histories of O'Cahan's and the Irish Brigade tend to fall
into the camp of romantic twaddle peddled from the nineteenth
century onwards. They prosper on the fact that so little is
actually known about the 1,500 men of the Brigade, and hence
the need for speculation.
Colonel Manus O'Cahan's Regiment of Foote was one of three
Regiments that made up the Brigade - the others being Lieutenant
General Alexander MacDonnell's (later Laghtnan's), and Colonel
James MacDonnell's. The Brigade was commanded by the awesome
Alisdair MacColla (of Colkitto fame (a name attributed to
him but actually his father's)), a giant man and a superbly
O'Cahan himself (pronounced O-Kane)
was Manus, son of Gilladuff O'Cahan of Dunseverick. An experienced
soldier, both he and his Regiment had been recruited from
Owen Roe O'Neil's Northern Army of the Irish Confederation
in the early months of 1644. Spalding, one of the more reliable
contemporary sources, talks of the Brigade being "brought
up in West Flanders, expert soldiers, with a years pay".
The fighting pedigree of these Thirty Years War veterans,
further toughened by nearly three years of vicious fighting
in the Irish Uprising, is not in any doubt.
An analysis of the known names in the Regiment shows the
close family ties that existed. Of thirty names, five other
officers had the same surname as Manus. His brother-in-law,
Captain MacHenry. commanded a company in Laghtnan's Regiment.
Of the others not a great deal is known: Sergeant Major
Ledwitch's Company were certainly all Palesman from the
Devlin area of the Meath/West Meath border. Names such as
Dease and Newgent testify to English origins. The only English
names known in the Regiment are Cooper, who was an Elder
Sergeant in No.2 Company, and Mortimer who commanded the
fifth Company. These last two may have been Lowland Scots,
and if so they are the only Scots to be found in the Regiment.
O'Cahan's therefore appears to have been overwhelmingly
Irish in origin, and since priests are known to have accompanied
each of the three Regiments, Catholic in religion.
Their dress would would have been a
mixture of European ways, or more accurately Spanish fashion,
and native Irish. It is significant that as late asthe end
of the 1650's Irish troops were noted for the adherence
to Old Irish forms of dress, and in a particular brightly
The colour carried by the Regiment are not known for definite.
However, the 'Irish Sword' (an Irish Military Journal) published,
over twenty years ago, a Vatican source showing Irish Confederate
colours and it is a fair assumption that O'Cahan's colours
would have been similar.
The fact that these were superb veteran
troops of the highest calibre is borne out by their achievements
'Annus Mirabilis' of 1644-45. In the space of one years
campaigning, they and the rest of the Irish marched well
over 2,000 miles and defeated the Covenanters in six pitched
battles. Feats such as the march from Kilcummin over Glen
Roy, some forty miles in heavy frost and snow in mid-winter
in only forty-eight hours and then fighting a pitched battle
at the end of it, have seldom been equalled.
The end came in September 1645, at
Philiphaugh in the Borders. O'Cahan's the only regulars
present in the side, held off some ten times their number
of Covenanter cavalry (some 5,000 in all) for over an hour
until, with more than half their number down, they were
offered quarter by the Covenanter commander, David Leslie.
Leslie, a professional soldier of much experience, admitted
later that he had never fought against more resolute foot,
and he probably offered O'Cahan's quarter in good faith.
The Covenanter ministers urged otherwise, and the Covenanters
broke their promise and mercilessly cut down the survivors.
The Irish women camp followers suffered a particularly grizzly
fate. To be Irish in the Civil War was to be considered
less than human - a point Oliver Cromwell was later to underline
in his brutal campaign in Ireland.
The few O'Cahan's who survived
were taken to nearby Newark Castle and shot in a place that
became known as 'Slain-Man's-Lee'. O'Cahan himself was hung
from the south wall of Edinburgh Castle.
-Taken from the 'Mercurius Albanachus'' (Aug.-Dec. 1994),
Manus O'Cahan's Regimental newsheet.