Cromwellian conquest of Ireland

Cromwellian conquest of Ireland
Part of the Eleven Years’ War and
Wars of the Three Kingdoms
Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper.jpg
Oliver Cromwell, who landed in Ireland in 1649 to re-conquer the country on behalf of the English Parliament. He left in 1650, having taken eastern and southern Ireland—passing his command to Henry Ireton
Date 15 August 1649 – 27 April 1653
Location Ireland
Result Decisive English Parliamentarian victory

Irish Catholic Confederation

English Royalists

English Parliamentarian

Protestant colonists

Commanders and leaders
James Butler, Marquess of Ormonde(Aug. 1649 – Dec. 1650)
Ulick Burke, Earl of Clanricarde (Dec. 1650 – Apr. 1653)
Oliver Cromwell(Aug. 1649 – May 1650)
Henry Ireton (May 1650 – Nov. 1651)
Charles Fleetwood(Nov. 1651 – Apr. 1653)
Up to 60,000 incl. guerrilla fighters, but only around 20,000 at any one time ~30,000 New Model Army troops,
~10,000 troops raised in Ireland or based there before campaign
Casualties and losses
15,000–20,000 battlefield casualties,
over 200,000 civilian casualties (from war-related famine or disease)[1]
~50,000 deported asindentured labourers[2][3]
8,000 New Model Army soldiers killed,
~7,000 locally raised soldiers killed

The Cromwellian conquest of Ireland or Cromwellian war in Ireland (1649–53) refers to the conquest of Ireland by the forces of the English Parliament, led byOliver Cromwell, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Cromwell invaded Ireland with his New Model Army on behalf of England’s Rump Parliament in August 1649.

Following the Irish Rebellion of 1641, most of Ireland came under the control of the Irish Catholic Confederation. In early 1649, the Confederates allied with the English Royalists, who had been defeated by the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War. By May 1652, Cromwell’s Parliamentarian army had defeated the Confederate and Royalist coalition in Ireland and occupied the country—bringing to an end the Irish Confederate Wars (or Eleven Years’ War). However, guerrilla warfare continued for a further year. Cromwell passed a series of Penal Laws against Roman Catholics (the vast majority of the population) and confiscated large amounts of their land.

The Parliamentarian reconquest of Ireland was brutal, and Cromwell is still a hated figure in Ireland.[4] The extent to which Cromwell, who was in direct command for the first year of the campaign, was responsible for the atrocities is debated to this day. Some historians[5] argue that the actions of Cromwell were within the then-accepted rules of war, or were exaggerated or distorted by later propagandists; these claims have been challenged by others.[6]

The impact of the war on the Irish population was unquestionably severe, although there is no consensus as to the magnitude of the loss of life. The war resulted infamine, which was worsened by an outbreak of bubonic plague. Estimates of the drop in the Irish population resulting from the Parliamentarian campaign range between 15–25%[7]-50%[8][9]-83%.[10] The Parliamentarians also deported about 50,000 people as indentured labourers. Some estimates cover population losses over the course of the Conquest Period (1649-52) only,[11] while others cover the period of the Conquest to 1653 and the period of the Cromwellian Settlement from August 1652 to 1659 together.


The English Parliament, victorious in the English Civil War, had several reasons for sending an army to Ireland in 1649.

  • An alliance was signed in 1649 between the Irish Confederate Catholics, Charles II (the exiled son of the executed Charles I) and the English Royalists. This allowed for Royalist troops to be sent to Ireland and put the Irish Confederate Catholic troops under the command of Royalist officers led by James Butler, Earl of Ormonde. Their aim was to invade England and restore the monarchy there. This was a threat which the new English Commonwealth could not afford to ignore.
  • Even if the Confederates had not allied themselves with the Royalists, it is likely that the English Parliament would have eventually tried to reconquer Ireland. They had sent Parliamentary forces to Ireland throughout the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (most of them under Michael Jones in 1647). They viewed Ireland as part of the territory governed by right by the Kingdom of England and only temporarily out of its control since the Irish Rebellion of 1641.
  • In addition many Parliamentarians wished to punish the Irish for atrocities against English Protestant settlers during the 1641 Uprising.
  • Some Irish towns (notably Wexford and Waterford) had acted as bases from which privateers had attacked English shipping during the 1640s.[12]
  • Parliament had raised loans of £10 million under the Adventurers Act to subdue Ireland since 1640, on the basis that its creditors would be repaid with land confiscated from Irish Catholic rebels. To repay these creditors, it would be necessary to conquer Ireland and confiscate such land.
  • Cromwell and many of his army were Puritans who considered all Roman Catholics to be heretics, and so for them the conquest was partly a crusade. The Irish Confederates had been supplied with arms and money by the Papacy and had welcomed the papal legate Pierfrancesco Scarampi and later the Papal NuncioGiovanni Battista Rinuccini in 1643–49.

The Battle of Rathmines and Cromwell’s landing in Ireland

By the end of the period, known as Confederate Ireland, in 1649 the only remaining Parliamentarian outpost in Ireland was in Dublin, under the command of ColonelMichael Jones. A combined Royalist and Confederate force under the Marquess of Ormonde gathered at Rathmines, south of Dublin, to take the city and deprive theParliamentarians of a port in which they could land. Jones however launched a surprise attack on the Royalists while they were deploying on 2 August, putting them to flight. Jones claimed to have killed around 4,000 Royalist or Confederate soldiers and taken 2,517 prisoners.[13]

Oliver Cromwell called the battle, “an astonishing mercy, so great and seasonable that we are like them that dreamed”,[14] as it meant that he had a secure port at which he could land his army in Ireland, and that he retained the capital city. With Admiral Robert Blake blockading the remaining Royalist fleet under Prince Rupert of the Rhine in Kinsale, Cromwell landed on 15 August with thirty-five ships filled with troops and equipment. Henry Ireton landed two days later with a further seventy-seven ships.[15]

Ormonde’s troops retreated from around Dublin in disarray. They were badly demoralised by their unexpected defeat at Rathmines and were incapable of fighting another pitched battle in the short term. As a result, Ormonde hoped to hold the walled towns on Ireland’s east coast to hold up the Cromwellian advance until the winter, when he hoped that “Colonel Hunger and Major Sickness” (i.e. hunger and disease) would deplete their ranks.[16]

The Siege of Drogheda

Upon landing, Cromwell proceeded to take the other port cities on Ireland’s east coast, to facilitate the efficient landing of supplies and reinforcements from England. The first town to fall was Drogheda, about 50 km north of Dublin. Drogheda was garrisoned by a regiment of 3,000 English Royalist and Irish Confederate soldiers, commanded by Arthur Aston. After a week-long siege, Cromwell’s forces breached the walls protecting the town. Aston refused Cromwell’s request that he surrender.[17] In the ensuring battle for the town, Cromwell ordered that no quarter be given,[18] and the majority of the garrison and Catholic priests were killed. Many civilians also died in the sack. Aston was beaten to death by the Roundheads with his own wooden leg.[19]

