This ancient well is a natural spring which was built around and enclosed in various stages. The stones around the well were placed in 1933 and the last section of fencing 20 years later in 1953. It is the earlier history which fascinates people much more.
Like many Holy Wells around Ireland this well was supposedly blessed by St. Patrick. It is also said to be the spot where the Pagan King of Leinster, Crimthann mac Énnai, was baptised. These stories come from hagiographies written hundreds of years after the existence of the historical Patrick and replicate themselves throughout Ireland so many times that it would have been impossible for one person to have christened so many wells.
Most likely, in my own opinion, anyway, the ‘St. Patrick’ in these much later stories is a kind of short-hand for Christianity itself and not a factual account of a person. The memory of Christianity taking over Pagan sites is given a personal association in these contexts over time and generations.
Some of the cures said to have occurred at the well include toothaches, ear aches and sight being restored. There is even an account of a sore leg being healed.
One of the most glaring observances at this well is the lack of ribbons, medals and votive offerings. The well looks very pristine and bare in comparison to many others. This is not a new phenomenon and was remarked upon in documentation going back to the 1930’s and further.
Natural springs have always been associated with magic and cures as well as with spirit deities. As I have mentioned before, women would come to these places in order to divine prophecy, speak with ancestors and make offerings to the spirits associated with the water.
Sometimes these spirits were quite fearsome such as the each-uisge or aughisky, which was a type of water-horse who could shape-shift into a man. It was said that women could capture this fairy spirit and tame it as long as it did not set its eyes on water again. As is usual with this folklore, there are quite a few regional variations.
There are also Irish stories of creatures called a merrow, which are a type of mermaid or mer-man. I don’t know of local stories involving them being this far inland and living in freshwater but it was said that their hypnotic music could travel over fields and mountains and entice anyone who heard it and draw them to the sea.
That said, Thomas Keightley, writing in 1828, mentioned that a merrow would capture sailors in Wicklow and keep them in cages similar to lobster pots. As Carlow isn’t too far away maybe we should be careful about any strange and eerie music that drifts in the air!
One other thing; if you take a step backwards off the stones you will fall into the water and the other part of the spring which is well hidden by growth and reeds! Now who would be so silly as to make that mistake? Ahem!
Would you like to own your very own Irish Castle and not only an Irish Castle but the place where Ireland’s Romeo and Juliet story took place? That’s right, McDermotts Castle situated on an island off Lough Key in County Roscommon is on sale for only €90,000.
The iconic castle built in the 12th Century comes equipped with 0.54acres of land, tonne loads of history, and even more scenery. One of the most fascinating story’s that is associated with the place is the legend of Una Bhan, the story of Irelands very own Romeo and Juliet.
The fact that the tale revolves around the hauntingly beautiful Castle Island only adds to the spine tingling power of the tale. Surrounded by water Castle island is one them places that leaves a long imprint on your memory. The place evokes images of fairy tales, spirits, and all sorts of other supernatural activities. But it is for the story of Una Bhan that the Castle Island is most remembered for. The heart rendering tale of two star crossed lovers goes like this:
The chieftain of the Celtic Kingdom of Roscommon was a man by the name of MacDermott. The chieftain had a beautiful daughter by the name of Una Bhan and she was named this because of her eye dropping long blond hair. The local neighbour was a young man called Toms Laidir Costello who was honest, hard-working, and strong person who looked out for other people.
When Una Bhan and Tomas met each other they both caught each others eye and over time both of them fell madly in love. Tomas Laidir asked Una Bhans father for his daughters hand in marriage but he refused believing that Tomas was not good enough for his beautiful young daughter. The furious chieftain ordered that Tomas was to leave the area for good and was to never return. To protect his daughter, or so he believed, he confined her on Castle Island, Lough Key. The Castle which was covered in water on all sides meant that Una would have no chance of escaping and eloping with the man that she loved.
Una Bhan then fell into a deep grief because she could not be with the one she wanted. When Tomas Laidir heard of her grief he couldn’t help himself and decided that he would go and visit Una. Her heart was mended when she seen her lover but Tomas when he was leaving sent a messenger to Una’s father stating that if he did not send a message to him to return and be with his daughter by the time he crossed the river that he would never return. MacDermott never got to send his message on time. Being a man of utmost honor Tomas Laidir refused to break his vow never to return.
Una Bhan then went and died of a broken heart and was buried on Trinity Island, a small island on Lough Key. Tomas used to swim out to the island to be by his former lovers graveside. Eventually, after swimming across to the island countless times in the cold dark waters Tomas picked up incurable pneumonia.
Realising he was about to die Tomas requested that he be buried right next to Una Bhan and so in death the two lovers where eventually reunited. Local legend has it that two trees grow together on the island and that these two trees have joined up together forming a lovers knot, in which Una Bhan and Tomas Laidir form their eternal watch over the island.
And so there you have it, why not own not only an Irish Island, not only an Irish Castle, but the very island and castle where Ireland’s very own Romeo and Juliet took place.
Last month marked the 700th anniversary of the death of one of the most extraordinary characters in Ireland’s long and bloodied history- the death of Edward de Bruce, the Scotsman who crowned himself High King Of Ireland. De Bruce died at the Battle of Faughart on the 14th of October 1318.
The date was marked with very little fanfare in the County Louth location where De Bruce perished. But there was a wreath sent over from Scotland which was placed on the grave by the extended de Bruce clan. So what was this incredible saga all about? And how was he really killed?
Edwards more famous brother Robert had beaten the English at the battle of Bannockburn and he had hoped to open up a new front against the English by inspiring a Scottish led uprising with their Celtic cousins in Ireland. So on the 26th of May 1315, Edward landed on the shores of Ireland with a Scottish force of about 5,000 men to try and drive the English out.
Initially, Edward’s army secured a number a number of notable victories but as time advanced his army became ravaged by famine and starvation. Another factor that played against de Bruces was the sheer brutality of the Scottish army, a brutality that ultimately turned much of the local population against them.
The English Army was initially caught on the back-foot by the invasion force but they then began to organize a force in an attempt to push back against the Scottish led rebellion.
On the 14th of October 1318 an English led force commanded by John De Birmingham set out to finally crush de Bruce once and for all. Edward who was stationed around Faughart upon hearing notice of the approaching army appeared to be cocksure of certain victory but history would ultimately tell a different story as he was cut down during the battle.
Reports vary as to how he was killed with some suggesting that the headstrong commander was killed due to his hot-headedness and over-eagerness to beat the English but other more recent evidence suggests that de Bruce was killed in almost comical fashion.
In 1845 local historian Bryan Geraghty compiled an account on the battle which was published in a County Louth Archaeological Journal. Geraghtys account was taken from a manuscript that was written shortly after the battle so it must carry some weight when it comes to finding out what actually happened on the day. Geraghtys account goes like this,
“after the initial battle when Bruce’s men were in high spirits because they were certain of victory, the different divisions of the army set down to take food at the request of the King and his noblemen, so that they might be refreshed to finish the battle with success, rout the Galls (English) to their fortresses. At their meal which they were enjoying with good zest, the King walked alone to explore among his people who lay dead on the hill, and view the gory carnage of the morning of that day.
He was not long engaged in this manner when they, his men, perceived a shameless idiot (later named as John De Maupas, a burgher of Dundalk) enveloped in a bundle of straw ropes, instead of clothing, wending his way towards the King across the hill. All were disgusted and astonished at seeing such a figure approach the King, but supposed that message impelled him to come there, and that a sense of fear was not in his heart for they conjectured, and their conjections were well founded, that he came towards the King from the camp of the Galls”.
“When this demented person came before the King, he saluted him, and the King returned the salution in like manner. This demented fellow held in his hand an iron ball to which a long chain was attached on one end of which was tied round his waist and there displayed many frantic and very trifling tricks.”
