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Oliver Cromwell's Irish campaign is remembered for its brilliance ... but
especially for its bloody-handed ruthlessness.

The Irish rebellion Oliver Cromwell suppressed in 1649 was the later stage
of an uprising that had been going on since 1641. On October 23, 1641, 40
years after the great rebellion of Hugh O'Neill, earl of Tyrone, the Irish
rose in revolt, first in Ulster, then later in the rest of Ireland. About
3,000 English and Scottish settlers were killed in the initial uprising. The
numbers were inflated by Parliament to hundreds of thousands as a propaganda
ploy to prevent King Charles I from making peace and using the Irish against
Parliament during the Civil War.

The English forces initially were commanded by James Butler, Duke of Ormonde
and lord lieutenant of Ireland. In 1645, however, with Parliament in control
of England, the Duke of Ormonde took control of the rebellion and led the
Confederacy, an alliance of all Royalists in Ireland. Others, such as
Murrough O'Brien, Baron of Inchiquin, an Irish Protestant stationed in
Munster opposed the Confederacy and laid waste to Munster, earning him the
name Murrough of the Burnings and the hatred of his Irish countrymen. Owen
Roe O'Neill, nephew of Tyrone and a "Wild Geese" veteran of the Spanish
army, kept his Ulster forces separate from the Duke of Ormonde's,
representing a purely Irish Catholic element.

The years 1647 to 1649 were pivotal for the rebellion. First, in 1647 the
baron of Inchiquin switched sides for no apparent reason and joined the Duke
of Ormonde. Second, Colonel Michael Jones landed with 2,000 troops, expelled
the Duke of Ormonde from Dublin and defeated him at Rathmines in August
1649. That broke the Duke of Ormonde's power. All that was left to do was
capture the strongholds still in Confederate or Irish hands. Oliver Cromwell
set out for Ireland to do just that.

Cromwell faced a bitterly divided Ireland. Native Irish (Catholic), the "Old
English" (the descendants of the original Catholic English colonists), New
English (Protestant) and Scottish (Protestant), the more recent settlers,
all distrusted one another almost as much as they did Cromwell, sometimes
more so.

Cromwell's greatest obstacles were not Irish or Confederate troops but the
nature of Ireland itself, where conditions were terrible and the climate is
even wetter than in England. Plague and influenza proved more devastating to
Cromwell's men than Irish arms.

Cromwell set sail for Ireland on August 13, 1649. He arrived in Dublin on
the 15th and was greeted by the roar of cannons from the walls and a great,
enthusiastic crowd. Cromwell was received so favorably because Dublin was
the second city of the English empire and Colonel Jones had expelled all
Catholics from the city.

The Duke of Ormonde left Sir Arthur Aston, an English Catholic, at Drogheda
with 2,200 infantry and 20 cavalry to delay Cromwell from marauding farther
north. Aston was well aware of Cromwell's superior numbers--8,000 infantry
and 4,000 cavalry--but he was confident that Drogheda's superior position
would enable him to survive the Cromwellian onslaught even if he could not
hope to take the Lord Lieutenant in the field--or, as he put it, "He who
could take Drogheda could take Hell." He also expected war's partners,
disease and famine, to weaken the (Protestant) Parliamentary army.

The geography of Drogheda was crucial to the siege. The town was totally
contained within a formidable wall one and a half miles long, 20 feet high,
and 6 feet wide at the base, narrowing to 2 feet on top. The main town lay
north of the River Boyne. To the south, still within the impressive
fortifications, was an additional urban area situated on a hill that had to
be tackled first by any army coming from the south. In the extreme southeast
corner, virtually embedded in the city wall, stood St. Mary's Church. From
its lofty steeple the defenders not only had a fine view of the city but
were in a good position to fire upon their Protestant attackers.

Flanking the church on the town side was a steep ravine called the Dale,
then the heavily guarded Duleek Gate, the entrance to this southern outpost,
and behind that an imposing artificial mound called the Mill Mount.

On September 10, Cromwell issued his first official summons to Sir Arthur

"Having brought the army belonging to the Parliament of England before this
place, to reduce it to obedience, to the end the effusion of blood may be
prevented, I thought it fit to summon you to deliver the same into my hands
to their use. If this be refused you will have no cause to blame me."

Cromwell's Forces commence their bombardment of Drogheda

Aston refused to surrender, and Cromwell's cannons opened fire. The walls of
the city began to crumble. Aston quickly realized that he was in danger. The
(Protestant) Parliamentary fleet blockaded the harbor. The Duke of Ormonde
could send no more reinforcements, his arms and provisions were running
short. Worst of all, like all of Ireland, Drogheda was not united. Some of
those inside the walls preferred the English Parliamentary force.