The massacre of the garrison in Drogheda, including some after they had surrendered and some who had sheltered in a church, was received with horror in Ireland and is used today as an example of Cromwell’s extreme cruelty.[20] Tom Reilly in Cromwell, an Honourable Enemy (Dingle 1999), argues that what happened at Drogheda was not unusually severe by the standards of 17th century siege warfare. In Cromwell was Framed (2014), he claims that civilians were not targeted.[21]

Having taken Drogheda, Cromwell took most of his army south to secure the south western ports. He sent a detachment of 5,000 men north under Robert Venables to take eastern Ulster from the remnants of a ScottishCovenanter army that had landed there in 1642. They defeated the Scots at the Battle of Lisnagarvey (6 December 1649) and linked up with a Parliamentarian army composed of English settlers based around Derry in western Ulster, which was commanded by Charles Coote.

Wexford, Waterford and Duncannon

Kilkenny Castle. The Irish Confederate capital of Kilkenny fell to Cromwell in 1650.

The New Model Army then marched south to secure the ports of Wexford, Waterford and Duncannon. Wexford was the scene of another infamous atrocity, when Parliamentarian troops broke into the town while negotiations for its surrender were ongoing, and sacked it, killing about 2,000 soldiers and 1,500 townspeople and burning much of the town.[22] Cromwell’s responsibility for the sack of Wexford is disputed. He did not order the attack on the town, and had been in the process of negotiating its surrender when his troops broke into the town. On the other hand, his critics point out that he made little effort to restrain his troops or to punish them afterwards for their conduct.

Arguably, the sack of Wexford was somewhat counter-productive for the Parliamentarians. The destruction of the town meant that the Parliamentarians could not use its port as a base for supplying their forces in Ireland. Secondly, the effects of the severe measures adopted at Drogheda and at Wexford were mixed. To some degree they may have been effective in discouraging future resistance.

The Royalist commander Ormonde thought that the terror of Cromwell’s army had a paralysing effect on his forces. Towns like New Ross and Carlow subsequently surrendered on terms when besieged by Cromwell’s forces. On the other hand, the massacres of the defenders of Drogheda and Wexford prolonged resistance elsewhere, as they convinced many Irish Catholics that they would be killed even if they surrendered.

Such towns as Waterford, Duncannon, Clonmel, Limerick and Galway only surrendered after determined resistance. Cromwell was unable to take Waterford or Duncannon and the New Model Army had to retire to winter quarters, where many of its men died of disease, especially typhoid and dysentery. The port towns of Waterford and Duncannon eventually surrendered after prolonged sieges in 1650.

Clonmel and the conquest of Munster

Henry Ireton. Cromwell passed the command of Parliamentarian forces in Ireland to Ireton in 1650. He died of disease at the Siege of Limerick in 1651

The following spring, Cromwell mopped up the remaining walled towns in Ireland’s southeast—notably the Confederate capital of Kilkenny, which surrendered on terms. TheNew Model Army met its only serious reverse in Ireland at the Siege of Clonmel, where its attacks on the towns walls were repulsed at a cost of up to 2,000 men. The town nevertheless surrendered the following day.

Cromwell’s treatment of Kilkenny and Clonmel is in contrast to that of Drogheda and Wexford. Despite the fact that his troops had suffered heavy casualties attacking the former two, Cromwell respected surrender terms which guaranteed the lives and property of the townspeople and the evacuation of armed Irish troops who were defending them. The change in attitude on the part of the Parliamentarian commander may have been a recognition that excessive cruelty was prolonging Irish resistance. However, in the case of Drogheda and Wexford no surrender agreement had been negotiated, and by the rules of continental siege warfare prevalent in the mid-17th century, this meant no quarter would be given; thus it can be argued that Cromwell’s attitude had not changed.

Ormonde’s Royalists still held most of Munster, but were outflanked by a mutiny of their own garrison in Cork. The British Protestant troops there had been fighting for the Parliament up to 1648 and resented fighting with the Irish Confederates. Their mutiny handed Cork and most of Munster to Cromwell and they defeated the local Irish garrisonat the Battle of Macroom. The Irish and Royalist forces retreated behind the River Shannon into Connacht or (in the case of the remaining Munster forces) into the fastness ofKerry.

The collapse of the Royalist alliance

In May 1650, Charles II repudiated his father’s (Charles I’s) alliance with the Irish Confederates in preference for an alliance with the Scottish Covenanters (see Treaty of Breda). This totally undermined Ormonde’s position as head of a Royalist coalition in Ireland. Cromwell published generous surrender terms for Protestant Royalists in Ireland and many of them either capitulated or went over to the Parliamentarian side.

This left in the field only the remaining Irish Catholic armies and a few diehard English Royalists. From this point onwards, many Irish Catholics, including their bishops and clergy, questioned why they should accept Ormonde’s leadership when his master, the King, had repudiated his alliance with them. Cromwell left Ireland in May 1650 to fight the Third English Civil War against the new Scottish-Royalist alliance. He passed his command onto Henry Ireton.

Scarrifholis and the destruction of the Ulster Army

The most formidable force left to the Irish and Royalists was the 6,000 strong army of Ulster, formerly commanded by Owen Roe O’Neill, who died in 1649. However the army was now commanded by an inexperienced Catholic bishop named Heber MacMahon. The Ulster Army met a Parliamentarian army, composed mainly of British settlers and commanded by Charles Coote, at the Battle of Scarrifholis in County Donegal in June 1650. The Ulster army was routed and as many as 2,000 of its men were killed.[23] In addition, MacMahon and most of the Ulster Army’s officers were either killed at the battle or captured and executed after it. This eliminated the last strong field army opposing the Parliamentarians in Ireland and secured for them the northern province of Ulster. Coote’s army, despite suffering heavy losses at the Siege of Charlemont, the last Catholic stronghold in the north, was now free to march south and invade the west coast of Ireland.