“When this madman presented himself before the King and said ‘ O Gentleman I am a professor of arts, who have excelled all other professors of arts in Ireland and since I am determined to display my achievements before the King in order to obtain wealth and the honour of knighthood from him, and since I suppose you to be the King of Ireland’s people I find it necessary to display my feats before you if you wish to view them’.
“I do” the King replied smiling “what feats do you perform ?”.
“I perform the feats of the iron ball” said he.
“Well then” said the King “perform your feats for me and I myself will introduce you to the King”.
“The frantic fellow thereupon began to play his uninteresting feats, until finding an opportunity of the King, he gave him a stroke of the ball on the head by which he scattered his brains around. After this act he ran as fast as he could across the side of the hill in the direction from which he came”.
When his people saw the King fall close by them, they raised piercing and most sorrowful cries of lementation, and armed and unarmed as they were, pursed the treacherous and accursed idiot who committed the great act of destruction and though they were swift couriers, and active and nimble-footed kearns among them, it was not in their power by the speed of running and nimbleness of nerve to overtake the iron fool until he took refuge among the Galls”.
“persons worthy of credit who have been intimate with the King assert that he was an upright pious man, on whose heart the fear of God and the love of man was deeply impressed-that he held injustice and treachery in utmost destestation- that he was a valiant hero, sensible and affable, and friendly towards his subjects-and he was a learned man well skilled in the various languages of Europe, acquainted with the liberal sciences, but proud of the truly royal blood from which he sprung”,
“Those who survived returned the same night after the Galls retired from the field of battle and carried the body of the King along with them to the house of a gentleman of the family of O’Roddy, who resided on the Hill of Fochart, where a wake and funeral was held over it, and it was interred with great honours by O’Roddy and his people in his own family burial ground in the country of Fochart of Saint Bridget and they set a coarse unhewn mountain stone over the grave to distinguish it as that of the King of Ireland”.
And to this day Edward de Bruce’s body, or what remains of it, lies buried on top of a windswept hill in Faughart Co Louth.
There are castles. Then there is Ashford Castle a place so sublime that you’d nearly need to pinch yourself into not believing that you’d just set foot inside some mythical Hollywood fairy-tale. Steeped in opulence, grandeur, and history Ashford Castle has it all: Epic sieges, romance, splendour, jaw-dropping scenery, breathtaking architecture, and loads more!
The people who have entered these hallowed grounds reads like a who’s who of world history- Princess Grace of Monaco, Ronald Reagan, Oscar Wilde, Johnny Cash, Sharon Stone, John Wayne, and the list goes on and on and on.
In many Ashford Castle is an irresistible force, it seizes your mind like a rip-tide that refuses to release its grip. Every inch of the place is scrutinised to ensure that you receive maximum pleasure. At Ashford Castle perfectionism knows no bounds. Even the grass takes on a certain aura with the lawns manicured and tended to with all the care and perfection that a heart surgeon would bestow upon a much-loved patient. You could almost imagine the greenkeeper getting down on his knees and using a pair of scissors to clip a single strand of grass that rebelliously waved in the wind. That is the level of detail and class that this location personifies.
But where did it all begin? What was the acorn in the ground that was to grow into such a magnificent edifice?
The original structure was built in 1228 by the De Burgo Family also known as the Burkes. The De Burgos where an Anglo-Norman family who ruled over this area for three centuries until disaster struck when a greedy English Solider by the name of Sir Richard Bingham demanded that the Burkes and other local chieftains pay a tax towards the crown. The Burkes refused.
Ashford Castle then became the scene of one of the most epic sagas in Irish History. The battle that was fought at the Castle in the 16th century between the Burkes and Sir Richard Bingham would make the TV series Game Of Thrones look like a kindergarten play. Eventually, after a bloody battle, the stronghold fell to Bingham who went on to refortify Ashford in preparation for any retaliatory attacks.
In around 1670 the estate, by royal decree, was passed on to Dominick Browne who was Mayor of the Province of Galway. The house of Browne proceeded to build some further works in the site in the style of 17th-century French château.
Most of the modern Victorian style structure to the castle was added in 1715. Other styles that were added to the premises include, as we have already seen, a French- style chateau and also a neo-gothic touch. The many different styles of the castle all combine to make this castle one of the finest of its kind not only in Ireland but the world.
In 1885 the estate was purchased by Sir Benjamin Guinness who went on to further renovate the structure and make it into the place that we now all have come to know and love. When Sir Benjamin died his son Lord Ardilaun oversaw the development of a huge area of woodland surrounding the location. The castle stayed in the possession of the Guinness family until 1939 when Noel Huggard had the honour of purchasing the property. In 1951 the legendary film the Quiet Man was filmed a short mile away from the grounds. In the meantime, a number of other owners purchased the place, most notably the legendary Irish American Businessman Chuck Feeney.
Nowadays, the Castle is like a living breathing museum. Everywhere you look there is something that grabs your attention and not only grabs it but demands your attention. Ashford Castle is one of them places that leaves a long imprint on your memory.
A secret here, a secret there. An ancient story from the past that still has the power to send a shiver down your spine. Just when you think you’ve seen it all Ashford Castle reveals something new. Almost like the wonderment one feels when they come across a beautiful flower in some place that it has no earthly right to be.
Back From The Dead
But with such a splendid structure upkeep becomes vital and in the early 2000’s the place began to fall into disrepair. But like Knights in shining armour The Tollman Family road in and rescued the stricken maiden. All it needed was a bit of love, care, affection, and of course, plenty of money and the ancient edifice was breathed back into life.
Ashford Castle arose like the Phoenix from ashes to not only become an Irish Castle but THE Irish Castle. Not satisfied with becoming the premier Irish establishment for luxuriousness in 2015 an influential Las Vegas travel company crowned the place best hotel/castle in the whole world.
The premises boasts a number of luxury suites that ooze relaxation, elegance, and all-round comforts. An added benefit of staying here is that each bedroom offers breathtaking views across the gardens and out into the stunning waters of Lough Corrib. Dining at Ashford Castle is an experience in itself with some world class food on offer that will be sure to have you salivating at the mouth.
If you visit during the May to September period you’ll be able to take advantage of the Connaught Room which offers a mouth-watering French a la carte menu which is prepared by a world-renowned Michelin Star Chef. If you favour a more lively setting you can always take a trip to the Dungeon Bar which is located on the Castle grounds. You can always decide to take in some of the delights that of the cellar which boasts over 600 premium world-class wines which act to ensure that no visitor will ever go thirsty.
There are a number of other activities that Ashford Castle offers such as a 9 hole golf course and some prime fishing on the world famous Lough Corrib. The place also boasts one of the most prestigious Equestrian Centres in the country and so if you are into your horses well then this is the place for you! An unusual activity you can partake in is Falconry with the Falconfirst Faconry School giving you the rare chance to get up close and personal with some killer birds of prey.
If the weather is overcast and damp, fear not, because Ashford Castle boasts a superb health and beauty centre which comes action-packed with a sauna, steam room, and a full offering of beauty treatments.
You could always decide to take in some of the daily showings of the classic film “The Quiet Man” which was filmed in the nearby village of Cong.
Overall, it is safe to say that Ashford Castle is a special place offering visitors the ultimate fairytale castle experience. The place affords visitors some exquisite views inside and outside the grounds and if you are looking to visit some of the best Castles in the world look no further than Ashford Castle.
Where does this never-ending river of gifts actually end? The answer is that it doesn’t because Ashford Castle is the place that keeps on giving and giving. Like a passionate romance, just when you think your partner has shown you all she can she then goes and pulls another astonishing surprise out of the hat. To truly know this location is impossible but what you do know has your gasping in admiration. The connection between Ashford Castle and the true connoisseurs of life is a romance for the ages, a romance that is to go on and go.
