Bagenal’s Castle, having loomed large in the history of Ulster during the 16th century Elizabethan wars, again featured in the 17th century and for all the wrong reasons. The area near the castle was the scene of a massacre of the Irish in the aftermath of the great rebellion of 1641.
These affairs were well documented by the records and correspondence of the officers and men of the army of General Robert Munro, commander of an army of Scottish Presbyterians who captured the town and castle in May 1642.
Attempting to analyse events in Newry in the period 1641/1642 one meets the problem of sources. Most of the evidence for the murders of the Protestants of the town is to be found in what have become the 1641 depositions (testimonies) which can be found in the Trinity College archive. These depositions were statements taken from Protestant eye witnesses of the massacre which by their very nature are a contentious source. These sources have been accused by their detractors as propaganda designed to whip up anti-Irish feeling and were used in parliament by the Puritans as an excuse to take action against the native Irish. Oliver Cromwell himself, said after the massacre of Drogheda, that, ‘it was a righteous judgement by God upon barbarous wretches whose hands was imbued with the blood of innocent Protestants’.1 Colonel Turner, one of Munroe’s leading officers said that the Irish were, ‘Godless rogues’.
Newry was captured during the planned national rebellion on 23 October 1641. The attack on Newry by the Magennis clan was led by Colonel Con Magennis, and John Magennis, other leading rebels being Patrick Creely, Dennis Crealy, Nicholas White, James White and James Hilden who was the principal man involved in the betrayal the Castle of Newry. The Castle of Newry was fortified by Nicholas Bagenal, Lord Marshal of Ireland in the 1560’s and had remained in English hands ever since until its capture in 1641 by the Irish.
Upon the capture of the town, the rebels took the Rev. Tudge, the only Protestant minister of the town and killed him. The Rev Tudge was hanged but not before, ‘some of the rebels cut and slashed him with a sword‘. 2. Why he was singled out may have been because of a fear and suspicion of Puritans and their intentions for the native Irish. The future would prove their fears well founded. The death of the Rev. Trudge troubled Conn Magennis deeply and on his death bed the Protestant Minister, ‘ was still in his presence‘. 3 After capture of Newry, there was no general massacre of colonists, though they were certainly ill- treated by their captors and some died as a result of that treatment. Some indeed were murdered at a latter date near Newcastle at Bloody Bridge.4 Thomas Richardson, a colonist deposed that after the town was taken, he himself, his wife and his five children were stripped of their goods and clothes and turned out to face the elements,
‘ one daughter of his seeing him and her mother grieve, by way of comforting them, said she was not cold nor did cry, yet presently did die of cold and want‘.5
It is estimated that up to 27 colonists died in the capture of Newry, a number which cannot be verified for sure.
If there is some doubt about the numbers of colonists killed, there is little doubt about the killings that took place after the town was recaptured by the forces of General Munro. These reports were written by the men serving with Munroe and by Munroe himself.
General Robert Munro landed on 15 April 1642 at Carrickfergus with an army including 1,600 of his own men, 400 of Lord Ards, 500 of Lord Conway’s cavalry, including some colonists from East Antrim, 500 of Colonel Chichester’s men and 400 of Lord Clandeboy’s who met together and encamped at Drumbo. They proceeded towards Newry from Lisnagarvey stopping at Lochbrickland to massacre the refugee Irish who occupied the island.
‘Saturday, the last of April, we marched in the former order through they wodes towards Lochbricklane, our horsemen on the wings killed divers(many) of them and some prisoners hanged. They took the isle, sixty therein to the sword’. 6
On 30 April Munroe’s army reached Newry after burning the chapel at Clonduff. On 1 May, 1642 Munro’s army led by Lord Conway’s cavalry attacked the town driving the town’s people in all directions.
‘After this was done, the army marched on to the Nury, the horse rid fast before and when they came within sight of the towne they pursued the rogues (the Irish) flying out of the town ; upon this a troope of light horse were sent out under the command of Capt. Windsor and cut off (killed) about 100 of the rogues as they fled, the rest of the troops drew neare unto the town, and making a stand on a little hill about a quarter of a mile from the town. (Crieve?)‘7
It is said that 80 or more Irish were killed making a stand with a makeshift barricade at this spot by the cavalry, after which the minister who accompanied the troops walked amongst the bodies prodding them with his stick remarking ‘how well fed these Irish were’.
Many people fled into the castle and took refuge therein. Munro’s summons to surrender was refused by Magennis who told him that he could hold out for months. Munro then threatened to blow up the castle with his supply of gun powder along with its garrison and prisoners. By May 1642, the powder available to the Irish was down to half a barrel with not more than one dozen serviceable muskets. The original 99 barrels and the store of arms held by the rebels upon the capture of the castle could have been dissipated by supplying other places held by the rebels.
Magennis surrendered on 3 May having been granted terms by the victors. The English prisoners, Sir Charles Poyntz and Captain Smith, held since 23 October 1641, were released unharmed by the Irish. The terms as it turned out, only applied to the Irish soldiers and not the civilians of the town. On 6 May 1642, three days after the surrender, 60 men and two priests were killed on the bridge over the river near Bagenal’s castle. Those priests (the Pope’s peddlers according to Roger Pike) were a Cistercian, a Fr. Crilly who was the last Cistercian Abbot of Newry, and a Fr. Malachy Shiel who was Prior of Newry.
