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Kilrush 1642

James Durney

A recent donation to Kildare Library and Arts Service, Newbridge Library, from Pat Dunne, Calverstown, of a folder titled ‘Kilrush 1642,’ led to some detective work there and further input from Adrian Mullowney, Kildare.

Folder of papers relating to the Battle of Kilrush, Co. Kildare, April 1642, Col. Dan Bryan, 1958.

Contents of folders (indexed by Adrian Mullowney)

Part 1. Introduction
• Purpose stated to be ‘To awaken interest in Irish Military History.’
• Chronology of battles mentioned in Annals which took place in the general area of Kilrush.
Part 2.
• Sketch map of the main expeditions in Leinster by the opposing forces, Oct. 1641 to cessation Sept. 1643.
Part 3.
• Sketch map ‘Approach Marches Battle of Kilrush.’
• Assessment of opposing forces.
• Assessment of opposing commanders.
Part 4.
• Attempt to identify site of battle (note: associate with 6in. map in Old Carlow Society folder).
Part 5.
• Discussion of English positions.
Part 6.
• Discussion of Irish positions.

Folder: Old Carlow Society, Outing to Narraghmore District, 17 August 1958.
• 6in. maps of area showing analysis of ground from a military viewpoint.

Blue Folder.
• Estimates of Forces and Muster Rolls.
• Sketch map: Contemporary English Official Plan of Engagement at Kilrush, Co. Kildare, April 1642.

There were several excursions to the Kilrush site in 1957-8 by the Kildare Archaeological Society, Old Carlow Society and the Military History Society of Ireland. The Leinster Leader of 8 June 1957 reported on the Kildare Archaeological Society excursion:

The Spring Afternoon Excursion of the Society took place to the Kilrush-Narraghmore area on Wednesday, May 22nd, and there was a big attendance when the company moved off from the meeting place at Ballyshannon Cross Roads at 2.30 p.m.
The first place to be visited was the Great Rath on Mr. Edward Cleary’s land at Kilrush, and here Comdt. K. O’Brien of the Military College, Curragh, gave a very learned and lucid talk on the battle of Kilrush, which was fought between a section of the Confederate Army and that of the Marquis of Ormonde – the King’s lord Lieutenant of that date, 1642. The speaker, who knew his subject thoroughly, pointed out on the surrounding hills the sites occupied by the Confederate army composed as it was of Leinster and Munster men, and the position occupied by Ormonde’s troops. He also described the most suitable position that the guns of Ormonde’s army would occupy. The talk was a wonderful reconstruction of this important battle, which the English Parliament considered so great and decisive that they voted a jewel be bestowed on Ormonde for the great victory. The amount of information given by the speaker to those present, many of whom had only a hazy knowledge of the battle, was revealing.

The Nationalist and Leinster Times of 23 August 1958 contained a report on the trip by the Old Carlow Society under the title ‘Details of battle.’

On Sunday last members of the Old Carlow Society enjoyed a day in Fontstown, Co. Kildare. Comdt. O’Brien, Military College, Curragh described for them in a very realistic way all the details of the Battle of Kilrush between the English Army, under the Earl of Ormond, and the Confederate Army, under Col. Hugh McPhelim O’Byrne and Col. Rory Moore. The visitors were each presented with a souvenir brochure of the outing, containing maps of the area, the amount of troops on each side, their strength in arms, development, etc.

On 1 June 1958 the Military History Society of Ireland visited the site of the battle of Kilrush. The visit was conducted by Colonel Dan Bryan and Comdt. Kevin O’Beirne, Military College, Curragh. Col. Dan Bryan also wrote a paper ‘Ballyshannon Fort, Co. Kildare, 1642-1650,’ which was published in ‘The Irish Sword,’ Winter 1959. 

The battle of Kilrush
The first phase of the Irish civil wars began in October 1641 with the outbreak of the rebellion and ended with the conclusion of a ceasefire in September 1643 between the Irish Catholic Confederates and the predominantly Protestant, Irish royalist forces, under the command of James Butler, the marquis of Ormond. During the winter of 1642 the most important military operation in Ireland was the siege of Drogheda. On his return from the relief of Drogheda, Ormond set forth on a scorched-earth expedition to the midlands. At Athy on 13 April 1642 he was informed that an Irish army under the command of Lord Mountgarret, Rory O’More and Hugh O’Byrne lay between him and Dublin. As yet, Ormond had met with no more than nominal resistance, but hurried preparations had been made to give him battle, and an army of some 6,000 untried troops had been raised from Kilkenny, Queen’s County, Carlow, Kildare and Wicklow and Wexford. Richard Butler, viscount Mountgarret, a leading Anglo-Irish nobleman, was a son-in-law of Hugh O’Neill and an uncle of Ormond. He was a kind and dignified man, but was lacking in leadership. Ormond left Athy on 15 April and tried to avoid battle, but Mountgarret sought him out at Kilrush and was decisively defeated. Ormond marched on to Dublin, leaving a regiment under Sir Charles Coote, at Naas. A contemporary writer, Richard Bellings (‘History of the Irish confederation and the war in Ireland’), charges Mountgarret with having deliberately lost the battle, ‘choosing to be a loser himself in that game than his nephew not to be a victor’. The defeat at Kilrush convinced the Irish leaders of the need for a central government. Both Ormond and Coote, however, were unable to develop their successful raids in the north and south into a decisive victory.

A recent donation to Kildare Library and Arts Service, Newbridge Library, from Pat Dunne, Calverstown, of a folder titled ‘Kilrush 1642

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