Knowing that there could be "no quarter" (no mercy) if he refused to
surrender, Aston decided to fight on, writing to the Duke of Ormonde that
his soldiers, at least, "were unanimous in their resolution to perish rather
than to deliver up the place."

The (Catholic) defenders fought bravely, at first turning back the
attackers, but eventually the Parliamentarians crashed through the walls and
seized St. Mary's Church. Aston and some defenders fled to Mill Mount.
Possessed by bloodlust, the Parliamentarians rushed up the hill, and all
defenders, including Aston, were killed by order of Cromwell. The
Parliamentarians swept through the streets with orders to kill anyone in
arms. Against orders, civilians also were killed in the rush. Priests and
friars were treated as combatants by Cromwell's Puritans and executed. Even
more horrible was the fate of the defenders of St. Peter's Church in the
northern part of the town; the church was burned down around them. By
nightfall, only small pockets of resistance on the walls remained. When they
managed to kill some (Protestant) Parliamentarians, Cromwell ordered the
captured (Catholic) officers to be "knocked on the head" and every 10th
soldier (Catholic) executed. Nearly 4,000 (Catholic) Confederates died at

Drogheda's being divided by the river caused some confusion and may have led
to the massacre. When forces on one side of the river surrendered, it is
alleged that Cromwell, still meeting resistance on the other side, ordered
the annihilation of the entire population. "I do not think that thirty of
the whole number escaped with their lives," Cromwell later wrote. The
survivors were sold as slaves to the sugar plantations at Barbados.

Cromwell Leading the Storming Party at Drogheda
by W.R.S. Stott

After the massacre, Cromwell sought to explain his actions in a letter to
William Lenthall, speaker of the English Parliament:

"...I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgement of God upon these
barbarous wretches, who have imbued their hands in so much innocent blood,
and it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are
satisfactory grounds to such actions, which otherwise cannot but work
remourse and regret...."

Arthur Wellesley (an Irisman), the famous Duke of Wellington, later said in
Cromwell's defense: "The practice of refusing quarter to a garrison which
stands an assault is not a useless effusion of blood."

The Duke of Ormonde tried to make excuses for not aiding Drogheda. He said
that many of his officers and troops were on the verge of mutiny or were
showing a lack of courage, so it was not wise to get close to the enemy.
Ormonde later wrote to King Charles II: "It is not to be imagined the terror
these successes and the power of the rebels have struck into the people.
They are so stupefied, that it is with great difficulty I can persuade them
to act anything like men toward their own."

When Owen Roe O'Neill heard of the massacre, he swore an oath that he would
retake the town even if he had to storm Hell.

Cromwell set out for the south a fortnight after Drogheda. Winter was fast
approaching and no time could be lost if the southern part of the island was
to be subdued. He had to follow up before the scattered Irish forces
recovered from the initial panic and joined in a stronger union.

Cromwell and his army encamped at the walls of Wexford on October 1, 1649.
It was most important to capture that town, for it was through Wexford that
the (Catholic) Confederates received their arms and kept in touch with
supporters in foreign countries. He hoped the capture would be easy.

Ormonde also realized the importance of the place and sent 1,000 infantry
and 300 cavalry to reinforce the garrison. The townspeople, however, did not
trust the Duke of Ormonde. They remembered that he had surrendered Dublin a
few years earlier; they knew he had recently made common cause with the
(Protestant) Baron of Inchiquin; they remembered how he had massacred his
own people earlier in the revolt. Their distrust was so strong that they
initially refused entry to Ormonde's forces and did so only after the
Parliamentary fleet arrived.

Cromwell himself admitted that Wexford was "pleasantly seated and strong."
It had a rampart of earth 15 feet thick within the walls to improve its
chances of withstanding a siege. It was garrisoned by more than 2,000 men.
In the fort and elsewhere were nearly 100 cannons. In the harbor were three
ships, one with 34 guns and two with 20. Since it was the middle of October,
winter would soon be setting in, and sickness would soon take its toll on
troops camped in the open. The Duke of Ormonde was camped 20 miles away at
Ross, waiting for a favorable moment to strike.

The (Catholic) Confederates faced a disadvantage that negated the town's
impressive fortifications, however: there was a traitor in their midst,
Captain James Stafford. Had Stafford's treason not occurred, Wexford would
no doubt have been a tougher nut to crack. On October 11, Stafford gave
Cromwell entrance to the town. The scenes that followed mirrored those at
Drogheda. Many Franciscans and other priests were killed. Three hundred
women were massacred while standing at the cross in the public square. They
had hoped that being near the cross would soften the hearts of the Christian
soldiers. Instead it identified them as Catholics, and they were put to
death. The churches were then destroyed. The total number of dead at Wexford
was about 2,000.

