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

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