In Ireland there is one thing you are going to be sure to find and that is lots and lots of castles. Ireland is an ancient land whose history stretches back thousands of years with invasions and battles being the order of the day.
But with invasions and battles comes lots Castles, as various opposing factions erected huge fortresses at strategic points in the landscape in order to keep control of the local population and to keep the enemy at arms length. Castles would also have been erected as a sheer power symbol, a symbol that would have been used to strike fear into anyone who may have been considering revolting. Thinking of organising a rebellion? Look at the power we have at our finger tips!! Think again!!!
Many of these castles are ruined and the majority of them would have changed hands countless times down through the years. This article will mostly focus on Castles that are habitable. As in any list it is virtually impossible to include all Castles but I hope that this list goes some-way in helping you enjoy some of Ireland’s most magnificent structures.
10. Cabra Castle
Situated on the border with County Cavan and County Monaghan lies the picturesque Cabra Castle. The Castle itself is a beautiful 4 star hotel and caters for many weddings throughout the year. The fortress was originally built around 1699 and belonged to the O Reilly Family. In the 17th century the castle was confiscated by a very charming gentleman known as Oliver Cromwell. Over the years the premises has fallen into many different hands with a wealthy aristocratic family known as the Pratt becoming one of the main owners.
When the Castle was purchased by the Brennan family in 1964 the family began converting it into a 20 bedroom hotel. In the 1980’s an Arab family purchased the property and proceeded to use the place as their own private home and residence. In the 1990s the Castle was sold to the Corscadden family who converted the premises into the amazing 4 stars hotel/castle that it is well renowned for today.
One of the most striking features of the castle is that is retains much of its original grandeur. When you enter the premises you cant but help but feel that you are taking a step back into history by having the pleasure with witnesses full medieval suits of armour and also the ancient architecture of the place. Up until recently a huge Irish Wolf hood was
9. Bunratty Castle
Bunratty Castle is a place that has witnessed much bloodshed and horror over the years with 4 different structures being built in the same location. Most of the other castles that resided at the location would have been burned, attacked, and raised to the ground in various battles that would have occurred at the historic County Clare location.
Fortunately for us, the present structure has stood the test of time. One of the reasons why the Castle is so famous Is because of the superb banquets which entertain visitors from Ireland and all across the world. Bunratty Castle is definitely one place that you should stick down on your bucket list.
8. Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny is not just a county that is know for its legendary hurling traditions its also a county that is steeped in Irish medieval history. Kilkenny Castle is one fine example of the counties historical traditions. The Castle was built during the 12th Century and played a very important role during the Norman conquest and invasion of Ireland. One of the reasons why the Castle was built where it was built was because of its strategic positioning along the River Nore.
The place played a pivotal role in Richard de Clare (ie)( Strongbows) conquest of Ireland. Kilkenny was used by De Clare as a positioning post in which his troops where stationed which allowed his army to spread out throughout the rest of the country.
In the modern era, Kilkenny Castle is one of the most visited locations in the whole island of Ireland. The building has received extensive restorations over the years. Once you visit Kilkenny Castle you will be afforded some magnificent views of the surrounding grounds and also you’ll get a real touch of medieval history when you enter the historic castle itself.
7. Dromoland Castle
The name O Brien is one of the most historic and ancient names associated with the island of Ireland and when it comes to Dromoland Castle the O Briens have been long been seen as the traditional rules.
The clans lineage can actually be traced the whole way back to Brian Boru and from there the clan went on to become the Kings Of Thomond. Currently, Dromoland Castle has been transformed into a magnificent 5star hotel and also comes action packed with a superb golf course.
The castle sits on a vast estate of over 400 acres which rests on some of County Clares most stunning and panoramic views. Dromoland Castle is a must see location on any visit to Ireland.
6. Ballynahinch Castle
The story of Ballynahinch Caslte begins in the 14th century where the location played a pivotal rule in the vicious battle that was fought between the O Malley and O Flaherty clans. Over the years the castle was developed and one of its most noteworthy of owners was the legendary Pirate Queen Grace O Malley.
County Galway has long been recognised as one of Ireland’s most beautiful places and with Ballynahinch Castle thrown into the mix you can begin to see why this place is one of the must see strongholds in Ireland.
Nowadays, the fortification is one of Ireland’s must luxurious hotels. An added benefit of being a guest at Ballynahinch is that you can soak up some of the magnificent countryside surroundings and you can even partake in a spot of fishing or take in some of the many hiking trails that make up the area.
5. The Rock Of Cashel
When it comes to historical locations the Rock Of Cashel is one of the most historic and world renowned locations in Ireland. During the Queen of England’s visit to Ireland she was taken to the Rock and she was blown away by the fortresses history and surrounding scenery.
Located in Cashel in County Tipperary the stronghold was originally built in the 12th century and was once the traditional home of the Kings of Munster. The location is one of the most visited in Ireland and throughout the years people throng the place in an attempt to view the fortresses former glory.
The Rock of Cashel is open all year round and entry is free during the first Wednesday of every month. When you visit the place you cant but help but be awestruck by the original castle, the cathedral, and also the beautiful chapel which makes up the Rock. Without a doubt the Rock of Cashel is one of the must see locations in any visit to Ireland.
4. Lismore Castle
Lismore Castle, also known as Blackwater Castle, in County Waterford, has history steeped in its very veins. This magnificent structure was originally built in the 12th century and has been owned by many a legendary figure.
Some of the powerhouses who have ruled over the castle include Sir Walter Raleigh and Richard Boyle. Boyle played a huge part in transforming the location into the stunning place that we now know of. In the 18th century the estate was passed on to the Duke of Devonshire, also known as, William Cavendish, whose descendants still own the castle and estate to this very day.
At the moment, Lismore Castle is visited by thousands of people each year. One of the upsides of Lismore is that the beautiful gardens and surrounding estate is open to the public from March to September which allows tourists to soak up the areas incredible scenery, ambience, and history. An added benefit that Lismore provides is that it holds regular art exhibitions which are well worth a visit.
3. Cahir Castle
Situated on the banks of the river Suir in County Tipperary is Cahir Castle. The citadel is one of the largest in Ireland. Dating back to 1142 the castle was originally built by the O Brien clan.
The Castle was originally built to form a state of the art defensive castle. Cahir has witnessed many sieges and battles throughout the centuries. It has fallen to opposing armies three times in its history. One of the most significant sieges was when the citadel was captured by the Earl of Essex during a three day siege. In the 14th century the premises was left to the powerful Butler family.
In the 1960’s the Castle was bequeathed to the Irish state after Lord Cahir passed away. Since then the Castle has been extensively refurbished and now boasts an impressive audiovisual show that gives you some excellent information on the castles long and varied history. The place is open all year round and you can gain entry for as little as €5.
2. Athlone Castle
Right in the heart of of Ireland in Westmeath lies Athlone castle which was originally built in 1129. The castle which survives today was erected by King John in an attempt to defend the river crossing at Athlone and also to facilitate a staging point for Anglo Norman attacks into Connaught. Athlone Castle was put to a severe test during the sieges of 1690-91 where the walls where bombarded.
The Williamites besieged the fortress not long after their great victory during the Battle of the Boyne but in spite of their heavy bombardments the citadels defensive structures held fast and the Williamites failed to capture Castle.
It has been alleged that over 60,000 shots where fired at the structure over ten days. The place is opened all year around and visitors can go inside and survey the impressive defensive structure, architecture, and can soak up the overall history and feel of the place.