After Wexford, the English Parliament sent Cromwell reinforcements and an
enormous sum of money to buy off his (Catholic) English enemies in Ireland.
Cromwell then marched on Ross. Two days after the summons, the town
surrendered without a fight, although the Duke of Ormonde had sent 2,500
extra men into the town. The townspeople no doubt were frightened by the
events at Drogheda and Wexford. Unable to prevent them from crossing the
Barrow River, Cromwell granted terms: the inhabitants were protected from
looting and violence, and the garrison was allowed to march away under arms.
He turned down a request for freedom of worship, however.

About 500 men from the Ross garrison, mostly the (Protestant) Baron of
Inchiquin's men, defected to Cromwell. The reinforcements were welcome,
because the expedition was beginning to take its toll on him and his men. At
Ross, Cromwell himself suffered from a mild form of malaria. The defection
of the troops was a blow to the Duke of Ormonde. The ranks of the (Catholic)
Confederacy were discouraged and disaffected. Ormonde wrote to King Charles
II that only his presence could hearten his discouraged subjects.

In early November, the Irish cause suffered an even worse blow. The Earl
O'Neill died of a mysterious illness. Some say the only Irish commander who
could have taken on Cromwell head to head had been poisoned. Before he died,
O'Neill signed a treaty with the Duke of Ormonde and sent some of his troops
south, but after this severe setback Ormonde had to rely on withdrawal and
evasion tactics.

After Ross, Cromwell built a bridge across the Barrow, advanced into
Tipperary and captured the Duke of Ormonde's castle. He then joined his
son-in-law, General Henry Ireton, at Duncannon. After some deliberation,
most of the army was withdrawn from Ross and placed at a less fortified post
to form a blockade around Duncannon to prevent supplies coming in from
Waterford. That proved unnecessary, because Waterford refused to part with
any of its own scanty provisions.

The commander of the fort, Thomas Roche, informed the Duke of Ormonde that
there was no way he could hold the fort against Cromwell and that he would
have to obey the summons. Ormonde promptly sent Colonel Edward Wogan, a
defector from Ireton's ranks, along with 120 cavalry, to replace Roche. They
arrived just in time to save the fort. They sent a defiant answer to
Cromwell, and he abandoned the siege rather than pursue it in the winter.

Although Duncannon had a reprieve, the (Catholic) Confederates lost a more
important place; the garrison at Cork revolted in favor of the
Parliamentarians about the same time Cromwell was at Ross. The seeds of the
revolt were sown before Cromwell's coming as Protestants sought to break the
dominance of Catholics, especially the Confederates.

Cromwell sent agents to widen the differences. One of them was Roger Boyle,
Lord Broghill, a former royalist who joined Cromwell out of financial need. 
(A low man who betrayed is King.)  Another Cromwell agent was Colonel
Richard Townsend, who pretended to be angered at the execution of the king
but who was trying to corrupt the Munster forces. Their activities quickly
bore fruit. The Munster Protestants had nothing to hope for and everything
to fear from the (Catholic) Confederates. Cromwell remarked that "if there
had been a man like Boyle in every province, it would have been impossible
for the Irish to raise a rebellion."

The result was that Broghill raised 1,500 infantry and a troop of cavalry
from his family estates. Townsend led the (Protestant) English troops and
citizens of Cork in driving out the (Catholic) Irish and declared the city
for the English Parliament. The rising saved Townsend from being executed
for hatching a plot to capture the baron of Inchiquin.

The revolt was a greater disaster for the Duke of Ormonde than the mere loss
of Cork. The Irish complained that Ormonde showed favoritism to the English,
and he was thus compelled to restore Roche at Duncannon. The rest of
Inchiquin's English troops deserted, making the campaign a tribal war
between Celts and English. Inchiquin was even accused of being a traitor.
The accusation was false, but the damage was done, and he lost much of his
already scant credibility.

With the capture of Drogheda and Wexford, the major strongholds on the east
coast, and the possession of Cork, the first stage of Cromwell's Irish
campaign was over. His task was clear: reduce the garrisons that still held
out in Munster and bring that province under the rule of the English
Parliament. The rising in Cork made that task simpler by widening the gap
between the Irish (Catholics) and the Old English (also Catholics). Cromwell
spent as much time on diplomatic maneuvering as he did on field operations.

