Ireland’s Wars: Devastation And Surrenders

The conventional war in Ireland was essentially over, the days of sieges and battles now done with. But still the fighting had continued past the fall of Galway, with the various bands of Tories, in some cases reaching immense sizes, threatening Parliamentarian forces and garrisons all throughout Ireland. Throughout the time of Henry Ireton and after, they became one of the most deadly problems the legislature had to face, the New Model Army in Ireland sluggishly responding to the issue, to their cost.

It didn’t help that the administration governing Ireland on behalf of the Parliament was in such lackadaisical shape, powers unclear between civil and military wings. Ireton had maintained a firm(ish) command in a time of all out war. Now that was over and Ireton was gone, his replacement, Ludlow, a man stepping into the position by default, not by direct appointment. It was not until July 1652 that a new leader with defined authority was appointed. Charles Fleetwood had been a Parliamentarian military officer since the early days of the Civil War and, much like Ireton had risen through the ranks through a mixture of impressive battlefield performance and personal relationships with the right people, Fleetwood had risen far as well. The same year he gained the position of highest power in Ireland, in what was probably no coincidence, he married Bridget Ireton (nee Cromwell), the widow of the last undisputed commander of Parliament forces in the same country. Fleetwood’s arrival came after the policy of reprisal had already been implemented, but under him it became an official edict of the new Irish government,

With the conventional war coming to a close in Connacht, London and its agents in Ireland moved towards tackling the Tory problem more substantially. There was a strong desire to begin the permanent settlement of Ireland, and to commence with the plantation process of the “adventurers” who had bought into the Irish scheme years earlier, not to mention the New Model Army soldiers who had been promised land in Ireland as well. But few were willing to engage in such plantations when the Tory threat remained as strong as it was, worried about productivity and possible recriminations from the locals. And so a more heavy handed response was the answer.

The English in Ireland has used the weapons of hunger and civilian targeting before, most notably perhaps near the conclusion of the Nine Years War. Now, though they had already done plenty of it up to that point, it became a semi-official policy, as the Dublin administration moved to attack the civilian population who were keeping the Tories going, much as the civilian population is crucial to the success or failure of any insurgency throughout history.

It was actually Colonel John Hewson, the governor of Dublin, who began the policy of collective punishment and civilian targeting, fining communities near to where Tory attacks had taken place unless the rebels were identified and produced within a couple of days, increasing the punishment for every soldier killed. This was relatively lenient compared to some of the stuff that would come later.

Soon, the English forces were dividing the land between “protected” and “hostile” areas. Civilians unlucky enough to inhabit the latter were given a brief space of time to move themselves, their goods and families into the former. People were even issued a 17th century version of ID cards as part of such policies, listing personal details to confirm that they were who they said they were, the absence of such papers often leading to an immediately carried out death sentence. Entire swaths of South Leinster, Munster and Ulster were considered “hostile” under such guidelines, which had simple aims: to drain Tory-infested areas of supportive civilians, and to justify the subsequent butchery of non-combatants in the same places, no one considered innocent if they remained.

And the policy was carried out, villages and small towns burned, farms obliterated, herds requisitioned or killed, civilians who choose to stay largely destroyed. In a few places, like Wexford, men like Colonel George Cooke stayed their hands when it came to such bloodshed, but not out of mercy: they preferred to let civilians live only to increase the starvation of the area. Cooke would receive little benefit from such harsh opinions, being killed in a Tory ambush in April 1652, one of the last notable Parliamentarians to die in Ireland.

By attacking the civilian population and all of the resources they represented, the English attacked the Tories, who relied on those civilians to keep their own war going. Civilians would be taught, brutally, that it was not in their interests to support the insurgents. That, or they would be forced to move to a different area, leaving the land barren and unproductive for any guerrilla army. Areas where the New Model Army had previously been unable to travel without large numbers now became unpopulated wastelands. As one account put it, “You may ride 20 miles and scarce discern anything or fix your eye upon any object, but dead men hanging on trees and gibbets”. For many Parliamentarian commanders, their actions were perfectly justifiable, a punishment inflicted on a treasonous land that needed scourging following the bloodshed of 1641, not to mention a belief that the death was a necessary evil to bring lasting peace.

The destruction of crops and the deaths of the people who were usually planting or harvesting them exacerbated the terrible conditions in Ireland at the time, where over a decade of war had already stretched the agricultural system to the breaking point. Now it was smashed completely, and deaths by starvation skyrocketed in number, especially in places like Wicklow, Wexford and Tipperary. As mentioned in a  few other entries recently, disease was already running rampant in parts of Ireland prior to the letting loose of Parliament forces – typhus, dysentery and plague in particular – and the increasing levels of famine and upsurge in dead bodies only worsened the situation. Others, made homeless, died in the open from the conditions. Death at the hands of the Parliament, death by disease, death by starvation, death by exposure: the fates of so many became very bleak indeed. Thousands upon thousands died, in the worst phase of the war so far. And it was nearly all non-combatants. Other civilians were arrested for pro-Tory activities, real or concocted, flooding prisons before their executions or deportations to colonies in the Caribbean, most commonly Barbados.

