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The History of Ulster
Cromwell's Campaign in Ulster


Cromwell's Religious Emotion - The Spirit in which he waged War - The Storming of Drogheda - Cromwell's Reports - Anthony a Wood's Narrative - No Quarter given - Ormonde and Owen Roe come to Terms - Death of Owen Roe O'Neill - Coleraine taken by Coote - Belfast capitulates - Henry and Daniel O'Neill in the South - Major Henry O'Neill taken Prisoner - "General Farrell and his Ulsters" - Carrickfergus surrenders to Coote and Venables.

"History," says Froude (who cannot be accused of loving the Irish), "ever eloquent in favour of the losing cause history, which has permitted the massacre of 1641 to be forgotten, or palliated, or denied has held up the storming of Drogheda to eternal execration." In what way history can be said to have forgotten the massacres of 1641 it would be difficult to determine. Miss Hickson's two volumes contain evidence and arguments on the subject never likely to be forgotten. There is no doubt that Cromwell, in his desire to "save much effusion of blood", spilled a great deal; but it is difficult in our day, when the majority of mankind have exchanged u a life of faith diversified by doubt" for one of "doubt diversified by faith", to fully realize or heartily sympathize with the spirit of a Cromwell the spirit of one who believed himself the chosen instrument of God to be the avenger of innocent blood. The spirit of religious toleration was then unknown, and the war waged by Cromwell was pre-eminently a religious war. The religious spirit pervades and permeates even the records of the historians who chronicle the events of the campaign chronicles in which no trace of the bias which springs from sentiment should be visible. Without cultivating a spirit of aloofness we must, in considering the drama enacted at Drogheda, fraught as it is with human emotion

... sit as God holding no form of creed,
But contemplating all.

That the religious element was everywhere prevalent is seen in a statement by Cox, to which he draws special attention. 44 One thing", he says, "is very remarkable, and ought not to be omitted, and that is, that though there were several protestants in the town, yet were the popish soldiers so insolent and so unjust to their protestant companions, even in the midst of their adversity, that on Sunday the eighth of September (the day before the attack) they thrust the protestants out of St. Peter's church in Drogheda, and publicly celebrated mass there, though they had monasteries and other convenient places besides for that purpose." St. Peter's, it must be remembered, was the church in the timber-constructed steeple of which a party of about 100 perished through Cromwell's ordering the building to be fired, the Lord-Lieutenant himself reporting to the Parliament that "It is remarkable that these people, at the first, set up the Mass in some places of the Town that had been monasteries; but afterwards grew so insolent that, the last Lord's day before the storm, the Protestants were thrust out of the great Church called St. Peter's, and they had public Mass there: and in this very place near 1000 of them were put to the sword, fleeing thither for safety. I believe all their friars were knocked on the head promiscuously but two; the one of which was Father Peter Taaff, brother to the Lord Taaff, whom the soldiers took, the next day, and made an end of. The other was taken in the Round Tower, under the repute of a Lieutenant, and when he understood that the officers in that tower had no quarter, he confessed he was a Friar; but that did not save him."

Among the English soldiers who were present at this siege was Thomas, brother of Anthony a Wood, the well-known historian of Oxford, whose reproduction of Thomas's reminiscences Lecky held to be a "vivid and most authentic glimpse of this episode of Puritan warfare", contributed by an " accurate and painstaking writer". Mr. Richard Bagwell dismisses "the stories attributed to Thomas Wood" because they "rest entirely on hearsay evidence, and Thomas was a noted buffoon". No student of English literature, however, can accuse Anthony of levity, and, with all due deference to Mr. Bagwell, it is scarcely likely, therefore, that he would have chronicled his brother's utterances regarding his experiences in Drogheda had he not implicitly believed them to be true. He relates in his autobiography how Thomas "would tell them of the most terrible assaulting and storming of Tredagh, where he himself had been engaged.

"He told them that 3000 at least, besides some women and children, were, after the assailants had taken part and afterwards all the town, put to the sword on September 11 and 12, 1649, at which time Sir Anthony Ashton, the governor, had his brains beat out and his body hacked to pieces. He told that when they were to make their way up to the lofts and galleries of the church and up to the tower where the enemy had fled, each of the assailants would take up a child and use it as a buckler of defence when they ascended the steps, to keep themselves from being shot or brained. After they had killed all in the church, they went into the vaults underneath, where all the flower and choisest of the women and ladies had hid themselves. One of these, a most handsome virgin arraid in costly and gorgeous apparel, kneeled down to Thomas Wood with tears and prayers to save her life, and being stricken with a profound pitie, he took her under his arm, went with her out of the church with intentions to put her over the works to shift for herself, but a soldier perceiving his intentions he ran his sword through her . . . whereupon Mr. Wood, seeing her gasping, took her money, jewels, &c., and flung her down over the works."