The Sieges of Limerick and Galway

King John’s Castle and Thomond Bridge, Limerick city. Ireton took Limerick in 1651 after a long siege

The Parliamentarians crossed the Shannon into the western province of Connacht in October 1650. An Irish army under Clanricarde had attempted to stop them but this was surprised and routed at the Battle of Meelick Island. Ormonde was discredited by the constant stream of defeats for the Irish and Royalist forces and no longer had the confidence of the men he commanded, particularly the Irish Confederates. He fled for France in December 1650 and was replaced by an Irish nobleman Ulick Burke of Clanricarde as commander. The Irish and Royalist forces were penned into the area west of the river Shannon and placed their last hope on defending the strongly walled cities of Limerick andGalway on Ireland’s west coast. These cities had built extensive modern defences and could not be taken by a straightforward assault as at Drogheda or Wexford. Ireton besieged Limerick while Charles Coote surrounded Galway, but they were unable to take the strongly fortified cities and instead blockaded them until a combination of hunger and disease forced them to surrender. An Irish force from Kerry attempted to relieve Limerick from the south, but this was intercepted and routed at the Battle of Knocknaclashy. Limerick fell in 1651 and Galway the following year. Disease however killed indiscriminately and Ireton, along with thousands of Parliamentarian troops, died of plague outside Limerick in 1651.[24]

Guerrilla warfare, famine and plague

The heavily fortified city of Galway in 1651. It was the last Irish stronghold to fall to the Parliamentarians, surrendering in 1652.

The fall of Galway saw the end of organised resistance to the Cromwellian conquest, but fighting continued as small units of Irish troops launched guerrilla attacks on the Parliamentarians.

The guerrilla phase of the war had been going since late 1650 and at the end of 1651, despite the defeat of the main Irish or Royalist forces, there were still estimated to be 30,000 men in arms against the Parliamentarians. Tories (from the Irish word tóraidhe meaning, “pursued man”) operated from difficult terrain such as the Bog of Allen, the Wicklow Mountains and the drumlin country in the north midlands, and within months, made the countryside extremely dangerous for all except large parties of Parliamentarian troops. Ireton mounted a punitive expedition to the Wicklow mountains in 1650 to try to put down the tories there, but without success.

By early 1651, it was reported that no English supply convoys were safe if they travelled more than two miles outside a military base. In response, the Parliamentarians destroyed food supplies and forcibly evicted civilians who were thought to be helping the Tories. John Hewson systematically destroyed food stocks in counties Wicklow and Kildare, Hardress Waller did likewise in the Burren in County Clare, as did Colonel Cook in County Wexford. The result was famine throughout much of Ireland, aggravated by an outbreak of bubonic plague.[25] As the guerrilla war ground on, the Parliamentarians, as of April 1651, designated areas such as County Wicklow and much of the south of the country as what would now be called free-fire zones, where anyone found would be, “taken slain and destroyed as enemies and their cattle and good shall be taken or spoiled as the goods of enemies”.[26] This tactic had succeeded in the Nine Years’ War.

This phase of the war was by far the most costly in terms of civilian loss of life. The combination of warfare, famine and plague caused a huge mortality among the Irish population. William Petty estimated (in the 1665-66 Down Survey) that the death toll of the wars in Ireland since 1641 was over 618,000 people, or about 40% of the country’s pre-war population. Of these, he estimated that over 400,000 were Catholics, 167,000 killed directly by war or famine, and the remainder by war-related disease.[27] Modern estimates put the toll at closer to 20%.[28]

In addition, some fifty thousand[2] Irish people, including prisoners of war, were sold as indentured labourers under the English Commonwealth regime.[29][30] They were often sent to the English colonies in North America and the Caribbean where they subsequently comprised a substantial portion of certain Caribbean colony populations in the late 17th century.[31] In Barbados, some of their descendants are known asRedlegs.[32]

Eventually, the guerrilla war was ended when the Parliamentarians published surrender terms in 1652 allowing Irish troops to go abroad to serve in foreign armies not at war with the Commonwealth of England. Most went to France or Spain. The largest Irish guerrilla forces under John Fitzpatrick (in Leinster), Edmund O’Dwyer (in Munster) and Edmund Daly (in Connacht) surrendered in 1652, under terms signed at Kilkenny in May of that year. However, up to 11,000 men, mostly in Ulster, were still thought to be in the field at the end of the year. The last Irish and Royalist forces (the remnants of the Confederate’s Ulster Army, led by Philip O’Reilly) formally surrendered at Cloughoughter in County Cavan on 27 April 1653. However, low-level guerrilla warfare continued for the remainder of the decade and was accompanied by widespread lawlessness. Undoubtedly some of the tories were simple brigands, whereas others were politically motivated. The Cromwellians distinguished in their rewards for information or capture of outlaws between “private tories” and “public tories”.[33]

The Cromwellian Settlement

Cromwell imposed an extremely harsh settlement on the Irish Catholic population. This was because of his deep religious antipathy to the Catholic religion and to punish Irish Catholics for the rebellion of 1641, in particular the massacres of Protestant settlers in Ulster. Also he needed to raise money to pay off his army and to repay the London merchants who had subsidised the war under the Adventurers Act back in 1640.

Anyone implicated in the rebellion of 1641 was executed. Those who participated in Confederate Ireland had all their land confiscated and thousands were transported to the West Indies as indentured labourers. Those Catholic landowners who had not taken part in the wars still had their land confiscated, although they were entitled to claim land in Connacht as compensation. In addition, no Catholics were allowed to live in towns. Irish soldiers who had fought in the Confederate and Royalist armies left the country in large numbers to find service in the armies of France and Spain—William Petty estimated their number at 54,000 men. The practice of Catholicism was banned and bounties were offered for the capture of priests, who were executed when found.

The Long Parliament had passed the Adventurers Act in 1640 (the act received royal assent in 1642), under which those who lent money to Parliament for the subjugation of Ireland would be paid in confiscated land in Ireland. In addition, Parliamentarian soldiers who served in Ireland were entitled to an allotment of confiscated land there, in lieu of their wages, which the Parliament was unable to pay in full. As a result, many thousands of New Model Army veterans were settled in Ireland. Moreover, the pre-war Protestant settlers greatly increased their ownership of land (see also: The Cromwellian Plantation). Before the wars, Irish Catholics had owned 60% of the land in Ireland, whereas by the time of the English Restoration, when compensations had been made to Catholic Royalists, they owned only 20% of it. During the Commonwealth period, Catholic landownership had fallen to 8%. Even after the Restoration of 1660, Catholics were barred from all public office, but not from the Irish Parliament.[34]

Historical debate

The Parliamentarian campaign in Ireland was the most ruthless of the Civil War period. In particular, Cromwell’s actions at Drogheda and Wexford earned him a reputation for cruelty.

However, pro-Cromwell accounts argue that Cromwell’s actions in Ireland were not excessively cruel by the standards of the day. Cromwell himself argued that his severity when he was in Ireland applied only to “men in arms” who opposed him. Accounts of his massacres of civilians are still disputed.

Formally, Cromwell’s command issued in Dublin shortly after his arrival states the following:

I do hereby warn … all Officers, Soldiers and others under my command not to do any wrong or violence toward Country People or any persons whotsoever, unless they be actually in arms or office with the enemy … as they shall answer to the contrary at their utmost peril.