As matters stood in mid-November 1649, the forces of the English Parliament
held the east coast from Belfast down to Wexford, plus Cork in the west.
Only a few towns in the north remained in Irish hands. Cromwell was still
ill, so he sent Jones and Ireton to the county of Kilkenny to secure the
garrisons there, cut the Duke of Ormonde off from Waterford and draw him
into an open engagement.
Next Cromwell turned to Cahir, commanded by the Duke of Ormonde's
half-brother, Captain George Mathews. When Mathews refused the first demand
to surrender, the Parliamentarians tried to scale the walls. A force of
Catholic Ulstermen repulsed the attack, but Cromwell brought up his cannons.
Mathews realized he could not hold out and surrendered under terms Cromwell
agreed to--that the officers, soldiers and clergymen be allowed to march

Cromwell pushed on, taking the towns of Kiltenan, Dundrum, Ballynakill and
Kildare. He and other Parliamentarians next converged on Kilkenny,
headquarters of the Confederacy. He summoned Kilkenny on March 22, 1650:

"My coming hither is to endeavour, if God so please to bless me, the
reduction of the city of Kilkenny to their obedience to the state of
England, from which, by an unheard of massacre of the innocent English, you
have endeavored to rend yourselves."

Sir Walter Butler, governor of Kilkenny and a cousin of the Duke of Ormonde,
responded that he would maintain the town for the King. The city was not in
good shape, however. Hundreds of the garrison died of plague, and
reinforcements had deserted. Nearby Cantwell Castle surrendered to Cromwell.
Ormonde and the Supreme Council had long since fled.

Nevertheless, Cromwell found it not so easy to take the town. The city was
divided by the River Nore into two parts, Kilkenny proper and Irishtown. A
plot to betray the city was discovered, and a Captain Tickell was executed.
Butler refused to surrender, and an attack beginning on the 24th at
Irishtown was first repulsed, but ultimately succeeded. Butler again refused
to surrender, and the Parliamentary attack continued on the 25th. Hours of
bombardment caused a breach in the wall of the town proper. Two attacks by
the (Protestant) Parliamentarians were repulsed, and a third order to attack
was not obeyed, but Butler soon decided that he'd done all he could do and

Upon payment of 2,000 pounds sterling, the citizens of Kilkenny were
protected from looting, and the officers and soldiers were allowed to march
out disarmed for two miles. The clergymen also were allowed to march out.

For some weeks after Kilkenny, Cromwell did not take an active role in
operations; instead he directed them, first from Carrick, then from Fethard.
He realized that Ormonde was at the end of his resources. On the east coast,
only Waterford was not in English hands, and on the west coast the
plague-devastated city of Galway. Limerick refused to admit any forces not
dominated by the Catholic clergy. Furthermore, the Catholic bishop of Derry
was making arrangements with foreign princes to transport several thousand
fighting men out of Ireland.

Cromwell's next objective, Clonmel, was commanded by General Hugh Duffy
O'Neill, "Black Hugh," who, like his uncle, Owen Roe O'Neill, had previously
served with the "Wild Geese" in the Spanish army. At his command were 12,000
troops, mostly (Catholic) Ulstermen and all but 50 of whom were infantry.
Ormonde promised to send aid but did not. It was in Black Hugh that Cromwell
met his greatest adversary in Ireland.

Cromwell arrived at Clonmel on April 27, a month after Kilkenny. There is no
evidence that he summoned the city to surrender. Supplies were running low
when he arrived and, as in other places, there was treason to aid Cromwell's
effort. A Major Fennell accepted 500 pounds sterling from Cromwell and
opened the gates to 500 Parliamentarians. But Black Hugh had some of his
uncle's savvy. He discovered the plot and arrested Fennell, who confessed on
promise of a pardon. The 500 English Parliamentarians were slaughtered by
the Ulstermen.

This was not the beginning Cromwell desired. On April 30, he brought up the
guns and began the bombardment. On May 9, the English Parliamentarians
poured through a breach--and right into a trap. O'Neill had made
breastworks, with a masked battery, 80 yards from the breach. The Irish
fired chain shot from their cannons, and the troops maintained a continuous
fire from the breastworks. Stone and timber also were hurled at the
attackers. More Parliamentarians came in, only to be killed. Finally, the
Parliamentarians withdrew with a loss of 2,500 men. Cromwell lost more at
Clonmel than he had in all the other battles in Ireland put together. Some
speculate that Cromwell would have lost even more men if the promised
reinforcements had arrived.

