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


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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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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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House of Lords Votes for the Acts of Union

The House of Lords votes on February 10, 1800 for the Acts of Union which sees Ireland lose its own parliament, direct rule is imposed on Ireland, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is created. The acts come into force on January 1, 1801, and the merged Parliament of the United Kingdom has its first meeting on January 22, 1801. Both acts remain in force, with amendments, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but have been repealed in the Republic of Ireland.

Before these Acts, Ireland had been in personal union with England since 1541, when the Parliament of Ireland had passed the Crown of Ireland Act 1542, proclaiming King Henry VIII of England to be King of Ireland. Since the 12th century, the King of England had been technical overlord of the Lordship of Ireland, a papal possession. Both the Kingdoms of Ireland and England later came into personal union with that of Scotland upon the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

In 1707, the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland were united into a single kingdom: the Kingdom of Great Britain. The Irish Parliament at that time was subject to a number of restrictions that placed it subservient to the Parliament of England and, following the union of England and Scotland, the Parliament of Great Britain. Ireland, however, gained effective legislative independence from Great Britain through the Constitution of 1782.

By this time access to institutional power in Ireland was restricted to a small minority, the Anglo-Irish of the Protestant Ascendancy, and frustration at the lack of reform among the Catholic majority eventually led, along with other reasons, to the Irish Rebellion in 1798, involving a French invasion of Ireland and the seeking of complete independence from Great Britain. This rebellion was crushed with much bloodshed, and the subsequent drive for union between Great Britain and Ireland that passes in 1800 is motivated at least in part by the belief that the rebellion was caused as much by reactionary loyalist brutality as by the Society of United Irishmen.

Furthermore, Catholic emancipation is being discussed in Great Britain, and fears that a newly enfranchised Catholic majority will drastically change the character of the Irish government and parliament also contributes to a desire from London to merge the Parliaments.

Complementary acts have to be passed in the Parliament of Great Britain and in the Parliament of Ireland. The Parliament of Ireland had recently gained a large measure of legislative independence under the Constitution of 1782. Many members of the Irish Parliament jealously guard this autonomy and a motion for union is legally rejected in 1799.

Only Anglicans are permitted to become members of the Parliament of Ireland, though the great majority of the Irish population are Roman Catholic, with many Presbyterians in Ulster. In 1793 Roman Catholics regain the right to vote if they own or rent property worth £2 per acre. The Catholic hierarchy is strongly in favour of union, hoping for rapid emancipation and the right to sit as MPs, which is delayed after the passage of the acts until the passage of the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829.

From the perspective of Great Britain, the union is desirable because of the uncertainty that followed the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and the French Revolution of 1789. If Ireland adopted Catholic Emancipation, willingly or not, a Roman Catholic Parliament could break away from Britain and ally with the French. Also the Irish and British Parliaments, when creating a regency during King George III‘s “madness”, gave the Prince Regent different powers. These considerations lead Great Britain to decide to attempt merger of the two kingdoms and their Parliaments.

The final passage of the Act in the Irish Parliament is achieved with substantial majorities, in part according to contemporary documents through bribery, namely the awarding of peerages and honours to critics to get their votes. Whereas the first attempt had been defeated in the Irish House of Commons by 109 votes against to 104 for, the second vote in 1800 produces a result of 158 to 115.

In the first Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the members of the House of Commons are not elected afresh. By royal proclamation authorised by the Act, all the members of the last House of Commons from Great Britain take seats in the new House, and from Ireland 100 members are chosen from the last Irish House of Commons: two members from each of the 32 counties and from the two largest boroughs, and one from each of the next 31 boroughs (chosen by lot) and from the University of Dublin. The other 84 Irish parliamentary boroughs are disfranchised, all being pocket boroughs, whose patrons receive £15,000 compensation for the loss of what is considered their property.

(Pictured: Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom from 1837 to 1952 used by Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and George VI)


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Death of William III, King of England, Scotland & Ireland

Kneller, Godfrey, 1646-1723; King William III (1650-1702)William III, also widely known as William of Orange, dies at Kensington Palace on March 8, 1702 following a fall from his horse when it stumbles on a molehill. Upon his death, Anne accedes to the throne of Britain and Ireland.

William is sovereign Prince of Orange from birth, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel in the Dutch Republic from 1672 and King of England, Ireland and Scotland from 1689 until his death in 1702. As King of Scotland, he is known as William II. He is sometimes informally known in Northern Ireland and Scotland as “King Billy.”

William is born on November 4, 1650 at Binnenhof, The Hague, Dutch Republic. He inherits the Principality of Orange from his father, William II, who dies a week before William’s birth. His mother, Mary, is the daughter of King Charles I of England. In 1677, William marries his fifteen-year-old first cousin, Mary, the daughter of his maternal uncle James, Duke of York.

