seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Irish Rebellion of 1641

Rory O’Moore and Sir Phelim Roe O’Neill initiate a major revolt in Armagh on October 23, 1641. The Irish Rebellion of 1641 results in the deaths of at least 4,000 Protestants with Catholics massacred in reprisals over the ensuing six months.

The Rebellion comes about because of the resentment felt by the Irish Catholics, both Gael and Old English, in regards to the loss of their lands to Protestant settlers from England and Scotland.

Irish Catholics are frightened by reports that the Covenanter army in Scotland is considering an invasion of Ireland in order to eradicate the Catholic religion. At the same time, there is also a threat of invasion by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans who are at war against King Charles I. It is hoped that the King would redress the complaints of the Catholics and halt or even reverse the policy of plantation. It is not an act of rebellion against the Royal domain.

The uprising is lead by Rory O’ Moore from Leix, with Sir Phelim Roe O’ Neill and his brother Turlough of Tyrone, the Maguires of Fermanagh, the Magennis, O’ Reilly and the MacMahons. They plan to begin the rebellion on October 23, 1641 with attacks on Dublin and various other British strongholds throughout the country. However, their plans are betrayed to the British by a native Irish convert to Protestantism, Owen O’ Connolly.

As a result of this betrayal, Dublin does not fall. However, the rebellion proceeds in the north with the towns of Dungannon, Newry, and Castleblayney, along with the fort at Charlemont falling to the rebels.

Most of the province of Ulster comes under the control of the rebel leaders. The rebel army, consisting of 30,000 men, has been instructed to take no life except in battle, to arrest the gentry and to spare the Scottish planters as they are considered kindred. For a week after the rebellion, these instructions are adhered to but many of the rebels have lost their lands to the Protestant planters and they want revenge. They attack farms and settlements, killing and turning many people away, robbing and stripping them of all their goods.

Sir Phelim O’ Neill has been himself thought to have ordered the murder of Protestants in Tyrone and Armagh. It is believed that about 12,000 people are slaughtered although contemporary reports put the death toll as much higher. It is thought that up to 30% of the Ulster planters lost their lives while 10% is the figure for the whole of Ireland.

As the rebellion progresses in Ulster there are uprisings in Leinster by November and thereafter throughout the whole of Ireland. In Munster, where many English settlers are planted, the rebels do not shed much blood but they do turn out these settlers, many of whom flee back to England.

In 1642 the Old English form an alliance with the Gaelic Lords at the Assembly of Killkenny. This alliance causes the rebellion to escalate into the Irish Confederate Wars which continue until Cromwell’s invasion and subjugation of Ireland (1649-53).

In 1642 the Scottish Covenanters invade the North and they, in turn, take to killing Catholics in revenge for the deaths of Protestants. The Covenanter Clan Campbell of Argyll takes the opportunity to attack and slaughter the Catholic Rathlin Islanders who belong to ancient enemies, Clan Mac Donald. The Covenanters also slaughter the approximately 3,000 Catholics on Islandmagee. Catholic prisoners and traders in Newry are murdered.

This ruthless slaughtering of civilians, by both sides, is only brought under control when Owen Roe O’ Neill arrives back from exile in France to take control of the Confederate army and, with Major General Robert Monroe in charge of the Covenanter Army, continues the war under the code of conduct that they had both learned on the Continent. However, the effects of the rebellion last to the present day, especially in Ulster where sectarian divide remains strong during The Troubles.

(Pictured: Depiction of the massacre of Ulster Protestants during the 1641 rebellion, The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)


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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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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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The Battle of Knocknanauss

The Battle of Knocknanauss is fought on November 13, 1647, during the Irish Confederate Wars, part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, between Confederate Ireland’s Munster army and an English Parliamentarian army under Murrough O’Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin. The battle results in a crushing defeat for the Irish Confederates.

