battle of Ardnaree

The Battle of Ardnaree, a battle in the Tudor conquest of Ireland, is fought at Ardnaree, now a suburb of Ballina, County Mayo, on September 23, 1586. The result is a victory for the English over the Mac Philbins and Burkes. The conflict is a part of the political and military struggle, involving the English and occasionally the Scots, for control of northern Ireland. The anglicised version of the name Ardnaree can be translated to Árd na ríogh, meaning the hill of the kings.

The Mac Philbins and Mayo Burkes are in rebellion against the brutal English rule. An Irish-Scottish mercenary army, led by Donnell Gorm MacDonnell of Carey and Alexander Carragh MacDonnell of Glenarm, sons of the deceased James MacDonald, 6th of Dunnyveg, are invited into Connacht by the Burkes to attack English settlements and forces. The mercenary army is fronted at Sligo, Coolony and Ballingafad by English forces for over fourteen days.

Sir Richard Bingham, governor of Connacht, follows the mercenary force to Ardnaree, where the mercenary force has camped on the east bank of the River Moy. Bingham’s forces surround the camp at night and attack the occupants. During the battle 1,000 mercenaries are killed, including Donnell Gorm MacDonnell of Carey and Alexander Carragh MacDonnell of Glenarm. Also slaughtered are some 1,000 men, women and children in the camp.

Richard Bingham goes on to hang the leaders of the Burkes, with the former lands of Mac Philbins and Mayo Burkes given to English settlers.

(Pictured: Sir Richard Bingham, governor of Connacht)


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The Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits

The Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits takes place in County Fermanagh on August 7, 1594 when a force of English Army soldiers led by Sir Henry Duke is ambushed and defeated by an Irish force under Hugh Maguire and Cormac MacBaron O’Neill in the region of the fords of the Arney River on the approaches to Enniskillen.

The battle acquires its distinctive name due to the supplies of the Crown forces, largely hard biscuits, which are scattered and left floating in the river. The battle is an early exchange in the Nine Years’ War, and exposes the vulnerability of Crown forces to ambushes in the wilder parts of Ulster with its thick woods and bogs.

The relief force is under the joint command of Sir Henry Duke and Sir Edward Herbert, who have 600 infantrymen and 40 horses. Duke and Herbert believe this to be insufficient, and write to the Lord Deputy that “to go without a thousand men at the least or otherwise we shall dearly repent our going.” No reinforcements are forthcoming therefore the column sets north from Cavan on August 4. Burdened with supplies, the army is expected to take four days to march 29 miles north to Enniskillen. The night before the battle the English camp is pestered by Irish gunfire and incessant skirmishing which causes the English troops to be poorly rested when the set out on August 7 to relieve the beleaguered garrison. As the thin column starts to snake its way north, almost immediately it comes under attack on both flanks as Irish skirmishes hurl javelins, but this is not the main attack.

As the relief expedition approaches Enniskillen from the south, Maguire and Cormac MacBaron lay in wait for them on the Arney River. The Army’s cavalry scouts fail to detect the Irish laying in wait for them. The ground is boggy near the Arney ford, therefore they are forced to dismount. Consequently the infantry escorting the supply wagons for Enniskillen run straight into the ambush. Around eleven o’clock the head of the column approaches the ford. Without warning intense Irish gunfire tears into the lead English elements from concealed positions on the opposite bank. With the advance stalled, Maguire and MacBaron assail the rear of the column with the bulk of their forces. Wings of English shot deploy to skirmish with the Irish, but withering Irish fire pushes them back to their pike stands in the column.

The English rear falls into disorder causing the Irish pike and Scots mercenaries to charge, forcing them to flee pell mell onto the centre of the column. The English collapse continues as the column concertinaed towards the head of the army stalled at the ford. Fortunately the leading English pike has forced the crossing, pushing back the Irish shot, giving the English some room to reorder and regroup north of the river.

The English are engaged by Irish shot from the surrounding hills, but a counter-attack is stillborn when its leader, Captain Fuller, is killed. With most of the supplies abandoned at the river, Duke and Herbert decide their only option is to retreat. However, their retreat to the ford is met with renewed gunfire and the disintegrating army is compelled to cross on another ford an “arrow shot” upstream.

Luckily for Duke and Herbert’s men they are not pursued as most of the Irish have fallen to looting the baggage train which gives the battle its name, Béal-Átha-na-mBriosgadh or The Ford of the Biscuits.

The badly-mauled Crown forces retreat to Cavan. News of the defeats causes some alarm due to the small size of the peacetime Royal Irish Army, which is scattered in garrisons across the island. Although this can be supplemented by forces of loyal Gaelic chiefs, fresh troops need to be raised in England and sent across the Irish Sea to contain the developing northern rebellion. In addition a force of soldiers who have been serving in Brittany is brought to Ireland.

A second relief expedition, this time led by the Lord Deputy of Ireland William Russell, 1st Baron Russell of Thornhaugh, manages to reach Enniskillen and re-supply it. However Enniskillen does fall to the rebels in May of the following year and the garrison is massacred, despite having been promised their lives when they surrendered.

