Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Why Dreadful Zealot Rage Came Upon Ireland (Oliver Cromwell at Drogheda in 1649)

Cromwell's New Model Army Arrive Drogheda 3rd September 1649

In 1649 a New Model Army (Roundheads) of the English CivilWar landed in Ireland after becoming victorious over the English Royalist Army in a second and brief Civil War. They were very fundamental Protestants who had extreme religious views that were so radical; they executed their sovereign King Charles I to protect and enhance their beliefs and rule across the English nation. In a far- reaching move; the Puritan English had destroyed the Monarchy and formed a Republic based on, their believed view of, vital religious needs to run a good God-fearing nation. The English Civil War that had raged through the 1640s decade had come to a turbulent end. The start of ominous and new zealot type rule, taken to extremes, was about to begin in earnest, but a final and third effort still remained with the defeated English Royalist Army.

Some historians think this strange new Protestant Commonwealth of England was a step in the right direction for the English constitution which would develop from the monumental change that had happened, but the beginnings were very precarious and would cause another decade of harsh religious fanatical government. Not for just England but all of the Isles – Scotland, Wales, Ireland included – plus the American colonies that would also suffer under the Puritan cloud of law.

When the English Puritans did the unthinkable and executed King Charles I of the Scottish Stewart dynasty they sent shock waves throughout Europe and brought an end to the second English Civil War of 1648 – 1649. The third English Civil War would start because the eldest son of the late Charles I was in exile and waiting to claim his throne. He was King Charles II and he formed an alliance with the Irish Confederate Catholics which allowed the defeated soldiers of the English Royalist Army to join forces with soldiers of the Irish Confederate Catholics. It seems strange in this day and age to regard an English Republic fighting against Ireland in support of the Monarchy, but in a strange and haphazard way, this was so.

The Protestant English and their New Model Army regarded Ireland as a land of heretic Catholics who had killed many Protestant Settlers in 1641 during a rebellion. Now, these un-pure people were supporting the vanquished English monarchy – aiding un-pure Royalists who would side with such heretics to destroy the divine Puritan goal of the New English Commonwealth.

Oliver Cromwell – champion of the Parliamentary cause was now at the head of his New Model Army to destroy a third English Royalist Campaign and exact vengeance upon the conflicting Irish Confederate cause. Ireland was a land to be colonised in a new exodus of Protestant religious dispersal. In the eyes of the English Protestants; they were new crusaders and the Catholic Confederation was no better than a Caliphate blight of the Holy land during the Middle Ages in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. This was, of course in the eyes of zealot English Protestants, heady from victory over a monarchy – an old style of rule that had subjugated them. Now this unholy and unclean form of Christianity, supporting the old defunct ways, was in danger of destroying the hard won Puritan dream.

The New Model English Army of Roundheads would bring a nightmare of their own for trying to destroy their Puritan dream. This outlandish crusade would scream out in Irish history to this day and part of one of the many dreadful battles was; the Siege of Drogheda.

Cromwell and his New Model Parliamentary Army arrived outside of the walls of Drogheda on 3rd of September 1649. He began to position his soldiers around the southern side of the city walls. The Harbour was blockaded by Parliamentary ships. Drogheda was cut off with 3,000 troops of the Irish Catholic Confederate and English Royalist Army under the command of Arthur Aston – a man who had seen campaigns in Europe among Swedes, Poles and Germans. He had also fought in the previous English Civil Wars. He believed if he could hold Drogheda, he would be reinforced by Royalist and Irish soldiers numbering 4,000 under the command of the Marquis of Ormonde. In this, Arthur Aston would be unfortunately mistaken.

After two days, Cromwell received his 48 pounder siege guns. Eleven of them. These canons were dispersed in the relevant places to start bombarding the old walls of Drogheda. The guns opened fire and two breaches were formed before the Parliamentarians called upon the besieged forces to surrender. The commander of Drogheda, Arthur Aston refused and so the shelling continued.

On the 11th September and the New Model Army infantry went in, trying to get through both breaches in the town’s old medieval wall. At the east breach of the wall, the Parliamentarians were beaten back by the Irish and English Royalist soldiers. However, in the south breach; the English Protestants, of Cromwell’s army, gained a foothold. The Royalist forces tried to counter attack but their leader, Colonel Wall was killed and the defenders then fell back allowing more Parliamentarians to flood into the breach. It was at this fierce fighting point that many of the soldiers of both sides fell in combat amid the rubble of the southern breach. Around 150 Parliamentary soldiers were killed, including Colonel Castle of the New Model Army.

After this, more Parliamentary soldiers flooded into the town as the wall’s defenders retreated in panic. Arthur Aston with some English Royalist and Irish soldiers took refuge in Millmount Fort as the massacre of Drogheda began in terrible earnest by the English Parliamentary army. It is said that when Oliver Cromwell see many of his Roundhead soldiers lying dead in the rubble of the southern breach, he became enraged and gave the order for no quarter. The bloodlust of the attackers became uncontrollable and although the order was for all bearing arms, everyone they came across was being put to the sword. Of the 3,100 soldiers defending the city, 2,800 were killed and a further death toll of the town’s civilians numbered around 3,000 put to the sword. The carnage and slaughter must have been horrendous for all the inhabitants as they tried to flee in blind panic.

Arthur Ashton and his men at Millmount Fort watched the carnage in horror. The Parliamentarians could not breach their smaller fort without more and considerable effort, so when the slaughter began to abate, some thousands of deaths later; terms of safety were offered to the English Royalist and Irish soldiers under Arthur Aston. These terms were accepted and the remnant defenders in Millmount Fort were disarmed and taken to a mill close by.

Here another dreadful atrocity was performed by the English Protestants of the Parliamentarian Army. Arthur Aston was manhandled by his murderous captors and was believed to have been bludgeoned to death by his artificial wooden leg – his skull smashed in as he was left dead along with the rest of his murdered men – the group of defenders that surrendered after taking shelter in Millmount Fort.

Other areas of the town harboured defenders, including a church that was set alight. As the burning building began to collapse and the defenders tried to escape the burning church; they were killed by Parliamentary troops surrounding the place. In other areas where English Royalist and Irish soldiers surrendered; officers were put to death and one in every ten ordinary ranked soldiers were put to death as an example. The remaining survivors were sent to penal servitude in Barbados.

Many of the dead officers had their severed heads sent to Dublin and displayed upon spikes. The highest ranking defender to survive the massacre was named Richard Talbot – the future Earl of Tyrconnell. Why he was spared, is not really known for he was an Irish Royalist and later Jacobite soldier. Some think he escaped from the garrison before it fell.

The Siege of Drogheda is one of the foremost reasons why Oliver Cromwell is remembered, without affection, by many in Ireland to this day – his campaign from 1649 – 1653 left a terrible legacy that effortlessly stands the test of time in historical memory.
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