It must not be forgotten that Cromwell's soldiers "were not soldiers merely: they had entered the service on the understanding, that their wages were to be Irish lands. They were to take the place of those among the native proprietors who by rebellion had forfeited their holdings." They had therefore the very best of reasons for exterminating their opponents, otherwise they might not be able to hold in peace such lands as they acquired in payment of their wages. Rebel and royalist alike sank under the sword of Oliver Cromwell.

A postscript to his dispatch of the I7th of September, giving particulars of the siege, contains a line to the effect that: " Since writing of my Letter, a Major who brought off forty-three horse from the Enemy told me that it's reported in their camp that Owen Roe and they are agreed ". This statement was a little premature, but it was true that negotiations between Ormonde and O'Neill were in active progress. Ormonde had recognized, after his defeat at Dublin, that if he continued to oppose Cromwell he could only do so with the active assistance of Owen Roe, and accordingly he approached the Ulster chieftain, who undertook to supply him with 6000 foot and 800 horse on condition that Ulster should be included in the Peace and that O'Neill himself should be general of that province. These terms were agreed to, and in October Ulster troops to the number of 1500 were sent under Castlehaven to the relief of Wexford, then besieged by Cromwell ; but O'Neill was ill and unable to lead them himself.

While encamped before Londonderry, where he remained about ten days after raising the siege on the 8th of August, he was seized with illness, "an unexpected fit of sickness in my knee", and was conveyed in a horse litter to Ballyhaise, in County Cavan, on reaching which he ordered his nephew, Lieutenant-General Hugh Duv O'Neill, to lead the promised reinforcements to Ormonde. He was then carried to Cloughoughter, a strong castle of the O'Reillys in Lough Oughter, in Cavan, from which, on the ist of November, he dispatched a letter to Ormonde. "Being now in my death-bed", he wrote, "I call my Saviour to witness that, as I hope for salvation, my resolution, ways, and intentions from first to last of these unhappy wars tended to no particular ambition or private interest of my own, notwithstand- ing what was or may be thought to the contrary, but truly and sincerely to the preservation of my religion, the advancement of His Majesty's service, and just liberties of this nation, whereof, and of my particular reality and willingness to serve your Excellency (above any other in this kingdom), I hope that God will permit me to give ample and sufficient testimony in the view of the world ere it be long." He died on the 6th of November.

The death of Owen Roe O'Neill was commonly ascribed to a disease of the foot caused by "a pair of russet-leather boots" imbued with poison, with which he had been presented by one Plunket of Louth, which he wore at a ball given by Sir Charles Coote at Londonderry. Plunket, it is said, boasted of the service which he had rendered to England by thus dispatching O'Neill. It is not unlikely that O'Neill's death was accelerated by the maledictions of the Nuncio Rinuccini, who had excommunicated him. His nephew, Daniel, indeed hints as much when he refers to "the excommunication which has so troubled that superstitious old uncle of mine in his sickness that I could render him to no reason ". Daniel O'Neill was a native of Ulster and a Protestant. The remains of the great general of Ulster were interred in the old Franciscan monastery of Cavan, of which no vestige now remains. By his contemporaries he was held in high esteem for his " honor, constancy and good sense", and the best testimony to his military skill is the pronouncement of Marshal Schomberg's secretary, who declared that "Owen Roo O'neale was the best general that ever the Irish had".

Ormonde, on hearing of the storming of Drogheda, hastily retreated from his quarters round Trim towards Wexford and Kilkenny, giving orders to the garrisons left behind to burn and abandon Dundalk and Trim; but the garrisons, on Cromwell's approach, fled in consternation, leaving all their stores and ordnance to the enemy. Cromwell then set out for Dublin, but before doing so, sent Colonel Venables to co-operate with Coote and reduce the northern garrisons. Venables, on the i8th of September, presented himself before Carlingford, which contained the largest magazine in Ulster, and soon reduced the fort, in which he found seven pieces of cannon, about a thousand muskets, with forty barrels of powder, and nearly five hundred pikes. He then marched with a party of horse and dragoons to Newry, which surrendered without resistance. In proceeding to Lisburn he was surprised by 800 horse under Colonel Mark Trevor, who nearly gained a complete victory; but Venables' men regained their composure and Trevor was beaten off, and Lisburn in consequence was taken. Belfast capitulated four days after Venables appeared before it, and 800 Scots were afterwards turned out of the town, "whither they had brought their wives and children to plant themselves there". Coleraine fell into the hands of Coote, who subsequently drove Sir George Munro from the counties of Down and Antrim, and by the end of November Carrickfergus, Charlemont, and Enniskillen were the only considerable Ulster garrisons not in the hands of the Parliament.