(Photo with permission by Dr.James O’Neill (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)


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The Battle of Rathmines

The Battle of Rathmines is fought in and around what is now the Dublin suburb of Rathmines on August 2, 1649, during the Irish Confederate Wars. It is fought between an English Parliamentarian army under Michael Jones which holds Dublin and an army composed of Irish Confederate and English Royalist troops under the command of the James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde.

By 1649, Ireland has already been at war for eight years, since the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641. The English Parliament holds only two small enclaves, Dublin and Derry, in Ireland.

In July 1649, Ormonde, marches his coalition forces of 11,000 men to the outskirts of Dublin with the intent of taking the city from its Parliamentary garrison, which had landed there in 1647. Ormonde takes Rathfarnham Castle and camps at Palmerston Park in Rathgar, about 4 km south of the city. The area from Ormonde’s camp to the city of Dublin is now a heavily urbanised area, but in 1649, it is open countryside. Ormonde begins inching his forces closer to Dublin by taking the villages around its perimeter and to this end, sends a detachment of troops to occupy Baggotrath Castle, on the site of present-day Baggot Street bridge. For reasons which have never been clear, they take several hours to reach Baggotrath, a distance of about a mile, and they arrive to find that the Parliamentary troops have already occupied the castle.

However, Ormonde is not expecting Michael Jones, the Parliamentary commander, to take the initiative and has not drawn up his troops for battle. Unfortunately for the Royalists, this is exactly what Jones does, launching a surprise attack on August 2 from the direction of Irishtown with 5,000 men and sending Ormonde’s men at Baggotsrath reeling backwards towards their camp in confusion.

Too late, Ormonde and his commanders realise what is going on and send units into action piecemeal to try to hold up the Parliamentarian advance, so that they can form their army into battle formation. However, Jones’ cavalry simply outflanks each force sent against them, sending them too fleeing back south through the townland of Rathmines. The battle becomes a rout as scores of fleeing Royalist and Confederate soldiers are cut down by the pursuing Roundheads. The fighting finally ends when the English Royalist troops under Murrough O’Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin, mounts a disciplined rearguard action, allowing the rest to get away. Ormonde claims he has lost less than a thousand men. Jones claims to have killed around 4,000 Royalist or Confederate soldiers and taken 2,517 prisoners, while losing only a handful himself. Ormonde certainly loses at least one leading officer, Christopher Plunkett, 2nd Earl of Fingall, who is fatally wounded and dies in Dublin Castle a few days later. Ormonde also loses his entire artillery train and all his baggage and supplies.

In the aftermath of the battle, Ormonde withdraws his remaining troops from around Dublin, allowing Oliver Cromwell to land in the city at Ringsend with 15,000 veteran troops on August 15. Cromwell calls the battle “an astonishing mercy,” taking it as a sign that God has approved of his conquest of Ireland. Over the next four years he completes the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.

Without Jones’ victory at Rathmines, the New Model Army would have had no port to land at in Ireland and the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland would have been much more difficult. Ormonde’s incompetent generalship at Rathmines disillusions many Irish Confederates with their alliance with the English Royalists and Ormonde is ousted as commander of the Irish forces the following year.


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Birth of Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery

Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery, English nobleman, statesman and patron of the sciences, is born in Little Chelsea, London on July 28, 1674.

Boyle is the second son of Roger Boyle, 2nd Earl of Orrery, and his wife Lady Mary Sackville, daughter of Richard Sackville, 5th Earl of Dorset. He is educated at Christ Church, Oxford, and soon distinguishes himself by his learning and abilities. Like the first earl, he is an author, soldier and statesman. He translates Plutarch‘s life of Lysander, and publishes an edition of the epistles of Phalaris, which engages him in the famous controversy with Richard Bentley. He is a member of the Parliament of Ireland and sits for the Charleville constituency between 1695 and 1699. He is three times member for the town of Huntingdon and, upon the death of his brother, Lionel, 3rd earl, in 1703, he succeeds to the title.

Boyle enters the army, and in 1709 is raised to the rank of major-general and sworn one of Her Majesty’s Privy Council. He is appointed to the Order of the Thistle and appointed queen’s envoy to the states of Brabant and Flanders. Having discharged this trust with ability, he is created an English peer, as Baron Boyle of Marston, in Somerset. He inherits the estate in 1714.

Boyle becomes a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1706. In 1713, under the patronage of Boyle, clockmaker George Graham creates the first mechanical solar system model that can demonstrate proportional motion of the planets around the Sun. The device is named the orrery in the Earl’s honour.

Boyle receives several additional honours in the reign of George I but, having had the misfortune to fall under the suspicion of the government for playing a part in the Jacobite Atterbury Plot, he is committed to the Tower of London in 1722, where he remains six months, and is then admitted to bail. On a subsequent inquiry he is discharged.

