Wars of Ireland

Ireland — versus — England

Danish Invasion, 950-1014       Norman Conquest, 1169-1316       Tudor Reconquest, 1540-1603       Rebellion of 1641, 1641-1650       Williamite War, 1689-1690       Rebellion of 1798, 1795-1800       War of Independence, 1916-1922

The colonization and subjugation of Ireland by England proceeded over a long period of time, but occurred in distinct phases, each more oppressive than the last. The first two systematic wars of conquest of Ireland by England were the Norman Invasion (1100's), and the Tudor conquest (1500's). Neither of these invasions, however, pacified the entire Island or succeeded in crushing the rebellious Irish Spirit. After the Tudor Conquests, all further English campaigns in Ireland were initiated by rebellions and resulted in ever more severe oppressions and confiscations. The worst of these rebellions, including the 'Rebellion of 1641' and the Williamite War in Ireland occurred in the seventeenth century, and resulted in such severe subjugation of Irish Catholics, that the eighteenth century was relatively peaceful. The Rebellion of 1798, which occurred while England was at war with France was yet another disaster, after which Britain annexed Ireland into the United Kingdom, and completely dissolved its Parliament. Independence for Ireland was not finally achieved until the 19th century, shortly after the Great War.

The Irish were largely of the same Celtic stock as the Scottish clans who successfully repelled English domination during the fourteenth century and fought a continuing series of wars against England to maintain its right to self-rule. The Celts were an exceedingly independent and warlike race, the key difference between the two regions being that Scotland was unified under a single King, but Ireland was always dominated by rival clans. Had the courage and ferocity of the Irish been directed toward coherent ends, the history of this country might have been far less tragic. As it was, there is no more ignominious instance of British colonial subjugation then that visited upon its own closest neighbor.

Danish Invasion of Ireland : 950-1014

Danes in Ireland
The Danish Vikings who invaded England during the final two centuries of the first millennium also visited Ireland, but caused fewer depredations, mainly because Ireland was relatively poor and there was far less to plunder. The great figure of Irish history during this time was Brian Boru, who briefly unified most of the Irish tribes, and nearly succeeded in creating a kingdom of Ireland. He succeeded in uniting many of the tribes against the Viking menace, but was killed at the Battle of Clontarf and the control of Ireland soon reverted to it fractious clan chiefs.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Clontarf (Irish Bruce ) Irish victory
Fought April 24, 1014, when the Scandinavian invaders were totally routed by the Irish of Munster, Connaught, Ulster and Meath, under Brian Boru. The Norsemen are said to have lost 6,000 men. Brian Boru and his son fell in the battle.

Short Biography
Brian Boru King who unified all of Ireland briefly before the Norman invasion.

Story Links
Book Links
Brian of Munster  in  Historic Boys  by  E. S. Brooks
Before the Conquest  in  Ireland: Peeps at History  by  Beatrice Home

Norman Conquest of Ireland : 1169-1316

The first Norman invasion of Ireland occurred under the Plantagenet king Henry II, but it was fairly limited in its scope, and resulted mainly in the formation of several English colonies at strategic locations on the East Coast. There were several other inconsequential raids during the early Plantagenet years, but no significant increase in English territories beyond a few colonies (called pales, as in beyond the pale), on the eastern seaboard. They English demanded tribute, but interfered little with Irish affairs. Under Edward I however, the English made a great effort to subjugate Scotland, but were repelled at the Battle of Bannockburn. Shortly after this, Edward Bruce, a brother of Robert the Bruce, landed in Ireland with a troop of Scots with the idea of making himself king of Ireland. He won over many important clans to his cause, but after several years of battling with the Anglo-Irish forces was defeated and killed, and the now-leaderless effort for Irish independence was crushed.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Athenry (Irish Bruce ) English victory
Fought 1316 between the English under William de Burgh and Richard de Bermingham, and the O'Connors under their chieftain, Feidlim. The O'Connors were defeated, 11,000 of the sept falling in the battle, This is the last appearance of the O'Connors as a clan in Irish history.
Battle of Dundalk (O'Neill's Rebellion ) English victory
Fought October 5, 1318, between the Scots under Edward Bruce, 3,000 in number, and the English and Irish under John de Bermingham. The Scots were totally defeated, Bruce, with about 30 of his kinghts, and over 80 men-at-arms, being killed, and the invasion came to an end.

