The Confederate War by Denis O'Connell
On 23rd October 1641, the Confederate or great Civil War began in Ulster. The native Irish, whose lands were confiscated and planted following the flight of the Earls after the Battle of Kinsale, rose in revolt. The Gaelic element, here led by Sir Felim O’Neill, the great Eoghan Rua O’Neill, and Rory O’Moore soon dislodged the planters.
In Leinster, Lord Mountgarret, the Lord of Ikerrin, the Lord Dunboyne (all of the family of the Butlers). Theobald Purcell, and O’Dwyer and many other gentlemen of power and ability declared a holy war, and the advancement of the Roman Catholic Cause. This huge army soon cleared Kilkenny, and Scene from Re-Enactment of Battle of Tipperary of all the English recently planted there, and were received with open arms in Kilkenny, Cashel, Clonmel, Dungarvan, and Fethard. It was decided to march to Cork, and take the county and city. The path originally chosen to enter county Cork was through the Ballyhoura Mountains at the Pass of Barnderg. Sir William Ledger of Doneraile, who was created Lord President of Munster in 1627 decided to ambush them here, but Mountgarret got word of Ledger’s intentions, and turned westwards to Killmallock. Mountgarret was joined here by the chief lords, and gentlemen of County Limerick, and all their forces.
This huge army returned to Ballyhea, and on to Buttevant. Ledger withdrew to Mallow.
The Roches, McDonagh, McCarthy’s, O’Callaghan, O’Keeffes and the Magners joined the already swollen ranks of the Confederates at TwoPotHouse, as they followed Ledger’s forces to Mallow. Some bitter fighting took place here before Lt. Williamson agreed to surrender on terms.
Before leaving Mallow, General Garret Barry was chosen to command the Confederates as the Leinster generals decided to return home.
General Barry was born in the latter part of the sixteenth century, and early in his life entered the service of the King of Spain, first as an officer in the fleet, and later in the army. He saw service in the low countries and Germany during the Thirty Years’ War. He was not however ideally fitted for irregular war service.
Mallow which was a progressive, prosperous, and peaceful area, was happy to see the Confederate Forces turn their attention to county Limerick since the presence of both armies in the area caused the people great fear and many left those happy plains.
General Barry now joined by Lord Muskerry stormed Limerick Castle, and following a lengthy siege the governor Capt. George Courtenay capitulated on the 21st June. By this victory the Irish secured a few pieces of cannon, a most valuable acquisition at this stage of the war, and by the terror of them reduced all the castles in county Limerick including Askeaton.
Lord Inchiquin and Capt. William Jephson were in England and having got a regiment of foot, and some horse, landed in Youghal and thence to Mallow and Doneraile. Ledger who was Inchiquin’s father-in-law, died during the visit, and the military command of the province devolved on Inchiquin.
The Irish having conquered Limerick’s fertile plains right up the Shannon’s tide returned in the direction of Feenagh with their recently acquired battering piece, weighing 6,890 lbs, on timber hewn hollow drawn by twenty five yoke of oxen. They travelled over bogs where wheels would have sunk and where no carriage was ever known to pass. Moving on through Kilbolane they came by Altamira and through Knockardbane to Stephen’s Rock where they arrived on Tuesday, August 30th. They placed their cannon on this rocky hill south-east of Liscarroll Castle, and within musket shot of it. Raymond surrendered the castle in the evening of Friday Sept. 2nd though he was promised relief the next morning.
Lord Inchiquin with Barrymore, Dungarvan, Kinalmeaky, and Broghill had come that day to Mallow, and there resolved to march to Liscarroll to fight the Confederates, otherwise his army would be starved while the Irish gathered the harvest. The fate of the entire province depended on the outcome of a battle which was now inevitable.
Inchiquin being informed that Liscarroll Castle was strictly besieged, and that it was impossible without relief that it could be held for more than three days, sent word to Raymond to expect him within twenty-four hours. At eleven in the forenoon of Friday Sept. 2nd the artillery arrived in Buttevant. The entire army of 1,700 foot and six troops followed, and having been wearied from the previous day’s march encamped for the night. Capt. Bridges and forty horse went in the direction of Liscarroll but returned without observing the enemy. That afternoon about 2 o’clock the Irish artillery played on the castle, and continued until night when Raymond decided to capitulate.
On Saturday morning September 3rd as the Parliamentarians were in readiness to march, Sturges from Kinsale led thirty horse on through Bregogue, and Curraghmount to elevated Gurteenroe where they discovered a troop of Irish who immediately returned to the main body.
