Ireland’s Wars: Castlehaven Reduces Munster

Duncannon had fallen, reviving Confederate morale and providing a greater impetus for the Kilkenny government to launch offensives against their various enemies. The time had not yet come for an assault on Robert Monro in the north, and things remained friendly with Ormonde in the east.

No, it was to the south that the Confederates would turn. Inchiquin held a strip of land along the coast of Cork, holding several key towns and in a seemingly unending face-off with the Confederate forces located primarily in Limerick. Inchiquin had gained several great successes over the Confederates but was still not in an enviable position. His declaration for the Parliamentarians had made him the London legislatures main man to call upon in the region, but he lacked men, supplies and the ability to take the initiative.

It was the Irish who would be doing that. The question was where to strike, and who would be doing the striking. The obvious choice might have been Thomas Preston, fresh from his triumph over the forces in Duncannon, where he had proved his expertise in sieges.

But instead the Confederates went a different way. James Tuchet, the Earl of Castlehaven, was the man called upon to lead the assault on Inchiquin.

Castlehaven was already a controversial figure. Starting the war on the royalist side, his victory at the Fermoy Ford had made him a Confederate darling, before his utter failure in the Ulster expedition of 1644. That failure Castlehaven largely blamed on Owen Roe O’Neill, and such opinions seem to have stuck. With his past victories in the region, he was still seen as a preferable option for the Confederate leadership, and so he was given a mandate to command troops and advance into Parliament held Cork. Preston would play a part in the campaign at a later time, but it would be one subordinate to Castlehaven.

Tuchet, taking troops from all points to build a single army, moved into the area of operations in April of 1645, once a truce with Inchiquin had expired. He could call upon 5’000 infantry and a thousand horse to aid him, a small army, but more than enough to be a match for Inchiquin numerically. That army included a few artillery pieces, which might have been augmented by the cannon captured at Duncannon.

What Castlehaven’s actual aims were remain unclear to this day. He stated in his own memoirs that he wanted to seek out Inchiquin on the field of battle and defeat him, but this goes against Confederate experience in the area, which would have been to avoid a pitched battle after Liscarroll. If Castlehaven wanted such an encounter, he should have gone directly after the major towns on the coast, Cork and Youghal, far sooner than he actually did.

By his own admission, his actual orders were for far less direct action against Inchiquin. The Confederate leadership wanted the Parliamentarian position in Cork “reduced” to as much of an extent as possible before the main strongholds were tackled. It was a good move, taking an advantage of the fact that Inchiquin, while not controlling a very large amount of land, was trying to garrison and maintain a large amount of castles and other fortifications all at once. Many of them, like the outlying ones on the borders of County Limerick and Tipperary, had tiny garrisons, that were ripe for attacking if the Confederates could muster enough men and artillery – like they finally had. Castlehaven was directed to clear out as much of Cork as he could, to take forts and castles if possible or destroy them if he couldn’t. But he was loath to go beyond the Blackwater River, until the time was deemed ripe.

What followed seemed to be a campaign of spectacular success. Everywhere Castlehaven went with his army he found victory, either convincing local commanders to give up without a fight, or forcing castles into surrenders with a few examples of cannon fire on their walls. Actual fighting was rare. It was a series of brief sieges, as Castlehaven, using a force capable of some mobility and ranging up down County Cork, went about eliminating Inchiquin’s advantages in the area before tackling the main points in Cork City and Youghal.

The below map is a basic reconstruction of Castlehaven’s campaign routes, based largely off the stops mentioned in his own memoirs, which while not trustworthy in some of their details, at least provide a basic framework for studying his movements. The numbers note important stops and sieges, which I will now discuss in greater detail.

castlehaven in munster 3

At some point in April, Castlehaven situated himself in Clonmel, Tipperary (1, from that direction) with his army encamped nearby. Even after his forces moved out, Castlehaven would be busy inquiring after more troops and cavalry to be sent to him from whatever source. Before he even got started, he was receiving representatives from some garrisons, asking that he spare them from the coming assault. One visit, from Inchiquin’s brother-in-law, asked Castlehaven not to attack Doneraile, on the grounds that it was “untenable”. Castlehaven replied that any fortresses that he could not hold for whatever reasons were to be destroyed and if the Parliamentarians didn’t like that, they could surrender them peacefully to him. The offer was not taken up.

