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


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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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King William III, William of Orange, Arrives in Belfast

William of Orange, King of Holland, and recently declared King William III of England, arrives with his fleet in Belfast on June 14, 1690. He remains for twelve days, departing on June 26. For his part he likes what he sees. “This country is worth fighting for,” he says.

William’s departure from London is held up by parliamentary business until the end of May, when he announces that he can wait no longer and adjourns Parliament. He sets out early in the morning of June 4, reaching Northampton before nightfall. On Sunday, June 8, he attends divine service in Chester Cathedral and goes on to inspect the ships at Hoylake on the tip of the Wirral Peninsula.

For two days the wind is contrary, but on June 11 he embarks on board the yacht “Mary” with a fleet escorted by Sir Cloudesley Shovell‘s squadron. On June 14 the hills of Ireland come in sight and in the afternoon the fleet casts anchor off Carrickfergus. He is rowed ashore in the Rear Admiral’s barge and at about 3:30 p.m. lands at the Old Quay under the shadow of the great Norman Castle.

The Garrison of the Castle has drawn up a Guard of Honour and the townspeople add their applause. The chosen spokesman is a Quaker, whose principles forbid him to doff his hat, or use such titles as Sir and Majesty. He gets around the difficulty by taking off his hat and laying it on a stone and then stepping forward and saying “William, thou art welcome to thy Kingdom” which pleases the King so much that he replies, “You are the best bred gentleman I have met since I came to England.” With these words he mounts his horse and sets off for Belfast.

Halfway along the shore is the little port of Whitehouse, where most of the army disembarks. The Commander-in-Chief, Frederick Schomberg, 1st Duke of Schomberg, and his senior commanders are waiting here to welcome the King. To cover the disembarkation, earthworks have been thrown up by the engineers at Fort William and garrisoned by troops ready for action.

In 1690 Belfast consists of about 300 houses in five streets. It has two churches, the Parish Church, where St. George’s Church still stands in the High Street, and the Presbyterian Meeting House in Rosemary Lane. The town had been surrounded by a rampart in 1642 and had been captured by Colonel Robert Venebles for Oliver Cromwell after a four-day siege and an assault on the North Gate in 1649.

It is at the North Gate that King William enters Belfast where North Street now crosses Royal Avenue. Here he is welcomed by the magistrates and burgesses in their robes and by the Rev. George Walker, now Bishop-elect of Derry. A Royal Salute is fired from the Castle and is echoed and re-echoed by the guns which Schomberg had placed at wide intervals for the purpose of conveying signals from post to post. Wherever it is heard it is known that King William has come. Before midnight all the heights of Antrim and Down are blazing with bonfires.

The next day being Sunday, William attends church at the Corporation Church, now St. George’s Church. On Monday, June 16, addresses of loyalty are presented on behalf of the Church of Ireland and Presbyterian Church clergy, the civic authorities of the city of Londonderry, the town of Belfast and by the Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace and Gentlemen of the Counties of Down and Antrim. The next two days are spent in military preparation.

In the previous season Schomberg had conducted a slow and cautious campaign but William says he has not come to Ireland to let the grass grow under his feet. He orders a general muster of the army in the Parish of Aghaderg which includes Scarvagh and on Thursday, June 19, begins his southward march from Belfast Castle.

The line of march continues along Upper Malone by the Old Coach Road and past the ruins of both Drumbeg and Lambeg Parish Churches which had been burned down in 1641. William reaches Schomberg’s headquarters in Lisburn Castle for lunch on the same day that he left Belfast Castle. The afternoon and evening are spent inspecting troops on Blaris Moor, and then on to Hillsborough Castle for the night.

The cavalcade moves on through the little round hills of County Down, crosses the Upper Bann between Huntly and Ballievey by ford over the hill of Banbridge and on to the rendezvous on the north west of Loughbrickland.

