Thursday, September 25, 2008

Portadown Massacre

The Massacre of Portadown occurred in the Irish county of Antrim, in Ulster, during early stages of the Irish Uprising of 1641. Up to 100 mostly English Protestants were killed by a group of armed Irishmen. It was by probably the worst massacre of Protestants to occur during the 1641–42 Irish Uprising; certainly it would become the most notorious.

In November 1641, armed parties of Ulstermen were rounding up British Protestant settlers and marching them to the coast, from which they were forced to board ships to Britain. One such a group of Protestants were imprisoned in a church in Loughall. They had been informed that they were going to be marched eastwards where they were to be expelled to England. The Irish soldiers were said by to be led by either Captain Manus O'Cane or Toole McCann- later accounts of the event differed on this point. The area was technically under the control of Phelim O'Neill, although the massacre which was to occur seems to have been spontaneous in nature. After some time,the English civilians were taken out of the Church and marched to the Portadown bridge over the river Bann. Once on the bridge, the group was stopped. At this point the civilians, threatened by pikes and swords, were forcibly stripped of their clothes. They were then herded off the bridge into the icy cold river waters at swordpoint. Most drowned or died of exposure, although some were said to have been shot by musket-fire as they struggled to stay afloat.

Estimates of the number of those killed varied from less than 100 to over 300.

William Clark's account

In 1642, the Lord Justice of Ireland appointed eight Protestant Clergymen led by Henry Jones, Dean of Kilmore, to take evidence of all robberies and murders that had taken place in 1641. Of all the incidents recorded, the Portadown massacre was the most frequently mentioned.

William Clark was a survivor of the massacre, who managed to escape after paying the sum of 15 pounds to the attackers. During the 1642 depositions, Clark stated that around 100 were killed at the bridge. Of all those involved in the depositions, Clark was one of only ones to have witnessed the massacre, and his figure is generally accepted as being the most credible.

Clark stated that the victims were forced to go onto a bridge, and then stripped of their clothes, before being forced into the river headlong, after which they soon perished. The account by Clark is backed up by the version of the events found in a work by an anonymous British Officer in the regiment of Sir John Clotsworthy. This officer made his own enquiries about the 1641 massacres and concluded that the worst occurred at Portadown. He estimated that up to ninety were killed, a figure close to that given by Clark.

Atrocities in Ulster, 1641

Although the 1641 uprising later became associated with massacres of Protestants, the most common atrocity was what was known as 'stripping': the victims had their clothes torn off them, and were driven away from their homes under threat of violence. This atrocity had occurred in Ireland before the 1641 rebellion: for example, in Munster in 1598 many of the Elizabethan planters suffered this indignity at the hands of rebels. However, the scale of these attacks was far greater in 1641, and a second important point was that the attacks took place in the sub-zero temperatures of winter.

This was the cause of the vast majority of civillian deaths during the early months of the Ulster insurrection. The intent of this kind of attack was obviously to humiliate the victim, though robbery was also a motive, given the relative expense of clothing in the 17th century. Given the scale of the attacks, and the time of year, such acts of mass brutality proved fatal for many thousands of the victims.

The Portadown Massacre should perhaps be viewed in light of this. William Clark's account makes it clear that weapons were not employed in the initial stages of the attack, and also mentions that he was allowed to leave after giving the attackers some money, making it likely that robbery was the initial motive of the attackers rather than bloodshed. The victims were driven naked into to water in a brutal humiliation, perhaps a crude sectarian joke relating to the Catholic sacrament of baptism. The attack was brutal, and can fairly be called an atrocity, but the attack may not have been a premeditated act of mass murder. Having said that, while the incident likely began as robbery and assault, it quickly degenerated into something far more serious. By mid November 1641, the insurgency in Ulster had lost momentum, providing an opportunity for the British Planter forces to regroup and counter-attack. In this tense environment, a single bloody minded individual would have been more than capable of inciting a crowd to deadly violence.