In the summer of 1647, Murrough O’Brien (later created the Earl of Inchiquin), commander of the English Parliamentarian forces in Cork, ravages and burns the Confederate territory in Munster. This causes severe food shortages and earns O’Brien the Irish nickname, Murchadh na d’Tóiteán (Murrough the Burner). In addition, Inchiquinn takes the Rock of Cashel, which is garrisoned by Confederate troops and rich in emotive religious symbolism. In the sack of the castle, O’Brien’s troops massacre the garrison and all the clergy they find there.

The Confederates’ Munster army is incapable of stopping O’Brien because of political infighting between officers who support a deal with the English Royalists and those who reject such a deal. Eventually, in reaction to the sack of Cashel and famine conditions, the Confederate Supreme Council replaces Donough MacCarthy, 2nd Viscount Muskerry, as commander of the Munster army with Theobald Taaffe, 1st Earl of Carlingford, and order him to bring O’Brien to battle.

Taaffe is an English Catholic and not an experienced soldier. Although he has an excellent contingent of veteran troops under Alasdair Mac Colla, most of his men are similarly inexperienced. Furthermore, the Irish troops are demoralised by the internal factionalism in their ranks and most of them have little loyalty to Taafe. O’Brien, on the other hand, has been commanding his force since 1642 and is well experienced in battle. His troops are a mixture of well trained Parliamentarian soldiers from England and British settlers who have been driven from their homes in the Irish Rebellion of 1641. The two armies meet at Knocknanuss near Mallow, approximately 29 kilometers north of Cork.

The battle that follows is essentially an uncoordinated rout of the Irish forces. Taaffe positions his men on either side of a hill, so that they cannot see one another. The result is that one wing of the Confederate army has no idea of what the other wing is doing. Mac Colla’s men charge the Parliamentarians opposite them putting them to flight and killing a large number of them. Thinking the battle is over, they then take to looting the enemy’s baggage train.

However, on the other wing, O’Brien’s cavalry has charged the raw Irish horsemen, causing them to run away. Despite Taaffe’s desperate attempt to rally them, the Irish infantry follow suit, many of them being cut down by the pursuing roundheads. The pursuit continues for miles and not only results in heavy casualties among the Irish, but also in the loss of most of their equipment and supplies. Inchiquin loses several senior officers, including the Judge-Advocate, Sir Robert Travers. Mac Colla and his men surrender when they realise what has happened but are subsequently killed by their captors. Around 3,000 Confederates die at Knocknanauss, and up to 1,000 English Parliamentarians. The carnage does not stop after the fighting is finished. The next day a couple of hundred Irish soldiers are found sheltering in a nearby wood. These are promptly put to the sword.

When combined with the Battle of Dungans Hill in County Meath, the defeat leads to the collapse of the Confederate Catholic cause and forces them to make a deal with the English Royalists.


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Death of Owen Roe O’Neill, Member of the O’Neill Dynasty of Ulster

Owen Roe O’Neill, Gaelic Irish soldier and one of the most famous of the O’Neill dynasty of Ulster, dies on November 6, 1649 at the O’Reilly stronghold of Cloughoughter Castle located on an island in Lough Oughter in County Cavan.

O’Neill is the illegitimate son of Art MacBaron O’Neill, a younger brother of Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone, who holds lands in County Armagh. His mother is the daughter of Aodh Conallach O’Raghallaigh, the chief of Breifne O’Reilly in County Cavan.

As a young man O’Neill leaves Ireland, one of the ninety-nine involved in the Flight of the Earls escaping the English conquest of his native Ulster. He grows up in the Spanish Netherlands and spends 40 years serving in the Irish regiment of the Spanish army. He sees most of his combat in the Eighty Years’ War against the Dutch Republic in Flanders, notably at the Siege of Arras, where he commands the Spanish garrison. He also distinguishes himself in the Franco-Spanish War by holding out for 48 days with 2,000 men against a French army of 35,000.

