Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Clonmel Town- During the Cromwellian Siege

Clonmel town

A few months back I was hired by Tipperary county Council and Tipperary County museum to do an illustration of Clonmel at the time of the Cromwellian attack. The final image above shows what the town looked like just before Cromwells cannon open fire on the walls. As you can see it still had its medieval character, this was true of towns all over the British Isles. In England and Ireland at the time of Cromwell they still hadn't found the need to update the walls to bastion walls common on the European mainland. This is the advantage Cromwell brought to bear in his sieges here and there, he used modern cannon tactics against medieval walls. In the middle ages the higher the wall, the better, this was to stop siege towers, ladders etc from getting over. But in the coming of the canon the opposite was true, taller meant a larger target to hit and also thinner, so less likely to survive a barrage of cannon for long. Bastion walls were instead lower and with extremely thick earthern ramparts to take some of the shock of a canon ball hitting the stone facing.

Clonmel shown here has still got most of its medieval aspects intact, we did quite a bit of research into the town, surviving maps as well as what is extent to construct the town. The Down survey map of 1657 was the basis for the walls and even the drawbridge shown between the bridge and the town walls, this was aided by sections of the town wall which survive and excavations in areas which they don't. While the street and plot layout were based on the more accurate 1690 map of Clonmel by J. Goubet.  I actually underlayed the latter map combined with a more accurate map of the walls as a base to get the exact proportions of the town and its walls at the start of the illustration. What was inbetween these features was based on research of what was probably there in the town, including stone buildings and tower houses near the various gates. The market cross is where you can see the gathering of the people in the centre, this along with the abbey, and the church off in the distance at top still survive in Clonmel town, albeit with modifications or in the case of the market cross, off the road now.

The Siege of Clonmel took place April 1650. Clonmel is actually one of  battles which Cromwell lost most  of his troops in a single day in Ireland. Cromwell came to Clonmel looking to rush the siege with an assault, as he had trouble at home he needed to get back to. He battered at the walls for a few days and forced a breach. But little did he know, that the town was defended by a group of hardened northerners, lead by  Hugh Dubh ("Black Hugh") O'Neill , who had spent the last decade or so fighting in the confederate wars in Ireland and before that, many were veterans of many campaigns in mainland Europe in Spains armies.

They had prepared a trap for the English troops, as the English reached the breach they faced no opposition. They came in confidently in a large group, but soon became bottled in between makeshift channeling fortifications, one on each side of them. As the first troops came to the end they were met with a large barricade.  The first shouted "halt", the people in the back believing that the halt was meant for the defenders running away, pushed on to get in on the action. This created a huge press of men, the defenders picked this moment and opened fire from their fortifications, from the windows around and even had some cannon hidden in the houses surrounding it. It was a slaughter, men pressing in while others desperately tried to get out the firing, eventually the infantry retreated in disarray. At this Cromwell sent his best, his cavalry, veterans of many battles in Britain, they dismounted and moved towards the breach, again full of confidence. They too found themselves traped and sitting ducks and after heavy casualties were forced to retreat. In total it was something in the region of 2,500 English died that day.

That night the northerners with their ammunition nearly spent, knew it was to time to join the rest of the Confederate army in Waterford. O'Neill told the mayor of the town to entreat with Cromwell but not to tell him they had gone. The northerners withdrew that night and the day after the Mayor went to surrender the town in terms. These terms were that the town would not be pillaged or the townsfolk punished. Cromwell not willing to lose more of his troops and needing more than ever to return home, agreed to the terms. Once they were signed he was told that O'Neill had retreated the night before, which of course threw Cromwell into a rage but to his credit, after he calmed down, he honored the agreement he had signed.

O'Neill was to live another day and fight on the Confederate wars, while Cromwell left the remaining war in the hands of his son in a law,Henry Ireton and returned to England. Clonmel was one of his bitterest victories but the war was drawing to a close as the Royalists started to capitulate and the Irish catholics were left on their own to fight the remainder of the war. More about the siege and Clonmel in general can be found at the Tipperary county museum, here on facebook at Tipperarycountymuseum

But also here:

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