A Protestant, William participates in several wars against the powerful Catholic King of France, Louis XIV, in coalition with Protestant and Catholic powers in Europe. Many Protestants herald him as a champion of their faith. In 1685, William’s Catholic uncle and father-in-law, James, becomes king of England, Scotland and Ireland. James’s reign is unpopular with the Protestant majority in Britain. William, supported by a group of influential British political and religious leaders, invades England in what becomes known as the Glorious Revolution. On November 5, 1688, he lands at the southern English port of Brixham. James is deposed and William and his wife become joint sovereigns in his place.

William’s reputation as a staunch Protestant enables him to take power in Britain when many are fearful of a revival of Catholicism under James. William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 is still commemorated by loyalists in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

William and Mary reign together until Mary’s death from smallpox on December 28, 1694, after which William rules as sole monarch. Despite his conversion to Anglicanism, his popularity plummets during his reign as a sole monarch. His reign in Britain marks the beginning of the transition from the personal rule of the House of Stuart to the more Parliament-centred rule of the House of Hanover.

On March 8, 1702, William dies of pneumonia, a complication from a broken collarbone following a fall from his horse, Sorrel. The horse had been confiscated from Sir John Fenwick, one of the Jacobites who had conspired against William. Because his horse had stumbled into a mole’s burrow, many Jacobites toast “the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat.” Years later, Winston Churchill, in his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, states that the fall “opened the door to a troop of lurking foes.” William is buried in Westminster Abbey alongside his wife. His sister-in-law, Anne, becomes queen regnant of England, Scotland and Ireland.

William’s death means that he would remain the only member of the Dutch House of Orange to reign over England.


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The Battle of Skerries

battle-of-skerriesThe Battle of Skerries, also named the Battle of Ardscull, a battle in the Bruce campaign in Ireland and part of the First War of Scottish Independence, is fought on January 26, 1316, resulting in a Scottish victory. It is part of the Irish campaign of Edward Bruce, brother of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland. The site of the battle is Skerries near Ardscull in County Kildare.

Edward Bruce, Earl of Carrick, lands in Ireland in May 1315 and is proclaimed king of the island in June. Bruce continues on his march south, when on January 26, 1316 the Scottish army is advancing from Castledermot when it encounters the English. The Hiberno-Norman forces, summoned by the justiciar of Ireland, consists of men such as John FitzThomas FitzGerald, Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, Thomas FitzJohn FitzGerald, John and Arnold Poer, Maurice de Rocheford and Miles and David de la Roche. Though these forces heavily outnumber those of Bruce, internal strife breaks out in the Anglo-Irish ranks, a fact that Bruce can take advantage of. Though suffering heavy losses, the Scots hold the battlefield, effectively winning the battle.

The official English account of the battle blames unfortunate terrain and bad luck for the government forces’ loss, not an entirely convincing explanation. The same account also claims that the Scots lost many of their greatest men, while their opponents only lost one man.

After the battle the Scots plunder the nearby town of Athy before withdrawing to Leix, while the Anglo-Irish forces keep them under surveillance from nearby Castledermot, while their leader withdraws to Dublin. Here John Hotham, the king’s envoy to Ireland, makes a great effort to ensure the loyalty of the Irish nobles. By May, however, Bruce has returned to his safe base in Ulster, while Hotham has returned to his new position in England as Bishop of Ely.


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Coronation of James II as King of England & Ireland

The coronation of James II as King of England and Ireland takes place at Westminster Abbey on April 23, 1685. He is also crowned King of Scotland as James VII. He is the last Roman Catholic monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland.

The second surviving son of Charles I, James ascends the throne upon the death of his brother, Charles II. There is little initial opposition to his accession, and there are widespread reports of public rejoicing at the orderly succession. The new Parliament that assembles in May 1685, which gains the name of “Loyal Parliament,” is initially favourable to James, and the new King sends word that even most of the former exclusionists will be forgiven if they acquiesce to his rule.

Members of Britain’s Protestant political elite increasingly suspect him of being pro-French and pro-Catholic and of having designs on becoming an absolute monarch. When he produces a Catholic heir, leading nobles call on his Protestant son-in-law and nephew William of Orange to land an invasion army from the Dutch Republic, which he does in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. James flees England and thus is held to have abdicated. He is replaced by his eldest, Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange.

James makes one serious attempt to recover his crowns from William and Mary when he lands in Ireland in 1689. After the defeat of the Jacobite forces by the Williamites at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690, James returns to France. He lives out the rest of his life as a pretender at a court sponsored by his cousin and ally, King Louis XIV.

James is best known for his struggles with the English Parliament and his attempts to create religious liberty for English Roman Catholics and Protestant nonconformists, against the wishes of the Anglican establishment. This tension makes James’s four-year reign a struggle for supremacy between the English Parliament and the Crown, resulting in his deposition, the passage of the Bill of Rights, and the accession of his daughter and her husband as king and queen.