The purpose of this order was, at least in part, to ensure that the local population would sell food and other supplies to his troops. It is worth noting that the Parliamentarian Colonel Daniel Axtell was court-martialled by Ireton in 1650 as a result of atrocities committed by his soldiers during the Battle of Meelick Island.

Cromwell’s critics point to his response to a plea by Catholic Bishops to the Irish Catholic people to resist him in which he states that although his intention was not to “massacre, banish and destroy the Catholic inhabitants”, if they did resist “I hope to be free from the misery and desolation, blood and ruin that shall befall them, and shall rejoice to exercise the utmost severity against them”.[35][a]

It has also recently been argued, by Tom Reilly in Cromwell, an Honourable Enemy,[36] that what happened at Drogheda and Wexford was not unusually severe by the standards of 17th century siege warfare, in which the garrisons of towns taken by storm were routinely killed to discourage resistance in the future. John Morrill commented, “A major attempt at rehabilitation was attempted by Tom Reilly, Cromwell: An Honourable Enemy (London, 1999) but this has been largely rejected by other scholars.”[37] Morrill himself argued, that what happened at Drogheda, “was without straightforward parallel in 17th century British or Irish history… So the Drogheda massacre does stand out for its mercilessness, for its combination of ruthlessness and calculation, for its combination of hot- and cold-bloodiness”.[38] Moreover, historians critical of Cromwell point out that at the time the killings at Drogheda and Wexford were considered atrocities. They cite such sources as Edmund Ludlow, the Parliamentarian commander in Ireland after Ireton’s death, who wrote that the tactics used by Cromwell at Drogheda showed “extraordinary severity”.

Cromwell’s actions in Ireland occurred in the context of a mutually cruel war. In 1641–42 Irish insurgents in Ulster killed between 4,000 and 12,000 Protestant settlers who had settled on land where the former Catholic owners had been evicted to make way for them. These events were magnified in Protestant propaganda as an attempt by Irish Catholics to exterminate the English Protestant settlers in Ireland. In turn, this was used as justification by English Parliamentary and Scottish Covenant forces to take vengeance on the Irish Catholic population. A Parliamentary tract of 1655 argued that, “the whole Irish nation, consisting of gentry, clergy and commonality are engaged as one nation in this quarrel, to root out and extirpate all English Protestants from amongst them”.[39]

Atrocities were subsequently committed by all sides. When Murrough O’Brien, the Earl of Inchiquin and Parliamentarian commander in Cork, took Cashel in 1647, he slaughtered the garrison and Catholic clergy there (including Theobald Stapleton), earning the nickname “Murrough of the Burnings”. Inchiquin switched allegiances in 1648, becoming a commander of the Royalist forces. After such battles as Dungans Hill andScarrifholis, English Parliamentarian forces executed thousands of their Irish Catholic prisoners. Similarly, when the Confederate Catholic general Thomas Preston took Maynooth in 1647, he hanged its Catholic defenders as apostates.

Seen in this light, some have argued that the severe conduct of the Parliamentarian campaign of 1649–53 appears unexceptional.[40]

Nevertheless, the 1649–53 campaign remains notorious in Irish popular memory as it was responsible for a huge death toll among the Irish population. The main reason for this was the counter-guerrilla tactics used by such commanders as Henry Ireton, John Hewson and Edmund Ludlow against the Catholic population from 1650, when large areas of the country still resisted the Parliamentary Army. These tactics included the wholesale burning of crops, forced population movement, and killing of civilians. The policy caused famine throughout the country that was “responsible for the majority of an estimated 600,000 deaths out of a total Irish population of 1,400,000”.[41]

In addition, the whole post-war Cromwellian settlement of Ireland has been characterised by historians such as Mark Levene and Alan Axelrod as ethnic cleansing, in that it sought to remove Irish Catholics from the eastern part of the country, others such as the historical writer Tim Pat Coogan have described the actions of Cromwell and his subordinates as genocide.[42] The aftermath of the Cromwellian campaign and settlement saw extensive dispossession of landowners who were Catholic, and a huge drop in population. In the event, the much larger number of surviving poorer Catholics were not moved westwards; most of them had to fend for themselves by working for the new landowners.

Long-term results

The Cromwellian conquest completed the British colonisation of Ireland, which was merged into the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1653–59. It destroyed the native Irish Catholic land-owning classes and replaced them with colonists with a British identity. The bitterness caused by the Cromwellian settlement was a powerful source of Irish nationalism from the 17th century onwards.

After the Stuart Restoration in 1660, Charles II of England restored about a third of the confiscated land to the former landlords in the Act of Settlement 1662, but not all, as he needed political support from former parliamentarians in England. A generation later, during the Glorious Revolution, many of the Irish Catholic landed class tried to reverse the remaining Cromwellian settlement in the Williamite War in Ireland (1689–91), where they fought en masse for the Jacobites. They were defeated once again, and many lost land that had been regranted after 1662. As a result, Irish and English Catholics did not become full political citizens of the British state again until 1829 and were legally barred from buying valuable interests in land until the Papists Act 1778.