Munro reported to General Leslie on taking the town,
‘ we entered into an examination of the town’s people, all were papists, the indifferent severed from the bad, where of 60, with two priests shot and hanged, the indifferent are banished‘. 8 Many of those indifferent were then press-ganged into Munro’s army to serve as bearers in Lord Conway’s regiment. Leslie had no stomach for such butchery and returned to Scotland.
Col.Turner reported the massacre thus,
The nixt day most of them who had not been in the castle were carried to the bridge and butchered to death some by shooting, some by hanging without legal process. I was verily informed afterwards that innocent people suffered.
Lord Conway remarked that,
‘ Our soldiers are cruell for no other reason but because man’s wicked nature leads them to be so’.9
On the same day, soldiers attacked 150 women who had been held in the castle and drowned eighteen of them in the river which was in flood. The soldiers were eventually restrained by Sir James Turner, one of Munro’s officers.
‘Just at the time I was speaking with Munroe, I see from afar what a game these rogues intended to play, I got on horseback with my pistol in hand but before I got at them they had dispatched about a dozen, the rest I saved. The common soldiers without direction from the General tooke some Irish women, and stript them naked and threw them in the river and drown them, shooting some of them in the water’. 10
Turner, a seasoned soldier did not approve of such actions and remarked, ‘ I had looked a little more narrowly of the justice of the cause that I served than I used to do’.11
After a week spent in Newry where he burnt all the houses in the town, Munro retired to Carrickfergus on 7 May leaving Col. Sinclair, ‘ to banish all the Irish out of the towne as soon as he was gone’. Munroe left in charge, a garrison of three hundred in Newry but the soldiers did not find Newry a comfortable station due to lack of shelter and the inevitable disease that followed.
‘Many soldiers fell sicke with the Irish agues, fluxes, and other diseases, of which many dyed‘.12 The defeated Irish took to the woods and mountains to escape the attentions of the soldiery who scoured the area looking for them. In a report to Lord Conway on how the enemy was quartered an officer wrote that,’ The scattered rebells lurke in the woods in fastnesses in tens and twenties living upon stealing‘. 13
Later in 1642 a party of soldiers sent out from Newry into the Mournes killed 500 Irish, mainly women and children. Roger Pike, one of Munroe’s officers tells how,
‘The army marched through Maginnis and Mac Cartan country (Down )in three divisions burning all the houses and corn and brought away the spoyle of the country before them with cattle in great abundance . Col. Chicester’s troope marched a pretty space before the army tooke divers prisoners and killed divers of the rebells on the march’.14 One officer reported that the Irish, ‘were cutte downe with wyves and chyldrene for I promis that they got but small mercy if they come into common soldier hands’. 15 Another party, sent out from Newry to comb the mountains killed many in the area between Newry and Dundalk. ( the Slieve Gullion/Jonesborough area?)
‘The next day another party was sent into the mountains and a place appointed to them to meet the maine bodie which marched another way into the mountains passable for the cannon. At night they mett and they brought in many cowes and killed manie women and children. Of the Scottish soulders (soldiers) few were lost. The rebels made no fight at all. They had not anie powder but endeavoured to drive away their cowes.‘
Munroe himself recorded the event as,
‘Near the Newrie we killed in one day 700, men women and children who were driving away their cattle’. 16 Munroe did suffer some casualties on his rampage,
Lord Conway’s Light horse, Capt. Matthews, as well as other troops of light horse came through McCartan’s wood and the rogues shot at them from behind trees and they killed the Lieutenant to Lord Conway. The army foote spread abroad the woods to burn the cabins and to cleare the woodes before them.. They found no opposition and at night encamped at Drumbo.17
Thus Bagenel’s Castle and its immediate area takes its place in Irish history along with Drogheda, Wexford Town and Vinegar Hill as a scene of massacre. When you stand and look around you at the Castle, think of the citizens of Newry who were done to death near here in May, 1642.
1 Cromwell in Ireland, James Wheeler, p86, (Gill and Mc Millan, Dublin, 1989.)
2 Deposition of Elizabeth Croker, Trinity College Dublin, MS 837.
3 Ulster 1641, Brian Mac Curta, p.119,( Queen’s University Belfast,1989.)
4 Deposition of 1641, Trinity College Dublin,MS 837.
5 Ireland in the 17th Century, p142, Hickson,(1884, London. )
6 Papers Relating to the Insurrection of 1641, p 121 (T.Fitzpatrick, Sealy, Byres and Walker, Dublin,1903).
7 ibid. ( as above)
9 Papers Relating to the Insurrection of 1641, p.124, (T.Fitzpatrick, Sealy, Byres and Walker, Dublin,1903
10 Papers Relating to the Insurection of 1641, p.123/125, (T.Fitzpatrick, Sealy, Byres and Walker, Dublin,1903).
11 http:www.scotwars.com/html/james-turner, 06/08/20071
12 History of Newry, Tony.Canavan, p 66, (Blackstaff press, Belfast 1989
13 An Account by Lord Conway of the forces in Ulster, Public Records office of Northern Ireland, T/545
14 Papers Relating to the Insurrection of 1641, p.127,( T.Fitzpatrick, Sealy, Byres and Walker, Dublin,1903).
16 Deposition T.C.D M.S., F.3, 11, Paper no.23, intro, Papers Relating to the Insurrection of 1641, p,xiii,( T.Fitzpatrick, Sealy, Byres and Walker, Dublin,1903.)
17 Papers Relating to the Insurrection of 1641, p.128, (T.Fitzpatrick, Sealy, Byres and Walker, Dublin,1903