The Portadown Ghosts

Not all of the accounts contained in the depositions were as reliable as that of Clark. One woman, called Elizabeth Price, claimed to have seen at the spot of the massacre a spirit in the shape of a woman: 'her eyes seemed to twinkle in her head and her skin as white as snow...divulged and then repeated the word "Revenge, Revenge, Revenge". It continued to appear for some time and only disappeared when the settler force reached the town.

The message of these stories is readily apparent. Over two hundred years later, such fantastical accounts would lead sceptical Victorians such as the historian Robert Dunlop to argue that the depositions were 'worthless' as evidence. Dunlop's idea was taken up by later by a Catholic school teacher, Thomas Fitzpatrick, who shed a great deal of ink attempting to debunk allegations of atrocities such as that at Portadown. Modern historians generally accept that there were in fact a number of atrocities in Ulster in 1641, though the scepticism of Dunlop and Fitzpatrick regarding much of the evidence was not entirely misplaced.


The atrocity at Portadown was used to support the view that the Irish Uprising was a conspiracy to massacre all of the Protestant inhabitants of Ireland. The atrocity featured prominently in Parliamentarian propaganda works in the 1640s, most famously by John Temple's The Irish Rebellion of 1646, an inflammatory work which would go on to be published at least ten times between 1646 and 1812. The immediate goal of this propaganda was to isolate King Charles, who many prominent English Protestants such as John Pym viewed as being sympathetic to Irish Catholics. In the longer term, accounts of the massacre strengthened the resolve of many Parliamentarians to launch a reconquest of Ireland, which they did in 1649. For about a century after the Williamite wars, infamous massacres such as that at Portadown were often cited as a justification for the discriminatory Penal Laws in Ireland. Invariably, much of the research published on the massacre within the past two centuries has been coloured by bias: writers with nationalist sympathies such as FitzPatrick have tended to be predictably sceptical about such claims of atrocity, whereas writers with Protestant sympathies (Geoffrey Robertson is a recent example) regularly display an uncritical acceptance of propagandist sources relating to such atrocities.


MacCuarta, Brian, Ulster 1641, Institute of Irish Studies, Queen's University of Belfast, 1993
Connolly, S.J, Divided Kingdom Ireland 1630-1800, Oxford University Press,2008
Robertson, Geoffrey, The Tyrannicide Brief, London, Vintage Books, 2006
E.H, The History of the Warr of Ireland from 1641 to 1653, McGlashan & Gill Dublin, 1873 ed.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Battles of the Eleven Years War

The Series of conflicts in Ireland between 1641 and 1643 are collectively known as the Eleven Years War ('The Irish Confederate Wars' is another name sometimes given to these wars; though to be exact the Confederate Wars only began in October 1642 and ended in 1649, shortly before the Cromwellian invasion.) This conflict was probably the most devastating war to be fought in Ireland- William Petty, the 17th Century English scholar, estimated that the war resulted in the deaths of 600,000 people- this estimate is thought by modern historians to be on the high side, but the lowest modern estimate is around 200,000 killed, with somewhere in between these two extremes being the mainstream view.

Despite the magnitude of this conflict, outside of Ireland it is surprisingly hard to get information on this conflict: the English Civil War, a considerably smaller contemporary conflict has been written about in far greater detail. The general lack of interest in this major Irish war is obviously unjustified, and I am attempting to generate a clearer picture of the conflict than can be found in the small amount of available material on the war.

Battles of the Eleven Years War

Below is an attempt to list the major battles of the Eleven Years War. There were three phases of the war- the initial Uprising (lasting approximately 12 months, from October 1641 until the foundation of the Confederation of Kilkenny in October 1642); the Irish Confederate Wars of the 1640's, and finally the Cromwellian Wars (or Cromwellian Invasion) which dates from early 1649 when the Irish Confederates entered into an alliance with the Royalist supporters of Charles I. This was a major threat to the Parliamentarian regime in England, and thus in August 1649 a major invasion into Ireland was orchestrated by Cromwell.