See also


  1. The wording of this version is taken from a London edition, Thomas Carlyle notes that another contemporary version copied from the original Cork edition, ends with the phrase “and shall rejoice to act severity against them” and that he states “is probably the true reading” (Carlyle 2010, p. 132).
  1. Mícheál Ó Siochrú/RTÉ ONE, Cromwell in Ireland Part 2. Broadcast 16 September 2008.
  2. O’Callaghan 2000, p. 85.
  3. Higman 1997, pp. 107,108.
  4. “Of all these doings in Cromwell’s Irish Chapter, each of us may say what he will. Yet to everyone it will at least be intelligible how his name came to be hated in the tenacious heart of Ireland”. John Morley, Biography of Oliver Cromwell. Page 298. 1900 and 2001. ISBN 978-1-4212-6707-4.; “Cromwell is still a hate figure in Ireland today because of the brutal effectiveness of his campaigns in Ireland. Of course, his victories in Ireland made him a hero in Protestant England.” [1] British National Archives web site. Accessed March 2007; [2] From a history site dedicated to the English Civil War. “… making Cromwell’s name into one of the most hated in Irish history”. Accessed March 2007. Site currently offline. WayBack Machine holds archive here Archived December 11, 2004, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. Philip McKeiver in his, 2007, A New History of Cromwell’s Irish Campaign ISBN 978-0-9554663-0-4 and Tom Reilly, 1999, Cromwell: An Honourable Enemy ISBN 0-86322-250-1
  6. Coyle, Eugene (Winter 1999). “Cromwell: An Honourable Enemy, Tom Reilly [review of]”. Book Reviews. History Ireland. 7 (4). Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  7. Padraig Lenihan, Confederate Catholics at War, p112
  8. The History and Social Influence of the Potato, Redcliffe N. Salaman, Edited by JG Hawkes, 9780521316231, Cambridge University Press
  9. How many died during Cromwell’s campaign?
  10. The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland by John Patrick Prendergast
  11. “Down Survey”. Trinity College Dublin Department of History. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  12. O’Siochru, God’s Executioner, p.69 & 96.
  13. McKeiver, A New History of Cromwell’s Irish Campaign, page.59
  14. Antonia Fraser, Cromwell, our Chief of Men (1973), p. 324
  15. Fraser, Cromwell our Chief of Men, p.326
  16. Padraig Lenihan, Confederate Catholics at War, p.113
  17. Reilly, Tom (1999). Cromwell, An Honourable Enemy. London: Phoenix Press. p. 61. ISBN 1-84212-080-8.
  18. Reilly, Tom (1999). Cromwell, An Honourable Enemy. London: Phoenix Press. p. 71. ISBN 1-84212-080-8.
  19. Fraser, pp.336–339. Kenyon & Ohlmeyer 1998, p. 98.
  20. O Siochru, God’s Executioner, pp. 82–91. Faber & Faber (2008)
  21. Tom Reilly, Opinion – Cromwell was Framed The Irish Story
  22. Kenyon & Ohlmeyer 1998, p. 100.
  23. McKeiver, A New History of Cromwell’s Irish Campaign, p.167.
  24. Micheal O Siochru, God’s Executioner, Oliver Cromwell and Conquest of Ireland, p.187.
  25. Lenihan, p.122
  26. James Scott Wheeler, Cromwell in Ireland
  27. Kenyon & Ohlmeyer 1998, p. 278. Scott Wheeler, Cromwell in Ireland.
  29. Kenyon & Ohlmeyer 1998, p. 134.
  30. Higman 1997, pp. 107, 108.
  31. Mahoney, Michael. “Irish indentured labour in the Caribbean”. UK National Archive. UK National Archive. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  32. Irish Times staff 2009.
  33. Prendergast, John Patrick (1868). The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland. P M Haverty New York. p. 178,187. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  34. Lenihan, p. 111
  35. Carlyle 2010, p. 132.
  36. Reilly, Dingle 1999
  37. John Morrill. “Rewriting Cromwell: A Case of Deafening Silences.”Canadian Journal of History. Dec 2003: 19.
  38. Morrill pp. 263–265
  39. Richard Lawrence, The Interest of England in Irish transplantation (1655), quoted in Lenihan, Confederate Catholics at War, p.111.
  40. John Morrill. “Rewriting Cromwell: A Case of Deafening Silences.” Canadian Journal of History. December 2003: 19.
  41. Frances Stewart (2000). War and Underdevelopment: Economic and Social Consequences of Conflict v. 1 (Queen Elizabeth House Series in Development Studies), Oxford University Press. 2000. p. 51.
    • Albert Breton (Editor, 1995). Nationalism and Rationality. Cambridge University Press. Page 248. “Oliver Cromwell offered Irish Catholics a choice between genocide and forced mass population transfer”.
    • Ukrainian Quarterly. Ukrainian Society of America, 1944. “Therefore, we are entitled to accuse the England of Oliver Cromwell of the genocide of the Irish civilian population”.
    • David Norbrook (2000).Writing the English Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric and Politics, 1627–1660. Cambridge University Press. 2000. In interpreting Andrew Marvell’s contemporarily expressed views on Cromwell Norbrook says; “He (Cromwell) laid the foundation for a ruthless programme of resettling the Irish Catholics which amounted to large scale ethnic cleansing”.
    • Frances Stewart (2000). War and Underdevelopment: Economic and Social Consequences of Conflict v. 1 (Queen Elizabeth House Series in Development Studies), Oxford University Press. p. 51. “Faced with the prospect of an Irish alliance with Charles II, Cromwell carried out a series of massacres to subdue the Irish. Then, once Cromwell had returned to England, the English Commissary, General Henry Ireton, adopted a deliberate policy of crop burning and starvation, which was responsible for the majority of an estimated 600,000 deaths out of a total Irish population of 1,400,000.”
    • Alan Axelrod (2002). Profiles in Leadership, Prentice-Hall. 2002. Page 122. “As a leader Cromwell was entirely unyielding. He was willing to act on his beliefs, even if this meant killing the king and perpetrating, against the Irish, something very nearly approaching genocide”.
    • Tim Pat Coogan (2002). The Troubles: Ireland’s Ordeal and the Search for Peace. ISBN 978-0-312-29418-2. p. 6. “The massacres by Catholics of Protestants, which occurred in the religious wars of the 1640s, were magnified for propagandist purposes to justify Cromwell’s subsequent genocide.”
    • Peter Berresford Ellis (2002). Eyewitness to Irish History, John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-471-26633-4. p. 108. “It was to be the justification for Cromwell’s genocidal campaign and settlement.”
    • John Morrill (2003). “Rewriting Cromwell: A Case of Deafening Silences”, Canadian Journal of History. December 2003. “Of course, this has never been the Irish view of Cromwell.
      Most Irish remember him as the man responsible for the mass slaughter of civilians at Drogheda and Wexford and as the agent of the greatest episode of ethnic cleansing ever attempted in Western Europe as, within a decade, the percentage of land possessed by Catholics born in Ireland dropped from sixty to twenty. In a decade, the ownership of two-fifths of the land mass was transferred from several thousand Irish Catholic landowners to British Protestants. The gap between Irish and the English views of the seventeenth-century conquest remains unbridgeable and is governed by G. K. Chesterton’s mirthless epigram of 1917, that ‘it was a tragic necessity that the Irish should remember it; but it was far more tragic that the English forgot it’.”
    • James M. Lutz, Brenda J Lutz (2004). Global Terrorism, Routledge: London. p.193: “The draconian laws applied by Oliver Cromwell in Ireland were an early version of ethnic cleansing. The Catholic Irish were to be expelled to the northwestern areas of the island. Relocation rather than extermination was the goal.”
    • Mark Levene (2005). Genocide in the Age of the Nation State: Volume 2.ISBN 978-1-84511-057-4. Pages 55–57. A sample quote describes the Cromwellian campaign and settlement as “a conscious attempt to reduce a distinct ethnic population”.
    • Mark Levene (2005). Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State. London: I.B. Tauris.

    [The Act of Settlement of Ireland], and the parliamentary legislation which succeeded it the following year, is the nearest thing on paper in the English, and more broadly British, domestic record, to a programme of state-sanctioned and systematic ethnic cleansing of another people. The fact that it did not include “total” genocide in its remit, or that it failed to put into practice the vast majority of its proposed expulsions, ultimately, however, says less about the lethal determination of its makers and more about the political, structural and financial weakness of the early modern English state.


