Warfare in mid 17th Century Ireland

I have been reading Confederate Catholics at War: 1641-49, by Pádraig Lenihan. It is about the Irish part of the British Civil Wars. Quite a number of interesting points.

  1. Money was a big problem for the Irish. The English Parliament could raise funds on credit in London and the other big cities. The Irish had no answer to that. Dublin remained under English control throughout the wars, and the few other cities the Irish could hold had nowhere near the resources available to the English.

  2. The war was not a struggle of “primitive” Celtic tactics being overwhelmed by a modern army. When the Irish had to use them, those “primitive” tactics were a rational response to the situation, given the resources available to them. With good leadership, as Alasdair Mac Colla demonstrated in Scotland, they could still work with devastating effectiveness.

    When they had the resources, the Irish were able to fight a “modern” war. In particular, they were capable of fortification and siegecraft up to the latest European standards.

    The Irish had learned contemporary pike drill, to the extent that memories of it survived in folklore long afterwards, e.g. “charge for horse”:

    Choinnigh do phíce le do shálaibh
    rduig é go dtí do ghlúine,
    Choinning fáisgte le do bhásta é
    seas síos agus tabhair do sháthadh dó

    keep your pike by your side
    lift it to your knees
    (then) keep it tight by your waist
    bear down and thrust.

  3. The Irish lost most of the formal “set-piece” battles, with disastrous consequences in each case–the big hazard of committing to battle is that you are risking everything. It seems the three senior Irish commanders, despite long experience in the Spanish Army of Flanders, did not have experience in a large scale battle. Between 1600 (Nieuwpoort) and 1643 (Rocroi) that army did not fight a single large battle, even though they were at war for 31 of those years. It was all maneuvering and sieges.

  4. Robert Monro, whose Memoirs are a valuable resource for Scottish participation in the Thirty Years War (and frequently cited in colgaffneyis), commanded the Scottish forces in Ulster for much of the war. His ruthless scorched-earth policies do not fit the image of the noble warrior he projects in his book. Also, he was the losing general in one of the few formal battles the Irish won (Benburb, 1646), the victor being Eoghan Rua (Owen Roe) O’Neill, nephew of the great Hugh O’Neill.

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