In the end, the Parliamentarians took Clonmel not by force of arms but the
lack of supplies and the ineptitude of the Duke of Ormonde. The fact that
Hugh O'Neill and his men managed to sneak out of town during the night
before Clonmel fell also doesn't say much for Cromwell's vigilance.

Less than a month later Cromwell returned to England, which was facing a
threat of invasion from Scotland, which had declared for the exiled King
Charles II (a Celt ... a Stuart). He left Ireton in command. The war in
Ireland continued on the Duke of Ormonde's forlorn hope that Charles II
would come in from Scotland, but, for the most part, the Irish effort had
degenerated into bands of guerrillas known as Tories. Two months after
Clonmel, Bishop Hebere Mac Mahon led an Ulsterman army of Catholics against
Sir Charles Coote, against the advice of Henry O'Neill ... Owen Roe's son.
The bishop was captured, hanged, drawn and quartered on the order of Coote
and Ireton. The bishop had appealed to Owen Roe O'Neill to spare Coote at
the siege of Derry several years earlier. Ireton captured Waterford on June
21 and tried but failed to take Limerick. Coote narrowly defeated the
remnants of Owen Roe O'Neill's army at Scariffhollis. At the end of 1650,
Ormonde left Ireland and was replaced by the Earl of Clanridarde, who was
just as despised as Ormonde and could not unite the factions. Ireton again
tried to take Limerick in June 1651, and after a siege of five months, the
city, under the command of Black Hugh O'Neill, yielded. Ireton died of the
plague in November, but Edmund Ludlow and Charles Fleetwood completed the
subjugation. Both of them later became Lord Lieutenants of Ireland. Galway,
the last city to resist, surrendered in May 1652. The war that had begun in
1641 was over, and more than 616,000 people died in the 12 years of the war.

Many today trace the current problems in Northern Ireland back to Cromwell.
The British troops in Northern Ireland are referred to as "Cromwell's Boys,"
and there is hardly a ruined building in Ireland whose destruction is not
blamed on Cromwell.



Cromwell: A powerful historical
figure--"warts and all".

Prior to the English Civil Wars, Oliver Cromwell was neither an important
member of Parliament nor a person with military experience. Nevertheless, as
a member of the English gentry, he was expected to exercise leadership. Most
English professional soldiers of the day were royalists, so anyone of wealth
who could raise troops for the English Parliament was encouraged to do so.
Cromwell's first act was to raise troops on his own and loot valuable silver
plate at the University of Cambridge.

He later returned home and organized the Eastern Association Army from five
Eastern countries of England, a source of strong support for the Parliament,
which provided more men than any other area in England.

Cromwell chose his men for their Protestant religious fervor and implemented
strict Puritan discipline. He also promoted officers by ability rather than
by wealth, a radical step for the time. For recruiting so many men, Cromwell
was promoted from captain to colonel.

Cromwell's troops were so disciplined and dedicated they won against
superior numbers at the battles of Grantham, Marston Moor, Naseby and Long
Sutton. When he was defeated at Gainsborough on July 28, 1643, his troops
were able to retreat in good order and avoided being massacred.

It was at Marston Moor on July 2, 1644, that he earned the name "Ironside."
Cromwell, then a lieutenant general, was wounded, but he refused to leave
the field. The sobriquet Ironsides was later applied to all his troops.

When the second English Civil War broke out, Cromwell was putting down
royalist uprisings. Having accomplished that, he turned his army north and
at the eight-day battle of Preston defeated a combined royalist-Scottish
force by August 19, 1648, ending the war. His next major act was the Irish

After Ireland, Cromwell was appointed commander in chief of all forces of
the English Commonwealth and was sent to fight the Scots who had declared
for King Charles II. The Scottish campaign was not characterized by the same
brutality of the Irish campaign. The battles of Dunbar and Worchester, which
occurred exactly one year apart on September 3, 1650, and 1651 respectively,
were routs of troops rather than massacres of civilians.

Cromwell was the most powerful man in England when the Commonwealth was
dissolved in April 1653 and the Protectorate was formed, with Cromwell as
Lord Protector on December 16. As lord protector Cromwell ended the naval
war with Holland. He also fought a colonial war with Spain in which England
captured Jamaica, which remained in British hands until 1962.

Cromwell was less successful on the domestic front. He continually faced
threats from both royalists and levellers, a group that wanted to abolish
the aristocracy. Tired of the disorder, Cromwell imposed military rule. His
decision to divide England into 11 districts under the control of a major
general was his most unpopular act. It was also the last time anyone tried
to impose martial law in England.

One of the most complex figures in English history, Oliver Cromwell is still
either strongly loved or hated. There is ample evidence to justify both