It is not our province to accompany Cromwell on his campaign through the south of Ireland, where his progress was a series of successes Wexford, New Ross, Carrick-on-Suir, Kilkenny yielding to his victorious arms, while Cork, Kinsale, and Youghal declared for the Parliament, and joined him but note may be taken of the actions in which the Ulster forces took part. On the 25th of October, 1649, Cromwell wrote from Ross an official communication to the Speaker, in which he said: " Ormonde is at Kilkenny, Inchiquin in Munster, Henry O'Neill, Owen Roe's son, is come up to Kilkenny, with near 2000 horse and foot, with whom and Ormonde there is now a perfect conjunction. So that now, I trust, some angry friends will think it high time to take off their jealousy from those to whom they ought to exercise more charity." Which reference is to the jealousy exhibited towards the Parliamentary party for having countenanced Monck in his negotiations with Owen Roe. The dying Irish general had commended, with his last breath, his son to Ormonde, and had sent him with one of his favourite officers, Lieutenant-General Farrell, to join him with 500 of the Ulster army. Ormonde had both Henry and Daniel O'Neill serving under him, and sent the latter in December with 2000 men to Carrickfergus to reinforce Lord Montgomery of Ardes and Sir George Munro, but they arrived too late. Castlehaven prolonged the siege of Wexford by introducing 1500 Ulster foot, and at New Ross, a week later, managed with Ormonde and Montgomery to ferry 2500 men into the town in sight of the irate Commander-in-Chief. On the i4th of November Cromwell wrote: "We lie with the Army at Ross. . . . Owen Roe's men, as they report them, are six thousand foot, and about four thousand horse, . . . and they give out they will have a day for it: which we hope the Lord of His mercy will enable us to give them, in His own good time." In the same letter the writer says: " From Sir Charles Coote, Lord President of Con naught, I had a letter, about three or four days since, That he is come over the Bann, and hath taken Coleraine by storm; and that he is in conjunction with Colonel Venables, who I hear hath besieged Carrickfergus; which if through the mercy of God it be taken, I know nothing considerable in the North of Ireland, but Charlemont, that is not in your hands."

From Cork a month later the Speaker received an official communication in which details of the difficulties encountered were given, but there was "some sweet at the bottom of the cup; of which I shall now give you an account. Being informed that the Enemy intended to take-in the Fort of Passage, and that Lieutenant-General Ferral with his Ulsters was to march out of Waterford, with a considerable party of horse and foot, for that service, I ordered Colonel Zanchy [Sankey], who lay on the north side of the Blackwater, to march with his regiment of horse, and two pieces of two troops of dragoons to the relief of our friends. Which he accordingly did; his party consisting in all of about three hundred and twenty. When he came some few miles from the place, he took some of the Enemy's stragglers in the villages as he went; all which he put to the sword: seven troops of his killed thirty of them in one house. When he came near the place, he found that the Enemy had close begirt it, with about Five hundred Ulster foot under Major O'Neil; Colonel Wogan also, the Governor of Duncannon, with a party of his, with two battering guns and a mortar-piece, and Captain Browne, the Governor of Ballihac, were there. Our men furiously charged them ; and beat them from the place. The Enemy got into a place where they might draw up; and the Ulsters, who bragged much of their pikes, made indeed for the time a good resistance: but the horse, pressing sorely upon them, broke them; killed near an Hundred upon the place; took Three-hundred-and-fifty prisoners amongst whom, Major O'Neill, and the officers of Five-Hundred Ulster foot, all but those which were killed. . . . Ferral was come up very near with a great party to their relief; but our handful of men marching toward him, he shamefully hasted away, and recovered Waterford."

From Cromwell's report already quoted we learned that Coote and Venables were besieging Carrickfergus, in which General Thomas Dalziel held his own, bravely agreeing to surrender on the i3th of December if not relieved earlier. Montgomery of Ardes and George Munro marched to his relief, but they were routed by Sir Charles Coote, "upon a boggy pass on the plain of Lisnesreane", and Sir Theophilus Jones, rising from Lisburn with a large body of cavalry, completed the work, over 1000 being killed. Daniel O'Neill arriving too late, Munro and Montgomery took refuge in Charlemont, and Carrickfergus surrendered.


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