Short Biography
Edward Bruce Declared himself king of Ireland and led a rebellion against the English governors of Ireland.

Story Links
Book Links
Coming of the Normans  in  Ireland: Peeps at History  by  Beatrice Home
Henry Plantagenet—The Conquest of Ireland  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall

Tudor Reconquest of Ireland : 1540-1603

During the final hundred years of the Plantagenet dynasty while England was preoccupied with the , the Black Plague, and the War of the Roses, English influence in Ireland significantly declined. By the age of Henry VIII however, a new effort was initiated to reconquer Ireland, this time with the idea of imposing the English language, culture, and especially the new Anglican religion on the population. Henry VIII had already broken with the pope and had confiscated much church land, and it was his intention to bring Ireland into his domain, grant Irish land to his supporters, and destroy the influence of popery in the region.

The Tudor reconquest did not go smoothly for a variety of reasons, one of which was, that the ruling Norman Anglo-Irish who were long-time residents of Ireland opposed the impositions of the Tudor government and many remained Catholic. Another was the fact that Tudor land confiscations, which had not occurred on a large scale under the Norman government, greatly alienated the Irish, and finally the Tudor policy of trying to conciliate some of the tribal chiefs was not effective because the Celtic tribes were often at war with each other, and even within tribes, the succession of chieftains was not purely hereditary. (Therefore, showering wealth and privileges on the family of a particular chieftain did not gain England a permanent alliance.)

Although the Tudors had intended a relatively peaceful, "administrative" take-over of Ireland, and were willing to bribe and conciliate Irish leaders to achieve their means, these methods did not prove effective, and the end result was a vicious series of wars. The most atrocious perhaps were the Desmond rebellions in Munster (1569-1583), in which the British used scorched earth tactics to subdue the rebellious clan, resulting in even more deaths from famine and plague than the massacre itself. Tragically, this form of warfare, involving massacre and atrocities, set the pattern for future conflicts.

The most serious, and final rebellion of the Irish during the Tudor Reign was led by the Hugh O'Neill of Ulster, who at one time had been a faithful ally of England. He saw however, that England's policy of land confiscation would soon threaten his entire realm, and so he attempted to make an alliance with Spain, England's great enemy. O'Neill was an excellent general and a formidable foe, but he was at length crushed with great brutality and his entire kingdom annexed under direct English rule. He would not surrender however, until granted favorable terms for himself and amnesty for his men. Over time, O'Neill's kingdom in Ulster became the English stronghold of North Ireland.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Affane (Tudor reconquest ) Butlers victory
Fought February, 1565 between the rival clans of Fitzgerald and Butler over control of the southwest region of Ireland. Both clans were 'old English' and allied with local Gaelic tribes. This was a private battle fought without the sanction of the English Government.
Battle of Farsetmore (Tudor reconquest ) O'Donnels victory
Fought May 8, 1567 between the rival clans of Shane O'Neill and O'Donnell, the O'Donnel clan being backed by the official English Government. The clan of O'Neill was defeated and Shane was murdered.
Battle of Glen Malone (First Italian ) Fitzgeralds victory
Fought 1580, between the English settlers under Lord Grey de Wilton, and the Irish septs. The English suffered a serious defeat, among the slain being Sir Peter Carew.
Battle of Blackwater (Rebellion of 1641 ) Irish victory
Fought 1598, between 5,000 Irish rebels under Hugh O'Neill, and 5,000 English under Sir Henry Bagnall, the English Marshal. Bagnall was defeated with a loss of 1,500 and all his ammunition and baggage, while he himself was killed by O'Neill.
Siege of Kinsale (O'Neill's Rebellion ) English victory
This town, which had been seized in September, 1601, by 5,000 Spaniards, under Juan d'Aguila, sent to support the rebels, was besieged by the Royal troops, under Lord Mountjoy and the Earl of Thomond. On December 23 an attempt by Sir Hugh O'Neil to relieve the place was defeated, whereupon d'Aguila surrendered and was permitted to ship for Spain.

Short Biography
Shane O'Neill Chieftain of the O'Neill clan of Ulster, under Queen Elizabeth.
Earl of Essex Favorite of Queen Elizabeth. Involved in a conspiracy and died in prison.
Earl of Tyrone Leader of the Irish resistance during the Tudor re-conquest, Nine Year's War.
Walter Raleigh Courtier of Queen Elizabeth. Explorer, mastermind of the Jamestown colony in Virginia.
Lord Mountjoy English General who brought an end to the the rebellion by granting amnesty to the rebels.