The main body of the Parliamentarian forces moved about a mile behind their advance party, and about a half-an-hour after day break, as the sun started to ascend over Ballyhoura’s heathery hills they got their first glimpse of the castle from Lackaroe. One mile away stood the formidable Irish army, drawn up in perfect good order, and numbering some six thousand foot, and three hundred horse. The Irish horse charged up through Sallypark, and almost cut off the advance party who being near the castle were saluted with a peal of shot which was the first indication that the castle was lost to the English. The Irish horse advancing in brilliant order and excellently lined with musqueteers forced the opposing horse led by Inchiquin to retreat. This they did slowly making frequent stands, and facing about to express how little they feared their opponents. The Irish continued to press forward while Inchiquin retreated westwards in the direction of Highfort. Lord Kinalmeaky the seventh son of Lord Cork, was killed and a jubilant Irish shout rent the air “Kinalmeaky is down, death to the Puritans”. Francis Boyle took his brother’s horse but could not recover his body. The Irish were now in complete command with their musqueteers running ahead to bushes and ditches while their body of horse following in perfect order and their whole army ready to relieve the horse upon all engagements. The English horse were now forced back to their foot, and the generals experienced great difficulty in keeping their forces intact as the grand body of six thousand Irish provided a formidable sight as they pursued the retreating English westwards to Knockbarry. Barry’s men had disregarded all discipline having felt the battle was over.
Inchiquin dismounting his horse, and shouting direction on Knockbarry’s elevated hillside, and aided by sixty musqueteers from Sir John Browne’s company gradually assumed temporary control, and soon the whole Irish army were in retreat back to their original position near the castle, and availing of their fortifications they had so excellently prepared.
Both sides now began to prepare for battle. The Irish divided their foot into three bodies, each consisting of nearly two thousand men, their right wing was placed on top of the elevated rock in the Inch where there was a fortification well manned with a store of shot. Their left wing stood near the castle within half a musket shot of Stephen’s Rock where their artillery was planted. Between these two and a little behind them, stood their main body, consisting mostly of pikes. Their horse advanced all in one body, and drew up near their right wing.
The English accordingly divided their men into three parts. Eight hundred composed of pikes, and musquet stood on lower Knockbarry (Leahy’s farm) where their artillery was planted, and almost opposite their main body. Sir Charles Vavasour with six hundred musqueteers faced their left wing, and just opposite their right wing where three hundred musquets led by Captains Cooper and Hutton. On the left hand of these were placed the horse (to face the Irish horse) on the slopes of Lower Coolbane.
Thus were two armies ranged in battalia, between which was a plain flat valley interposed about twenty to thirty yards in breath.
Again the Irish had all the advantages; three to one in number, two fortified forts and a castle, to any of which upon a disaster they might have retreated. Even the sun was in their favour.
Early Irish attacks were repulsed, but the English shot affected little, and they decided to charge from their position in lower Coolbane. Inchiquin and his friend Capt. William Jephson with Capt. Bridges led the onslaught. On the right came Dungarvan, and his brother Broghill, and brother-in-law Barrymore brought up the rear. Between the two armies was a little meadow, and at the upper end of this field, where the English horse must necessarily pass to the charge, stood the Irish huts well lined with musketeers. Sixty English charged the huts, and the Irish retreated to the security of their main body, thus clearing the way for the charge of the English horse.
Lt. Oxenbridge pursued the small body of Irish, and this fine ruse almost succeeded in cutting off the attackers, and the English had to fight hard to save Oxenbridge. Once again Inchiquin’s army was in trouble and retreating when an extraordinary, event occurred. Inchiquin encountered his cousin Capt. Oliver Stevenson, who was a captain of the Irish Horse. Stevenson had promised his mother not to harm a hair in the head of Inchiquin, who was her nephew, should he meet him in battle. His men now having the English general at their mercy were about to slay him and actually had wounded him when the Irish Capt. intervened and saved him. This completely disorganised the Irish in the lower Coolbane sector of the battle and Inchiquin availing of the opportunity slew his cousin, who had just saved his life, by shooting him through the forehead.
Down through the Inch and in the Sallypark sectors, the Irish were well on top, but their horse were now scattered all over the fields so that barely twenty of them could be seen together. Capt. Bridges took advantage of this and won the day, for when the horse were muted, the foot broke. Charles Vavasour and Philip Percival rallied the English on the right wing and moving in on the disorganised Irish foot, did much execution on those guarding their ordnance on Stephen’s Rock. From the top of the rock in the INCH the Irish held out bravely, but seeing that they were now deserted they quitted their fort. The Irish fled in the direction of Glenfield but the execution was bloody, and cruel, and no quarter was given. The English horse had now surrounded the thick woodland north of Liscarroll, and the foot were marching in good order towards it, when Inchiquin mistook his own men for enemies, and ordered a retreat. Thus many of the Irish escaped, but already fifteen hundred had died.
This long battle of seven hours, and fluctuating fortunes throughout, ended with victory for the English, completely against the run of play.
Annagh castle was also taken without resistance on the following day.
“O’er valley and hill lies a soul-crushing gloom,
And the war mangled corpses are awaiting a tomb,
And the Gael’s gushing blood stained the Puritan sword,
As they gave up their lives for the cause they adored,
The women came weeping and wailing that night,
To search for their menfolk, who fell in that fight;
And the moan of their keening spreads in the air,
Like the sigh of a nation sunk keep in despair”