The Siege of Dublin and the Battle of Rathmines, 1649

In January 1649, the Marquis of Ormond negotiated the Second Ormond Peace, securing an alliance against the English Parliament between the Irish Confederates, Lord Inchiquin's Munster Protestants, the Ulster Scots and the Royalists. The alliance potentially released an additional 18,000 Irish troops to fight for the King and enabled Ormond to begin rebuilding Royalist power in Ireland.

Towards the end of January, Prince Rupert arrived at Kinsale in southern Ireland with a small fleet of warships that had defected to the Royalists during the naval revolt of 1648. Ormond planned to use Rupert's fleet to blockade Dublin and cut off supplies and reinforcements from England but Rupert was more interested in joining forces with the privateers operating out of Wexford against English merchant shipping. The newly-declared Commonwealth of England moved quickly to secure communications with Dublin and to deal with the privateers. Regular patrols of the Irish Sea were established in February 1649 and, after a major re-organisation of naval administration, a squadron of ten warships under General-at-Sea Robert Blake arrived in May to blockade Rupert's fleet in Kinsale harbour.

Although Ormond was unable to gain command of the sea, on land his coalition threatened to overwhelm the Parliamentarians. During the spring of 1649, the Lagan Army besieged Sir Charles Coote's garrisons at Londonderry and Sligo, while the Scots in south-east Ulster blockaded Colonel Monck in Dundalk. However, Ormond was frustrated in his attempts to bring Owen Roe O'Neill and the powerful Irish Ulster army into the coalition against the Parliamentarians. In mid-March, Lord Inchiquin mustered the Munster army at Cashel and marched for Athlone to prevent O'Neill from moving west towards Connacht. At the same time, the Earl of Castlehaven advanced into Leinster against O'Neill. Threatened by two coalition armies, O'Neill withdrew into Ulster where he negotiated a three-month truce with Colonel Monck at Dundalk.

The Siege of Dublin

As Inchiquin and Castlehaven secured Leinster, the Marquis of Ormond attempted to use his authority as the King's Lord-Lieutenant to persuade Colonel Michael Jones, the Parliamentarian governor of Dublin, to surrender. When Jones refused, Ormond prepared to advance against Dublin itself.

On 1 June 1649, Ormond mustered 11,000 foot and 3,000 horse at Clogrennan near Carlow and marched north. Around 19 June, the coalition army took up a position at Finglas on the northern outskirts of Dublin. A council of war was held to decide whether to attack Dublin immediately or to first take the outlying garrisons of Drogheda, Trim and Dundalk. It was agreed that the city was too well-fortified for an assault, while a siege would leave the coalition army at risk of attack from the outlying garrisons, so while Ormond remained with 5,000 foot and 1,800 horse to blockade Dublin, Lord Inchiquin advanced north to Drogheda, which he besieged on 23 June. After a sustained bombardment of Drogheda's walls, Inchiquin's initial assault was repulsed. However, the garrison ran out of ammunition and surrendered on 11 July before another assault was attempted. After the fall of Drogheda, Trim surrendered without a fight and Inchiquin advanced on Dundalk where the unlikely alliance between Colonel Monck and Owen Roe O'Neill proved ineffective. O'Neill withdrew into northern Ulster and morale in the Dundalk garrison collapsed. Monck was obliged to surrender on 24 July after most of his troops defected to Inchiquin, who then returned to Ormond's main army before Dublin.

Map of the Rathmines campaign 1649
The battle of Rathmines, 1649

Throughout July, Colonel Jones mounted frequent raids to disrupt Ormond's attempts to tighten the blockade on Dublin, and with Prince Rupert's fleet trapped in Kinsale, the Royalists could do nothing to prevent the shipping-in of supplies and reinforcements from England. When Inchiquin returned from Drogheda with the artillery train, however, Ormond prepared to make a determined effort to capture Dublin. On 25 July, Ormond transferred the bulk of his army to Rathmines on the southern side of Dublin, leaving Lord Dillon with 2,000 foot and 500 horse to cover the northern approaches to the city. From Rathmines, Ormond's forces could deny the Parliamentarians access to grazing lands south of the city; they were also better placed to set up artillery to fire on ships approaching Dublin. Ormond knew that an invasion force under the command of Oliver Cromwell was preparing to embark from England, but it was not known whether Cromwell intended to land in Dublin or in Munster. On 27 July, Ormond's council of war decided to send Lord Inchiquin with three regiments of horse south into Munster to organise the province's defences and to prevent the defection of any coastal town that might offer an easy landing place to Cromwell's forces.

