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The Sack of Cashel

rock-of-cashelThe Sack of Cashel (also known as the Massacre of Cashel) is a notorious atrocity which occurs in County Tipperary on September 15, 1647, during the Irish Confederate Wars, part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

In the summer of 1647, Murrough O’Brien, 6th Baron Inchiquin, the Irish Protestant commander of the Protestant army of Cork, commences a campaign against the Irish Catholic strongholds in Munster. The counties of Limerick and Clare are raided and he soon turns his attention to the bountiful eastern counties of Munster. In early September, his forces quickly take the Cahir Castle in Tipperary. This strong castle is well positioned to become a base for the Cork Protestant army, and it is used to raid and devastate the surrounding countryside. The Munster army under Lord Taaffe does not make any serious effort to oppose Inchiquin, probably the result of the political scheming of Donough MacCarty, 2nd Viscount Muskerry and other powerful Irish lords who hope to keep the Munster army intact for their own ends. As such, Inchiquin is allowed to make a major push towards the town and ecclesiastical centre of Cashel.

Inchiquin has already launched two minor raids against Cashel, and he now has the opportunity to launch a major assault. The Parliamentarian forces first storm nearby Roche Castle, putting fifty warders to the sword. This attack terrifies the local inhabitants of the region, some of whom flee to hiding places, while hundreds of others flee promptly to the Rock of Cashel, a stronger place than the town itself. Lord Taaffe has placed six companies in the fortified churchyard that sits upon the rock, and considers the place defensible, though he himself does not stay to put it to the test, leaving command to the Governor Lieutenant-Colonel Butler.

Arriving with his army at the Rock, Inchiquin calls for surrender within an hour. The defenders of the churchyard offer to negotiate but that is refused, and on the afternoon of September 15 the assault commences. The Parliamentarians are first reminded of earlier atrocities against Protestants, and then begin to deploy. The attack is led by around 150 dismounted horse officers with the remainder of the infantry following. Troops of horse ride along the flanks of the advancing force to encourage the infantry. The Irish soldiers attempt to drive off the attackers with pikes while the civilians inside hurl rocks down from the walls. In turn the attackers hurl firebrands into the compound, setting some of the buildings inside on fire. Although many are wounded, the Parliamentarians gradually fight their way over the walls, pushing the garrison into the church.

Initially, the Irish defenders manage to protect the Church, holding off the attackers trying to get through the doors, but the Parliamentarians then place numerous ladders against the many windows in the church and swarm the building. For another half an hour fighting rages inside the church, until the depleted defenders retreat up the bell tower. Only sixty soldiers of the garrison remain at this point, and they thus accept a call to surrender. However, after they have descended the tower and thrown their swords away, all are killed.

In the end all the soldiers and most of the civilians on the Rock are killed by the attackers. The Bishop and Mayor of Cashel along with a few others survive by taking shelter in a secret hiding place. Apart from these a few women are spared, after being stripped of their clothes, and a small number of wealthy civilians are taken prisoner, but these are the exceptions. Overall, close to 1,000 are killed, amongst them Lieutenant-Colonel Butler and catholic scholar Theobald Stapleton. The bodies in the churchyard are described by a witness as being five or six deep.

The slaughter is followed by extensive looting. There is much of value inside, for apart from pictures, chalices and vestments of the church, many of the slain civilians had also brought their valuables with them. The sword and ceremonial mace of the mayor of Cashel, as well as the coach of the bishop are captured. The plunder is accompanied by acts of iconoclasm, with statues smashed and pictures defaced. The deserted town of Cashel is also torched.

The atrocity at Cashel causes a deep impact in Ireland, as it is the worst single atrocity committed in Ireland since the start of fighting in 1641. Previously, the most infamous massacre amongst the Catholic population is that at Timolin in 1643, when 200 civilians are killed by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde‘s English Royalist army, but many more than this are killed at Cashel, and the Rock of Cashel is one of the chief holy places of Ireland. The slaughter of the garrison at Cashel and the subsequent devastation of Catholic held Munster earns Inchiquin the Irish nickname, Murchadh na Dóiteáin or “Murrough of the Burnings.”

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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.