When the army did move out, all 6’000 plus of them, the first target was the town and castle at Cappoquin (2), not far from the Blackwater River. The Confederates had attempted a brief and aborted siege of this area the previous year, focusing their efforts on the town over the castle, an effort that was a failure. Castlehaven reversed this when he went there, attacking the castle and ignoring the town completely. The castle fell quickly and without any great loss of life, with the town unable to remain aloof afterwards.

From there it was on to “Drommane” (3) or Dromana today, which “likewise fell” as Cappoquin had done, perhaps with another focus on assaulting military over civilian positions. Tuchet has a scornful tone when addressing previous Confederate failures compared to his successes, but it is likely they did not have the resources or favourable conditions that he had. The first counter-move of Inchiquin’s forces is recorded here; an apparent offer of battle to Castlehaven from Roger Boyle, the Baron of Broghill, one of Inchiquin’s higher ranking subordinates. Boyle would go on to have a much bigger role to play later in the wars, but for now he retreated upon Castlehaven’s advance.

Castlehaven apparently wanted to head straight for Lismore next, one of the strongest castles in the area, in the hope that its commander would surrender it without a fight in the face of his army’s numbers and the apparent lack of relief. When it was indicated to Tuchet that this would not be possible, he instead switched tack and north-west to Mitchelstown(4). How long these movements took is not recorded, but considering that a small artillery train was being carted around, it would probably have been a few days. Upon arrival at Mitchelstown, it only took a short artillery barrage to convince its commander to surrender.

Next came probably the only serious chance of battle in the whole campaign, as wandering close to Fermoy (5), near the site of his victory over Inchiquin’s forces a few years previously, Castlehaven was nearly drawn into a full-on ambush. Scouts of his army reported a group of enemy near and urged him to an attack: Tuchet reluctantly agreed and moved his army over the ford into a better position. Having sent a force of cavalry ahead to better reconnoitre the enemy and suspicious when they did not report back in a timely fashion, he moved forward himself for a look, and caught site of an enemy army, larger than expected, engaging his cavalry. Castlehaven drew up his remaining horse and a portion of his infantry, leading to the Parliamentarians deciding to withdraw to Castlelyons. He briefly thought about assaulting that position, but decided better of it. Castlehaven’s account of this incident is almost certainly exaggerated, but it is good to note the efforts that Inchiquin was making to bring Tuchet to heel.

Castlehaven kept going west, next coming to the town of Mallow (6). As with others, it surrendered quickly after a short artillery attack.  A pattern so far could clearly be seen, as Castlehaven stayed well north and went about attacking forts and castles in an arc around Cork City and Youghal.

Castlehaven barely notes the operations around the next two targets, Doneraile (7) and Liscarroll (8), neither of which apparently made any resistance whatsoever. That Liscarroll fell so easily, after the trouble that the Munster Army of Confederates had there previously in the war, was fairly stunning.

Milltown (9), north of the last few assaults, was next, and here Castlehaven did face a challenge, as its commander effused to surrender as the others had done. For some this would simply be a matter of pride or honour, for others there would have been genuine hopes that they could have been relieved. That probably would never have been the case for Milltown though, being on the very periphery of Inchiquin’s control. Castlehaven was prepared for a lengthy fight, but was stunned when a small group of soldiers, apparently without orders, attacked the castle shortly after the army arrived. Castlehaven implies they may just have been looking to steal some cattle from out behind a walled court that was part of the castle structure, but saw an unexpected and welcomed opportunity to go further and capture the entire position.

Everything was going extremely well for Castlehaven so far, with very few casualties on his side to report. So well was it going, that he gave his army two weeks rest while he retired to Kilmallock for his own RnR. This was interrupted by news that Inchiquin had left the confines of Cork City to attack a nearby castle, that of “Ballymartyr” (he probably meant Ballymartin). How a Confederate sympathetic point could be found so close to Cork is not explained. Castlehaven saw an opportunity and marched to the spot directly, very close to the walls of Cork itself, the longest single trek of his campaign, which was delayed by flooded rivers. He arrived to find the place (10) burning, having been taken by Inchiquin, with his army back inside Cork.