1. Ashford Castle Co Mayo
Built in 1228 Ashford Castle in County Mayo is undoubtedly one of Ireland’s finest hotels and castles. The premises was originally the seat of anglo norman family known as the Burgos.
The castle remained in their possession for three centuries until it passed into the hands of of the Binghams after a bloody battle. Most of the modern Victorian style structure to the castle was added in 1715.
Other styles that where added to the premises include a french- style chateau and also a neo gothic touch. The many different styles of the castle all combine to make this castle one of the finest of its kind in Ireland. Nowadays, the Castle affords visitors some exquisite views inside and outside the premises and if you are looking to visit Castles in Ireland look no further than Ashford Castle.
Saunderson Castle, Co Cavan
The original Castle was built by the powerful O Reilly clan from Brefnni. The original name of the stronghold was Brefni Castle. In 1676 Robert Saunderson who fought alongside William of Orange inherited the place.
A huge battle took place at the location in 1689 when 400 hundred of King James troops where ambushed whilst retreating from a battle that was taking place at Newtownbutler. The structure that is in the area at present dates from roughly 1840 and was extensively damaged during a fire in 1990.
The Saunderson Castle estate encompasses over 103 acres and was once owned by Edward Saunderson the original founder of the Ulster Unionist Party. Up until 2012 the castle grounds where closed off to members of the public when an international scout center was opened. For anyone going to the location there are a number of picturesque walks which can be enjoyed around the estate.
With Halloween nearly upon us its time to explore the Top 5 Irish Celtic Ghostly myths. Celtic mythology has always been renowned for its spirituality, its myths, and its legends. Our ancient ancestors would have feared the unknown and had countless myths and folk-tales that would have spread around their communities like wildfire.
For us, some of these myths and legends may seem bizarre and somewhat ridiculous but for the ancient celts these monsters and myths would have been a very real thing. The Celts would have lived and breathed these stories. The tales would have provided people with a way of understanding a very brutal, cruel and dark world.
Many of the Celtic “monsters and ghosts” that would have been created over time where eventually indoctrinated into Christian customs. For example, Halloween itself was originally a pagan celebration that was eventually converted into a Christian celebration. The Irish word for demon is “deamhan” and it is one word that would be well used throughout Celtic history.
1. The Irish Vampire “Dearg-due”.
Irishman, Bram Stoker created the iconic character known as Dracula. A blood sucking vampire who strikes his victims in the dead of night. But what many people don’t know is that Ireland’s association with Vampires goes way back beyond the time of Bram Stoker.
Celtic mythology has had their own Vampire, the “Dearg -due”, which translates into the “red blood sucker”.
This particular vampire, legend has it, is a female demon that seduces men into her grip and then she proceeds to drain the men of their blood. Maybe in more realistic terms, some females could be known for draining a mans wallet rather than his blood!
Anyways, how the legend goes is that there was an extremely beautiful celtic woman who fell in love with a very poor local peasant. Her father disapproved of the match and he forbid her to marry the local peasant and instead he forced her to marry another man who treated her terribly.
Eventually because of the horrific treatment she was forced to endure the celtic beauty committed suicide. The woman was supposedly buried beside Stongbows Tree in Waterford and that one cold dark night the lady in question arose from the dead in an attempt to get revenge on her father and the husband who had treated her so badly.
How she got revenge was that she went to houses and sucked their blood dry during the dead of the night. Known as the Dearg-due, local legend has it that once every year that she rises from her grave and uses her beauty to lure men into her embrace where she proceeds to suck their blood dry. Celtic fable has it that the only way to stop the Dearg-due from rising from her grave is to build a large pile of stones on top of her grave. The grave in Waterford is purportedly covered with a number of heavy stone boulders.
2. The Irish Headless Horseman
The headless horseman is a myth that is associated with many different cultures including Irish and Celtic culture. In Irish mythology the headless horseman is referred to as the Dullahan which basically translates into “dark man.” Not only is the Irish headless horseman headless but his horse is also supposed to be headless as well.
The Dullahan is alleged to have flaming red eyes, like the fires of hell, and he carries his head under one arm. Legend has it that if the Dullahan rides past you that you will live, but if he stops then you will die.
There are a number of horrifying tales associated with this creature one is that he throws buckets of blood at people that he encounters on the road and another tale has is that if the Dullahan calls out your name well then that’s it, you can wave bye bye to your existence.
But as is often the case with many of these creatures the Dullahan has an Achilles heel and that is his weakness for gold.
Unlike, most greedy people these days, the Dullahan is scared of the substance and once you flash it at him he will supposedly run a mile. So anyone who intends to be out trick or treating this Halloween perhaps they would be well advised to take some gold with them in case the encounter the legendary and terrifying Dullahan.
3. The Banshee
One of the most famous and widely recognised irish mythology creatures is the Banshee. Legend has it that if you hear the wail of a Banshee than this will foretell death. But the Banshee is only said to follow certain irish celtic families.
One legend has it that the Dullahan and the Banshee work together with the feared ghost riding alongside the Dullahan in a black cart drawn by six jet black horses. Not only are the two terrifying creatures said to work together the duo are said to whip their horses with the spinal cords of humans.
Whilst the deadly pair are even more terrifying as a combination most legends have it that the Banshee operates alone. Descriptions vary as to what the Banshee actually looks like with some describing her as an ugly old witch and others describing her as a beautiful young lady.
But one aspect that all stories seems to agree upon is that the Banshee has blood curdling cry that will be heard three times before someone dies. Relax though, perhaps, if you hear a scream in the dead of the night it is more likely will be cat rather than the notorious banshee.
In Celtic mythology Balor is known as the god of death. Balor comes equipped with one evil eye and a huge single grotesque looking leg. It is said that Balor lives in the dark depths of lakes, ponds, swamps, and rivers. Fisherman should be careful that they don’t catch more than they expect.
One of the most terrifying features of Balor is that the monster can allegedly kill with the single look of an eye. The eye is said to be so horrifying that people fall dead right on the spot.
Because of the power of his eye he keeps it closed the majority of the time in order to prevent himself from killing so many people that he would be tripping over their dead bodies.
These monsters prey on people near water so perhaps coming up to Halloween it might be a good idea to stay away from water least this mythical creature might catch you in his horrifying gaze.
According to Irish mythology the Slaugh is a dead sinner who comes back from the dead in the form of malicious spirits in an attempt to spread all kinds of carnage.
Legend has it that there spirits come in the form of birds and that they try and enter a house in an attempt to take away someones soul.
Some families are known to keep their windows and doors shut at all times in an attempt to keep out the notorious Slaugh.
The Hill of Tara is woven into the fabric of Irish folklore, history, and myth. Its name evokes images of High Kings, Celtic lore, and a glorious era of early Irish nationhood whose ruling power was derived from the Hill of Tara itself.
For many centuries, the hill was the home of the High Kings of Ireland. Tara was Ireland’s Camelot, a mythical place of power, magic, and music. Tara was the beating heart of Ireland and its power pulsed throughout the country like veins spreading out and reaching every nook and cranny in the land. Everything seemingly led to the legendary Hill. But what really was the true story behind this area, this beating heart of Ireland?
Why was the area chosen?
The Celtic Chief Cormac MacAirt is widely acknowledged as having a huge role to play in constructing many of the monuments that we now commonly associate with the site. Nothing remains of the ancient castle but on the ground one can see the indentations where the Castle would have once resided.
Its not difficult to see why Tara was chosen as the Seat of the High Kings of Ireland with the hill rising to over 300 feet. This height would have afforded the inhabitants of the Castle a vantage point to spot for miles around any opposing army or threat that was on its way. In fact, the name Tara itself derives itself from the Irish word “teamhair” which basically means “ the place with the wide view.”
