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


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The Siege of Derry Begins

siege-of-derryThe Siege of Derry, the first major event in the Williamite War in Ireland, begins on April 18, 1689. The siege lasts nearly three and a half months, ending on July 30, 1689 when relief ships bringing the English Army sail down Lough Foyle.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 is a relatively bloodless revolution in which James II, King of England, Ireland and Scotland and a Roman Catholic convert, is ousted from power by the Parliament of England. The English throne is then offered to his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William III of England, also known as William of Orange. In Scotland, the privy council asks William III to assume responsibility for the government in January 1689, and he and Mary are formally offered the Scottish throne in March. The situation is different in Ireland where most of the population are Catholics. Irish Catholics are hoping that James will re-grant them lands, which had been seized from them after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–53). James thus looks to Ireland to muster support in regaining his kingdoms just as his father, Charles I, had done in the English Civil War of the 1640s.

On December 10, James flees London. He is caught but flees a second time on December 23 and makes his way to France. On March 12, James I lands in Kinsale with 6,000 French soldiers. He takes Dublin and marches north with an army of Irish and French Catholics.

In April 1689 reinforcements from England arrive under the command of Colonel John Cunningham, who is a native of the city. He is under instructions to take his orders from the Derry City Governor, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Lundy. Lundy advises Colonel Cunningham to leave as arrangements have been made for the city to be surrendered. Lundy calls a meeting with several of his most loyal supporters to discuss surrender. News of the meeting spread, angering many of the citizens. That night, Lundy and many others leave the city and board a ship to Scotland. The city’s defence is overseen by Major Henry Baker, Colonel Adam Murray, and Major George Walker, also an Anglican priest. Their slogan is “No Surrender.”

As the Jacobite army nears, all the buildings outside the city walls are set alight by the defenders to prevent them being used as cover by the besiegers.

The Jacobite army reaches Derry on April 18. James and his retinue ride to within 300 yards of Bishop’s Gate and demand the surrender of the city. He is rebuffed with shouts of “No surrender!” and some of the city’s defenders fire at him. James asks for surrender three more times but is refused each time. This marks the beginning of the siege. Cannon and mortar fire are exchanged and disease takes hold within the city. James returns to Dublin and leaves his forces under the command of Richard Hamilton.

Royal Navy warships under Admiral George Rooke arrive in Lough Foyle on June 11, but initially decline to ram through the heavily defended defensive boom across the River Foyle at Culmore.

On July 28, two armed merchant ships, Mountjoy and Phoenix, sail toward the boom, protected by the frigate HMS Dartmouth under Captain John Leake. Mountjoy rams and breaches the boom, and the ships move in, unloading many tons of food to relieve the siege. The city had endured 105 days of siege during which some 4,000 Protestants of a population of 8,000 are said to have died.

The siege is commemorated yearly by the Protestant Apprentice Boys of Derry who stage the week-long Maiden City Festival culminating in a parade around the walls of the city by local members, followed by a parade of the city by the full Association. Although violence has attended these parades in the past, those in recent years have been largely peaceful.

The song “Derry’s Walls” is written to commemorate the siege.

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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 Siege of Limerick

Henry Ireton, Oliver Cromwell’s son-in-law, lays siege to Limerick city on June 4, 1651. During the Irish Confederate Wars, Limerick is one of the last fortified cities held by an alliance of Irish Confederate Catholics and English Royalists against the forces of the Parliament of England.

By 1650, the Irish Confederates and their English Royalist allies have been driven out of eastern Ireland by the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. They occupy a defensive position behind the River Shannon, of which Limerick is the southern stronghold. Oliver Cromwell himself leaves Ireland in May 1650, delegating his command of the English Parliamentarian forces to Henry Ireton. Ireton moves his forces north from Munster to besiege Limerick in October of that year. However, the weather is increasingly wet and cold and Ireton is forced to abandon the siege before the onset of winter.

Ireton returns on June 4, 1651 with 8,000 men, 28 siege artillery pieces and 4 mortars. He summons Hugh Dubh O’Neill, the Irish commander of Limerick to surrender, but is refused. The siege is on.

Limerick in 1651 is split into two sections, English town and Irish town, which are separated by the Abbey River. English town, which contains the citadel of King John’s Castle, is encircled by water, the Abbey River on three sides and the River Shannon on the other, in what is known as King’s Island. Thomond bridge is only one bridge onto the island and is fortified with bastioned earthworks. Irish town is more vulnerable, but is also more heavily fortified. Its medieval walls have been buttressed by 20 feet of earth, making it difficult to knock a breach in them. In addition, Irish town has a series of bastions along its walls, mounted with cannon which cover its approaches. The biggest of these bastions are at St. John’s Gate and Mungret gate. The garrison of the city is 2,000 strong and composed mainly of veterans from the Confederate’s Ulster army, commanded by Hugh Dubh O’Neill, who had distinguished themselves at the siege of Clonmel the previous year.

Because Limerick is very well fortified, Ireton does not risk an assault on its walls. Instead he secures the approaches to the city, cuts off its supplies and builds artillery earthworks to bombard the defenders. His troops take the fort at Thomond bridge, but the Irish destroy the bridge itself, denying the Parliamentarians land access to English town. Ireton then tries an amphibious attack on the city, a storming party attacking the city in small boats. They are initially successful, but O’Neill’s men counterattack and beat them off.

After this attack fails, Ireton resolves to starve the city into submission and builds two forts known as Ireton’s fort and Cromwell’s fort on nearby Singland Hill. An Irish attempt to relieve the city from the south is routed at the battle of Knocknaclashy. O’Neill’s only hope is now to hold out until bad weather and hunger force Ireton to raise the siege. To this end, O’Neill tries to send the town’s old men, women and children out of the city so that his supplies will last a little longer. However, Ireton’s men kill forty of these civilians and send the rest back into Limerick.