On 28 July, Ormond's forces stormed and captured the outlying Parliamentarian garrison of Rathfarnham Castle, three miles south of Dublin. Emboldened by this success, Ormond ordered Colonel Armstrong to take a regiment of horse to drive the cattle and horses from the meadows south of Dublin. Armstrong's troopers were attacked by a party of Parliamentarian cavalry and a number were taken prisoner, among them Colonel Jones' nephew who had defected to the Royalists and who was subsequently hanged as a deserter on Jones' orders.

The Battle of Rathmines, 2 August 1649

Ormond's next move was an attempt to seize Baggotrath Castle, situated between the coalition camp at Rathmines and the city of Dublin. Aware of its potential danger, Jones had partially demolished Baggotrath in order to render it useless to attackers. However, after a reconnaissance by the Earl of Castlehaven, General Preston and others, Ormond believed that it could be made defensible. Once established there, Ormond proposed to set up an artillery battery to dominate Dublin harbour and to build further defensive works to protect the guns. On the night of 1 August, Ormond sent a party of 800 pioneers to fortify Baggotrath supported by 1,500 infantry under the command of Major-General Purcell. Although it was little more than a mile from Ormond's camp to Baggotrath, Purcell's force lost its way in the dark and took several hours to cover the distance, finally occupying the ruined castle after sunrise on 2 August. Purcell was joined at Baggotrath by Sir William Vaughan with 2,000 horse but when Ormond rode over to see the progress of the work later that morning, he was disappointed to find that it had scarcely begun.

Meanwhile, Colonel Jones had observed the movement around Baggotrath and guessed Ormond's intention. He quickly deployed 4,000 foot and 1,200 horse from the Dublin garrison on the meadows between the city walls and Baggotrath, intending to dispute Ormond's occupation of the castle. Ormond gave orders that his whole army should stand to arms to support Purcell and Vaughan at Baggotrath in case of a Parliamentarian attack. Having been awake all night, Ormond then retired to his tent at Rathmines to rest while his army deployed, but he had underestimated Colonel Jones' determination.

At about nine o'clock in the morning, Jones' whole force advanced rapidly across the meadows towards Baggotrath. Sir William Vaughan's cavalry were routed in the first charge and Vaughan himself was killed. Major-General Purcell's infantry held the position for a short time but were soon overwhelmed; most were killed or taken prisoner, the rest fled. Having regained Baggotrath, Jones saw an opportunity to attack the main Royalist camp. He quickly regrouped and advanced towards Rathmines. Ormond was awakened by the sound of gunfire and rode to the battle, where he bravely tried to rally the troops that were streaming back from Baggotrath. Lord Inchiquin's Munster infantry, left under the command of Colonel Giffard, advanced to form a defensive line between Rathmines and Baggotrath, but the Parliamentarian advance was so swift that a coherent front could not be formed. With no Royalist cavalry support, there was nothing to stop the Parliamentarian horse from working around to attack the flank and rear of any infantry unit that tried to make a stand.

Ormond sent a message to Lord Dillon at Finglas, ordering him to march his 2,500 soldiers across the River Liffey to attack the rear of the advancing Parliamentarians. However, Dillon was aware that there were several thousand fresh Parliamentarian troops still in Dublin that were likely to fall upon his own flank and rear if he attempted to march to Rathmines. Dillon's refusal to join the battle ended any hope of preventing the rout of Ormond's army. Attacked by infantry from the front and cavalry from the flanks and rear, Inchiquin's infantry finally surrendered, which ended the last organised resistance to the Parliamentarian advance. Any remaining Royalist troops fled as the Parliamentarians overran the camp at Rathmines. Ormond retreated south with his lifeguard and made his way to Kilkenny.

Colonel Jones' spectacular victory at Rathmines secured Dublin for Parliament and shattered Ormond's main field army. Estimates of the number of coalition soldiers killed at Rathmines vary between 600 and 4,000. More than 2,500 were taken prisoner, including many experienced officers. Ormond's artillery and baggage train were captured, as well as his private papers and correspondence. The victory prepared the way for Cromwell's invasion force, which landed unopposed in Dublin two weeks later.


S.R. Gardiner, History of Commonwealth and Protectorate, vol i (London 1903)

G.A. Hayes-MacCoy, Irish Battles, a military history of Ireland (London 1969)

Jane Ohlmeyer, The Civil Wars in Ireland (in The Civil Wars, a military history of England, Scotland and Ireland 1638-60), Oxford 1998

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