But there are a number of other reasons why the place would have been chosen as the focal point for Celtic power and dominance. Another huge reason why the Celt’s would have chosen this location as the seat of their Kingdom is because the area was formerly a stone age burial site. Additionally, the place around the Hill of Tara, known as the Boyne Valley, was essentially Ireland’s equivalent of Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. The recent discovery of passage tombs in the area and the discovery of previously unknown henges is further evidence of the historical significance of the location.
So When Did It All Begin?
It was around the time of 500bc that the area began to be associated with supreme royal power. The person who ruled over Tara would have declared themselves High King and thus claiming overall supremacy over all of the Irelands other Kings. Whether this authority would have been recognised by the other chiefs is another matter altogether and in all likely-hood the chances of other Kings bending the knee and submitting to Tara’s authority would have been fairly remote.
The system of alliances of the day may have meant that some Kings did submit to Tara’s authority and other Kings may have submitted because they had no other option as the cold hard steel of a blade may have pointed at their necks. Whatever the case my be, Tara was without a doubt one of the pre-eminent power bases in early Irish history.
Anyone who claimed to be High King had to prove that they where the rightful ruler, and legend has it that the High King had to stand on a stone called the Lia Fail or Stone of Destiny and that this stone roared it’s approval if the rightful King was about to be anointed. The current stone that stands at the location was placed there to commemorate men who where killed during the 1798 rebellion.
Celtic Kings built a number of circular enclosures. Today, these circular enclosures are inside the the huge royal enclosure that makes up the markings/indentations in the ground. One of these enclosures is named after Cormac McAirts daughter, Grainne, whose tryst with Diarmuid makes up Irish mythologies very own Romeo and Juliet story.
The story goes, that Grainne was to marry the legendary warrior Finn McCool but that unfortunately for Grainne Finn was old and past his best. In order to avoid this arranged marriage Grainne eloped with Diarmuid where the two lovers proceeded to wander Ireland for years until eventually Diarmuid was killed by a wild Boar.
Feasts fit for Kings
At one end of the Hill of Tara are two parallel lines that are said to have been the fortifications of what once was the Hall of Banquets. The area is 250 years long by 30 yards wide and it is said that this area was one single immense hall where massive feasts where held. These great feats are commonly associated with King Cormac in which thousands of people flocked to the Hill of Tara and gorged themselves on food for days.
The people who would have been invited to these gigantic feasts would have been the whose who of the day, including poets, priests, warriors, lords, and athletes. The food they dined upon included ducks, deer, oxen, and boar. The person who was deemed to have been of a higher social stature would eaten the best food with some of the poorer folk perhaps having to contend with eating the remnants of a few gnawed bones.
The most prized food would have been beef with members of the royal family sampling all of the finest delicacies. The druids would have sampled the shins, the historians on the haunches, the musicians on the shoulders of pork and jesters would have had to contend with eating the fat. A testament to the size of one of these eating feasts is that it took over fifty cooks to prepare the food and over 300 men to serve.
Once Christianity came to Ireland’s shores Tara’s importance began to slowly decline. The Fort of Synods on the site is named after the Christian leaders who met at the location. In the 5th century it is said there there was a major confrontation between Saint Patrick and the High King of the time Laoghaire after Saint Patrick challenged the Kings authority by lighting a fire right at the nearby Hill of Slane. After his brazen act the King summoned Saint Patrick to his headquarters and ordered him to explain his actions. The King was so impressed by how Patrick spoke that he spared his life and even allowed him to continue preaching the word of Christianity.
The very last feast was held at the location in 560 and soon afterwards Tara was abandoned. Over time the wooden structures that made up the Castle began to rot away and with the passage of time the structure was eventually reclaimed by nature.
But the myth and legend of the place still lives on with the name Tara evoking images of Irish nationalism, myth, and legend. In 1843 a huge crowd gathered to hear Daniel O Connell “ the liberator” speak about home rule. Estimates vary as to the exact number of the crowd with some people estimating it at over 1 million people, but whatever the case may be, the gathering was a testament to the enduring allure, power, and magnetism of the Hill of Tara.
The Rock of Dunamase in County Laois is a dramatic 150 foot outcrop that was formerly the place of a Castle that was christened Masg Castle. The rock soars above the Laois countryside as a testament to former times when various clans and invaders battled each other for control over the strategic strong-point. One of the clans whose writ ran large over the area was the O Moore’s who ruled over their Laois fiefdom with an iron fist. The principal leader of this clan was a chieftain by the name of Laois Ceannmor, who gave his name to the county that we now commonly know as County Laois. The area is one of the most ancient of sites in Ireland and its history stretches way back to the time of the original Celtic inhabitants of Ireland.
The rock has seen and witnessed many battles and was a very important fortification throughout much of Ireland’s long and blooded history. In the 9th century the rock was plundered by the Vikings. In the 13th century, with the invasion of the Normans the rock became their own stronghold. Diramuid McMurrough, who was High King of Lenister granted the Castle to Strongbow a Norman Knight when he married his daughter Aoife. The Castle was finally laid to ruin when Oliver Cromwell attacked and sacked the fortification during his conquest of Ireland.
With such a long and turbulent history there is little wonder that myths and legends abound. There are stories that gold,sliver and riches of all kinds are buried on or near the Rock of Dunamase. Some locals swear that the Rock itself is haunted by the ghosts of yesteryear. The place is said to be guarded by a huge creature of the spirit world a guard-dog named Bandog, who it is alleged has huge gaping jaws from which fiery flames appear.
From the caves nearby at Clopook a banshee is said to roam warning locals of the sign of impending death. It has been said that the Banshee attaches itself to Irish family’s of certain royal Gaelic lineage and when one of these family members are to pass on to the next world the Banshee is said to wail her cry warning of impending demise. The noise was said to be heard by people of the Stardbally region as recently as 50 years ago, who described the sound as being “like a hare being killed.”
Despite the ruined state of the Castle visitors can get a real glimpse of the places former grandiosity with the ruins of some magnificent round towers still in place. The thickness of the walls is probably one of the main reasons why some of the ruins have stood the test of time.It is only a short walk from the road up to the stronghold, which is easily reached from the rear. Once you visit here you’ll also be afforded the opportunity to take in some of the panoramic views of the surrounding countrywide.
Over 400 years ago Oliver Cromwell and his New Model Army invaded Ireland and butchered their way across the countryside leaving hundreds of thousands of Irish men,women, and children, killed, wounded and destitute. You would be forgiven for believing that the Irish put up a feeble resistance against the might of Cromwells marauding forces, led like lambs to the slaughter against the all conquering English Army, but you would be wrong. In the resistance that stood against Cromwells barbaric savagery one man stood out, a colossus by the name of Hugh Dubh O Neill.
O Neill not only defeated Cromwell at the siege of Clonmel he humiliated him. Here was England’s supposedly unbeatable military genius having rings run around him not only on the battlefield but off it too.Cromwell had rode into Clonmel expecting an encore to what he would have deemed a successful campaign in Ireland but what he hadn’t bargained for was that the town was going to be defended by a group of battle hard-ended Ulstermen led by the wily, intelligent, and fox like Hugh Dubh.
When the dust had settled O Neill killed almost 3,000 of Cromwell’s finest Soldiers, roughly 25% of the New Model Army! To put this in context, up until that point the most casualties the self proclaimed Lord Protector of England had suffered was 400 killed during the early stages of the English Civil War. It was a monumental reversal for a man who up until that point was deemed virtually invincible. But O Neill wasn’t finished yet as he then went on to further humiliate Cromwell by performing a virtual Houdini by evading capture and then vanishing into the Tipperary air like a ghost in the night.