Defining which conflicts can be called 'battles' is not clear cut; there is a very Encyclopedia Britannica definition which describes a battle as an engagement in which over 1,000 soldiers are killed, but this description is obviously too neat (by this definition the engagement at Valmy in 1792- one of the more important conflicts of the French Revolutionary wars- would not be classed as a battle, despite involving tens of thousands of soldiers). In my view the number of soldiers engaged in the overall fight is of more importance: therefore the list below comprises battles in which around 1,000 soldiers altogether were engaged.

The dates below conform to the Julian Calender: as was the case in Britain the Greogorian calender was not widely used in Ireland until the 18th century.

The Irish Uprising: October 1641- October 1642

  • November 1641- Battle of Lisburn

  • November 1641- Battle of Julianstown

  • December 1641-March 1642- First Siege of Drogheda

  • January 1642- Battle of Swords

  • March 1642- Siege of Carrickmines

  • March(?) 1642- Siege of Cork

  • April 1642- Battle of Kilrush

  • May 1642- First Siege of Limerick

  • July 1642- Battle of Liscarrol

  • August 1642- First Siege of Galway

  • The Confederate Wars: October 1642- January 1649

  • November 1642- Battle of Bandonbridge

  • February 1643- Battle of Rathconnell

  • March 1643- Siege of Timolin

  • March 1643- Siege of New Ross

  • March 1643- Battle of Ross/Ballibeg

  • May 1643- Battle of Clones

  • June 1643- Battle of Funcheon Ford

  • September 1643- Battle of Portlester

  • May(?) 1644- Battle of Finae Bridge

  • Janurary-March 1645- Siege of Duncannon

  • June 1646- Battle of Benburb

  • August 1647- Battle of Dungans Hill

  • September 1647- Siege of Cashel

  • November 1647- Battle of Knocknanauss

  • July 1649- Raid of Castletown

  • The Cromwellian Wars: 1649-1653

  • March- August 1649- Siege of Derry

  • August 1649- Battle of Rathmines

  • September 1649- Second Siege of Drogheda

  • October 1649- Siege and Sack of Wexford

  • November 1649- Siege of Waterford

  • November 1649- Battle of Arklow

  • December 1649- Battle of Lisnagarvey

  • March 1650- Siege of Kilkenny

  • April - May 1650- Siege of Clomnel

  • May 1650- Battle of Macroom

  • June 1650- Battle of Ticroghan

  • June 1650- Battle of Scarrfholis

  • July 1650- Siege of Charlemont

  • August 1650-Siege of Athlone

  • October 1650- Battle of Meelick Island

  • October 1650- October 1651- Second Siege of Limerick

  • January 1651- Raid on Balenoy

  • March 1651- Siege of Finea

  • June 1651- Siege of Gourtenshegore

  • July 1651- Battle of Knocknaclashy

  • August 1651- May 1652- Second Siege of Galway

  • February 1652- Raid of FitzPatrick Fort

  • Sunday, September 14, 2008

    Battle of Ticroghan, June 1650

    Castle Ticroghan

    The castle of Ticroghan, also known as Queen Mary's Castle, was located on a bog-island in Westmeath, not far from Trim, in central Ireland. The castle was of only a few miles from the main road from Dublin to Athlone, a strategically important town acting as a gateway to the Province of Connaught. During the conflict of the 1640s it was described as a formidable castle- A number of strongholds in Ireland, such as Charlemont Fort in Ulster had been modified in the cannon-proofed Renaissance manner and it is possible that this was also the case with Ticroghan. That said, it was located in a desolate and boggy region in the heart of Ireland so the impregnable nature of the castle may have simply been due to the fact that it was problematic to get heavy cannon anywhere near it. Owen Roe O'Neill frequently employed the castle as an operations base for the Ulster army while in the midlands, and his rival Thomas Preston fled to Castle Ticroghan the night after his crushing defeat at Dungans Hill, emphasising the strength of the stronghold.


