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


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The Sack of Cashel

rock-of-cashelThe Sack of Cashel (also known as the Massacre of Cashel) is a notorious atrocity which occurs in County Tipperary on September 15, 1647, during the Irish Confederate Wars, part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

In the summer of 1647, Murrough O’Brien, 6th Baron Inchiquin, the Irish Protestant commander of the Protestant army of Cork, commences a campaign against the Irish Catholic strongholds in Munster. The counties of Limerick and Clare are raided and he soon turns his attention to the bountiful eastern counties of Munster. In early September, his forces quickly take the Cahir Castle in Tipperary. This strong castle is well positioned to become a base for the Cork Protestant army, and it is used to raid and devastate the surrounding countryside. The Munster army under Lord Taaffe does not make any serious effort to oppose Inchiquin, probably the result of the political scheming of Donough MacCarty, 2nd Viscount Muskerry and other powerful Irish lords who hope to keep the Munster army intact for their own ends. As such, Inchiquin is allowed to make a major push towards the town and ecclesiastical centre of Cashel.

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

Arriving with his army at the Rock, Inchiquin calls for surrender within an hour. The defenders of the churchyard offer to negotiate but that is refused, and on the afternoon of September 15 the assault commences. The Parliamentarians are first reminded of earlier atrocities against Protestants, and then begin to deploy. The attack is led by around 150 dismounted horse officers with the remainder of the infantry following. Troops of horse ride along the flanks of the advancing force to encourage the infantry. The Irish soldiers attempt to drive off the attackers with pikes while the civilians inside hurl rocks down from the walls. In turn the attackers hurl firebrands into the compound, setting some of the buildings inside on fire. Although many are wounded, the Parliamentarians gradually fight their way over the walls, pushing the garrison into the church.

Initially, the Irish defenders manage to protect the Church, holding off the attackers trying to get through the doors, but the Parliamentarians then place numerous ladders against the many windows in the church and swarm the building. For another half an hour fighting rages inside the church, until the depleted defenders retreat up the bell tower. Only sixty soldiers of the garrison remain at this point, and they thus accept a call to surrender. However, after they have descended the tower and thrown their swords away, all are killed.

In the end all the soldiers and most of the civilians on the Rock are killed by the attackers. The Bishop and Mayor of Cashel along with a few others survive by taking shelter in a secret hiding place. Apart from these a few women are spared, after being stripped of their clothes, and a small number of wealthy civilians are taken prisoner, but these are the exceptions. Overall, close to 1,000 are killed, amongst them Lieutenant-Colonel Butler and catholic scholar Theobald Stapleton. The bodies in the churchyard are described by a witness as being five or six deep.

The slaughter is followed by extensive looting. There is much of value inside, for apart from pictures, chalices and vestments of the church, many of the slain civilians had also brought their valuables with them. The sword and ceremonial mace of the mayor of Cashel, as well as the coach of the bishop are captured. The plunder is accompanied by acts of iconoclasm, with statues smashed and pictures defaced. The deserted town of Cashel is also torched.

The atrocity at Cashel causes a deep impact in Ireland, as it is the worst single atrocity committed in Ireland since the start of fighting in 1641. Previously, the most infamous massacre amongst the Catholic population is that at Timolin in 1643, when 200 civilians are killed by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde‘s English Royalist army, but many more than this are killed at Cashel, and the Rock of Cashel is one of the chief holy places of Ireland. The slaughter of the garrison at Cashel and the subsequent devastation of Catholic held Munster earns Inchiquin the Irish nickname, Murchadh na Dóiteáin or “Murrough of the Burnings.”

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The Battle of Kilrush

james-butler-earl-of-ormondeThe Battle of Kilrush, a battle at the start of the Irish Confederate Wars in Ireland, takes place on April 15, 1642, soon after the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

The battle is fought between a Royalist army under the James Butler, 12th Earl of Ormonde, and Richard Butler, 3rd Viscount Mountgarret, who leads Confederate Irish troops raised during the Irish Rebellion of 1641. Ormonde and Mountgarret are cousins, both being members of the Butler dynasty.

Ormonde’s troops leave Dublin on April 2 and march unopposed from Naas to Athy and on to Maryborough, now Portlaoise, arriving on April 8. There they resupply the royalist garrisons and send cavalry forces to support those at Carlow and Birr, before returning to Athy on April 13. Setting out at 6:00 AM on April 15, and having decided to avoid a battle on their return march to Dublin, the government troops are blocked by Mountgarret’s rebel militias at Kilrush, two miles south of Suncroft, between Kilcullen and Moone in southeastern County Kildare.