  • Coyle Eugene,“A review”. Archived from the original on 31 October 2006. Retrieved 16 July 2007. , of Cromwell: An Honourable Enemy, by Tom Reilly, Brandon Press, 1999, ISBN 0-86322-250-1
  • Carlyle, Thomas (2010), Traill, Henry Duff; Cromwell, Oliver, eds., The Works of Thomas Carlyle, 2, Cambridge University Press, p. 132, ISBN 9781108022309
  • Fraser, Antonia. Cromwell Our Chief of Men, Panther, St Albans 1975, ISBN 0-586-04206-7
  • Ó Siochrú, Mícheál. RTÉ ONE, Cromwell in Ireland Part 2. Broadcast 16 September 2008.
  • O’Callaghan, Sean (2000). To Hell or Barbados. Brandon. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-86322-272-6.
  • Higman, B. W. (1997). Knight, Franklin W., ed. General History of the Caribbean: The slave societies of the Caribbean. 3 (illustrated ed.). UNESCO. pp. 107,108]. ISBN 978-0-333-65605-1.
  • Irish Times staff (12 December 2009). “Remnants of an indentured people”. Irish Times. (subscription required)
  • Kenyon, John; Ohlmeyer, Jane, eds. (1998). The Civil Wars. Oxford. ISBN 0-19-866222-X.
  • Lenihan, Padraig, Confederate Catholics at War, Cork 2001. ISBN 1-85918-244-5
  • Morrill, John. Rewriting Cromwell: A Case of Deafening Silences. Canadian Journal of History. Dec 2003.
  • Reilly, Tom. Cromwell, an Honourable Enemy, Dingle 1999, ISBN 0-86322-250-1
  • Scott-Wheeler, James, Cromwell in Ireland, Dublin 1999, ISBN 978-0-7171-2884-6

Further reading


Ireland’s unmissable castles

Legend, lore and lavish surroundings have ensured that Ireland’s castles never fail to capture our imaginations.

With over 3,000 castles dotted across the island of Ireland, it would be impossible to visit them all. Here we take a closer look at six castles that are open to the public that you must see on your Ireland vacation.

Dunluce Castle
Dunluce Castle

1. Dunluce Castle

At the tip of the Antrim coast sits the sprawling Dunluce Castle, looming over the sea atop a dark basalt outcrop. Once home to the feuding McQuillan and MacDonnell clans, this is the quintessential medieval Irish castle. From rebellion to fire, mermaids to banshees, Dunluce has seen its fair share of drama. No wonder, then, that this enchanting location is said to have inspired C.S. Lewis to create Narnia’s hallowed Cair Paravel, and now features in Game of Thrones.

With the white chalk cliffs of Portrush sweeping away to the west, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped back in time. But don’t get too close to the edge – local legend says the castle kitchen once collapsed into the sea, dragging seven cooks with it!

Glenarm Castle
Glenarm Castle

2. Glenarm Castle

While the present castle has stood since 1636, there has been a castle at Glenarm since the 13th century. Once stretching all the way up the northern coast of Antrim, today’s Glenarm estate is now much smaller, housing an organic farm instead of an original deer park and a charming Tea Room where the 19th century Mushroom House once sat.

Though still a family home, guided tours of the castle are available at selected times. The grounds are a hive of activity, hosting an annual Tulip Festival (May), as well as the 10-mile Wilderbeast trail run (June) and the Highland Games (July) for the past number of years. And, with the seaside a short stroll away, what more could you want?

Tullynally Castle
Tullynally Castle

3. Tullynally Castle

Occupied by the same family since the 17th century, Tullynally Castle is linked to one of Ireland’s most loved legends, the Children of Lir. Indeed, visitors reported that a ‘fairy land’ had been constructed on the site in the 1830s, when Lady Georgiana remodeled the grounds. Although everything from a llama paddock to a Tibetan Garden has since been added, the castle itself has remained mostly unchanged.

Centuries later, the flawless acoustics of Tullynally’s magnificent Great Hall hosts regular music events, while visitors to the expansive gardens can often catch a plant fair or owner-led spring walk. From summer fêtes to Halloween Terror Trails, Tullynally truly is a castle for all seasons.

Birr Castle
Birr Castle

4. Birr Castle

The Third Earl of Rosse was an innovative gent. His Leviathan telescope, still in working order at Birr Castle, was once the largest in existence, and his wife Mary created one of the world’s first darkrooms in the estate stables. It’s not difficult to see why – Birr Castle Gardens are some of the most stunning in Ireland. Endless exotic flowers enliven the grounds in a rainbow of color, while waterfalls and lakes are home to otters, herons and kingfishers.

Within the castle, visitors are guided by descendants of the Earl and his wife, whose portraits still adorn the great Victorian dining room. The view from the spectacular, octagonal Gothic Saloon drinks in the River Camcor, from where the couple’s son once harnessed the current to provide Birr with electricity.

Blackrock Castle
Blackrock Castle

5. Blackrock Castle

Cork’s coat of arms heralds the city as a “safe harbor for ships”, but this wasn’t always the case. The formidable limestone outcrop of Blackrock Castle was built in the 16th century to protect one of the deepest natural harbors in the world from pirate and naval attacks – and to protect the nobility from the rowdier factions within the Rebel County.

Twice destroyed by fire, the castle was faithfully restored by the people of Cork. Today, it is home to the invaluable astronomical research center of the nearby Cork Institute of Technology. Its award-winning interactive astronomy exhibition, Cosmos at the Castle, is the first of its kind in Ireland.

Ballynahinch Castle
Ballynahinch Castle

6. Ballynahinch Castle

Tucked away among 445 acres of rugged Connemara landscape, Ballynahinch Castle Hotel is a safe bet for those seeking a relaxed setting and the opportunity to actually stay in an Irish castle. In its old age, the estate has mellowed, but half a millennium ago, it was home to some of the most infamous figures of Irish legend. Pirate queen and chieftain, Grace O’Malley, and the ‘Ferocious O’Flaherty Clan’ all graced its halls.

The grounds of Ballynahinch can be easily enjoyed on horseback or on foot, while seasonal woodcock shoots and a trip to the deserted Inishlacken Island are particular visitor favorites. Those who prefer to appreciate the historic surroundings from a more comfy location can cuddle up in a fireside armchair.

Ireland’s unmissable castles: Part 2

Here is’s second instalment on Ireland’s castles, we delve into ancient lakeside piles and the favorite haunts of ghosts and starlets alike. Click here to read part one of this series!

In part two of our series exploring Ireland’s unmissable castles, we take another tour of the living history on offer to the public. This time around, feuding clans and Bronze Age beauty add mystique to these mesmerizing monuments to the past.