O’Neill is, like many Gaelic Irish officers in the Spanish service, very hostile to the English Protestant presence in Ireland. In 1627, he is involved in petitioning the Spanish monarchy to invade Ireland using the Irish Spanish regiments. He proposes that Ireland be made a republic under Spanish protection to avoid in-fighting between Irish Catholic landed families over which of them would provide a prince or king of Ireland. This plot comes to nothing. However in 1642, He returns to Ireland with 300 veterans to aid the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

The subsequent war, known as the Irish Confederate Wars, is part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, civil wars throughout Britain and Ireland. Because of his military experience, O’Neill is recognised on his return to Ireland in July 1642, at Doe Castle in County Donegal, as the leading representative of the O’Neills and head of the Ulster Irish. Sir Phelim O’Neill resigns the northern command of the Irish rebellion in his favour and escorts him from Lough Swilly to Charlemont.

Jealousy between the kinsmen is complicated by differences between O’Neill and the Catholic Confederation which meet at Kilkenny in October 1642. O’Neill professes to be acting in the interest of Charles I, but his real aim is the complete Independence of Ireland as a Roman Catholic country, while the Old English Catholics represented by the council desire to secure religious liberty and an Irish constitution under the crown of England. More concretely, O’Neill wants the Plantation of Ulster overturned and the recovery of the O’Neill clan’s ancestral lands. Moreover, he is unhappy that the majority of Confederate military resources are directed to Thomas Preston‘s Leinster army. Preston is also a Spanish veteran but he and O’Neill have an intense personal dislike of each other.

Although O’Neill is a competent general, he is outnumbered by the Scottish Covenanter army that lands in Ulster in 1642. Following a reverse at Clones, he has to abandon central Ulster and is followed by thousands of refugees, fleeing the retribution of the Scottish soldiers for some atrocities against Protestants in the rebellion of 1641. He does his best to stop the killings of Protestant civilians, for which he receives the gratitude of many Protestant settlers. From 1642–1646 a stalemate exists in Ulster, which he uses to train and discipline his Ulster Army. This poorly supplied force nevertheless gains a very bad reputation for plundering and robbing friendly civilians around its quarters in northern Leinster and southern Ulster.

In 1646 O’Neill, with substantial Gallowglass numbers and additionally furnished with supplies by the Papal Nuncio, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, attacks the Scottish Covenanter army under Major-General Robert Monro, who had landed in Ireland in April 1642. On June 5, 1646 O’Neill utterly routs Monro at the Battle of Benburb, killing or capturing up to 3,000 Scots. However after being summoned to the south by Rinuccini, he fails to take advantage of the victory, and allows Monro to remain unmolested at Carrickfergus.

In March 1646 a treaty is signed between James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond and the Catholics, which would have committed the Catholics to sending troops to aid the Royalist cause in the English Civil War. The peace terms however, are rejected by a majority of the Irish Catholic military leaders and the Catholic clergy including the Nuncio, Rinuccini. O’Neill leads his Ulster army, along with Thomas Preston’s Leinster army, in a failed attempt to take Dublin from Ormond. However, the Irish Confederates suffer heavy military defeats the following year at the hands of Parliamentarian forces in Ireland at Dungan’s Hill and Knocknanauss, leading to a moderation of their demands and a new peace deal with the Royalists. This time O’Neill is alone among the Irish generals in rejecting the peace deal and finds himself isolated by the departure of the papal nuncio from Ireland in February 1649.

So alienated is O’Neill by the terms of the peace the Confederates have made with Ormond that he refuses to join the Catholic/Royalist coalition and in 1648 his Ulster army fights with other Irish Catholic armies. He makes overtures for alliance to George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, who is in command of the parliamentarians in the north, to obtain supplies for his forces, and at one stage even tries to make a separate treaty with the English Parliament against the Royalists in Ireland. Failing to obtain any better terms from them, he turns once more to Ormond and the Catholic confederates, with whom he prepares to co-operate more earnestly when Oliver Cromwell‘s arrival in Ireland in August 1649 brings the Catholic party face to face with serious danger.

