The Massacre of Drogheda

This Sunday, 11th September, marks end of the Siege of Drogheda, 1649. The siege was led by Oliver Cromwell, a staunch Parliamentarian, against Sir Arthur Aston and his army of Royalists and Irish Catholic Confederates.

Aston and his comrades recieved intelligence that Cromwell planned to attack Ireland and at the war counsel it was decided that the town of Drogheda would be the best place to defend against the Parliamentarians, being that not only was Drogheda one of the best defended towns in Ireland but also, in 1641, Phelim O’Neill had attempted to breach the walls and failed. Aston is quoted as saying that “anyone who could take Drogheda could capture Hell itself”.

When Cromwell arrived at Drogheda he placed his troops on the southside of the town. He brought with him 12,000 men and eleven heavy, 48-pounder, siege guns. On the 10th September he issued a letter to Aston, demanding his surrender. Aston refused and under the articles of war of the time, this meant that Aston and his troops could be lawfully killed.

On the 11th September, Cromwell ordered simultaneous attacks on the walls and managed to break through, taking the town. When Cromwell rode into town he was so angry at the sight of the Parliamentarian dead that he gave orders that no quarter should be given.

“In the heat of the action, I forbade them [his soldiers] to spare any that were in arms in the town…and, that night they put to the sword about two thousand men”. (Olvier Cromwell)

They set fire to St. Mary’s church, burning alive all those who had taken refuge there and then killed women hiding below in the vaults. Some accounts say they used children as human shields and killed priests. Some Royalist soldiers sought saftey in St. Peter’s church, but on Cromwell’s orders his soldiers set fire to the church steeple. Some of the defenders were burned to death in the fire and more were killed outside when they fled the flames. The Parliamentarians continued their slaughter all through the town.

Meanwhile, Aston and his troops had taken refuge in Millmount Fort. Cromwell was reluctant to attack the fort and instead offered the men a deal; if they surrendered their lives would be spared. They did surrender and shortly after they were killed. It is said that Aston was beaten to death by his own wooden leg.

In all nearly 4,000 people were killed, including Irish soldiers and Royalists and unknown number of civilians.



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