But on the day and weeks leading up to the battle victory looked anything but assured for Hugh Dubh O Neill. In fact, to the casual observer it looked like O Neill was facing certain defeat. Outnumbered by nearly 8 to 1 and with his food and supplies dwindling to extinction things looked bleak for the Spanish born Irishman. Coming up against an opponent with more men, more arms, more ammunition, more food, and more money. In many ways O Neill was the quintessential no hoper, but in spite of the odds being stacked against him Hubh Dubh was in no mood to give up and remained determined to level Cromwell with a bloody nose that he wouldn’t be forgetting any time soon.
On the other hand, Oliver Cromwells The New Model Army would have rode onto the outskirts of Clonmel with all the assuredness and confidence that only a string of victories could bring. Fresh from the military triumph of Kilkenny Cromwell’s soldiers would have been cocksure of certain victory. The easy capture of Clonmel would have been seen as virtual a formality. The cherry on top of the cake of Cromwell’s successful subjugation of Ireland.
Cromwell’s plan was simple, if Hugh Dubh didn’t surrender and bow down before him then he would bombard the town with artillery and then he would breach the walls and then deliver whatever justice he deemed fit. But what Cromwell hadn’t bargained for was that he coming up against a formidable military strategist who had the wherewithal to outwit the best of opponents.
At this stage The Lord Protector would have had scant information in relation to Hugh Dubh and he certainly wouldn’t have viewed him as being any kind of meaningful threat but time would soon change Cromwell’s mind.
So on the 27th of April 1650 Oliver Cromwell and 9,000 troops from his seemingly invincible New Model Army arrived outside the walls of Clonmel. His forces buoyant after having enjoyed a long run of success.
A partial blockade had been in place outside of Clonmel since the Winter Offensive, and this blockade had the effect of weakening the supplies that where inside the town. From Hugh Dubhs perspective, further setbacks came in the shape of the plague that had the effect of leaving many defenders and civilians dead or seriously ill. O Neill received some reinforcements from random groups of solders who had fled in the wake of Cromwells massacres in Drogheda and Wexford.
O Neill’s troops where bolstered by soldiers from Cashel and Kilkenny who had fled after Cromwell captured both towns. These reinforcements would have increased the men under his command to around 1,500 but more does not always mean quality as Hugh Dubh was to soon find out.
One of these new soldiers, Colonel Edmund Fennell, had agreed for a sum of money and a full pardon for taking up arms against the Parliamentarians, to open the gates at midnight on the North side of Clonmel and let 500 of the besieging force to gain entry. But O Neill was as untrusting as he was cunning, and when he inspected Fennels guard on the North Gate his intuition told him that treachery was afloat.
O Neill trusted his instincts and took instant action by ordering that Fennels troops be relieved from the gate and replaced with a reliable guard of Ulster Troops. At the appointed time of midnight the North Gate was opened, but instead of the receiving safe passage into the confinements of the city the New Model Army was instead met with a ferocious volley of fire from the Ulstermen, a volley that killed up to 500 of Cromwells soldiers. Hugh Dubh O Neill had dramatically drawn first blood.
Not to be deterred by the early setback, Cromwell put his men to work by ensuring that his standard guns where safely in place. But the English Commander was a dealt a blow when he realised that these guns wouldn’t have the power to make the breach in the walls that he needed. This fact became apparent after he bombarded the northern side of the walls with his field guns but the cannon balls had a limited impact and failed to make any serious headway. In spite of this, when any kind of gap was made in the wall, The Lord Protector ordered his men to attack but these advances where soon repulsed by O Neills Pikemen and Muskets.
Strapped for time and with one eye on going back to England Cromwell was in no mood to try and starve Clonmel into submission so he decided in putting his heavier siege guns in place. But this was going to prove no easy task as most of the guns weighed some 6,000 pounds and they would also have to be hauled overland using hundreds of Oxen.
Inside the garrison Hugh Dubh worked on keeping the morale of men high. O Neill would have realised that his badly outnumbered and out-gunned forces stood little chance against the marauding New Model Army but in spite of the seemingly impossible odds O Neill was in no mood to capitulate.
Outnumbered, out-gunned, out-manned, and out fed O Neill set to work in defending Clonmel against the inevitable onslaught. He busied himself by organizing raids against the besiegers. Determined to use every last inch to his advantage O Neill launched his attacks under cover of darkness, harrying and disrupting the enemy force.
The ambushes and guerilla tactics would have had the effect of delaying Cromwell’s preparations for battle, and more importantly, would have begun to chip away at the seemingly Invincible Cromwellian morale, sowing seeds of doubt where previously none existed. And on one occasion, Irish forces launched a surprise attack through a weakened section of defences and killed nearly 40 English Soldiers before retreating back into the relative safety of Clonmel.
Eventually Cromwell got his heavy guns in place and strategically placed them two hundred yards away form the North Gate of the town. This area was chosen for a number of reasons, but chiefly because behind the walls lay the widest street in the town and this would allow the Parliamentary forces to storm inside any breach and hopefully, from Cromwell’s perspective, quickly capture the town. But Hugh Dubh was no mans fool and would have realised that this was going to be the most likely place for any assault to take place and so he set about preparing for the attack.
One eyes witness described how O Neill, ‘set all men and maids to work, townsmen and soldiers….to draw dunghills, mortar, stones, and timber, and made a long lane a mans height and about eighty yards length, on both sides up from the breach, with a foot bank at the back of it; and caused (to be) place(d) engines on both sides of the same, and two guns at the end of it invisible opposite to the breach, and so ordered all things against a storm.’
In spite of Hugh Dubh’s best preparations hell was about to be unleashed on Clonmel. So on the 16th of May 1650 Cromwell ordered his heavy siege guns to open fire. The sheer destructive power of the guns must have been a sight to witness and after only one day of intense firing a breach had been secured through the walls that stood in the way. With the defences of Clonmel seemingly crumbling Cromwell immediately prepared to launch an assault upon the town the very next morning.
His plan was simple, to pour masses of infantry into the breach and to push back the defenders inside. Once his soldiers had secured entry they would then open the gates and this would allow Cromwell’s Calvary, led by Cromwell himself, entry into the town where they would enjoy a triumphant coup de grace to their successful campaign in Ireland. Seeing the breach in the walls many of the soldiers of the New Model Army must have already been tasting victory. Their thoughts probably flitting back to their families and enjoying food and drink as they regaled tales of their ‘heroism’ against the barbarous Irish. At this stage, for all intensive purposes the conquest of Clonmel was simply a process of dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s.
The cunning O Neill like a master chess player had anticipated where a breach was going to be blown and once the hole was blown he used all the experience he had gathered fighting in the fields of Flanders and further a field to deadly use. He quickly set his men to building another fortification behind the breach but this was no ordinary fortification it was one built into the shape of a V with the tip of the V pointing directly at the Parliamentarian Army.
The fortification was made of earth and was lined at the top with wood and more importantly it was lined with masses of muskets. At the very tip there were two cannon pointing out which where loaded to the brim with chain shot. At this stage what Cromwell and the New Model Army didn’t know was that O Neill had created the perfect killing ground. The wily battle hardened veteran was slowly luring Oliver Cromwell into a trap.
The next morning when dawn broke the New Model army advanced towards the hole in the wall and nearly straight away masses of men became trapped in between the breach in the wall and the newly built fortifications. Hugh Dubh ordered his men to open fire and rained down musket and cannon fire upon the helpless Cromwellian soldiers. The red hot chain shot cut threw the Cromwell’s Troops like a knife through butter. But Hugh Dubh wasn’t finished yet as he then proceeded to rain down large logs hanging from some kind of booby trap device which inflicted further casualties on the parliamentarians.