    By the summer of 1650, Things were looking increasingly dire for the Irish. Cromwell had launched his invasion of Ireland in August 1649, quickly capturing the important towns of Drogheda and Wexford, on the eastern coastline of Ireland. Before the end of the year many towns and strongholds in the south and east were under the control of the English Parliamentarian army. In the same month of Cromwell's arrival a second invader appeared on the opposite side of Ireland: The bubonic plague, brought to the town of Galway via a ship from Spain, would soon go on to decimate the population of many parts of the country. Despite these twin disasters, in mid 1650 the Irish still controlled the major towns of Waterford, Galway and Limerick, as well as all of the province of Connaught. A veteran force of several thousand Ulstermen was still active in the North. But the English were starting to threaten central Ireland. Ormond, the royalist overall commander of the Irish forces felt that a major effort was required to check the English advance. Ticroghan, strategically located and containing a considerable number of cannon, had come under threat by the Parliamentarians in May. The powerful Connaught nobleman Clanricarde was appointed to lead a force across the Shannon to relieve the castle, although he himself was not enthusiastic about the operation. Ormond's decision to appoint an outsider seems to have been motivated by a desire to avoid creating jealousies amongst the local Leinster generals, but in the end a general of the Leinster forces, Castlehaven, would direct most of the subsequent relief effort. The Connaught soldiers brought across by Clanricarde were however to play an important role in the following engagement.

    English forces led by Reynolds and Hewson appeared before the Castle in May, but the Parliamentarian commander Hewson led some English companies away to the Wicklow Mountains to hunt the Irish partisans known as tories. This weakened the besieging force, leaving it around two and a half thousand strong.

    The Connaught forces of Clanricarde and the army of Castlehaven planned to rendezvous at Tyrellspass in Westmeath. The combined force was 2,600 strong, including 800 horse. The two leaders realised that given the reduced size of the Parliamentarian force, their united army might have a chance to come to the castles relief.

    The Commanders

    Ulick Burke, the earl of Clanricarde was the most powerful landholder in Connaught and amongst the most influential figures in Ireland. In contrast to all other Catholic aristocrats in Ireland in the 1640s, Burke never joined the Confederation of Kilkenny. In appearance Burke had an intimidating tall physique, but he was possessed of a sickly nature which compromised his ability as a military commander.

    James Tuchet, the English born Earl of Castlehaven was by contrast a vigorous tactical leader. With the exception of Owen Roe O'Neill, he proved to be the only Irish Confederate leader able to win major set-piece battles during the 1640s. Dubbed the 'little lord' by some Irish Confederates, on account of his short stature, he was distrusted because of his Royalist sympathies.

    John Hewson was a former shoemaker who managed to work his way up the ranks of the Parliamentarian army during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s. Known for his religious extremism, Hewson became infamous as one of the signatories of the death warrant of King Charles in 1649. Later in the same year, Hewson travelled with Cromwell's army to Ireland, playing a part in the brutal capture of Drogheda in September. Later the same month, he was appointed as governor of Dublin by Cromwell, which in part explains his decision to lead hundreds of soldiers from the castle Ticroghan to pursue the Wicklow tories. This left Reynolds alone to conduct the defence of the Siege at the time of the Irish push. John Reynolds was a young man (only 25 at the time of the battle) but he was by no means green, being a veteran of the battle of Rathmines and possessing several years of fighting experience.

    The Battle

    In 18 June Clanricarde and Castlehaven had arrived with their force of several thousand strong at Tyrellspass. Observation revealed that the castle was surrounded by 1,400 English Infantry and 1,200 cavalry, many of them entrenched behind palisades or crude earthworks. The English Cavalry was a major danger to the Irish, who were mostly infantry, but much of the terrain around Ticroghan was boggy ground upon which cavalry would have difficulty. A council of war drew up a plan for the relief of the castle. All the infantry, as well as 300 of the dismounted cavalry would advance through the bog and attempt to breakthrough the besieging force. Each soldier was given packages of gunpowder and food to carry about their person in addition to their weapons. Shortly before the battle Clanricarde withdrew, on the grounds of poor health, and thus Castlehaven was left to direct the combined armies.

