ScotWars - Scottish Military History and Re-enactment
Manus O'Cahan's Regiment of Foote
Written 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 charismatic figure.

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 coloured trews.
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.

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