Before, however, anything is accomplished by this combination, O’Neill dies on November 6, 1649 at the O’Reilly stronghold of Cloughoughter Castle located on an island in Lough Oughter in County Cavan. There is no clear evidence of the cause of death, with one belief being that he was poisoned by a priest, while others think it is more likely that he died from an illness resulting from an old wound. Under cover of night he is reputed to have been brought to the Franciscan abbey in Cavan town for burial. However some local tradition still suggests that it may have been at Trinity abbey located upon an island in Lough Oughter, which may be more likely given the logistics of his removal. His death is a major blow to the Irish of Ulster and is kept secret for some time.

The Catholic nobles and gentry meet in Ulster in March 1650 to appoint a commander to succeed O’Neill, and their choice is Heber MacMahon, Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher, the chief organiser of the recent Clonmacnoise meeting. O’Neill’s Ulster army is unable to prevent the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, despite a successful defence of Clonmel by O’Neill’s nephew Hugh Dubh O’Neill and is destroyed at the Battle of Scarrifholis in County Donegal in 1650. Its remnants continue guerrilla warfare until 1653, when they surrender at Cloughoughter Castle in County Cavan. Most of the survivors are transported to serve in the Spanish Army.

In the nineteenth century, O’Neill is celebrated by the Irish nationalist revolutionaries, the Young Irelanders, who see him as an Irish patriot. Thomas Davis writes a famous song about O’Neill, titled “The Lament for Owen Roe” which is popularised in their newspaper, The Nation.

O’Neill has been commemorated in the names of several Gaelic Athletic Association clubs, including Middletown Eoghan Rua Gaelic Athletic Club in County Armagh; CLG Eoghan Rua in Coleraine; St. Oliver Plunketts/Eoghan Ruadh GAA in Dublin, and Brackaville Owen Roes GFC; Owen Roe O’Neill’s GAC in County Tyrone; and the defunct Benburb Eoghan Ruadh GAC.


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Ulster Rebels Take Dundalk During the Irish Rebellion of 1641

Ulster rebels take Dundalk on October 31, 1641 during the Irish Rebellion of 1641. The rebellion is an uprising by Irish Catholics in the Kingdom of Ireland, who want an end to anti-Catholic discrimination, greater Irish self-governance, and to partially or fully reverse the plantations of Ireland. They also want to prevent a possible invasion or takeover by anti-Catholic English Parliamentarians and Scottish Covenanters, who are defying the king, Charles I.

The rebellion begins on October 23, 1641 as an attempted coup d’état by Catholic gentry and military officers, who try to seize control of the English administration in Ireland. However, it develops into a widespread rebellion and ethnic conflict with English and Scottish Protestant settlers, leading to Scottish military intervention. The rebels eventually found the Irish Catholic Confederacy.

The plan to seize Dublin Castle is foiled, but the rebels swiftly capture numerous towns (including Dundalk), forts and fortified houses in the northern province of Ulster. Within days they hold most of the province. Rebel leader Felim O’Neill of Kinard issues a forged proclamation, the Proclamation of Dungannon, claiming he has the king’s blessing to secure Ireland against the king’s opponents. The uprising spreads southward and soon most of Ireland is in rebellion. In November, rebels besiege Drogheda and defeat an English relief force at Julianstown. The following month, many Anglo-Irish Catholic lords join the rebellion. In these first months, especially in Ulster, some Catholic rebels drive out or kill thousands of Protestant settlers (most notably the Portadown massacre), and settlers respond in kind. Reports of rebel massacres outrage Protestants in Britain, and leave a lasting impact on the Ulster Protestant community.

