By 1650 the army of Oliver Cromwell captured the north, east and most of the south of Ireland. The Catholic Confederate forces, with their English Royalist allies were still in control west of the Shannon.
In Armagh confederate forces under Felim O’ Neill still held the strategic and modern fortress of Charlemont. At early August the Parliamentarians troops, under the combined leadership of the infamous Sir Charles Coote and Robert Venables moved against the fort using mortars and heavy cannon. On August 14th the Irish requested terms of surrender.
The battle was one of the bloodiest that the Parliamentarians had faced in Ireland. Due to Cootes reputation the Catholic defenders had expected to fight to the end. However on this occasion Cootes was quite lenient and allowed the defenders to leave for the continent. Felim O’ Neill escaped back into Ulster where he was eventually captured and executed. Cootes and Venebales capture of Charlemont left them free to march south to Athlone.
As the Parliamentarian forces cemented their hold over the rest of Ireland the Confederate forces in the West where spurred into taking measures to defend their territories in the West. The Cromwellians under Coote and Venables marched to Athlone where they were joined by Henry Ireton who had been in Wicklow hunting down and killing Tóraidhe, the remnants of defeated Confederate forces in Munster.
The Irish forces were under the command of the Marquis of Clanricarde. Initially Clanricarde was able to advance into English territory in Leinster causing the Parliamentarians fell back to Roscrea.
The battles of Meelick
The English, under command of Colonel Axtell received reinforcements from Wexford and Kilkenny and on 25 October 1650 they launched a surprise attack on the Irish who had taken up positions on Meelick island on the Shannon. Due to the ferocity and suddenness of the attack over 1000 Irish troops lost their lives. Clanricarde escaped but his army lost all their supplies.
Colonel Axtell was court-martialed by Ireton because though he promised quarter to his prisoners of war he murdered them instead.
Ireton next moved towards Limerick which was the last fortified bastion of the Confederation forces under Hugh Dubh O’ Neill and their Royalist English allies who were led by Colonel Fennell. However due to a deterioration of the weather Ireton broke off the siege of the city and pulled back to winter quarters.
In June 1651 the English returned and again laid siege to Limerick. Because the city was heavily fortified and had a garrison of 2000 men, and two initial attacks had been beaten off, Ireton decided not to risk an all out attack and decided on a policy of starvation instead.
O’ Neill, in an effort to stretch his supplies, sent out the old men, the women and the children. Ireton’s men killed 40 of these people and returned the rest back to the city.
When plague broke out the civilian population requested O’ Neill to surrender while at the same time the English had found a vulnerable point in the city walls and there was a danger of an all out assault.
In the city itself, the English Royalists threatened mutiny and were prepared to turn their cannon on the Irish forces. O’ Neill was forced to surrender on 27th October.
The Irish are defeated
Ireton give protection to the civilian population and their property, the confederate troops were allowed to march to Galway but they had to leave their arms behind. O’ Neill was condemned to death but reprieved and was sent as a prisoner to London, Colonel Fennell the English Royalist was hanged as was the Catholic Bishop O’ Brien. The mayor of the city, Dominic Fannon was drawn and quartered and decapitated.
Over 2000 Parliamentarians died, many from disease, as did 700 Confederates and possibly around 4000 civilians. Even Ireton himself died from the plague a month after the surrender of the city.
This article was first published on 26-12-2010 and last modified on 21-03-2017.