1641, The Rebellion
The events of October 1641 in Ireland have been described as a “rising” or “rebellion” and perhaps even other terms, depending on the author’s bias and perspective on the legitimacy of the event. I will use the term rebellion and rebel, not in a pejorative manner but to describe a secretive military plan and execution occurring without the approval or knowledge of the government of Charles I and those involved in aforesaid plan and execution.
It is likely that the Irish Catholics were encouraged by the results achieved by the Scots in the Bishops Wars, seeing no reason for the same kind of concessions from England after a successful military action. The original conspiracy for rebellion in Ireland foresaw a rapid takeover of the government with Dublin Castle, the seat of English power, as a primary target. Speed of execution would, in the conspirators view, limit the response from opposition in Ireland and prevent reinforcements from England arriving in time to change the outcome. As events developed, the original conspiracy failed in its objectives and was accompanied by a disorganized, disorderly, and vicious popular Irish uprising.
A drinking bout in Dublin resulted in discovery of the attempt to be made on Dublin Castle and its subsequent failure on 22 October 1641. This failure proved critical not just for political reasons but for logistical reasons as well because of the black powder in the castle, which the rebels desperately needed and was eventually made available to those opposing them. On the 23 rd, Sir Philem O’Neil captured Charlemont and Dungannon. Within a few days the rebels controlled much of Ulster with the exception of Antrim, Carrickfergus, northern Down, Londonderry, Enniskillen and some isolated castles and forts. In Leinster, Dublin and Drogheda held out, as did Cork, Kinsale, Youghal and Limerick in Munster and Galway in Connaught. Initially the rebels spared the Scots settlers in an effort to show common cause with them against the English Protestants. This effort either failed in the disorganized conduct of the rebels against any and all settlers and the defensive posture adopted by the Scots settlers who distrusted the rebels. The massacre of the Scottish garrison of Augher, left in place by Sir William Stewart in his movement to Derry, and the rapid dissemination of news of this event also did much to dispel any hope of Scottish neutrality in the coming struggle.
On the 4 th of November the Irish Catholic leader Sir Philem O’Neil produced a commission, supposedly signed by Charles I, calling for armed resistance in the King’s name. The literature tends to discount the validity of this claim, but suffice it to say that it was believed by many at the time to be an authentic document. If this was an effort to provide legitimacy to the rebellion and garner support among the protestants, it failed. It only served to increase Protestant suspicion of Charles I among those who chose to believe it was a valid.
Initially the prominent Old English and native Irish aristocracy withheld overt support for the rebellion. Revulsion at the role and conduct of the common people was at least a contributing factor. The Old English initial response was to some degree perhaps influenced by a measure of conservatism and a property owner’s natural concern over repercussions if the revolt failed.
By early November the Earl of Ormond, newly appointed Lieutenant General of the Army in Ireland, began recalling the army to Dublin and forming new regiments commanded by Sir Henry Tichbourne, Sir Charles Coote, Sir Piers Crosby and Lord Lambard to defend Dublin and Drogheda. Commissions from Charles I were sent to Scottish settlers Sir Hugh Montgomery, Lord of the Ards, Sir James Montgomery, Sir William Stewart and Sir Robert Stewart and the English settlers Sir William Cole and Sir Ralph Gore in Ulster to raise regiments for defense against the rebels. The rebellion spread in Ulster, resulting in the capture of Dundalk and Lisburn near Belfast. The rebels were prevented from overrunning other Protestant settlements as a result of the efforts of Sir Robert Stewart and his Laggan Army, comprised of many leaders and men who were veterans of the 30 Years War, in and around Derry as well as Sir George Rawdon and Lord Conway operating in east Ulster. Resistance against the uprising held out, but there was no coordinated attempt to carry out offensive operations of any scale against the rebels. Ormond was waiting for relief from England.
England was under considerable pressure to provide an adequate military response to the crisis in Ireland but was on the verge of civil war and so unable to take action. The solution was found in the Scottish Army of the Solemn League. The Scottish Army at the time had proven its worth, both against the English Army and the civil strife of the Bishops Wars. Led, and in many cases manned, by veterans of the 30 Years War and 80 Years War on the continent, it was a brutal force. Not long after the beginning of the rebellion, Parliament was starting the long negotiations with Scotland over the command, pay, logistical support, area of operations and port of entry that would eventually result in the deployment of the Scottish Army of Ulster to Ireland.
By late November the threat from the rebels was sufficient to cause two columns to be sent out from Dublin. One was sent under the command of Sergeant Major Roper to reinforce Drogheda which was ambushed and routed at Julianstown bridge despite warnings that the enemy was near. The expedition to Wicklow led by Sir Charles Coote garrisoned New Castle and relieved Wicklow Castle, with brutal force. The Government’s loss at Julianstown, brutal victory at Wicklow and unwillingness to negotiate on the rights of Catholics to hold office and practice their religion led those remaining Old English Catholic and Irish into supporting the rebellion, in many cases reluctantly. In an effort to relieve the pressure on besieged Drogheda, Sir Charles Coote, the Mayor of Dublin, was killed while routing rebels at Swords and Captain Armstrong scattered a rebel encampment at Rathcoole in December.
In the first year of the rebellion the military conflict was carried out by local levies on both sides. The leadership roles were, at least in some cases, filled by professionally trained soldiers who had seen service in the 30 Years War and 80 Years War on the continent. This prior experience contributed to the brutal nature of the conflict, especially when combined with the sectarian hatred between the Catholics and Protestants. There are a variety of claims in the literature on the massacres conducted by all parties in this conflict. It is enough, for the purposes of this brief narrative to say that there were massacres and wanton destruction of property committed, which served as a justification in the minds of some for even more acts of destruction and cruelty.