The land is remarkably flat, with the exception of two ridges that run nearly parallel northward from a castle, with a marsh lying between. The army of Ormonde, consisting of 2,500 foot soldiers and 500 horses, assembles on the high grounds of Ardscull, Fontstown, and Kilrush, while the rebel army under Mountgarret, consisting of 8,000 foot soldiers and 400 horses, proceeds in the same direction along the heights of Birtown, Ballyndrum, Glasshealy, and Narraghmore. Mountgarret, having the advantage in numbers, and anxious for battle, outmarches Ormonde’s forces, and posts himself on Bull Hill and Kilrush, completely intercepting Ormonde’s further progress to Dublin. A general engagement becomes unavoidable. The left wing of the Irish is broken by the first charge. The right wing, animated by their leaders, maintains the contest for some time, but eventually falls back to neighbouring Battlemount. Here they break, flee and are pursued with great slaughter across the grounds they had marched over the previous day. Ormonde’s army then marches on to Dublin, arriving on April 17.

Ormonde’s army suffers twenty fatalities and approximately forty wounded in the Battle of Kilrush. Mountgarret’s rebel army loses more than 700, among which are several colonels. The victory is considered of such consequence that Ormonde is presented with a jewel valued at £50 by the Irish Government.

(Pictured: Sir Peter Lely’s oil painting of James Butler, 12th Earl of Ormonde)


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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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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)


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The Sack of Wexford

sack-of-wexfordThe Sack of Wexford takes place on October 11, 1649, during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, when the New Model Army under Oliver Cromwell takes Wexford town in southeastern Ireland. The English Parliamentarian troops break into the town while the commander of the garrison, David Synnot, is trying to negotiate a surrender, massacring soldiers and civilians alike. Much of the town is burned and its harbour is destroyed. Along with the Siege of Drogheda, the sack of Wexford is still remembered in Ireland as an infamous atrocity.

Wexford is held by Irish Catholic forces throughout the Irish Confederate Wars. In the Irish Rebellion of 1641, over 1,500 local men muster in the town for the rebels. In 1642, Lord Mountgarret, the local Commander of the Confederate Catholic regime, orders Protestants to leave Wexford.

Wexford is also the base for a fleet of Confederate privateers, who raid English Parliamentary shipping and contribute 10% of their plunder to the Confederate government based in Kilkenny. In 1642, Parliamentary ships begin throwing captured Wexford sailors overboard with their hands tied. In reprisal, 150–170 English prisoners are kept in Wexford and threatened with death if such killing continued.

In 1648, the Confederates and Royalists in Ireland sign a treaty joining forces against the English Parliament. After Cromwell’s landing in Ireland in August 1649, therefore, Wexford is a key target for the Parliamentarians, being an important port for the Royalist alliance and a base for the privateers.

Cromwell arrives at Wexford on October 2, 1649 with about 6,000 men, eight heavy siege guns, and two mortars. The town’s garrison initially consists of 1,500 Confederate soldiers under David Synnot. However, the morale of the town is low and many of the civilians in Wexford want to surrender. Synnot, however, strings out surrender negotiations with Cromwell insisting on several conditions for surrender that Cromwell does not countenance, including the free practice of the Catholic religion, the evacuation of the garrison with their arms, and the free passage of the privateer fleet to a friendly port.

Negotiations are reopened when Cromwell’s guns blast two breaches in the walls of Wexford castle, opening the prospect of an assault on the town. However, while negotiations are still ongoing, the town is unexpectedly stormed and sacked on October 11, 1649.

Stafford, the English Royalist captain of Wexford Castle, surrenders the castle for reasons that have never been determined. The troops of the New Model Army, on their own initiative, immediately assault the walls of the town, causing the Confederate troops to flee in panic from their positions. The Parliamentarians pursue them into the streets of Wexford, killing many of the town’s defenders. Several hundred, including David Synnot, the town governor, are shot or drowned as they try to cross the River Slaney. Estimates of the death toll vary. Cromwell himself believes that over 2,000 of the town’s defenders have been killed compared with only 20 of his troops. Several Catholic priests, including seven Franciscans are killed by the Roundheads. Much of the town, including its harbour, is burned and looted. As many as 1,500 civilians are also killed in the sacking. This figure is difficult to corroborate but most historians accept that many civilians are killed in the chaos surrounding the fall of Wexford.

The destruction of Wexford is so severe that it can not be used either as a port or as winter quarters for the Parliamentarian forces. One Parliamentarian source therefore describes the sack as “incommodious to ourselves.” Cromwell reports that the remaining civilians have “run off” and asks for soldiers to be sent from England to repopulate the town and reopen its port.