Harry Avery's Castle
Harry Avery’s Castle

Harry Avery’s Castle

Harry Avery (Henry Aimbreidh) O’Neill was an over-protective brother, to say the least. As the story goes, O’Neill took such offence at the difficulty his sister encountered in finding a husband that he proceeded to hang 19 men who refused to marry her – right here, on the site of the castle named after him.

More of a tower house than a castle, the stout building was once a vital defence in the contested lands between the O’Neill and O’Domhnaill clans. Today, the ruins sit calmly atop unspoiled rolling hills, with the Mourne Valley spread at their feet.

Enniskillen Castle
Enniskillen Castle

Enniskillen Castle

The jewel in the crown of Fermanagh’s collection of castles, Enniskillen Castle is a master of reinvention. This turreted behemoth on the banks of the River Erne has proven instrumental in the survival of the town throughout its 600-year lifespan.

Poets and minstrels, satin-clad maidens weaving wondrous golden fringes, soldiers reclining, smiths preparing weapons


Today a modern hub of history, architecture and culture, the castle documents everything from the Ulster Plantation in the 17th century to Fermanagh’s unique role in the Second World War, and the story of the Medieval Maguires.

Enniscorthy Castle
Enniscorthy Castle

Enniscorthy Castle

As a young girl growing up in 19th century Enniscorthy, little could Eileen Gray have realised the fame that lay before her. One of the most internationally renowned furniture designers and architects of the 20th century, her designs now take pride of place in an exhibition at Enniscorthy Castle itself.

Now a museum, the castle has worn many hats in its 800 years, from prison to munitions store and rebel hide-out. A rare treat is the castle roof: one of the few of its type open to the public, it provides uninterrupted views of the surrounding countryside, including the battleground of Vinegar Hill.

Ross Castle
Ross Castle

Ross Castle

In this quiet corner of Killarney National Park, Ross Castle’s sprawling history is reluctant to remain in the past. Every seventh year, the benevolent ghost of the castle’s founder, O’Donoghue Mór, rises from the bottom of Lough Leane, and circles Ross Island on his magnificent white horse. The island’s occupation stretches back further still, to 4,000 years ago when it was one of Europe’s earliest Bronze Age copper mines. Today, this history can be explored on a mining and nature walking trail.

A relaxing rowboat ride across the lake leads to the 15th century Muckross Abbey and the luxury of Muckross House and Gardens. Gazing up at this Disney-esque castle, it’s not difficult to understand why Killarney was voted TripAdvisor’s top destination to visit in Ireland in 2015.

Kinnitty Castle
Kinnitty Castle

Kinnitty Castle

Deep in the heart of the Slieve Bloom mountains, Kinnitty Castle is a sight to behold. A masterpiece of Gothic revival architecture, it was the 18th century home of Charles Óg O’Carroll, one of the signatories of the American Declaration of Independence. The site of much political turbulence over the centuries – the Castle was first built in 1209 and repeatedly destroyed – its expansive grounds, Augustinian abbey and intimate courtyard today host more wedding guests than revolutionaries.

Probably the most amazing hotel experience I’ve ever had…It was like staying in a museum


Kinnitty sits on a 10,000-acre estate, where it is not uncommon to spy fallow deer and wild goats wandering through the woodland – a night in the Giltraps Guesthouse & Glamping grounds will ensure you get a close-up look. Of course, then you’ll miss the party-loving ghost of a monk who haunts the castle itself…

Ashford Castle
Ashford Castle

Ashford Castle

Ashford Castle has been around a long time – since 1228, in fact – so it stands to reason that its 820 windows have hidden many a story. Even the staff don’t know all Ashford’s secrets: some rooms of the castle remained unexplored even up until renovations two years ago.

Loved for its luxury as much as for the pretty surrounds of Cong, Ashford has welcomed some very famous faces in its time. Once owned by the Guinness family, a visit could have you tracing the footsteps of anyone from Oscar Wilde (who spent much of his childhood on an adjoining estate), to John Lennon, Brad Pitt or Princess Grace.

Large anti-conscription meeting in Dublin

Large anti-conscription meeting in Dublin
Patrick Pearse addressing a crowd of Gaelic League members at the Colmcille at Towerfield House Ground, Dolphins Barn in 1915.Photo: Bureau of Military History

Patrick Pearse and Eoin MacNeill make rousing speeches

Dublin, 15 December 1915 – A large anti-conscription meeting took place last night in the Mansion House in Dublin.

Both the Round Room and the Supper Room were filled to overflowing with people who professed their opposition to conscription. Most of those who attended were working class and they heard repeated denunciations of any suggestion that conscription be introduced for Ireland.

The meeting was chaired by the UCD Professor, Eoin MacNeill, and he proposed a simple motion to the meeting: ‘We won’t have conscription.’ The motion was passed unanimously.

Prof. MacNeill said:

‘The government’s plan for a long time has been to deprive the Irish Volunteers of their arms, and, if that were done, nothing would stand between the Irish people and complete enslavement. Then would compulsory military service follow.’

‘The Irish Volunteers had never interfered with any man’s freedom to join the forces of the crown if that man thought it his duty to do so but, as regards compulsory service, from first to last they were against it.’

Patrick Pearse (left) and Eoin McNeill (right). (Images: Irish Life, 1916; University College Dublin Archives P80 PH 176)

Ireland and Empire

In his speech, Patrick Pearse – the Dublin schoolmaster and Gaelic League activist – said that if there was any man in Ireland who loved the British Empire let him go out and die for it. He would say not one word against such a man.

He then asked was it to be tolerated that the man who did not believe that the interests of Ireland were bound up with those of the British Empire should be taken against his will and shipped across the seas to lay down his life for a thing which he did not believe?

Mr. Pearse condemned the claimed suggestion of the Lord Lieutenant that businesses should reduce their staffs in order to free up men to fight in the war. It was, he said, ‘a dastardly suggestion.’

[Editor’s note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

The good and the bad we unearthed from Wood Quay

The excavations taught us much about old Dublin, writes Patrick F Wallace, but they also resulted in a culture where the authorities deemed archaeological digs a waste of time

by Patrick F Wallace

PUBLISHED 13/12/2015

HISTORY: Pat Wallace (left) with the late Martin Connolly, at the Wood Quay excavation site in the 1970s
HISTORY: Pat Wallace (left) with the late Martin Connolly, at the Wood Quay excavation site in the 1970s

My life changed forever on an April day in 1974, 41 years ago. Dr Joe Raftery moved his folded umbrella from right to left as we stood overlooking the four-acre Wood Quay site and declared: “This is all yours, Pat.”

My first impression of the Wood Quay site was of its blackness. Save for the stone wall that bisected the site, the ground was black, with the consistency of drying out sludge.

