seamus dubhghaill

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


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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 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.


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The Barebone’s Parliament of 1653

Oliver Cromwell

The Barebone’s Parliament, also known as the Little Parliament, the Nominated Assembly, and the Parliament of Saints, comes into being on July 4, 1653, and is the last attempt of the English Commonwealth to find a stable political form before the installation of Oliver Cromwell (pictured) as Lord Protector. It is an assembly entirely nominated by Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army‘s Council of Officers. It acquires its name from the nominee for the City of London, Praise-God Barebone. The Speaker of the House is Francis Rous. There are a total of 140 nominees – 129 from England, five from Scotland, and six from Ireland. The Barebone’s Parliament is preceded by the Rump Parliament and succeeded by the First Protectorate Parliament.

The assembly, inspired by the Jewish Sanhedrin, meets for the first time on July 4 in the council chamber at Whitehall. Cromwell opens proceedings with a speech around two hours long. He begins by summing up the “series of Providences” that have brought them to this point, starting with the Short Parliament and singling out 1648 as the “most memorable year that ever this nation saw.”

The assembly then adjourns before sitting in full on the following day. On that day they elect Francis Rous, initially as chairman. He is not known as Speaker until a month later. Henry Scobell is appointed as Clerk. On July 12, the assembly publishes a declaration declaring itself to be the parliament of the Commonwealth of England. This is the first time that it has been formally described as a parliament.

By early September, Cromwell is said to be growing frustrated with the assembly’s in-fighting between different groups. Attendance also begins to fall. Over one hundred members are present at most votes in July, dropping to an average turnout of 70 by October. Various bills inflame conflict between the radical and moderate members – bills to abolish the Court of Chancery, regulate legal fees, tithes, and speeding up the settlement of cases in the Court of Admiralty all become bogged down in conflict. At this point, however, radical members are still mainly outnumbered in votes by moderate and conservative members.

This changes during November and December when debate returns to the question of tithes. On December 6, the committee appointed to consider the question presents their report, covering the question of how unfit ministers are to be ejected, naming commissioners who will have the job of enacting this, and retaining support for tithes in prescribed circumstances. In a defeat for the moderates, the first clause is voted down 56 to 54. Two days later, moderates come to the House and demand that the assembly abdicate its powers, criticising radical members for threatening the well being of the Commonwealth by fomenting disagreement. Rous and around 40 members walk out and go to Cromwell at Whitehall, presenting a document signed by nearly 80 members that declares: “Upon a Motion this day made in the House, that the sitting of this Parliament any longer as now constituted, will not be for the good of the Commonwealth.” Those left in the house are soon confronted by troops requesting that they leave. On December 12, 1653, the members of the assembly vote to dissolve it.