After the disappointments of the previous season and the appalling loss of life through disease, Schomberg had dispersed his army into winter quarters all over Ulster. The Derry and Enniskillen men had gone home to pick up the threads of their lives. Now the farmers among them have the crop in and are recalled to the colours and ready to be reviewed. There are four regiments of Enniskillen men – Wynns, Tiffins, Lloyds and Cunninghams, one of foot and three of horse. There is only one regiment of Derry men, St. John’s, commanded by Mitchelburne with Rev. George Walker as chaplain.

On June 22, William sits in the saddle for hours reviewing his 36,000 men. Marching past are 10,000 Danes, some of whom came from Norway and Sweden, and even Finland, 7,000 Dutch and Brandenburgers, 2,000 French Huguenots, 11,000 English and Scots, 800 Derrymen, 4,500 Inniskilleners and two companies from Bandon, County Cork.

On June 24, an advance party reaches beyond Newry to the edge of Dundalk and brings intelligence that the deposed King James II has fallen back on Ardee. The following day the main army advances to Newry and camps on the side of a hill. On June 25, with the King at their head, wearing an Orange colour sash, they go through the Moyry Gap and pass out of Ulster en route to the Boyne.

(From: “History of Orangeism: King William in Ulster,” Museum of Orange Heritage, http://www.orangeheritage.co.uk)


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Death of Henry Ireton, General in the Parliamentarian Army

Henry Ireton, an English general in the Parliamentarian army during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the son-in-law of Oliver Cromwell, dies in Limerick, County Limerick on November 26, 1651.

Ireton is the eldest son of a German Ireton of Attenborough, Nottinghamshire, and is baptised in St. Mary’s Church on November 3, 1611. He becomes a gentleman commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, in 1626, graduates with a Bachelor of Arts in 1629, and enters the Middle Temple the same year.

At the outbreak of the First English Civil War, Ireton joins the Parliamentary army, commanding a cavalry force in the indecisive Battle of Edgehill in October 1642, and at the Battle of Gainsborough in July 1643. In 1643 he meets and befriends Oliver Cromwell, then a colonel in the army of eastern England. Cromwell appoints him deputy governor of the Isle of Ely in 1644, and he fights at the Parliamentary victories in the Battle of Marston Moor (July 1644), and the Battle of Naseby (June 1645). In the summer of 1646 he marries Cromwell’s eldest daughter, Bridget. The marriage brings Ireton’s career into parallel with Cromwell’s.

Although Ireton’s military record is distinguished, he earns his fame in politics. Elected to Parliament in 1645, he looks on while a conflict develops between the Independents in the army and the Presbyterians who control the House of Commons. In 1647 he presents his “Heads of the Proposals,” a constitutional scheme calling for division of political power among army, Parliament, and king and advocating religious tolerance for Anglicans and Puritans. These proposals for a constitutional monarchy are rejected by the king. At the same time they are attacked by the Levellers, a group that calls for manhood suffrage and an unfettered liberty of conscience in matters of religion.

Ireton then turns against the king. When the Independents in the army triumph over Parliament during the second phase of the Civil War, his “Remonstrance of the Army” provides the ideological foundation for the assault on the monarchy. He helps to bring Charles I to trial and is one of the signatories of the king’s death warrant. From 1649 to 1651 he prosecutes the government’s cause against Roman Catholic rebels in Ireland, becoming Lord Deputy of Ireland and acting commander in chief in 1650.

In early June 1650, Ireton mounts a counter-guerrilla expedition into the Wicklow Mountains to secure his lines of supply for the Siege of Waterford in southeast Ireland. Thomas Preston surrenders Waterford after a three-month siege. Ireton then advances to Limerick by October, but has to call off the siege due to cold and bad weather. He returns to Limerick in June 1651 and besieges the city for five months until it surrenders in October 1651. At the same time, parliamentarian forces conduct the Siege of Galway, and he rides to inspect the command of Charles Coote, who is blockading that city. The physical strain of his command takes hold and he falls ill.

After the capture of Limerick, Ireton has dignitaries of Limerick hanged for their defence of the city, including Alderman Thomas Stritch, Bishop Terence O’Brien, and an English Royalist officer, Colonel Fennell. He also wants the Irish commander, Hugh Dubh O’Neill hanged, but Edmund Ludlow cancels the order after Ireton’s death.