Having advanced so far, Castlehaven was not of a mind to just turn back, but at the same time he did not feel confident enough even attempting an attack on a city like Cork. But before he faced that prospect, another opportunity came his way at Rostellan, a port area just east of the city (11). Inchiquin had only just taken this place (according to Castlehaven) but when Tuchet heard that some Parliamentarians ships had just docked he couldn’t resist. A quick march resulted in him seizing these boats and their officers, and the next day, using bulwarks that Inchiquin had built, he bombarded the castle of Rostellan, causing it to surrender.

Staying that close to Inchiquin’s power base was not feasible however, and Castlehaven withdrew northwards, probably destroying Rostellan before he went. Now he moved back to settle the score with Castlelyons (12), which fell after “some battering”, although Castlehaven does not record the fate of the garrison that had fled to the castle following the previous skirmish.

A place that Tuchet calls “Coney-Castle” (13) was next on the agenda, though only because it lay between his army and the next primary objective, Lismore. I can find no reference to a place of that name in that area today, so on the map above the dot is an approximate guess. As with Milltown, surrender was refused, but the castle was taken after a quick assault, before Tuchet had even set his guns. It should again be remembered that most of the garrisons of these outlying castles would have been quite small, hence the easy takeovers by a large force.

Lismore (14), a big target, was next. Castlehaven claims to have some affection for the place which he had previously spent much time in his younger days. Surprisingly for a commander, this feeling led him to delegate the siege work to a subordinate, as he headed back to Kilkenny for a few days. Lismore gave the Confederates their hardest task, withholding the attentions for nearly a week, before surrender terms were sought and granted, the garrison being allowed to march out. Castlehaven arrived back just in time to witness this, and presumably take some of the credit.

From there it was to Tallow (15) and the main Confederate encampment. Castlehaven, and also the Confederate leadership, had to think about their options and where to go next.

Yet again, opportunity knocked for Castlehaven. Hearing of a raiding force that Inchiquin had sent towards County Limerick, commanded by a MacWilliam Ridgeway, Castlehaven took his cavalry and the fastest 1500 of his infantry and set off at a break neck pace, not back to Limerick, but to the outskirts of Cork (16), there to await Ridgeway’s return. The miniature expedition was only a partial success, as elements of the returning raiding force were intercepted, but only at night. In the confused darkness, little productive fighting could take place, and when Tuchet discovered that Ridgeway had died the previous day while returning from his raid, he gave up.

Castlehaven returned to Tallow (17) and his previous planning. There, he decided that the town of Youghal, a major port on the south coast, would be the target instead of Cork.

The march there had its own incidents, with Tuchet recording several positions surrendering on the way. At a castle that he “forget the name of the place” (18, an approximation), the defenders surrendered peaceably. As the handover of its control occurred, Castlehaven decided to take the opportunity to go hunting in the surrounding area. After hearing gunfire from the castle he raced back, fearing a surprise attack from Inchiquin, but instead he found elements of his own army shooting at each other. Castlehaven claims that some members of the infantry sought to plunder the castle and its departing defenders, something that traditionally only occurred if the place had offered resistance. Unable to force order, some of his officers had actually joined the Parliamentarian temporarily in defending the castle from this predation. Tuchet further claims that he himself was able to enforce order, rounding up the “mutineer” regiments and having them choose two random men to be shot as punishment.

From there, it was on to Youghal (19), at which Castlehaven arrived in late June 1645.

It is important not to overstate the success of Castlehaven’s campaigns. That he was able to capture or effectively destroy so many castles should be seen not so much as evidence of his own superiority in command ability or troop quality, but as evidence of the extremely stretched position of Inchiquin in Cork. He only had so many men to go round, and a lot of castles to garrison. Something had to give, and at least by spreading his troops out everywhere, he was able to keep Castlehaven busy for a large amount of time, all while he bolstered the defences of Cork and Youghal, his two main positions. After all, it could hardly be said that some of the castles that Castlehaven spent his time attacking were actual threats to the Confederates. Moreover, some of the same deficiencies in the Confederate army were still evident, such as the rank indiscipline of some of its fighting men.

But we should look at the positives as well. This was probably the longest string of victories the Confederates had come with so far in the war. Numerous forts and castles were either in their hands or removed from the possible control of the enemy, permanently damaging the Parliamentarian position in Ireland. And plenty of plunder and supplies had been gained, which could be used in any assault on Youghal.

That siege would be the true test of Castlehaven’s army and its resolve.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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10 Responses to Ireland’s Wars: Castlehaven Reduces Munster

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