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


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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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Enactment of Poyning’s Law

poynings-law-enactedPoynings’ Law, also known as the Statute of Drogheda, an Act of the Parliament of Ireland which provides that the parliament cannot meet until its proposed legislation has been approved by both Ireland’s Lord Deputy and Privy Council and by England’s monarch and Privy Council, is enacted on December 1, 1494.

Poynings’ Parliament is called by Sir Edward Poynings in his capacity as Lord Deputy of Ireland, appointed by King Henry VII of England in his capacity as Lord of Ireland. Coming in the aftermath of the divisive Wars of the Roses, Poynings’ intention is to make Ireland once again obedient to the English monarchy. Assembling the Parliament on December 1, 1494, he declares that the Parliament of Ireland is thereafter to be placed under the authority of the Parliament of England. This marks the beginning of Tudor direct rule in Ireland, although Henry VII is still forced to rely on Old English nobles (such as Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, despite his support for Lambert Simnel) as his deputies in Ireland through the intervening years.

The working of Poynings’ Law takes place in several steps. The first step is for the lieutenant governor and the Irish council, or Irish executive, to decide that a parliament is needed, usually for the purpose of raising funds. At this point the council and lieutenant write drafts of legislation to be proposed to the king and his council. After this has been completed, the lieutenant and council, according to the act, are required to certify the request for parliament “under the great seal of that land [Ireland],” and then forward it to England for approval. Once the request arrives in England, it is reviewed by the King and his council, and a formal licence approving the request for parliament and the draft bills are returned to Ireland. Once the licence is received in Ireland, the governor summons parliament and the bills are passed.

The two important aspects of the procedure presented by Poynings’ Law are transmission and certification. Both of these requirements place limits on various parties within the law making process in Ireland. The combination of these processes create a situation where bills can be sent, along with the request for parliament, and the king can amend and remove such bills as he wishes, however he cannot add new bills himself.

Furthermore, the two processes make it impossible for the Irish to add more bills or amendments to a request, after the initial licence request has been granted. This means that any additional bills or amendments that they wish to pass in parliament have to be re-sent along with an entirely new request for parliament. Clearly this creates severe inefficiencies in the legislative process, and thus gives the executive in Ireland as well as the Crown an interest in relaxing procedure.

Poynings’ Law is a major rallying point for later groups seeking self-government for Ireland, particularly the Confederate Catholics in the 1640s and Henry Grattan‘s Patriot Party in the late 18th century, who consistently seek a repeal of Poynings’ Law. The Act remains in place until the Constitution of 1782 gives the Irish parliament legislative independence. The Acts of Union 1800 render most of the Constitution of 1782 and Poynings’ Law moot. Poynings’ Law is formally repealed as obsolete by the Statute Law Revision (Ireland) Act 1878.


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The Battle of Knockdoe

battle-of-knockdoeThe Battle of Knockdoe, a battle between the forces of two Anglo-Irish lords — Gerald FitzGerald, Earl of Kildare, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, and Ulick Fionn Burke, lord of Clanricarde, takes place on August 19, 1504 at Knockdoe, County Galway.

Gerald FitzGerald becomes concerned that Ulick Burke’s attempt to gain supremacy in Connacht could simultaneously threaten the Crown’s interests in that province and his claim to be the paramount magnate in Ireland. He tries to persuade Ulick to acknowledge his authority by giving him his daughter Estacia in marriage. Ulick Burke, however, resists all attempts to have his power subordinated by the Earl of Kildare, forming an alliance with O’Brien of Thomond and the magnates of Munster. The Burkes of Mayo, on the other hand, join forces with Kildare with the aim of suppressing their dangerous neighbour.

In 1503, Ulick Burke attacks and destroys the castles of O’Kelly, Lord of Hymany, at Monivea, Garbally, and Castleblakeney. O’Kelly complains of this to the Lord Deputy.

For political and possibly for personal reasons, the Lord Deputy is eager to help O’Kelly weaken the prestige of Clanrickarde. Both sides gather a large contingent of lesser magnates and their armies. The Lord Deputy’s forces include contingents from Leinster, Ulster, and Connacht, among which are the armies of Red Hugh O’Donnell and Art Óg Ó Néill, the McDermotts and Morrisroes of Connacht, and a contingent provided by O’Kelly. Facing them are the forces of Burke and his allies – the O’Briens of Thomond, the McNamaras, the O’Kennedys, and the O’Carrolls.

