The Siege of Galway 1651 – 1652

The Siege of Galway 1651 - 1652

Galway was a fiercely defended Catholic city and as Cromwell’s Armies strengthened their hold over the province of Connaught.

It was to become the last fortified city under the control of the Irish Confederate Army under the leadership of Thomas Preston the 1st Viscount of Tara. Preston’s forces consisted of 2000 soldiers and civilians with approximately 3000 other troops nearby.

The Parliamentarian forces, aided by Scots from Ulster, were led by the Commander of Connaught, Charles Coote, who had led his army to the city after his recent victories at Charlemont and Athlone.

The city of Galway had been controlled by fourteen merchant families who were Catholic and Royalist. These families, 12 of them Old English and two of them of Gaelic descent, had modernised the city defences, which, coupled with Galway’s geographical position between Galway by to the south, Lough Atallia to the east and Lough Corrib to the northwest made it a difficult target to attack. Commander Coote was fully aware of this and rather than have his 6,000 to 7,000 men face direct confrontation, he decided on a lengthy siege of the city. The siege was laid on August 1651.

In November 1651, Limerick fell to the Cromwellians under Henry Ireton whose troops were then able to reinforce Coote’s men at Galway.

In the meantime, Ulick Burke the 1st Marques of Clanricarde tried to reassemble a force of Irish Catholics in County Leitrim so that he could help relieve Galway. However, the Irish soldiers were demoralised and Clanricarde was forced to seek terms of surrender in March.

Within Galway City the situation was dire. There were widespread hunger and an outbreak of Bubonic plague. The siege dragged on until May 1652 when Preston was forced to seek terms for the surrender of the city. Cootes agreed to allow Preston and his troops depart for Spain whilst the merchant families, now known derisively by the Parliamentarians, as the “Tribes of Galway”, were to face heavy fines and exclusion from the municipal government of the city.

The fall of Galway

The siege of Galway had the city fall to the Parliamentarians, meant the end of organised resistance by the Confederate Irish. Many thousands of Irishmen left for service in Continental armies. However, guerilla warfare did continue in Ireland. There were bitter retaliation from both sides and soon the land was racked by hunger and plague.

The Parliamentarians sold many thousands of Catholics into slavery in the West Indies and Cromwell and his Parliament imposed the Act of Settlement 1652 upon the Irish people as a punishment for rebellion and as a reward for his own armies and supporters.

Last updated March 2, 2020.

About the Author

Pádraig Mac Donnchadha
Pádraig is a fluent Irish speaker with a passion for history, traditional music, and story telling.