The Battle of Dungan's Hill, 1647

After the defeat of King Charles in the English Civil War, the Westminster Parliament turned its attention to the conquest of Ireland. Lenient terms were offered to the Marquis of Ormond for the surrender of Dublin and in June 1647, the first contingents of the New Model Army landed in Ireland under the command of Colonel Michael Jones. Ormond surrendered Dublin to Jones on 19 June and formally handed over his sword of office to Parliament's commissioners in July.

Dungan's Hill campaign map
The battle of Dungan's Hill, August 1647

At the beginning of August, Colonel Jones with around 4,000 foot and 800 horse marched out of Dublin against the Confederate Leinster army under General Preston, which was besieging the garrison of Trim in County Meath. On 4 August, Jones joined forces with government troops from Drogheda and Dundalk to bring his army up to around 5,000 foot, 1,500 horse and two field guns. As Jones approached, Preston lifted the siege of Trim and withdrew across the River Boyne, apparently intending to march on Dublin. Jones sent an advance guard of 500 horse to watch the Confederates while he followed with his main force. Preston's army of 7,000 foot, 1,000 horse and four pieces of artillery made slow progress and had advanced no more than ten miles south of Trim when Jones caught up with it. Preston took up a strong defensive position on Dungan's Hill near the modern village of Summerhill.

Preston's forces were deployed in an unorthodox fashion with his best cavalry formed up along a narrow lane to the right of the main body of infantry. Preston apparently intended to move the cavalry down to charge the Parliamentarians as they formed up at the bottom of the hill where the lane opened out into fields. A reserve of seven troops of horse was posted behind the infantry, which stood in a large cornfield protected by ridges and embankments. On the left of the regular infantry was a force of 800 Gaelic Scots, known as "Redshanks", with skirmishers posted in front of the infantry lines. Further to the left, the Confederate flank was protected by a bog.

When Jones approached the Confederate position at about 10 o'clock in the morning of 8 August, he ordered his cavalry to attack immediately, without waiting for the infantry to deploy. The Parliamentarians reached the opening of the lane first, trapping the Confederate cavalry on Preston's right flank. After suffering a number of casualties, the Confederate cavalry broke through the hedgerow to escape to the comparative safety of the cornfield, but as they did so, they disrupted the formations of infantry in the field. In the ensuing panic, the cavalry was unable to regroup and the reserve fled in confusion.

With the routing of his cavalry, Preston was forced onto the defensive. As the Parliamentarian infantry advanced, the Redshanks charged downhill. They were beaten off but regrouped and made two more desperate charges. With no discernible movement among the main body of Confederate infantry, Jones concentrated his attack on the Redshanks, who broke through the ranks of the advancing Parliamentarians and made their escape into the bog on the Confederate left flank. After holding off several Parliamentarian assaults, the Confederate infantry began to break formation and attempted to follow the Highlanders by escaping into the bog. The grim final stage of the battle was the massacre of the retreating Confederate infantry. According to Irish accounts, the slaughter took place after they had surrendered. While Parliamentarian losses were relatively light, at least 3,000 Confederates were killed in the battle and ensuing massacre. The Leinster army never recovered from this disastrous defeat.

The Confederate Supreme Council summoned Owen Roe O'Neill from Connacht to recover Leinster. However, O'Neill's troops mutinied for lack of pay and it was several months before he was able to restore order among them. Meanwhile, Jones co-operated with Colonel Monck, commander of Parliament's Ulster forces, to consolidate his hold on Leinster by capturing and garrisoning strategic strongpoints around Dublin and in northern Leinster. In November, O'Neill advanced with 8,000 men to within ten miles of Dublin, but heavy rains had turned the roads to mud, making it impossible for him to bring artillery to recover the lost positions. He was forced to withdraw when his supplies ran out. By the end of 1647, Colonel Jones had secured Leinster for Parliament.


Sources:

S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol.iv, (London 1894)

Pádraig Lenihan, Confederate Catholics at War 1641-49, (Cork 2001)

James Scott Wheeler, Cromwell in Ireland, (New York 1999)