Story Links
Book Links
Earl of Essex  in  Queen Elizabeth  by  Jacob Abbott
Under the Tudors  in  Ireland: Peeps at History  by  Beatrice Home

Irish Rebellion of 1641 : 1641-1650

A brief respite of peace followed the ascendency of James I to the English throne, but by the reign of Charles I, the widespread confiscation of Irish land by English nobles resumed. For a time Ireland was ruled under the Earl of Strafford, who oppressed the Irish but kept good order. Soon after he was deposed by Parliament, (which was at this time preparing for war with King Charles), the Irish burst suddenly into rebellion and committed great atrocities against the English settlers. The worst of the depredations occurred in the first few years, when the country was largely in the state of chaos. The leaders of the Irish rebels deplored the worst acts of violence and eventually brought conditions under control, but then had to face a Scottish protestant army which had come to defend Ulster.

By this time England had descended into Civil War, and the two warring parties in Ireland reached something of a standoff, which lasted until the Royal army, which had made peace with the Irish Catholics, was defeated. At that time, the Irish "confederacy" launched a new offensive with the idea of consolidating their power before the inevitable invasion by the parliamentary troops. They did gain some victories in 1646-7, but were utterly routed by Cromwell when he invaded in 1649. The cruelties inflicted by Cromwell's soldiers in retaliation for the Irish massacres in Ulster did much to fuel Irish hatred of the English, just as the atrocities themselves were used to justify further oppressions of the English against the Irish. The Great rebellion did much to sabotage any hope of conciliation between Ireland and England, but even worse was yet to come.

DateBattle Summary
Siege of Drogheda (Rebellion of 1641 ) English victory
Siege was laid to this town, which was held by an English garrison under Sir Henry Tichborne, by the Irish rebels, under Owen Roe O'Neil, in December, 1641. The garrison held out successfully for three months, when O'Neil was compelled to raise the siege.
Battle of Benburb (Rebellion of 1641 ) Irish victory
Fought June 5, 1646, when 5,500 Irish rebels under O'Neill, totally routed the Scottish army under Monro. The Scots left 3,000 dead upon the field, and the fugitives were ruthlessly butchered by the Irish in their flight.
Battle of Dunganhill (Rebellion of 1641 ) English victory
Fought August 8, 1647, between the Irish rebels, and an English force under Colonel Michael Jones. The Irish were routed with a loss of 6,000.
Battle of Rathmines (Rebellion of 1641 ) Parliament victory
Fought August 2, 1649, between the Royalists, under Ormonde, and the Parliamentary garrison of Dublin, under Colonel Jones. Ormonde having ordered a night attack upon Dublin, the Parliamentarians made a sortie, and driving back the assaulting column, attacked the main body of the Royalists in their camp, totally routing them, with a loss of 4,000 killed and wounded and 2,000 prisoners. All Ormonde's artillery was captured.
Siege of Drogheda (Rebellion of 1798 ) Parliament victory
On September 3, 1649, siege was laid to the place by the Parliamentary army under Cromwell, the garrison of 2,500 English regulars being under Sir Arthur Aston. An assault on the 10th was repulsed, but on the 12th the town was stormed, and the garrison put to the sword. Four thousand soldiers and inhabitants, including Aston, are said to have perished.

Short Biography
Earl of Strafford Minister of Charles I and governor of Ireland. Impeached and executed by Parliament.
Owen Roe O'Neill Leader of the Irish Confederacy, founded after the Irish Rebellion of 1641.
Robert Monro General of a Scottish Covenanter army sent to defend the residents of Ulster.
Oliver Cromwell Military leader of Parliament who headed the Commonwealth government after death of Charles I.

