Captain Bodley’s Journey

A diary entry of a certain English Captain Bodley gives evidence of the reduced state of the country in 1603. 

With just two soldiers as armed escort he set out from Armagh for Downpatrick to meet Richard Moryson who was then Governor of Lecale. 

“We set out from the city [Armagh] for the town, commonly called Newry, which was one day’s journey.

There, to speak the truth, we were not very well entertained, nor according to our rank: for that town produces nothing but lean beef, and very rarely, mutton: very bad wine indeed: nor was there any bread except biscuits, even in the house of the Governor. 

Still we did our best to be merry and pleasant with the bad wine, putting sugar in it (as the older lawyers are accustomed to do with Canary wine), with toasted bread, which in English is called ‘a lawyer’s nightcap’. 

There we found Captain Adderton, an honest fellow with a friend of ours, who, having nothing to do was easily persuaded to accompany us to Lecale. 

So next morning we four took our horses and set out.  We had not any guide except Captain Caulfield, who promised that he would lead us as well as possible.  But before we had ridden three miles we lost our way and were forced to go on foot, leading our horses through bogs and marshes, which were very troublesome, and some of us swore silently through gritted teeth and wished our guide to a thousand devils. 

At length we came to a village with some obscure name, where, for two brass shillings, we brought with us a countryman to lead us to the island of Magennis, ten miles distant from the town of Newry, for Master Moryson had promised he would meet us there.”


After the death at the Yellow Ford in 1596 of Henry, Nicholas Bagnal’s son and heir (also by the way, Marshall of the Queen’s forces in Ireland) – his possessions, including the Newry came under the control of Stephen, a cousin, while all awaited the coming of age of Arthur, his [mentally-handicapped] son.  Stephen was required elsewhere for the war effort and we assume that the minor Arthur was looked after in the distant Greencastle  where he was born and which had become the primary Bagnal home.  The Newry Castle was likely functioning more as a barracks that a home for the ‘Governor’.  No one seemed to wish to hold that position for very long.  For example, Mountjoy two years later on his return to England appointed Sir Richard Trevor (with 50 horsemen) :  (soon the young Arthur Bagnal when he came into his estate married that man’s daughter Magdalen) : Sir Richard returned to his family seat in Wales in 1606 and Sir Charles Wilmot was appointed in his place: he quickly gave way to Captain Edward Trevor.  The Newry reader will note this is the first repeated occurrence of now-familiar town names (e.g. Trevor Hill: Caulfield Place). 

Still if so little food was available for visiting ranking officers, one can only guess at the depradations of the ordinary townspeople and the extent to which the scorched earth policy had reduced the countryside.  A few years previously just three English horsemen could not have risked two days’ journey through Armagh and Down without a much larger escort. 

It is also perhaps surprising that the way to ‘the island of Magennis’ was not better known to officers garrissoning Newry:  he was after all their main Irish ally in the region who had long ago submitted to the English Crown. 

Sir Henry Bagenal …

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