As the all-out targeting of the civilian population continued, the Tory effort began to predictably stumble. These men, usually living on the run and dependent on sympathetic locals, could not survive in an area where there were no farms, no sympathy, or even no people. The intelligence war had swung against them now, as desperate civilians turned towards the Parliament, offering information on Tory locations and activities in exchange for life and food. There were even a greater number of native Catholic Irish volunteering to serve in Parliamentarian armies, far more inspired by the possibilities for survival than any belief in the Roundhead cause. As well, arms and powder for guns were at all time lows. No help was coming from abroad, and the Parliamentarian victory over Charles Stuart seemed depressingly final. Tory attacks had begun to peter out by the time Fleetwood arrived in Ireland, the inevitable result of the carnage being inflicted on the land. Attacks still took place in some areas. Factions like the O’Byrne’s in County Wicklow proved remarkably resilient to the Parliamentarian operations, maintaining forces of over 2’000 men in a dangerously close position to Dublin, despite Colonel Hewson’s repeated attempts to bring them to heel and the devastation of Wicklow. Similarly, in Munster, the Tory forces under John Fitzpatrick, Viscount Muskerry and Murrough O’Brien kept up their attacks to a degree that required ever growing Parliamentarian responses, most notably when O’Brien’s men seized Dursey Island off the coast of west Cork for a time in the summer of 1652. But their efforts were certainly faltering, and were actually nearly done by the time of the Dursey Island operation.

A crucial moment was in February of 1652, even as Galway was still under siege (I have been talking in very general terms about a period of over two and a half years, but for good reason: the Tory War was largely its own conflict, and a very scattered one at that). John Fitzpatrick in Tipperary had been able to utilise bogs and fortresses around and within such areas to evade capture, but hard frosts allowed local Parliamentarian forces to move over them with greater ease than before. A small battle broke out as Fitzpatrick’s forces were caught near one of his forts, and around 500 Tories soldiers were killed. Fitzpatrick escaped, but the defeat was a bad blow for him.

Having lost so many soldiers and with seemingly no hope of an eventual victory to be gained, Fitzpatrick had enough. It wouldn’t have helped that the nominal leader of the Royalist cause in Ireland, the Earl of Clanricarde, still had no apparent interest in coordinating operations with the Tories, and would soon be doing his best just to avoid capture in the desolation of northern Connacht.

In March of 1652, Fitzpatrick sued for terms, seeking the best way out for him and his men. He was hardly the first Irish solider to do so in the wars, but at this point in the conflict, he was the first commander of note to seek peace with the enemy on his own, breaking ranks with the others in his faction decisively. Fitzpatrick sought the retaining of his family lands and the ability for him and his men to leave Ireland and seen employment elsewhere.

The subsequent negotiations set the tone for much of the rest of the war. Dealing with Fitzpatrick was viewed as an unpleasant but necessary task within the Dublin administration, and if they had to allow him the opportunity to leave the country in order to end his Tory attacks, so be it. It was hoped that lenient terms might also encourage other Tory commanders to lay down arms as well. While they would not hear of any toleration of Catholicism in his lands, the Parliament forces readily agreed to most of his other terms, granting pardons to his men and allowing them permission to embark to any country England was not currently at war with. Fitzpatrick agreed, and had left the country within a few weeks.

His act was viewed with great hostility by the native Irish still in arms, considered a shameful surrender while others were still fighting on. Some of Fitzpatrick’s men were actually attacked by the hardcore remnant when they went to leave Ireland, and plenty of people accused Fitzpatrick of laying down arms just to protect his own estates and their value. They may have been right, but it is fair to say that Fitzpatrick simply recognised the inadequacy of the forces he had to win the aim they were apparently fighting for. The Tory effort could not be sustained indefinitely.

The dam had broken, and soon other Tory commanders were seeking similar agreements, while they were still in a position to dictate some of the terms through the strengths of their forces and the potential damage they could cause. They agreements were all generally the same: pardon for officers and soldiers (unless they could be directly implicated in the sectarian attacks of 1641), leave to travel to France or Spain to seek military service with a foreign King and, sometimes, the preservation of a commander’s control over his own estates (or the receiving of the value of them).

Throughout Ireland, Tory groups began to give up the fight. Most of the Tory fighters in Leinster, save in Wicklow, surrendered in May of 1652, including Dungan and Scurlock. Muskerry in Munster followed shortly after, his men sundered by the act, some laying down arms, others following Murrough O’Brien for a short time longer. In Connacht the fighting continued for a lengthier time, Richard Grace’s burning of Portumna occurring during this period, but he too was defeated and obliged to give up before the end of the year. Clanricarde, unable to militarily defend the likes of Sligo and Donegal to any kind of effective degree, also finally sought out his own terms, and the ability to leave the country unmolested. It was readily granted, thus ending his term as Lord Deputy in Ireland, a period that had seen the end of his cause. Clanricarde actually retired to Kent, dying there in 1657, his legacy one of incompetent command and political ineptitude. The final fiction of the Royalist factions political structure was washed away. Shortly afterwards, Richard Farrell, one of the main Tory leader in Ulster, also gave up the fight.