Ireton falls ill of the plague that is raging through the town, and dies on November 26, 1651. His loss reportedly “struck a great sadness into Cromwell” and he is considered a great loss to the administration. At his funeral in Westminster Abbey, John Watson and others wear new tabards that replace the royal arms with the new arms of the commonwealth.

On January 30, 1661, following the Restoration of the English monarchy of 1660, Charles II has Ireton’s corpse exhumed from Westminster and mutilated in a posthumous execution, along with those of Cromwell and John Bradshaw, in retribution for signing his father’s death warrant. The date is symbolic, being the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I.

(Pictured: Painting of Henry Ireton, circa 1650, National Portrait Gallery: NPG 3301)


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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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The Siege of Drogheda Ends

The Siege of Drogheda ends on September 11, 1649 during the outset of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. The siege began on September 3, 1649.

The Royalist rebellion that breaks out in Ireland against the new English republic in 1649 is met by a prompt English response. On August 15 Oliver Cromwell and 15,000 troops land in Dublin. His merciless policy toward the Irish Royalists becomes brutally clear within a month.

The defeat of the Irish Royalists in the Battle of Rathmines in early August is fortuitous for Cromwell, for without it, the English would have held only the small port of Derry (known as Londonderry from 1662) in the north, making his invasion almost impossible to effect. Cromwell quickly finds that the Irish Royalists have retreated into fortified towns. He therefore prepares for a series of sieges.

The first such siege occurs at Drogheda, 28 miles north of Dublin. Cromwell arrives at Drogheda on September 3. His siege guns, brought up by sea, arrive two days later. He finds the town surrounded by high but relatively thin walls and its governor, Sir Arthur Ashton, is confident of his defenses and refuses an order to surrender. On September 10 Cromwell begins an artillery bombardment of the walls. These are breached the following day, but the gap created is too small to allow troops to enter the city. Twice they are repelled until Cromwell himself leads an assault and overwhelms the defenders on September 11.

The carnage inside the city is appalling. Cromwell’s troops kill priests and monks on sight and set fire to a Catholic church sheltering some soldiers. Civilians as well as soldiers are massacred, and Ashton is bludgeoned to death with his own wooden leg. The few Royalist soldiers who survive are transported to Barbados. What happens at Drogheda is replicated at Wexford the following month and Clonmel the next May. By the time Cromwell has put down the rebellion and returned to England in that same month, he has become forever hated by Irish Catholics.

During the eight day siege the British lose 150 of their 12,000 men while 2,800 Irish are killed and 200 captured of the 3,100 at Drogheda.

(Pictured: St Laurence’s Gate – the last remaining of the ten original defensive gates at Drogheda)


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Death of Thomas Butler, 6th Earl of Ossory

Vice Admiral Thomas Butler, 6th Earl of Ossory, KG, PC, PC (Ire), Irish soldier and politician, dies in London on July 30, 1680.

Thomas is born on July 8, 1634 at Kilkenny Castle, the eldest son and one of ten siblings of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond and his wife Elizabeth Preston. His father is then the 12th Earl of Ormond but would be raised to marquess and duke. His family, the Butler dynasty, is Old English and descends from Theobald Walter, who had been appointed Chief Butler of Ireland by Henry II of England in 1177. His mother is a second cousin once removed of his father as she is a granddaughter of Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormond. Her father, however, is Scottish, Richard Preston, 1st Earl of Desmond, a favourite of James I. Both parents are Protestants.

As the eldest living son, he is the heir apparent and is styled with the corresponding courtesy title, which at first is Viscount Thurles but changed to Earl of Ossory when his father becomes marquess in 1642. His early years are spent in Ireland until 1647 when he accompanies his father to England. In 1648 his father renews his support for the royalist cause and he and his son have to flee to France, arriving in Caen in February 1648. Lady Ormond also moves to Caen, where she arrives on June 23, 1648 with his siblings.

