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


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The Battle of Dungan’s Hill

battle-of-dungans-hillThe Battle of Dungan’s Hill takes place in County Meath on August 8, 1647. It is fought between the armies of Confederate Ireland and the Parliament of England during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The battle takes place near the modern village of Summerhill and along the present main road between Trim and Kilcock.

By 1647, The Irish Catholic Confederation controls all of Ireland except for Parliamentarian enclaves around Dublin and Cork and a Scottish outpost in Ulster. The previous year they had rejected a treaty with the English Royalists in favour of eliminating the remaining British forces in Ireland.

In August 1647, the Confederate Leinster army under Thomas Preston is attempting to take Dublin from the English Parliamentarian garrison under Michael Jones, when it is intercepted by the Roundheads and forced to give battle. Jones had marched to Trim to relieve the Parliamentarian outpost there at Trim Castle. Preston, who had been shadowing Jones’ movements, attempts to march on Dublin before Jones’ army returns there, but covers only 12 of the 40 miles before being caught at Dungan’s Hill, where the Confederate forces have to form up for battle.

From a Parliamentarian point of view, victory in this battle is presented to them by the incompetence of the Irish commander. Preston is a veteran of the Thirty Years’ War, where he had been a commander of the Spanish garrison at Leuven, but has no experience in open warfare or handling cavalry. Jones, by contrast, had been a cavalry officer in the English Civil War. As a result, Preston tries to move his cavalry along a narrow covered lane where they are trapped and subjected to enemy fire without being able to respond. Even worse, Preston has placed a large number of his troops in wheat fields over seven feet tall. As a result these troops are unable to see the Parliamentarians until it is too late. With the Confederate army spread out and in confusion, Jones’ troops fall in amongst them causing the demoralised Irish cavalry to flee the field, leaving the remainder of Preston’s infantry unsupported.

The Confederate army’s infantry are primarily equipped with pikes and heavy muskets and trained to stand in tercios in the Spanish manner. This means they are difficult to break, but also highly immobile, without cavalry to cover their cumbersome formation when it moves. What is worse, Preston has positioned them in a large walled field, so that when their cavalry has run away, the Parliamentarians can surround and trap them. Some of the Irish infantry, Scottish Highlanders brought to Ireland by Alasdair Mac Colla, manage to charge and break through Jones’ men and escape into a nearby bog, where the English cavalry could not follow. Preston and 2,000 to 3,000 of his regular infantry manage to follow the Highlanders to safety, but the remainder are trapped.

What happens next is disputed. The Irish infantry manages to hold off several assaults on their position, before trying to follow their comrades into the safety of the bog. This makes them lose their formation and the Parliamentarians get in amongst them and then surround them in the bogland. Parliamentarian accounts simply say that the Irish force is then destroyed. Irish accounts, however, claim that the Confederate troops surrender and are then massacred. One account, by a Catholic friar named O Meallain, says that the corpses of the Irish foot soldiers are found with their hands tied. A recent study suggests that the Irishmen probably tried to surrender, but that, according to the conventions of 17th century warfare, this had to be accepted before it entitled them to safety. In this case, it was not accepted and the infantrymen were butchered.

Around 3,000 Confederate troops and a small number of Parliamentarians die at Dungan’s Hill. One of the English regimental commanders, Colonel Anthony Hungerford, is shot in the mouth, a wound that invalids him out of the English Army. Most of the dead are Irish infantrymen killed in the last stage of the battle. Those prisoners who are taken are mainly officers, whom the Parliamentarians can either ransom or exchange for prisoners of their own. Richard Talbot, a junior cavalry officer but later Earl of Tyrconnell and Lord Deputy of Ireland, is among the Confederate prisoners.

In the immediate aftermath of the battle, Owen Roe O’Neill‘s Ulster Army marches through the pass of Portlester Mill to mount an effective rearguard action, routing Jones’ advanced brigade and enabling the survivors of the Leinster army to escape. Jones, fearing O’Neills army, does not continue the pursuit and returns to Dublin. O’Neill and his Ulstermen return four months later to bury the dead Confederates.

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The Battle of Kilrush

james-butler-earl-of-ormondeThe Battle of Kilrush, a battle at the start of the Irish Confederate Wars in Ireland, takes place on April 15, 1642, soon after the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

The battle is fought between a Royalist army under the James Butler, 12th Earl of Ormonde, and Richard Butler, 3rd Viscount Mountgarret, who leads Confederate Irish troops raised during the Irish Rebellion of 1641. Ormonde and Mountgarret are cousins, both being members of the Butler dynasty.

Ormonde’s troops leave Dublin on April 2 and march unopposed from Naas to Athy and on to Maryborough, now Portlaoise, arriving on April 8. There they resupply the royalist garrisons and send cavalry forces to support those at Carlow and Birr, before returning to Athy on April 13. Setting out at 6:00 AM on April 15, and having decided to avoid a battle on their return march to Dublin, the government troops are blocked by Mountgarret’s rebel militias at Kilrush, two miles south of Suncroft, between Kilcullen and Moone in southeastern County Kildare.

The land is remarkably flat, with the exception of two ridges that run nearly parallel northward from a castle, with a marsh lying between. The army of Ormonde, consisting of 2,500 foot soldiers and 500 horses, assembles on the high grounds of Ardscull, Fontstown, and Kilrush, while the rebel army under Mountgarret, consisting of 8,000 foot soldiers and 400 horses, proceeds in the same direction along the heights of Birtown, Ballyndrum, Glasshealy, and Narraghmore. Mountgarret, having the advantage in numbers, and anxious for battle, outmarches Ormonde’s forces, and posts himself on Bull Hill and Kilrush, completely intercepting Ormonde’s further progress to Dublin. A general engagement becomes unavoidable. The left wing of the Irish is broken by the first charge. The right wing, animated by their leaders, maintains the contest for some time, but eventually falls back to neighbouring Battlemount. Here they break, flee and are pursued with great slaughter across the grounds they had marched over the previous day. Ormonde’s army then marches on to Dublin, arriving on April 17.

Ormonde’s army suffers twenty fatalities and approximately forty wounded in the Battle of Kilrush. Mountgarret’s rebel army loses more than 700, among which are several colonels. The victory is considered of such consequence that Ormonde is presented with a jewel valued at £50 by the Irish Government.

(Pictured: Sir Peter Lely’s oil painting of James Butler, 12th Earl of Ormonde)


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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)