Wild Geese Shops
Lands of Exile
PROUD SPONSORS OF WGT:
For the latest headlines about "Bloody Sunday" and Northern Ireland, visit Newshound, at Nuzhound.com VISIT THESE OTHER FINE IRISH SITES:
Tara Hall, Headquarters for 'Fighting 69th' and Irish Brigade Memorabilia, online at Fighting69th.com.
Irish Culture and Customs: Traditions, folklore, and more.
O'Neill's nemesis was Robert Monro, a very competent, brave and self-confident Scottish Covenanter general who commanded the "united British Protestant forces" in Ulster. His force consisted of Scottish and English (including Anglo-Irish) regiments of some 6,000 professional soldiers, many veterans of continental warfare, plus Ulster volunteers, recruited from among the Planter yeomanry, plus about 600 horse and six field guns. Both and O'Neill had led armies in battle on the continent. Unlike O'Neill, however, Monro had no scruples about waging war on civilians.
With the coming of summer in 1646, it was Monro's intention to coordinate the march of three forces south, into the midlands, and perhaps even to destroy the Confederate government in Kilkenny. In addition to his own force in Carrickfergus, there would be a second force of about 100 mounted men and 240 musketeers marching south from Coleraine, and a third force, known as the Lagan army, of some 2,000 planters coming from the Foyle. However, Monro also knew that he could not leave Ulster, especially Antrim and Down, undefended against O'Neill's wild Irish, and so determined to crush him before heading south.
Monro heard that O'Neill had left his base at the hill of Gallanagh, near Lough Sheelin, in Cavan, and was headed for Benburb. From Benburb, O'Neill could cross the Blackwater to the safety of the fort at Charlemont (across the river from The Moy). Monro resolved to get there first, trap O'Neill and finish him off in a stand-up fight.
On June 4th, some of Monro's mounted scouts encountered some of O'Neill's, and after a brief skirmish captured one. The prisoner told Monro that O'Neill had about 6,000 men and O'Neill's army was marching that day from Glaslough to Benburb and Charlemont, which was more or less true.
Monro, never realizing that O'Neill wanted him to pursue and attack, was excited at the prospect of bagging O'Neill and so many rebels at one time, and ordered forced marches to catch O'Neill on the move. However, the Scotsman guessed wrong as to which side of the river O'Neill's men marched. He learned that O'Neill had already reached Benburb, and discovered that the nearest undefended ford was upstream at Caledon, necessitating getting his troops up early, and again force marching circuitously to trap O'Neill.
Meanwhile, O'Neill sent most of his cavalry, under Lt. Colonel Con ("The Lame") Brien Roe O'Neill, with some infantry to intercept the British force coming from Coleraine. They knew exactly where and how to find them -- near Dungannon.
Much to Monro's surprise, when he came over the ridge he was looking across a stream with irregular vegetation, "scroggie woods" and bushes (which he would later discover concealed some of O'Neill's musketeers) at the opposing ridge of Drumfluch. There O'Neill drew up his force, in good order of battle, with banners flying -- four infantry "brigades" or regiments in line, pikes in the center with muskets on the flanks, with spacing between, behind which spaces were three other brigades/regiments - able to advance into the gaps, Swedish style, without enlarging the front, with cavalry totaling six to nine regiments or "troops" (depending on the source) at the flanks.
O'Neill was noted for using a flag containing "the Irish harp in a field," now considered a traditional Irish flag. They had camped in Benburb the night before and were just resting in place, awaiting the arrival of their enemy, who had force-marched 15 miles and been fighting most of the day. Monro found that he had more men than O'Neill, but less good ground on which to stand, so his men were crowded in two very close formations, behind his guns, with cavalry to the rear. It was now noticeably after 6 p.m.
Monro opened the engagement with his artillery, but to his surprise, the Irish didn't flinch. He then attempted to turn O'Neill's left flank, and, after some hard fighting, was turned back by the Irish cavalry (mostly lancers) and musketry.
O'Neill's men cried out to attack, but discipline held them in place. Brien Roe's horse took their place on the right of Eoghan Ruadh's formation. The Irish had concentrated on their own ground, and had prepared the battlefield; they were ready to engage Monro.
It was about 8 p.m., and the sun was more or less in their faces, with the southwest wind beginning to fall. The setting sun at that latitude in June takes its time and descends at a gentle angle, shifting the sun gradually, across the sky, out of the eyes of the Irish army. The matchlock musket, which was the principal infantry weapon of the day, works best with the wind either at your back, or, failing that, still. O'Neill did not rush as nature slowly gave him additional advantage over an exhausted enemy, crowded into what would soon become a killing ground. Father Boetius Mac Egan, the Franciscan, who had been appointed chaplain-general by the Papal Nuncio, gave general absolution.
O'Neill then reminded his men that their opponents were the men who had persecuted them for their religion and banished them from the homes of their fathers; he also reminded them that they were the nobility of Gaelic Ireland -- Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn had been no more inspiring than was O'Neill that day. Hayes-McCoy reports that O'Neill concluded by crying out, "Let your manhood be seen by the push of your pike. Your word is Sancta Maria, and so in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost advance! And give not fire 'till you are within pike-length!"
The Irish advance was steady, and heavily resisted. They took the guns, and Eoghan Ruadh ordered Colonel Richard Farrell to close with his brigade and turn Monro's left flank. The wind was falling and the sun would then be at O'Neill's back, in the eyes of his enemies. Monro's cavalry attacked twice, but failed to break the Irish. The fight continued.
The British lost probably more than 3,000 killed, over half their force, and all their baggage, including flags, banners and weapons (including some 5,000 stand of arms). Irish sources report their own losses at 70 killed and 200 wounded. Monro was lucky to escape with his life, fleeing so precipitately, that he left his hat, sword, and cloak after him, and never halted until he reached Lisburn.
O'Neill, with the arms and equipment acquired as a result of his stunning victory, doubled the size of his army. The Nuncio celebrated in Saint Canice's Cathedral in Kilkenny (a church later desecrated by Cromwell in 1650), and the Pope celebrated in Rome, both believing that the deliverance of Ireland was at hand. Luke Wadding would later cause the captured enemy standards to be triumphantly displayed in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.
However, like his famous kinsmen Shane and Hugh, before him, Eoghan Ruadh did not use the opportunity of a military victory as a springboard to cleanse Ulster of all who could speak no Irish. The three have borne criticism for this, particularly by some in Ulster. However, the focus of Eoghan Ruadh was national. WGT
O'er the hills of Benburb, rose the red beam of day
Munroe had his thousands arrayed at his back
And who with O'Neill on that morn drew the band?
From Derry's wild woodlands from Maine's sounding tide
We kept all that noontide, the foemen at play
There was panic before us and panic beside
A Kern by the river held something on high
And we took from the foes e'er that calm twilight fall
This feature was edited by Gerry Regan and produced by Joe Gannon.
Copyright © 2011 by Liam Murphy and GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to email@example.com.