Ferocity of the Irish Wars

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Ferocityofthe Irish Wars

The following are accounts of the cruelty and savagery of the Irish wars of the 1580s and 1590s. Captain Woodhouse's letter describes the annihilation by Sir William Bingham's forces of some 1,100 Scots who were allied with the Irish Burkes in their rebellion. O'Sullivan Beare's account is from a Catholic perspective. Chief Justice Saxey reports atrocities committed on English settlers in Munster.

SEE ALSO Nine Years War; O'Neill, Hugh, Second Earl of Tyrone; Politics: 1500 to 1690

Defeat of the Scots by Sir Richard Bingham in Connacht (Captain Thomas Woodhouse to Geoffrey Fenton, 23 September 1586)

It pleased God that the Governor this day met with James MacDonnell's sons and all their forces, and with the number of about four score horsemen, he, like a brave gentleman, charged them. I was as near him as I could, and so cut off their wings, and they presently were like cowardly beggars, being in number, as we did judge, about 1,300 in that place, hard by their camp, William Burke's town, called Ardnaree. About one of the clock we did join the battle, and they did set their backs to the great river called the Moy, and the Governor and we that were but a small number did with him, who I protest in God like as brave a man, charge them before our battle came in [sic], and kept a narrow strait in our charging of them, so as they could not pass our foot battle, and there, God be thanked, we did drown and kill, as we all did judge, about the number of a thousand or eleven hundred, for there did, by swimming, about a hundred escape, and as the country saith on the other side the water, they have killed them, for we cannot this day get over this water into Tirawley to them for want of boats, but truly I was, never since I was a man of war, so weary with killing of men, for I protest to God, for as fast as I could I did but hough them and paunch them, sometimes on horseback, because they did run as we did break them, and sometimes on foot, and so in less space than an hour this whole and good field was done.

O'Donnell Attacks the English of Connacht (Philip O'Sullivan Beare, Historiæ Catholicæ Iberniæ Compendium, 1621)

[1595] O'Donnell, remembering the cruelty with which the English had thrown women, old men and children from the Bridge of Enniskillen, with all his forces invaded Connacht, which Richard Bingham was holding oppressed under heretical tyranny. In his raids extending far and wide he destroyed the English colonists and settlers, put them to flight, and slew them, sparing no male between fifteen and sixty years old who was unable to speak Irish.

He burnt the village of Longford in Annaly, which Browne an English heretic had taken from O'Farrell. He then returned to Tyrconnel laden with the spoils of the Protestants. After this invasion of Connacht, not a single farmer, settler or Englishman remained, except those who were defended by the walls of castles and fortified towns, for those who had not been destroyed by fire and sword, despoiled of their goods, left for England, heaping curses upon those who had brought them to Ireland.

Massacre of Munster Settlers, 1598 (William Saxey, Chief Justice of Munster, to Sir Robert Cecil Concerning the State of That Province, 26 October 1598)

About the 5th Oct., some 3,000 rebels came into the county of Limerick, sent from the archtraitor Tyrone, under the leading of John FitzThomas . . . elder brother to the last attainted Earl of Desmond . . . and burnt and spoiled most of the towns and villages there. . . . These combinations and revolts have effected many execrable murders and cruelties upon the English, as well in the county of Limerick, as in the counties of Cork and Kerry, and elsewhere; infants taken from the nurses' breasts, and the brains dashed against the walls; the heart plucked out of the body of the husband in the view of the wife, who was forced to yield the use of her apron to wipe off the blood from the murderer's fingers; [an] English gentleman at midday in a town cruelly murdered, and his head cleft in divers pieces; divers sent into Youghal amongst the English, some with their throats cut, but not killed, some with their tongues cut out of their heads, other with their noses cut off; by view whereof the English might the more bitterly lament the misery of their countrymen, and fear the like to befall to themselves.

Irish History from Contemporary Sources, edited by Constantia Maxwell (1923), pp. 210–212.

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