A wide, L-shaped ledge of made ground which lay along the south east end in the direction of Fishamble Street and John’s Lane was what survived of an extensive build-up of early medieval detritus which had been mechanically lowered to the height of the stone wall.

The high area fell away at a manually produced cliff, towering over a flat area where the earthen defences of Viking Dublin were subsequently excavated.

The flattened area to the north of the stone wall would later contain the wooden docksides which we went on to expose.

The Wood Quay excavations and the information they revealed have become more important than they ever should have been. This is because, instead of pointing a way forward and establishing a code of conduct for the subsequent treatment of Dublin’s remarkably well-preserved Viking and Anglo-Norman layers, building developers and the facilitating authorities decided that they would never again tolerate what they considered such a time-wasting exercise.

Rather, ways would be found by which archaeologically rich layers would be compromised. Layers would be ‘preserved’ under concrete floors, which would be supported on stilts. This ignored the fact that the insertion of stilts would introduce oxygen to waterlogged deposits, which would then quickly dry out, destroying pristine organic urban deposits which had survived a thousand years and more.

Worse still, arguments would be made to locate lift shafts at places that would cause great harm to the layers.

Even at Wood Quay, arguments were made whereby unexcavated layers were mechanically lopped off to ensure the safety of archaeologists, no less. What hypocrisy!

The result is that in spite of the often heroic efforts of many of the post-Wood Quay archaeologists, very little now remains of the rich layers which earned Dublin such international fame.

In less than half a century, we managed to destroy in one way or another the best-preserved urban archaeological remains of any town in western Europe.

This is a great pity because, in terms of its contribution to understanding the European archaeology of its time, Wood Quay and the other big sites mainly excavated by the National Museum of Ireland make the archaeology of Dublin as important to the heritage of Europe for its time as Newgrange and Tara are for their respective periods.

Hurried and in some ways compromised though the Wood Quay excavations were, they at least gave a good idea of what that area of the early town once looked like.

We know more about Dublin around the year 1000 than we do of almost any other European town of the time, London and Paris included. Building foundations of the era of Brian Boru were unearthed in their dozens. The earthen defensive embankments behind which Brian’s rival, Sitric, the King of Dublin, and his men allegedly crouched during the Battle of Clontarf were revealed.

So was the later 11th century town wall and the wooden docksides of the Anglo-Normans. Nine waterfronts altogether.

However, it wasn’t any one of these features nor indeed the thousands of artefacts which cast such light on the period that matters most. Nor was it the thousands of environmental samples, which tell so much of the diet, sanitation, health and economy of the town and its hinterland.

No. The single greatest contribution of the Wood Quay and Fishamble Street excavations to the archaeology of Ireland, Scandinavia and beyond, is the information they reveal about town layout, including property use and control, the very essence of mainstream European urbanism, a concept which was brought to Dublin and Ireland by the Vikings.

Dr Pat Wallace is the Director Emeritus of the National Museum of Ireland. He led the Wood Quay excavations, the results of which he has now summarised in a book published by Irish Academic Press, ‘Viking Dublin: The Wood Quay Excavations’.

Published in the Sunday Independent

Computer animation shows how 5,300-year-old carvings at Knowth megalithic tomb depict 19-year moon cycle

Computer animation shows how 5,300-year-old carvings at Knowth megalithic tomb depict 19-year moon cycle

The apparently complex nature of the moon’s movements sometimes leaves even astronomers struggling to understand and explain them. I’ve found over the years that trying to explain the Metonic Cycle – a 19-year cycle of the moon which brings its movements back into harmony with the solar year – difficult to say the least, especially to non-astronomers.
In 2009, I invited author and artist Martin Brennan to Ireland to speak at a conference in his honour. In the 1980s, Brennan made many fascinating discoveries and put forward interesting theories about the complexity of ancient astronomical study among the people who built the Boyne Valley megalithic monuments along with those of Loughcrew, Sligo and other parts of Ireland. He was the one who gave Kerb 52 at Knowth its new name – the ‘Calendar Stone’. This was based on his hypothesis that carvings on the stone could represent an attempt to enumerate and symbolise the 19-year cycle (which was known in Irish as Naoidheachta, meaning ‘The Nineteenth’, and also Baisc-Bhuidhin (the golden number).(1)
It is Brennan’s contention that Kerb 52 at Knowth can be used to track not only the phases of the moon, and its monthly synodic period, but also the much longer cycle which has become known as the Metonic Cycle because it was supposedly discovered by a 5th Century BC Greek astronomer called Meton. There are 22 crescent shapes on the stone, and seven circles, with a waved line in the centre, and some other features.
Chris Bruno, a long-time friend of Brennan’s, who met Martin in the United States shortly after he left Ireland in the mid 1980s, was a key contact in making the 2009 Boyne Valley Revision conference happen. If it hadn’t been for Chris, I’d never have been able to bring Martin back to Ireland. And so when Chris showed me the research he had done in trying to better understand Martin’s work, it was agreed that he would also speak at the conference.
In the above video from the conference, Chris shows a computer animation that he had specially made for the event by a computer programmer. This animation shows in a simple-to-understand way how the stone can be used to count the 235 synodic lunations of the 19-year Metonic Cycle. It’s a very clever piece of work and has to be seen to be enjoyed.
(1) Murphy, Anthony, Newgrange Monument to Immortality (Liffey Press, 2012)
For the purpose of explanation, the term ‘synodic month’ relates to the time it takes the moon to go from a particular phase, eg full moon, back to that phase. This is approximately 29.5 days.

Waterford axe discovery may hold clues about first settlers

Friday 11 December 2015
Vincent O'Brien and Noel McDonagh, Waterford History Group, with the flint axe
Vincent O’Brien and Noel McDonagh, Waterford History Group, with the flint axe

A flint axe found in Co Waterford yesterday is to be examined to see if it is similar to one discovered in England 15 years ago which was dated as being about 700,000 years old.

The hand axe was found by fishermen at Creaden Head near Woodstown in east Waterford.

They have given it to a local historian, who is today bringing it to University College Cork for an initial examination.

The axe is believed to have a number of marks and indentations on it.

Historians will attempt to find out if they are similar to those found on a flint hand axe found 15 years ago on a beach in Norfolk, East Anglia.

That axe was subsequently dated to around 700,000 years ago, a discovery which signified that some form of humans may have been present in Britain 200,000 years earlier than had previously been known.

The area in Waterford where the axe was found was not widely glaciated during the last Ice Age, 20,000 years ago, but up to now no evidence exists of human activity in Ireland from or before that period.

It may have been possible that humans did occupy the region, crossing via a wide land-bridge between Ireland and Cornwall that still existed at the time, but there has never been any physical proof.

If this axe proves to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, implements ever discovered in Ireland, it could lead to a major breakthrough about when humans first lived here.