For the remainder of 1652, and into 1653, Tory’s continued to either surrender, head back to their homes or simply die as a result of the Parliamentarian attacks. Civilians continued to suffer to a large extent, as Parliamentarian pressure on them in “hostile” areas did not cease, as arrests and deportations continued, and efforts to ethnically cleanse the more productive areas of Irish land were ramped up. Greater laws were brought in to crush Catholicism in Ireland, with legalised persecution of clergy adding to the misery.

The depopulation of such large parts of Ireland, and the inability of civilians to help the Tories as they had before, signalled the end of the guerrilla war and, with it, the end of the war itself. Two key events in 1653 are generally taken together as the final note of the conflict, as they provide a neat full circle to the entire affair. In March, Phelim O’Neill stood trial in Dublin. He had been captured in Ulster a little while earlier, still fighting in any way that he could, having doggedly continued his resistance after the surrender of Charlemont.

He was one Tory leader the Parliament would not pardon, laying at his feet the responsibility for the initial rebellion in 1641, and the subsequent butchering of Protestants in Ireland, massacres that were aggrandised by Parliament courts into a veritable holocaust. O’Neill was unlucky enough to be the last major conspirator of that rebellion left to punish, the others having died in the meantime, either free or in English cells. O’Neill made little attempt to defend himself, the result of his trial practically pre-ordained. He suffered the grisly fate of being hung, drawn and quartered a few days later, one of many in Ireland executed as the war wound down. O’Neill had helped to birth a conflict that had destroyed gigantic parts of Ireland – hardly his intention, or his fault – and had performed competently at times as a battlefield leader, but was better in a subordinate role than in command. There was little he could realistically have done to change the outcome of the ear from his position. Outshone by kinsmen like Owen Roe, he is strangely sidelined in the remembrance of the period.

Then, in April at Cloughoughter Castle in Cavan, Philip MacHugh O’Reilly surrendered, perhaps the last Tory commander of any significance. O’Reilly was a true believer in the cause, having been a rebel since the earliest days, commanding Irish forces at the Julianstown skirmish in November of 1641, a fight that had been one of their first successes. Having given everything that he had to the cause, including a son the previous year, even O’Reilly had now had enough, departing for service in Spain. There were still bands of Tories operating in Ireland, especially in West Munster, but their movements were isolated, piecemeal and ineffective in stopping the now established Parliamentarian dominance in Ireland. The vast majority of Royalist soldiers who had lived in the final days of the war were now abroad.

The wars of 1641 to 1653 were over.

They had lasted approximately 11 years and a half years, gone through innumerable changes in terns of factions and agreements, brought down the monarchical control of Ireland and left the country devastated. The death toll was utterly gigantic. From a population of only around 1.5 million, the most conservative estimates place the number of dead, the vast majority of them civilians, in the region of 200’000. More speculative estimates say it may have been twice at high. It is not crazy to think that the overall mortality rate in Ireland may have been 20% during the fighting (compared to 3% in England). Proportionally, this is actually on a par with the Great Potato Famine of the 19th century (albeit with far less dead in terms of actual numbers). Most of the dead lost their lives in the final four years of the war, the “Cromwellian Conquest”, as a result of famine and disease. Many thousands more were deported from the country, never to return.

Just to put some of that in perspective: The Nine Years War of 1594-1603 might have cost around 100’000 lives. The Williamite War, which I hope to cover soon, has a problem with recording reliable casualties, but we can estimate somewhere in the region of 35’000+ casualties between 1689 and 1691. The 1798 rebellion’s death toll is disputed, but reasonable analysis puts it between ten and twenty thousand. The Irish revolutionary period of 1916 to 1923 might have seen somewhere in the region of 5’000 killed. The “Troubles” of the latter 20th century are judged to have seen 3’530 dead.

Nothing compares to the Irish Confederate Wars and the Cromwellian Conquest, that “Eleven Years War”. The destruction in lives and damage to infrastructure is simply unparalleled. Individual battles and sieges far outweigh anything that came before and after. 466 people died in a week of fighting in Dublin in 1916. Two and half thousand died in a few hours trying to storm Clonmel in 1650. The bloodshed and suffering of civilians is easily the largest in the military history of Ireland. The country would never be the same in the aftermath.

Those that remained inherited a country broken apart, whose agricultural system was in pieces, entirely at the mercy of the new English regime, who hungered for land and thought of their Catholic subjects in Ireland only in terms of how to remove them from the equation. My coverage of this period does not end with the conclusion of military operations, anymore than any history of these Civil Wars end with the victory of the Parliament forces.

No, we will keep going for a little while longer, to discuss Ireland under the Commonwealth and Ireland in the Restoration.

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

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4 Responses to Ireland’s Wars: Devastation And Surrenders

  1. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: Index | Never Felt Better

  2. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: The Protectorate And Resistance | Never Felt Better

  3. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: A Summary Of The Eleven Year Wars | Never Felt Better

  4. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: Wild Geese And Broken Treaties | Never Felt Better

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