O’Neill comes under pressure from the town’s mayor and civilian population to surrender. The town’s garrison and civilians suffer terribly from hunger and disease, especially an outbreak of plague. In addition, Ireton finds a weak point in the defences of Irish town, and knocks a breach in them, opening the prospect of an all out assault.

Eventually in October 1651, six months after the siege started, part of Limerick’s garrison mutinies and turns some cannon inwards, threatening to fire on O’Neill’s men unless they surrender. Hugh Dubh O’Neill surrenders Limerick on October 27. The inhabitants lives and property are respected, but they are warned that they could be evicted in the future. The garrison is allowed to march to Galway, which is still holding out, but has to leave their weapons behind.

The lives of the civilian and military leaders of Limerick are excepted from the terms of surrender. A Catholic Bishop Terence Albert O’Brien, an Alderman and the English Royalist officer Colonel Fennell are hanged. O’Neill is also sentenced to death, but is reprieved by the Parliamentarian commander Edmund Ludlow and imprisoned instead in London. Former mayor Dominic Fanning is drawn, quartered, and decapitated, with his head mounted over St. John’s Gate.

Over 2,000 English Parliamentary soldiers die at Limerick, mostly from disease. Among them is Henry Ireton, who dies a month after the fall of the city. About 700 of the Irish garrison and an estimated 5,000 citizens die.

(Pictured: The Treaty Stone on which the treaty of Limerick may have been signed in 1691)


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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.


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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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First Known Meeting of the Parliament of Ireland

parliament-of-ireland-coat-of-armsThe Parliament of Ireland meets at Castledermot in County Kildare on June 18, 1264, the first definitively known meeting of this Irish legislature. There is some evidence to suggest that the word “parliament” may have been in use as early as 1234.

There is nothing new about parliamentary assemblies in Ireland. The Normans, who begin to settle in Ireland in 1169, are the first to give Ireland a centralised administration. The Irish legal system and courts of law are, in large measure, inherited from them. So too is the Irish legislature which is directly descended from the parliament which develops in medieval Ireland.

The Parliament of Ireland is formally founded in 1297 by the Justiciar, Sir John Wogan, to represent the Irish and Anglo-Norman population of the Lordship of Ireland. It exists in Dublin from 1297 until 1800 and is comprised of two chambers – the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Lords consists of members of the Irish peerage and the bishops (after the Reformation, Church of Ireland bishops), while the Commons is directly elected, albeit on a very restricted franchise.

The main purpose of parliament is to approve taxes that are then levied by and for the Lordship of Ireland. Those who pay the bulk of taxation, the clergy, merchants, and landowners, naturally comprise the members. In 1541 the parliament votes to create the Kingdom of Ireland.

Over the centuries, the Irish parliament meets in a number of locations both inside and outside Dublin. The first meeting at Castledermot in June 1264 takes place some months earlier than the first English Parliament containing representatives of towns and cities. However, this Irish Parliament is a meeting of Irish nobles and bishops, not representatives of Irish people. Later, in the 15th century, Irish parliaments began to invite representatives of the people.

Among its most famous meeting places are Dublin Castle, the Bluecoat School, Chichester House and, its final permanent home, the Irish Parliament House in College Green.


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William Gladstone Introduces the First Home Rule Bill

gladstone-introduces-home-rule-bill-1886William Gladstone introduces the Government of Ireland Bill 1886, commonly known as the First Home Rule Bill, in the Parliament of England on April 8, 1886. It is the first major attempt by a British government to enact a law creating home rule for part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The bill proposes to create a devolved assembly for Ireland which will govern Ireland in specific areas. The Irish Parliamentary Party under Charles Stewart Parnell has been campaigning for home rule for Ireland since the 1870s.

The Bill, like his Landlord and Tenant Act 1870, is very much the work of Gladstone, who excludes both the Irish MPs and his own ministers from participation in the drafting.

If passed, the 1886 Bill would create a unicameral assembly consisting of two Orders which could meet either together or separately. The first Order would consist of the 28 Irish representative peers plus 75 members elected through a highly restricted franchise. It could delay the passage of legislation for up to 3 years. The second Order would consist of either 204 or 206 members. All Irish MPs would be excluded from Westminster altogether.

Executive power would be possessed by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whose executive would not be responsible to either Order.

Britain would still retain control over a range of issues including peace, war, defence, treaties with foreign states, trade, and coinage. No special provision would be made for Ulster. Britain would retain control of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) until it deems it safe for control to pass to Dublin. The Dublin Metropolitan Police would pass to Irish control.

When the bill is introduced, Charles Stewart Parnell has mixed reactions. He says that it has great faults but is prepared to vote for it. In his famous Irish Home Rule speech, Gladstone beseeches Parliament to pass it and grant Home Rule to Ireland in honour rather than being compelled to one day in humiliation. Unionists and the Orange Order are fierce in their resistance. For them, any measure of Home Rule is denounced as nothing other than Rome Rule.

The vote on the Bill takes place on 8 June 1886 after two months of debate. The Government of Ireland Bill is defeated by a vote of 341-311. In the staunchly loyalist town of Portadown, the so-called “Orange Citadel” where the Orange Order is founded in 1795, Orangemen and their supporters celebrate the Bill’s defeat by “Storming the Tunnel.”

Parliament is dissolved on June 26 and the U.K. general election of 1886 is called. Historians have suggested that the 1886 Home Rule Bill was fatally flawed by the secretive manner of its drafting, with Gladstone alienating Liberal figures like Joseph Chamberlain who, along with a colleague, resigned in protest from the ministry, while producing a Bill viewed privately by the Irish as badly drafted and deeply flawed.