Boyle writes a comedy, As you find it, printed in 1703 and later publishes together with the plays of the first earl. In 1728, he is listed as one of the subscribers to the Cyclopaedia of Ephraim Chambers.

Charles Boyle dies at his home in Westminster on August 28, 1731 and is buried in Westminster Abbey. He bequeaths his personal library and collection of scientific instruments to Christ Church Library. The instruments are now on display in the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford.

Boyle’s son John, the 5th Earl of Orrery, succeeds to the earldom of Cork on the failure of the elder branch of the Boyle family, as earl of Cork and Orrery.


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Use of the “Book of Common Prayer” Ordered in Ireland

The Book of Common Prayer, the short title of a number of related prayer books, is ordered to be used in Ireland on June 9, 1549.

The Book of Common Prayer is used in the Anglican Communion, as well as by the Continuing Anglican movement, Anglican realignment and other Anglican churches. The original book, published in 1549 during the reign of Edward VI, is a product of the English Reformation following the break with the Roman Catholic Church. Prayer books, unlike books of prayers, contain the words of structured, or liturgical, services of worship.

The work of 1549 is the first prayer book to include the complete forms of service for daily and Sunday worship in English. It contains Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, the Litany, and Holy Communion and also the occasional services in full such as the orders for Baptism, Confirmation, Marriageanointing of the sick and a Funeral service. It also sets out in full the “propers,” that is the parts of the service which vary week by week or, at times, daily throughout the Church’s Year. Old Testament and New Testament readings for daily prayer are specified in tabular format as are the Psalms.

The 1549 book is soon succeeded by a more reformed revision in 1552 under the same editorial hand, that of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. It is used only for a few months, as after Edward VI’s death in 1553, his half-sister Mary I restores Roman Catholic worship. Mary dies in 1558 and, in 1559, Elizabeth I reintroduces the 1552 book with a few modifications to make it acceptable to more traditionally minded worshippers, notably the inclusion of the words of administration from the 1549 Communion Service alongside those of 1552.

In 1604, James I orders some further changes, the most significant of these being the addition to the Catechism of a section on the Sacraments. William Bedell undertakes an Irish translation of the Book of Common Prayer in 1606. Following the tumultuous events leading to and including the English Civil War, another major revision is published in 1662. This edition has remained the official prayer book of the Church of England, although in the 21st century, alternative provision under the title Common Worship has largely displaced the Book of Common Prayer at the main Sunday worship service of most English parish churches. An Irish translation of the revised prayer book of 1662 is effected by John Richardson and published in 1712.

A Book of Common Prayer with local variations is used in churches inside and outside the Anglican Communion in over 50 different countries and in over 150 different languages. In many parts of the world, other books have replaced it in regular weekly worship.

Traditional English Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian prayer books have borrowed from the Book of Common Prayer and the marriage and burial rites have found their way into those of other denominations and into the English language. Like the King James Version of the Bible and the works of William Shakespeare, many words and phrases from the Book of Common Prayer have entered common parlance.

(Pictured: A 1760 printing of the 1662 “Book of Common Prayer”)


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The Siege of Limerick

Henry Ireton, Oliver Cromwell’s son-in-law, lays siege to Limerick city on June 4, 1651. During the Irish Confederate Wars, Limerick is one of the last fortified cities held by an alliance of Irish Confederate Catholics and English Royalists against the forces of the Parliament of England.

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 leaves 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 of that year. However, the weather is increasingly wet and cold and Ireton is forced to abandon the siege before the onset of winter.

Ireton returns on June 4, 1651 with 8,000 men, 28 siege artillery pieces and 4 mortars. He 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 contains the citadel of King John’s Castle, is encircled by water, the Abbey River on three sides and the River Shannon on the other, in what is known as King’s Island. Thomond bridge is only one bridge 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, making it difficult to knock a breach in them. In addition, Irish town has a series of bastions along its walls, mounted with cannon which cover its approaches. The biggest of these bastions are at St. John’s Gate and Mungret gate. The garrison of the city is 2,000 strong and composed mainly of veterans from the Confederate’s Ulster army, commanded by Hugh Dubh O’Neill, who had distinguished themselves at the siege of Clonmel the previous year.

Because Limerick is very well fortified, 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, a storming party attacking the city in small boats. They are initially successful, but O’Neill’s men counterattack and beat them off.

After this attack fails, Ireton resolves to starve the city into submission and builds two forts known as Ireton’s fort and Cromwell’s fort 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 now to hold out until bad weather and hunger force Ireton to raise the siege. To this end, 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 forty 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, especially an outbreak of plague. In addition, Ireton finds a weak point in the defences 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 started, part of Limerick’s garrison mutinies and turns 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.

The lives of the civilian and military leaders of Limerick are excepted from the terms of surrender. A 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.

Over 2,000 English Parliamentary soldiers die at Limerick, mostly from disease. Among them is Henry Ireton, who dies a month after the fall of the city. About 700 of the Irish garrison and an estimated 5,000 citizens die.

(Pictured: The Treaty Stone on which the treaty of Limerick may have been signed in 1691)