King Charles and the English parliament both seek to quell the rebellion, but parliament does not trust the king with command of any army raised to do so. This is one of the issues that lead to the English Civil War. Charles orders forces to be raised in Ireland, and the English parliament drafts a bill to give itself the power to raise armed forces. Eventually, in April 1642, following negotiations between the English and Scottish parliaments, the Scots send a Covenanter army to Ireland. It swiftly captures most of eastern Ulster, while a Protestant settler army holds northwestern Ulster. Government forces meanwhile recapture much of the Pale, and hold the region around Cork. Most of the rest of Ireland is under rebel control.

In May 1642, Ireland’s Catholic bishops meet at Kilkenny, declare the rebellion to be a just war and take steps to control it. With representatives of the Catholic nobility in attendance, they agree to set up an alternative government known as the Irish Catholic Confederacy and draw up the Confederate Oath of Association. The rebels, now known as Confederates, hold most of Ireland against the Protestant Royalists, Scottish Covenanters and English Parliamentarians. The rebellion is thus the first stage of the Irish Confederate Wars and part of the wider Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which lasts for the next ten years.

(Pictured: Depiction of the massacre of Ulster Protestants during the 1641 rebellion, the LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)


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Phillip O’Reilly Surrenders to the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland

settlement-of-ireland-1653The last major body of Irish Catholic troops under Phillip O’Reilly surrender to the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland at Cloughoughter in County Cavan on April 27, 1653. This marks the end of the Irish Confederate Wars which began in 1641.

Colonel Philip O’Reilly is a member of parliament (MP) for County Cavan in the Parliament of Ireland from 1639 to 1641, and a leading member of the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

O’Reilly’s father, grandfather and several other ancestors are chiefs of the O’Reilly clan and Lords of Breifne O’Reilly. His mother is Catherine MacMahon. He resides at Bellanacargy Castle in the barony of Tullygarvey, near to present day village of Drung. Bellanacargy castle, anciently referred to as Ballynacarraig because it was built on a carraig (rock island) situated in the middle of the River Annalee, is destroyed in May 1689 by Williamite forces led by Thomas Lloyd.

As a young man O’Reilly serves for some time in the Spanish army but returns to Ireland. He is appointed Commissioner of the Peace in 1625 and High Sheriff of Cavan in 1629. He is elected as MP for County Cavan in 1639.

During the Parliamentary session of 1640 O’Reilly is enlisted by Rory O’Moore in the plot to start a rebellion against English rule in Ireland. O’Moore is a distant relation as his sister Cecilia O’Moore is married to O’Reilly’s first cousin, Tirlagh O’Neill. On the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion in October 1641 he is elected chief of the O’Reillys. As a result, the Irish Parliament expels him on November 16, 1641. On November 6, 1641 he orders a general gathering of his clansmen from 16 to 60 years of age, to be held at Virginia, and on December 11, 1641 he has possession of the whole county, except the Killeshandra castles of Keelagh and Croghan which are defended by Sir Francis Hamilton and Sir James Craig. He raises a brigade of twelve hundred men, composed chiefly of his name and family, and serves with distinction as lieutenant-general in the service of the Confederate Catholics of Ireland. The Assembly of Kilkenny appoints him Lord President of Ulster. His second cousin Myles O’Reilly is High Sheriff of Cavan in 1641 at the outbreak of the Rebellion.

O’Reilly is detained for treason by the English government in 1642. In his diary for June 3, 1644, the historian Sir James Ware II states, “Intelligence came to Dublin that Roger Moore and Philip O’Reilly, two of the first incendiaries were committed to prison at Kilkenny.” O’Reilly is further denounced by the Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652 at the end of the rebellion. Following the collapse of the Irish confederacy, he formally surrenders to Oliver Cromwell at Cloughoughter Castle on April 27, 1653, being the last Irish garrison to do so. He secures favourable terms and is obliged to leave Ireland. He retires with his brigade into Spain and thence to the Netherlands, where he serves in the Spanish army for about two years and dies in 1655. He is buried in the Irish monastery of St. Dominick in Leuven, Belgium.


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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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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.