Story Links
Book Links
Under the Stuarts  in  Ireland: Peeps at History  by  Beatrice Home
Taking of Drogheda  in  Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

Williamite War in Ireland : 1689-1690

Siege of Londonderry
In 1685 a Catholic King ascended to the throne of England and there was a brief hope among Irish Catholics for better treatment. When James II was deposed Ireland immediately declared for him and besieged the Protestant town of Londonderry. The Irish were led by the Catholic Gentry who had lost nearly all their land, as well as their political rights after the Cromwell invasion, and were anxious to regain it, while the Protestant army eventually raised to defeat them was intent on maintaining British rule in Ireland. The war which ensued, called the Williamite war in Ireland, was led by the two contending kings, James II and William III. The turning point was the Battle of Boyne, which was fought soon after William III landed in Ireland. Although only a minor loss for the Irish, it demonstrated the lack of unity and organization among the Irish, and James II shortly returned to France, leaving his troops to fight on leaderless for several more years. As a result of this war, the victorious protestants passed a series of laws even more punitive of Catholics, directed not only against their property and political rights, but also against their family and social relationships. This penal code was fairly called "the most complete code of persecution that ingenious bigotry every compiled." The intention of these codes was to force Catholics to become protestants or perish, but the native Irish instead became even more resolutely Catholic, and utterly irreconcilable to English rule.

DateBattle Summary
Siege of Londonderry (Williamite War in Ireland ) Williamites victory
This town in which the Ulster Protestants, to the number of about 30,000, had taken refuge, was besieged by James II, April 19, 1689. It was defended by about 7,000 armed citizens, under Major Henry Baker, and held out until July 30, when Colonel Kirke succeeded in forcing the boom at the head of Lough Foyle and reprovisioning the town. The besiegers then withdrew, having lost 5,000 men during the siege. The garrison was reduced to 4,000. Among those who died during the siege was Major Baker.
Battle of Newtown Butler (Williamite War in Ireland ) Williamites victory
Fought August 2, 1689, between 5,000 Catholics, under Maccarthy, and 3,000 Protestants, under Colonel Wolseley, in defense of Enniskillen. The Catholics were totally routed, and fled in disorder, losing 1,500 in the action, and 500 drowned in Lough Erne.
Battle of the Boyne (Boshin War ) Williamites victory
Fought July 1, 1690, between the forces of William III, and the Irish under James II. William and the elder Schomberg attacked the front of James's position, while the younger Schomberg crossed the Boyne a few miles higher up, and attacked him in flank. William forced the passage of the river, and drove the Irish from their entrenchments at a cost of 500 killed and wounded, including the elder Schomberg. The Irish lost 1,500.

Short Biography
James II Catholic king of England, deposed by his daughter Mary and William III.
William III King of Netherlands, called to be king of England when James II, his father-in-law, was deposed.

Story Links
Book Links
The Story of Londonderry  in  Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary  by  Cambridge Press
Londonderry  in  Stories from English History, Part Third  by  Alfred J. Church
Reign of William and Mary  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
Institution of the Penal Code  in  Ireland: Peeps at History  by  Beatrice Home
William III and Mary II—Brave Londonderry  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Relief of Londonderry  in  Historical Tales: English  by  Charles Morris
Struggle in Ireland  in  The Awakening of Europe  by  M. B. Synge

Irish Rebellion of 1798 : 1795-1800

Theobald Tone
During most of the 18th century, the Irish Catholics were so oppressed by the punitive penal laws that most of the activists who sought to better conditions for them were protestant liberals. Many Presbyterian Scots had settled in North Ireland, who, as fellow Celts and non-Anglicans were sympathetic to the plight of the Irish Catholics. Other liberal minded Englishmen such as Lord Chesterfield, Jonathan Swift, and others managed to alleviate some of the worst of the penal laws, but many other proposals to improve the lot of the Irish were defeated in Parliament. Eventually an Irish Parliament, composed only of Protestants was formed, but it had very little real power. During the late 18th century, the more radical element in Ireland was inspired by the American and French Revolution. A political society called the 'United Irishmen', composed of both liberal protestants and Catholics was formed with the intention of throwing off English rule with the help of the French. A planned invasion of Ireland by French troops was thwarted by weather and terrible conditions. It was at this point that the English leaders in Ireland, fearful of imminent rebellion made a terrible mistake. The leaders of the rebellious movement were well known, and they were quickly seized, tortured, and put to death. When the inevitable rebellion broke forth, it was therefore utterly leaderless, disorganized and without an objective political purpose. Atrocity then followed atrocity, the leaderless rebels engaged in horrid deeds of vengeance and were put down without mercy.