After a long and bloody slaughter some remnants of the bloodied, battered, and brusied New Model Army where able to retreat and limp back to relative safety. Hundreds of their comrades lay dead and dieing on the ground many of them moaning from the agony of their wounds.Cromwell had been waiting in anticipation for the North Gate to open but when he saw the bloodied stragglers coming back from the breach in the walls he realised that things had gone disastrously wrong.
Soldiers who only a few hours previously would have been cocksure of victory now refused to follow Cromwell’s orders and launch another attack on the city. For the first time in Cromwell’s long military career he was staring defeat in the face.
Only a few hours previously he was contemplating a triumphant entry into Clonmel now he had to deal with the first serious setback of his military career. But the Lord Protector of England wasn’t about to give up just yet. He tried to rise the spirits of his troops and cajole them into launching another attack but his men, having witnessed the horror that was rained down upon their comrades only a few minutes previously refused.
Instead it was decided that the best option was to get his cavalry to dismount from their horses and launch a second assault upon the fortifications. It was hoped by Cromwell and his advisers that the better quality armour and the fresher and stronger cavalry would make the crucial difference.
At about 3pm Colonel Sankey and Colonel Culme led a column of dismounted cavalry right back into the inferno. Initially the cavalrymen forced the defenders at the outside perimeter back into the breach but they soon encountered the same problem as their predecessors with masses of musket and chain shot raining down on top of them.
A fierce battle ensued with each side vying for control. O Neill’s troops fought with ferocity and used every kind of conceivable weapon they could get their hands on, including pitchforks and other makeshift weapons. Colonel Culme and many of the other senior officers where cut down in the early exchanges. The vicious battle continued for nearly three hours with the roar of cannon, musket shot, and the crys of the dieing filling the Tipperary air. Eventually as the casualty rate increased the attackers where once more forced to retreat.
Cromwell refusing to give up hope and ordered his men to stay in the breach to try and prevent O Neills men from repairing the damage but his exhausted soldiers once more refused to follow his orders. This must have been particularly frustrating for a Commander who was used to getting his own way and instilling iron discipline upon his men. An eye witness described the events, ‘Neither the threats of the General nor the bloody swords of inferior officers was sufficient enough to keep them from turning tail to the assault.’ Another observer described the heroism of O Neill’s Soldiers,“There never was seen so hot a storm of so long continuance and so gallantly defended, neither in England or Ireland.”
But at the greatest moment of his career Hugh Dubh O Neill had to face reality. Out of arms and ammunition he had shot his bolt. He had to retreat, otherwise it was only a matter of time before his virtually unarmed and helpless soldiers would have faced certain annihilation at the hands of the vengeful New Model Army. But the Irishman wasn’t finished with Oliver Cromwell yet, because like a Scorpio he had one last sting in the tail awaiting England’s Lord Protector.
O Neill approached the Mayor of the Town Mayor White and told him that he planned to escape and that he should approach Cromwell and ask him for generous terms of surrender but not to ask for these terms until his army had escaped. Under cover of darkness Hugh Dubh led the remnants of his army and the camp followers across the River Suir and away to safety.
Once White was sure that Hugh Dubh and his army had escaped he sent a message to Cromwell asking for terms of surrender. Oliver couldn’t believe his luck and readily offered generous terms in an attempt to end the bloody debacle. Believing that he was on the verge of capturing the finest Irish Army in the field the English Commander would have been been salivating at the thoughts of turning a sorry defeat into victory.
When both Cromwell and White had signed the articles of surrender Cromwell asked White how O Neill had reacted to the surrender and when he informed him that he didn’t know as O Neill and his army had left the night before, Cromwell was apoplectic with rage. ‘You knave have you served me so, and did not tell me so before.’ The Lord Mayor replied,“If his excellency had of asked me then I should you have told him.”
He asked the Mayor who was this Dubh O Neill and when the Mayor responded that he was an overseas soldier born in Spain, Cromwell snarled, “God damn you and your oversea. By god I will follow this Hugh Dubh wherever he goes.” Cromwell immediately ordered his Cavalry to pursue O Neill. But O Neill having stolen a march on Cromwell managed to safely secure the safety of the majority of his soldiers.
For obvious reasons, Cromwell would have been very reluctant to discuss the actual attrition rate at Clonmel least it damage his stellar reputation amongst his supporters in England and elsewhere.
The number of actual dead has been disputed with some people reckoning on the lower end of the scale that Cromwell lost around 1,500 men, and with other figures suggesting nearly 3,000 having perished.
Whatever the truth of the matter, one thing is for sure, the defeat at Clonmel was an astonishing reversal for Cromwell. Losing in a single engagement more men than he had lost since the New Model Army took to the field ten years previous. Previous to Clonmel the highest rate of casualties that Cromwell had suffered was when 400 killed at the Battle of Naseby.
An eyewitness said that Cromwell was ‘as much vexed as ever he was since he put on a helmet against the King, for such a repulse he did not usually meet with.’
Another observer at the time paid glowing tribute to Hugh Dubh O Neill and his men, ‘The stoutest enemy that ever was found by our army in Ireland, and it is in my opinion, and very many more, that there was never so hot a storm of so long a continuance, and so gallantly defended, neither in England nor in Ireland.’
From an early age I’ve always had a passionate love of history. As a child growing up I used to go fishing with my father and as we toured the local countryside in his car looking for rivers to fish I’d often see two crossed swords on a sign post indicating that a battle had occurred nearby and on one of these signposts I remember reading the words, “The Battle of Benburb.” I pleaded with my father to stop the car and to witness the battlefield but he never did, telling me that all there was to see was a field. But as a child my imagination would run away with itself conjuring up fantastical images of a battlefield littered with swords, muskets, and breastplates.
So to finally visit the site of the Battlefield filled me with a sense of awe, a place where on the 5th of June 1646 the legendary Uncle Owen Roe O Neill’s outnumbered Ulster forces delivered a crushing defeat to Robert Munros Anglo Scottish Army. As I stood on the spot where the slaughter took place I couldn’t help but imagine that what if the stones, trees, and waterways of Benburb could whisper their stories what tales of heroism and horror would they tell? Would they tell the story of how the Anglo Irish forces cried out in terror as Owen Roes triumphant Ulster Army systemically butchered 3,000 of Munroes men with muskets, swords, and then drowned the rest of them inside the murky depths of the Blackwater.
And as I stood on the battlefield and surveyed the terrain the dark thought occurred to me that over 400 years ago that this green, lush, and fertile ground must have hungrily drank up the blood of England’s finest soldiers. But this epic and brutal victory would not have been possible without the direction and command of Owen Roe O Neill a man who at a very young age had been exiled from Ireland during the ‘Flights of The Earls’. But the young O Neill had never forgotten his place of birth and so in July 1642 Owen Roe O Neill landed at Doe Castle, County Donegal with nearly 300 professional soldiers pledging to right the wrongs that had been inflicted on his forefathers.
O Neill came equipped with arms and ammunition that where enough to supply about 4,000 men. He brought many experienced battle hardened soldiers along with him including his nephew Hugh Dubh O Neill.
Upon seeing the native Irish that where to be at his disposal O Neill first opinions where non to complimentary. He referred to his new troops as, “Men who had behaved “nothing better than animals.” But in spite of his negative first impressions O Neill was determined to drill into his men “a more civill deportment, and to a prettie good understanding of military discipline.”
Once O Neill had received monetary funds that he was promised he set about training his new army and getting them fit for battle. The Commander disciplined and trained his force on a daily basis for seven weeks on the hill of Callanagh close to Lough Sheelin on the Cavan Westmeath border.