Butler is an accomplished athlete and a good scholar. Having come to London in 1652 he is rightly suspected of sympathising with the exiled royalists, and in 1655 is jailed by Oliver Cromwell. After his release about a year later he goes into exile to the Netherlands where Charles II has his exile court at the time.

On November 17, 1659, while in exile, Butler marries Emilia van Nassau, the second daughter of Louis of Nassau, Lord of De Lek and Beverweerd. They have eleven children.

Butler accompanies Charles II back to England in 1660. In 1661 he becomes a member of both the English and the Irish houses of commons, representing in the former Bristol and Dublin University in the latter.

In 1662 Butler is called to the Irish House of Lords under a writ of acceleration as the Earl of Ossory. His father holds the title “5th Earl of Ossory” as one of his subsidiary titles. The acceleration makes Thomas Butler the 6th Earl of Ossory. This is the only substantive title he ever holds, as he predeceases his father and therefore never succeeds to his father’s titles.

Butler holds several military appointments including lieutenant-general of the army in Ireland, created an English peer as Lord Butler in 1666, and Lord of the Bedchamber to Charles II (appointed in 1660 and held until his death).

In 1665 a fortunate accident allows Butler to take part in the Battle of Lowestoft against the Dutch, and in May 1672, being now in command of a ship, he fights against the same enemies in the Battle of Solebay, serving with great distinction on both occasions. While visiting France in 1672 he rejects the liberal offers made by Louis XIV to induce him to enter the service of France, and returning to England he adds to his high reputation by his conduct during the Battle of Texel in August 1673. From 1677 until 1679, he serves alongside his father as a Lord of the Admiralty.

Butler is intimate with William II, Prince of Orange, and in 1677 he joins the allied army in the Netherlands, commanding the British contingent and winning great fame at the siege of Mons in 1678. He acts as deputy for his father, who is Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1680 he is appointed governor of English Tangier, but his death prevents him from taking up his new duties.

Butler dies on July 30, 1680 at Arlington House in London. He is buried provisionally in Westminster Abbey on July 31, 1680. The ceremony of burial is performed belatedly on November 13, 1680. Some say his body is later taken to Ireland and reburied in the family vault in St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. James, his eldest son, succeeds him as the 7th Earl of Ossory and becomes the 2nd Duke of Ormond in 1688.

(Pictured: “Thomas Butler, Earl of Ossory,” painting by Peter Lely, circa 1678, Source: National Portrait Gallery)


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Birth of Isaac Weld, Writer, Explorer & Artist

Isaac Weld, Irish topographical writer, explorer, and artist, is born on Fleet Street, Dublin on March 15, 1774. He is a member of the Royal Dublin Society.

Weld’s name stems from his great-grandfather Nathanael Weld’s close friendship with Sir Isaac Newton, and as such both his grandfather and father are also named Isaac. His father is a close friend of Charles James Fox. His sister marries George Ensor, and their half-brother is Charles Richard Weld, traveler and author of A Vacation Tour in the United States and Canada (London, 1855), which is dedicated to his brother, Isaac. He is sent to the school of Samuel Whyte at Grafton Street and from there to another private school Barbauld at Palgrave near the town of Diss in Norfolk. From Diss he proceeds to Norwich as a private pupil of Dr. William Enfield. He leaves Norwich in 1793.

In 1795 he sails to Philadelphia from Dublin and spends two years traveling in the United States and Canada, partly as an adventure and partly as research into suitable countries to which the Irish can emigrate. He visits Monticello and Mount Vernon and meets George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. He travels on horseback, by coach and by canoe in Canada with local native guides. He returns in 1797 “without entertaining the slightest wish to revisit it.” He finds the Americans to be obsessed with material things and prefers Canada. His published Travels (1799) quickly goes into three editions and is translated into French, German, Italian, and Dutch.

Weld writes on slavery that “there will be an end to slavery in the United States…[as] negroes will not remain deaf to the inviting call of liberty forever.” With regard to Americans in general, he states, “Civility cannot be purchased from them on any terms; they seem to think that it is incompatible with freedom.” On Washington, D.C., he writes “If the affairs of the United States go on as rapidly as they have done, it will become the grand emporium of the West, and rival in magnitude and splendour the cities of the whole world.”