The legacy of these rebellions was a terrible one. The cooperation and goodwill between Catholics and liberal Protestants was broken down entirely, and the Irish Parliament, which might possibly have evolved into an independent political body was folded into the English Parliament, where it had no real influence whatsoever. Britain annexed all of Ireland into the "United Kingdom", and all efforts to liberalize conditions for Catholics was set back for generations.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Diamond (Rebellion of 1798 ) Orangemen victory
A faction fight, known as the battle of Diamond which took place September 21, 1795, at a village in Co. Armagh, between the Peep o' Day Boys and the Defenders. The former were victorious, killing 48 of their opponents.
Battle of Gibbel Rutts (Rebellion of 1798 ) British victory
Fought May 26, 1798, when the regulars, under Sir James Duff, attacked the camp of the rebels on the Curragh, and dispersed them at the point of the bayonet, with a loss of 350 killed.
Battle of Ballymore (Rebellion of 1798 ) Rebels victory
Fought June 3, 1798, when Colonel Walpole, with 500 Royal troops, on the march to Enniscorthy, was surprised and over-powered by a body of rebels under Father Murphy. Walpole and the majority of his force were cut to pieces.
Battle of Vinegar Hill (Rebellion of 1798 ) British victory
Fought June 20, 1798, when the British regulars, under General Lake, attacked the camp of the Irish rebels, 16,000 strong, under Father Murphy. Little resistance was made, and the rebels were driven out of their camp with a loss of 4,000 killed and wounded, and 13 guns.
Siege of Arklow (Rebellion of 1798 ) British victory
Fought 1798, when General Needham, with about 1,400 Militia and Volunteers, defended the town from the attack of 27,000 rebels led by Father John Murphy. The rebels were beaten off with great slaughter, and their intended advance on Dublin prevented.
Battle of New Ross (Tudor reconquest ) British victory
Fought June 5, 1799, between 30,000 rebels, under Father Roche and Bagenal Harvey, and about 1,400 regulars, under General Johnstone. The rebels attacked the troops posted in New Ross, and penetrated into the centre of the town, but were then driven back with the bayonet, and totally routed, with a loss of 2,600 killed.

Short Biography
Theobald Wolfe Tone Leader of the Irish rebellion of 1798. Founding member of United Irishmen.
Father John Murphy Priest who led a revolt during the Irish rebellion of 1798.

Story Links
Book Links
Ireland  in  The Hanoverians  by  C. J. B. Gaskoin
England and Ireland  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
Rebellion of 1798 and the Act of Union in  Ireland: Peeps at History  by  Beatrice Home
Irish Affairs  in  The Reign of Queen Victoria  by  M. B. Synge

Irish War of Independence : 1916-1922

During the nineteenth century, sympathy for the plight of the Irish grew considerably even among many Englishmen, and several laws were passed to alleviate their worst sufferings. Most importantly, Catholics received the right to vote and even to hold office. The Irishmen elected to into the Parliament of Great Britain however, still had very little power. The real goal of most Irishmen was 'home rule', meaning the right to make their own laws and manage their own economy without any interference from Britain and this was not deemed prudent by most of the English parliament, mainly because it was thought that the large Protestant minority in Ireland would suffer under a Catholic government. Completely frustrated at their ability to win independence by political means, many Irishmen became sympathetic to the idea of armed insurrection. During the Great War, an Irish Uprising in Dublin did much to popularize the rebel's cause, and after the war the IRA (Irish Republican Army) engaged in a guerrilla war against the British government. Eventually, Britain conceived of the idea of allowing each individual county in Ireland to vote separately on the subject of independence, knowing full well that the county of Ulster, with a majority protestant population would remain in the Union. Although many Irish rebels desired complete independence for the entire Island, this was the political solution finally resolved upon, and in 1922, the republic of Ireland, minus Ulster was granted complete self-rule.

Image Links

The Hedge of Spears
 in Celtic Tales Told to the Children

Cromwell leading the assault on Drogheda
 in Ireland: Peeps at History

Henry II. landing at Waterford
 in Ireland: Peeps at History

Drogheda Gateway
 in Ireland: Peeps at History

The young knight's horse fell to the ground
 in The Story of Robert Bruce

Ferdiad's eyes grew wide with horror.
 in Our Little Celtic Cousin of Long Ago

Thus it was the soothsayer's prophecy was fulfilled.
 in Our Little Celtic Cousin of Long Ago

He was standing in front of a tall,
 in Our Little Celtic Cousin of Long Ago