The armies meet on the slopes of Knockdoe, almost a mile to the north of Lackagh Parish Church, with heavily armed Gallowglass playing a large part on both sides. It is said that firearms are employed in the course of the battle, an early instance of their use in Ireland. The battle apparently lasts all day, with the heaviest fighting taking place along the River Clare in the townland of Ballybrone. The precise number of casualties is unknown, though contemporary observers are impressed by the extent of the slaughter. Around the summit of Knockdoe are many cairns where the dead are said to have been buried, with one in particular being pointed out as the resting place of the two sons of O’Brien of Thomond.

The Lord Deputy, though victorious, has many among the slain. His army remains the night on the field as a token of victory, then marches to Galway, looting Claregalway castle en route and taking as prisoners the two sons and daughter of Ulick Burke. They remain in Galway for a few days and then travel to Athenry.

The Clanrickarde Burkes fade into obscurity for some decades, with their rivals, the Mayo Burkes, gaining influence as a consequence.


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Gearóid Mór FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, Arrested

STC146752The personal rule of Gearóid Mór FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, is brought to an end on February 27, 1495, when he is arrested in Dublin by the Lord deputy Sir Edward Poynings and sent to the Tower of London to await trial for treason.

FitzGerald is Ireland’s premier peer and serves as Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1477 to 1494 and again from 1496 to 1513. His power is so great that he is called “the uncrowned King of Ireland.”

Gerald FitzGerald is appointed Lord Deputy in 1477, but is replaced by Lord Grey of Codnor on the supposition that an Englishman can do a better job. The Lords of the Pale set up a breakaway Parliament in protest, and Edward IV is forced to re-install FitzGerald. He inherits the title of Earl of Kildare in 1478.

FitzGerald manages to keep his position after the York dynasty in England is toppled and Henry VII becomes king, but FitzGerald blatantly disobeys King Henry on several occasions. He supports the pretender to the throne of England and the Lordship of Ireland, Lambert Simnel. However, Henry needs FitzGerald to rule in Ireland but, at the same time, he cannot control him. Simnel’s attempt to seize the throne ends in disaster at the Battle of Stoke Field and many of his supporters are killed. Henry, now secure on his throne, can afford to be merciful and pardons both Simnel and Kildare. Kildare is shrewd enough not to commit himself to the cause of the later pretender, Perkin Warbeck, despite Henry’s caustic comment that the Irish nobility would crown an ape to secure power for themselves.

FitzGerald presides over a period of near independence from English rule between 1477 and 1494. This independence is brought to an end on February 27, 1495 when his enemies in Ireland seize power and Lord deputy Sir Edward Poynings has him sent to London as a traitor. With FitzGerald’s absence, the way is cleared to end the independence of the Irish Parliament. Poynings directs the Irish Parliament, which is sitting in the town of Drogheda, to pass legislation making it subordinate to the English Parliament in Westminster. This marks the end of medieval Ireland and the commencement of the period of Tudor rule.

FitzGerald suffers another blow when his wife Alison dies soon after his arrest. He is tried in 1496, and uses the trial to convince Henry VII that the ruling factions in Ireland are “false knaves.” Henry immediately appoints him as Lord Deputy of Ireland and allows him to marry Elizabeth St. John, a distant cousin of the King. FitzGerald returns to Ireland in triumph.

He rules Ireland with an iron fist. He suppresses a rebellion in the city of Cork in 1500 by hanging the city’s mayor. He raises up an army against rebels in Connacht in 1504, defeating them at the Battle of Knockdoe. In 1512, after entering O’Neill of Clandeboye’s territory, capturing him and taking the castle of Belfast, FitzGerald proceeds through to utterly ravage the Bissett family’s lordship of the coastal Glens of Antrim.

The following year, while on an expedition against the O’Carrolls, he is mortally wounded while watering his horse in Kilkea. He is conveyed back to Kildare where he dies on or around September 3, 1513.