Weld visits Killarney, navigates the lakes in a boat he made from compressed brown paper, and publishes Scenery of Killarney (1807), illustrated with his own drawings. He is also well known for his drawings of American life and, in particular, the Niagara Falls.

In May 1815 Weld sails from Dún Laoghaire to London in the 14 horsepower (10 kW) steamboat Thames, the first such vessel to make the passage. He compiles the Statistical Survey of the County of Roscommon (1838) for the Royal Dublin Society, of which he is Honorary Secretary and Vice-President. In later life, he spends much time in Italy and particularly Rome, where he develops a friendship with Antonio Canova.

Weld dies at his home, Ravenswell, near Bray, County Wicklow, on August 4, 1856, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.

Weld is part of the Weld family of New England. His ancestor, Thomas Welde, is a Puritan minister from Suffolk, England who is one of three brothers who emigrated to Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1632. His great-great-grandfather, Thomas Weld, helps to publish the Bay Psalm Book, the first book published in America. His great-grandfather, Nathaniel, is graduated at Harvard College. He leaves Massachusetts for Kinsale and then Blarney Castle, County Cork, in 1655 to be a Puritan Chaplain with Oliver Cromwell. He later moves to Dublin.

The family that stays in America grows in wealth and influence and includes such notables as Governor of Massachusetts William Weld, Isabel Weld Perkins, and Theodore Dwight Weld.


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Birth of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde

James Butler, 12th Earl and 1st Duke of Ormonde, is born at Clerkenwell, London on October 19, 1610. An Anglo-Irish Protestant, he is the leading agent of English royal authority in Ireland during much of the period from the beginning of the English Civil War (1642–1651) to the Glorious Revolution (1688–1689).

Butler is born into the prominent Butler family, the eldest child of Thomas Butler and his wife Elizabeth Poyntz. He grows up in England and succeeds to the earldom of Ormonde in 1633. That same year he begins his active career in Ireland by offering his services to Lord Deputy of Ireland Thomas Wentworth, later Earl of Strafford. Upon the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 in Ireland, he is appointed a lieutenant general in the English army. He defeats the rebels of the Catholic confederacy at Kilrush, Munster on April 15, 1642 and at New Ross, Leinster on March 18, 1643. Those triumphs, however, do not prevent the confederates from overrunning most of the country.

Butlers’s attempts to conclude a peace are blocked by a Catholic faction that advocates complete independence for Ireland. The situation deteriorates further and, in July 1647, he departs from Ireland, leaving the Protestant cause in the hands of the parliamentarians, who had defeated King Charles I in the first English Civil War (1642–1646).

Returning to Ireland in September 1648, Butler concludes a peace with the confederacy in January 1649. He then rallies Protestant royalists and Catholic confederates in support of Charles II, son and successor of Charles I. For several months most of Ireland is under his control. But the parliamentarian general Oliver Cromwell lands at Dublin in August 1649 and swiftly conquers the country for Parliament. Butler flees to France and becomes one of Charles II’s closest advisers at his court-in-exile in Paris.

When Charles II returns to England in the Restoration of 1660, Butler, who had urged constitutional rather than military rule, is made commissioner for the treasury and the navy. Appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1662, he makes vigorous attempts to encourage Irish commerce and industry. Nevertheless, his enemies at court persuade Charles to dismiss him in 1669. He is restored to royal favour in 1677 and is again appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Although he is created a duke in the English peerage in 1682, he is recalled from Ireland in 1684 as a result of new intrigues at Charles’s court and because of the determination of James, Duke of York, to strengthen his supporters in Ireland.

Butler dies on July 21, 1688 at Kingston Lacy estate, Dorset. He is buried in Westminster Abbey on August 4, 1688. His eldest son, Thomas, 6th Earl of Ossory, predeceases him, but Ossory’s eldest son James succeeds as 2nd Duke of Ormonde (1665–1745).