The Duke of Ormond had the overall Command of the confederate forces and before the Battle of Benburb Ormonde had promised to come to Owen Roe’s aid in the event of any major engagement, but like on so many other occasions Ormondes promised army failed to materialize. The repeated failure of Ormonde to come to the assistance of his comrades has led to many sources suggesting that he was a traitor in league with the enemy.
At the time Ormond was bitterly criticized “If he did but stand upon the Hill of Tara the enemy would not venture an assault against so strong a garrison and in the sight of so great an army; or if he marched with his army to Dublin now naked and deserted, he would easily desert the enemy, or else if he passed the north side of Drogheda, where was no enemy at all, he might relieve his party and defend the town in spite of all Cromwells Forces, for the very situation of his place was his bulwark………But nothing was done; all the hurely burly of armies mustered and brought to a body toward Ticroghan only were spectators of this bloody spectacle.” Whether Ormond was a traitor or not one thing was for sure, nothing was going to stop a man of Owen Roe O Neills calibre.
Facing Owen Roe was an Anglo Scottish Army that consisted of roughly 6,000 soldiers which where under the command of General Munroe. Munroe had a hatred of the Irish and this hatred led him to underestimate his enemy and when he was informed that he was up against a strong and well supplied Irish force his response was dismissive, he “Would not believe it, nor valued it.”
After much sparring and second guessing as to the location and motive of each army both forces started to square of against each other around the Tyrone Monaghan border region. At this stage Munroe and his troops where thriving with confidence and where determined to commit to battle in virtually any area. O Neill on the other hand was like a master chess player who pondered and thought out every move and after much manoeuvring the wily Owen Roe carefully picked the area of around Benburb as his place for battle. The Blackwater provided a natural defensive barrier and the areas defensive capabilities where further enhanced by boggy ground that made parts of the terrain virtually impossible to pass.
Munro seemed determined to once and for all to crush Owen Roe O Neill and his petulant Ulster Army. ‘ Not expecting they ( the ulster rebels) had hearts to face him, (he) marched at a great rate till they came to Rinardee (Kinnard).’
There are many estimates as to the actual size of the army that O Neill had at his disposal but many informed sources suggest that the army was roughly about 5,000 foot soldiers which where divided into seven regiments. Its also been estimated that around 400-500 Horses where part of the O Neill contingent. Owen Roe left many of his artillery pieces behind him and this would have had the effect of making his army more nimble and ready to move at a moments notice.
Munro by all accounts was determined to make his presence known and to make sure O Neill’s forces aware that he there to make battle. His men, as Munroe was, seemed cocksure of certain victory as they where filled with ‘much joy of Officer and Soldier, thinking they had them (rebels) for sure.’
Munroe knew that his army was chomping at the bit when he observed that, ‘All our Army both foot and Horse did earnestly covet fighting, which was impossible for mee to gainstand, without being reproached for cowardice.’
Some sources even suggest that Munroes men believed that the sheer sight of their army would be cause for the Irish to flee in a panic, ‘That at the bare sight of their advance guard or at least at the first encounter our men ( native irish would fly at once into the neighbouring mountains.
Its quite clear that the invader army was teeming with confidence and expected to bowl over the Irish with relative ease but Owen Roe O Neill and his forces had different ideas. Owen Roes battleplan was to force Munroe to attack him on unfavourable ground and then to continue attacking him in any retreat that ensued. But as the battle neared some observers felt Munroes earlier confidence was beginning to drain from him.
“But on drawing nearer….…he(Munroe) became sorely perplexed and could not make up his mind whether he ought to engage in battle or not………….they where confronted by a most cunning fox at the head of the papist army, and that there was need for caution and circumspection. But eventually influenced by Montgormery and the leading officers of the army he gave order for battle.
After some initial skirmishes and exchanges of gunfire the stage was now set for an epic encounter that was to decide the future of Ulster for the coming decades. Owen Roe gave a rousing speech to his men reminding them that that their opponents had persecuted them for their religion and driven them from their lands. O Neill ended his inspirational speech with the words, “Let your manhoood be seen by the push of your pike. Your word is Sancta Maria, and so in the Name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost advance!- and give not fire until you are within pike-length.”
The rebels inspired by O Neills inspirational speech began to psyche themselves for the titanic battle that was about to ensue, ‘A universal cheer rose from the army, and the colonels all dismounting to cut off their return, the whole body rushed forward with incredible ferocity, with their horse following up….’
What a sight it must have been as the two opposing armys lined up against each other and readied for combat. The battle began with a huge burst of cannon from Munros heavy guns. The roar of the cannons would have been heard for miles around announcing to civilians far and wide that hostilities had commenced.
The Irish advanced slow and steady and met some fierce English resistance. At this stage Owen Roe ordered Colonel Richard Farrell to close in with his brigade and to try and turn Munroe’s flank. O Neill was determined to use every last crumb to his advantage and he hoped that the falling sun would shine into the eyes of the English and blind them. Munroe ordered a fierce counter attack with his cavalry charging at the Irish in the hope of breaking their lines. Twice his cavalry charged and twice they failed to break the Irish lines. The battle waged on with the sounds of muskets and cannons filling the Benburb air.
The Irish forces began to push up against Munroes army using their pikes to slowly edge the English forces back towards the river. As the sun began to shine into the eyes of the Anglo Scot forces O Neills men delivered a ferocious volley of shots at close range and the result was absolute carnage within the English ranks. As the fighting continued the Anglo Scots where forced back down down towards the river with little or no chance of escape. Munroes forces had effectively been caught in a pincer move between O Neills army and the river Blackwater. As the The Irish closed in they then began to systemically cut down their enemies with Scians (Irish long knives). The hunter had truly become the hunted.
Munroes Army tried to flee for their lives across the Blackwater but many of them drowned and others where caught up in a torrent of Irish fury. Years of disfranchisement and pent up rage was released in a wrathful vengeance. Those that weren’t stabbed and sliced to death where drowned in the Backwater’s cold and murky depths. At one stage there was so many dead men in the river that a dam of bodies began to form which clogged the flow of the water.
The Blackwater ran red with the blood of Anglo Scots and as the evening turned into night, Owen Roes O Neill stood victorious having secured the one of the great field victories against an English Army ever to have been won in Ireland. It was an almost unbelievable achievement having been secured against a better trained, better supplied, and better equipped opponent.
In the immediate aftermath of the battle mercy was a quality that was in short supply as Owen Roes Cavalry Commander Sir Phelim O Neill ordered his men to pursue the enemy and ‘kill them all without distinction.’ and afterwards it was claimed that he ‘swore that his regiment had not one prisoner.’
Once Munroes forces began to flee nearly all semblance of control would have been lost as O Neills army hunted and killed Munroes Forces wherever and whenever they could find them. The blood letting didn’t cease for over two days as the rebels scoured the countryside looking for any English stragglers they could put to the sword. Pursuing and destroying an enemy army would have been a standard military tactic of the era but perhaps not conducted with the same unrestrained ferocity that happened at Benburb.
Munroe was lucky to escape with his life fleeing the scene on horseback and not stopping until he reached the town of Lisburn. Against all odds, Owen Roe O Neill had secured an astonishing victory . One of the main reasons for his victory was Munroes ridiculous overconfidence. Munroe felt that all he and his army had to do was to show up and that the Irish Army would simply capitulate upon sight of the English. And whilst history might have been littered with carcasses of many an Irish Force, what Munroe failed to fully appreciate was that this particular army was a different beast altogether, not least because it was led by a wily and shrewd Commander who had the ability to mix it with the best of them. Owen Roe O Neill hadn’t assembled his army at Benburb to simply make up the numbers, he had went there to win and win he did.
In the years to come Benburb would become a source of inspiration against whatever trails or tribulations these soldiers would meet. The men had tasted victory and they knew that they had what it took to beat one of the mightiest and well organised armies in the world.