The Battle of Lisnagarvey is fought on December 6, 1649, near Lisnagarvey, County Antrim, during the Irish Confederate Wars, an associated conflict of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (1638-51). Forces loyal to the Commonwealth of England defeat an army supporting Charles II of England, composed of Royalists and Scots Covenanters.
The Irish Confederate Wars, sparked by the Irish Rebellion of 1641, are initially fought between the predominantly Catholic Confederation, and a largely Protestant government army led by James FitzThomas Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond. Both claims to be loyal to Charles I, while there is a three-sided war in Ulster. The latter involves Royalists, Gaelic Catholic leader Eoghan Ó Néill, and Presbyterian militia known as the Laggan Army, supported by Scots Covenanters under Robert Monro.
In September 1643, Ormond agrees to 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 provides support for Scottish settlers in Ulster, considers 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 it also sacrilegious, and 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 controls most of Ireland.
In Ulster, Derry is the only major town still held by forces loyal to the Commonwealth. The garrison is commanded by Coote, who is besieged by the Laggan Army under George Munro, Robert’s nephew. In July, Munro is forced to lift the siege by Ó Néill, an example of the impact of the truce between two unlikely allies.
Ormond’s defeat at 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.
At the end of October, Coote joins Venables at Belfast. They spend November reducing remaining Royalist garrisons in the north, and in early December, assemble 3,000 men to attack Carrickfergus. After lifting the siege of Derry, Munro has retreated to Enniskillen with the remainder of the Laggan Army. Since the loss of Carrickfergus would effectively cut communications with Scotland, he is determined to prevent this if at all possible.
He combines forces with Royalist leader Lord Clandeboye, creating an army of around 5,000. However, it comprises remnants from many different regiments, its men are poorly equipped, and demoralised, while most have not been paid for over two years. As they march north, their numbers dwindle due to desertion.
Learning of their advance, Coote and Venables move to intercept Munro, and the two advance guards make contact outside Lisnagarvey, near Lisburn, on December 6. Despite superior numbers, the Royalists cannot hold their ground against their far more experienced opponents. When the main body of the Parliamentarian force appears, the retreat rapidly turns into a rout, the majority fleeing without firing a shot. In the pursuit that follows, they lose 1,500 men, killed or captured, along with their baggage train and supplies. Clandeboye and the remnants of his army surrender shortly afterwards, although Monro escapes to Enniskillen.
Lisnagarvey ends resistance by Scottish forces to the Parliamentarian army. Carrickfergus surrenders on December 13, and as with other towns, its Scottish settlers are expelled. Early in 1650, Monro agrees to evacuate Enniskillen for £500, and returns to Scotland, leaving Ó Néill’s army as the only remaining obstacle to Parliamentarian control of the north. However, his death in November 1649 proves a major blow to its morale and fighting ability. In June 1650, it is destroyed by Coote and Venables at Scarrifholis.
(Pictured: Map of key locations of the 1649 campaign in Ulster)