(Pictured: “James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde,” oil on canvas by William Wissing, National Portrait Gallery)


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Death of Thomas Blood, Anglo-Irish Officer

thomas-bloodColonel Thomas Blood, Anglo-Irish officer and self-styled colonel best known for his attempt to steal the Crown Jewels of England and Scotland from the Tower of London in 1671, dies at his home in Bowling Alley, Westminster on August 24, 1680. He is also known for his attempt to kidnap and, later, to kill, his enemy, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond.

Sources suggest that Blood is born in County Clare in 1618, the son of a successful land-owning blacksmith of English descent. He is partly raised at Sarney, near Dunboyne, County Meath. He receives his education in Lancashire, England. At the age of 20, he marries Maria Holcroft, the daughter of John Holcroft, a gentleman from Golborne, Lancashire, and returns to Ireland.

At the outbreak of the First English Civil War in 1642, Blood returns to England and initially takes up arms with the Royalist forces loyal to Charles I. As the conflict progresses he switches sides and becomes a lieutenant in Oliver Cromwell‘s Roundheads. Following the Restoration of King Charles II to the Crowns of the Three Kingdoms in 1660, Blood flees with his family to Ireland.

As part of the expression of discontent, Blood conspires to storm Dublin Castle, usurp the government, and kidnap James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, for ransom. On the eve of the attempt, the plot is foiled. Blood manages to escape to the United Dutch Provinces in the Low Country although a few of his collaborators are captured and executed.

In 1670, despite his status as a wanted man, Blood returns to England. On the night of December 6, 1670, he and his accomplices attack Ormonde while he travels St. James’s Street. Ormonde is dragged from his coach and taken on horseback along Piccadilly with the intention of hanging him at Tyburn. The gang pins a paper to Ormonde’s chest spelling out their reasons for his capture and murder. Ormonde succeeds in freeing himself and escapes. Due to the secrecy of the plot, Blood is not suspected of the crime.

Blood does not lie low for long, and within six months he makes his notorious attempt to steal the Crown Jewels. After weeks of deception, on May 9, 1671, he convinces Talbot Edwards, the newly appointed Master of the Jewel House, to show the jewels to him, his supposed nephew, and two of his friends while they wait for a dinner that Mrs. Edwards is providing. The jewel keeper’s apartment is in Martin Tower above a basement where the jewels are kept behind a metal grille. Reports suggest that Blood’s accomplices carried canes that concealed rapier blades, daggers, and pocket pistols. They enter the Jewel House, leaving one of the men to supposedly stand watch outside while the others joined Edwards and Blood. The door is closed and a cloak is thrown over Edwards, who is struck with a mallet, knocked to the floor, bound, gagged and stabbed to subdue him.

As Blood and his gang flee to their horses waiting at St. Catherine’s Gate, they fire on the warders who attempt to stop them, wounding one. As they run along the Tower wharf it is said they join the calls for alarm to confuse the guards until they are chased down by Captain Beckman, brother-in-law of the younger Edwards. Although Blood shoots at him, he misses and is captured before reaching the Iron Gate. The Jewels are recovered although several stones are missing and others are loose.

Following his capture, Blood refuses to answer to anyone but the King and is consequently taken to the palace in chains, where he is questioned by King Charles, Prince Rupert and others. To the disgust of Ormonde, Blood is not only pardoned but also given land in Ireland worth £500 a year. The reasons for the King’s pardon are unknown although speculation abounds.

In 1679 Blood falls into dispute with the Duke of Buckingham, his former patron, and Buckingham sues him for £10,000, for insulting remarks Blood had made about his character. In the proceedings that follow, Blood is convicted by the King’s Bench in 1680 and granted bail, although he never pays the damages.

Blood is released from prison in July 1680 but falls into a coma by August 22. He dies on August 24 at his home in Bowling Alley, Westminster. His body is buried in the churchyard of St. Margaret’s Church (now Christchurch Gardens) near St. James’s Park. It is believed that his body was exhumed by the authorities for confirmation as, such was his reputation for trickery, it is suspected he might have faked his death and funeral to avoid paying his debt to Buckingham.


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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.