    On 19 June the Irish column moved into the bog. At a place known as Tocar Gearr, four miles away from the castle the Irish ran into the 2,600 English soldiers deployed in a battle line. After deploying, Castlehaven ordered those cavalry men who had remained behind to distract the enemy at the flank; immediately afterwards the Irish infantry attacked, the Irish left wing (composed of Connaught men under colonel Richard Burke) attacking the English right. Shortly after nightfall Burke's men broke through, the English falling back in an ordered retreat. On the Irish right flank things did not go so smoothly. As the English army became aware of what was happening, a sudden attack was arranged against the Leinster men, led by Thomas Dillon, who made up the Irish right flank. The Irish fell back into the woods and bog. Castlehaven tried to prevent panic taking hold in the Irish centre, but failed. The remaining Irish force was thus soon in retreat. Even so, hundreds of the Irish soldiers on the left flank were able to make it to the safety of the Castle with their packages. On the way they managed to destroy part of the English siege works and capture a cannon.

    In the following few days, the reinforced and encouraged garrison sallied out against the English, killing some soldiers.
    Although the Irish forces were driven off, the battle of Ticroghan can in some regards be considered a small Irish victory, as they had achieved their objective with minimal loss of life: Dr Henry Jones, an English observer in Ireland at the time, records in his notes that only eight Irish soldiers were killed in the battle (though Carte, writing several decades later, put the figure at 40). The number of English soldiers killed is not known, though in both the battle and the siege it is likely that dozens perished. Even so, the English forces were reinforced and Castlehaven and Clanricarde realised by 23 June that further efforts to relieve the castle were hopeless.

    On 25 June Sir Robert Talbot and Lady Fitzgerald surrendered the castle. The terms were lenient, allowing the garrison to march out with their weapons and serve elsewhere in Ireland. Reynolds however did not allow the garrison to take the cannon in the castle with them. There were suggestions at the time that Talbot had treacherously surrendered the castle earlier than needed, as there were some weeks worth of supplies remaining, but these allegations are difficult to substantiate.
    The battle of Tecroghan was a very closely fought affair, with some contemporary sources even suggesting that the Parliamentarians were on the brink of collapse. In the end however, the Irish had lost another important stronghold.

    Only a few days after the battle took place the veteran Ulster army was destroyed at the battle of Scarrifholis, severely denting any prospect of resisting the English conquest.


    Kerrigan, Paul, (1995). Castles and Fortrifications in Ireland, 1485-1945, Collins Press, Cork

    Scot-Wheeler, James (1999). Cromwell in Ireland. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan.

    O'Siochru, Micheal, (2008). God's Executioner- Oliver Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland, Faber & Faber, London

    Lenihan, Padraig, (2001).Confederate Catholics at War, Cork University Press, Cork

    Sunday, September 7, 2008

    Aliph- Introduction

    Inchiquin is a blog page devoted to the much neglected history of Early Modern Ireland. The main focus of the site is the eleven years of war between 1641 and 1653, though natually at times the focus will deviate into other periods if a broader understanding is required. Although at this time the site is a blog page if all goes to plan it will in future be upgraded to a proper webpage in its own right.

    Although there are some very good internet resources for the Early Modern conflicts in England and Scotland to be found, it is hard to find anything devoted to the same era of Irish history. This is despite the fact that the wars in Ireland of this period were larger and more destructive than those of Britain of the same era. The exact reason for this neglect is a matter of debate: Perhaps the recent conflicts in Ireland from 1798 to 1998 have distracted attention from the larger earlier wars of Irish history. At any cost, I would like to make a small attempt to correct this oversight with this page.

    I normally write up and edit articles on Wikipedia, but there are obvious limitations to this. I hope to put up information relevant to to the period in the future: Certainly accounts of battles of the era, particularly the more obscure ones of the period. To begin with I aim to put up one article every few month. Obviously, biographies and overviews of the wars are important also, but I hope to deal with these in the future.

    If nothing goes wrong I'll be gradually updating the page, ideally once a month or more. I've got a couple of digits crossed that I can handle this (to be honest, massive) project.

    Thanks for your attention, and I hope you check in again some time .

    Patrick F