Hardiman's History of Galway

Chapter 5: From 1641 to the restoration of Charles II in 1660

The town besieged by the parliamentary forces under Sir Charles Coote

Chapter 5

From 1641 to the restoration of Charles II in 1660

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Old map of Galway

Whilst this hollow negociation was going forward, the parliamentary forces proceeded with rapid strides towards the conquest of the kingdom. Preston, the gallant Irish commander, betrayed and gradually defeated in every other quarter, finally threw himself with a few troops into Galway, where he was intrusted with the chief command, and honored with the title of governor. The town was soon after invested by Sir Charles Coote and commissary-general Reynolds and was quickly reduced to a state of blockade. The castles of Tirellan, Oranmore and Clare-Galway were taken; and on the 12th of August, 1651, the enemy pitched their camp between Lough-a-thalia and Suckeen, within a few hundred yards of the walls. Limerick having surrendered on the 27th of October, a council of war was held by Ireton, to determine whether he should immediately march with his army towards Galway. The general himself and several officers were for this measure; but others complaining of the ill condition of their men, through sickness and severe service, and the near approach of winter, it was resolved that, for the present, they should summon the town to accept the conditions originally tendered to Limerick. Accordingly, on the morning of the 9th of November, dispatches arrived from the lord deputy for the governor, (inclosing letters also to the mayor and inhabitants), in which, after some pointed reflections, he informs him that if he shall freely communicate the proposals to the town's-people, and be himself "waving the frivolous impertinences of a soldier's honor or humor rather," inclined to capitulate, he might then expect to partake in the benefit of the conditions; but that if he smothered or suppressed them, he might be sure that his head would pay for the trouble or mischief that should follow. [x] Enraged at this threat, Preston, on the 12th, returned an angry answer of defiance, telling Ireton that the "heads of those with him were as unsettled on their shoulders as any he knew of within the town." The communication for the inhabitants was artfully contrived to create distrust of the garrison; but the example of Limerick operated more powerfully; they seemed inclined to yield, and accordingly desired to know the particulars of the conditions which he proposed. In the mean time, Preston, dreading the event of a surrender, by which his life would be endangered, took shipping in the bay, and went to France. Before any further negociation could take place, Ireton died in Limerick, of the plague, on the 29th of November, and was succeeded in command by lieutenant-general Ludlow. On the death of this "gloomy republican," a momentary gleam of hope passed over the desponding minds of the inhabitants of Galway, and they again determined on the most vigorous resistance. About the beginning of December Coote again proposed the conditions offered to Limerick, but they declined the treaty. Hostilities warmly commenced, and continued with various success on both sides, until some reverses experienced by the town, changed the face of affairs. Being in a state of strict blockade, and provisions beginning to grow scarce, about eighty of the inhabitants went privately out of the town, and seizing one hundred head of cattle, designed to drive them in, but being met on their return by a party of the enemy, upwards of sixty were killed, and the cattle retaken. This disappointment was followed by another much greater; for two vessels laden with corn, endeavouring to get into the harbour, were pursued by two parliamentary frigates, who took one, and forced the other on the rocks, near the islands of Arran, where she was lost. [y] These disasters were considerably heightened by the increased population of the town, which was crowded by multitudes of the nobility, clergy, and other persons of rank and interest in the kingdom, who flocked hither as their last place of refuge and safety. Meetings were frequently held to deliberate upon the state of affairs, at which the marquis of Clanricarde generally presided; and it was at length resolved, when too late, that proposals should be made for a general pacification and settlement of the kingdom. Accordingly dispatches to that effect were sent by the marquis to general Ludlow, on the 14th of February, requiring at the same time, a safe conduct for commissioners to carry on the treaty. To these proposals Ludlow, on the 24th, returned a vague and indefinite answer, merely informing him that the settlement of the nation belonged to the parliament, who he was assured would not capitulate with those who ought to be in submission, and stood in opposition to their authority; but "if the Lord inclined their hearts to submission, such moderate terms would be consented to, as men in their condition could reasonably expect." submission here intimated may easily be conceived to have meant little else than an absolute surrender of their lives and liberties to the mercy of the besiegers. The great council (as they were still called) again assembled within the town, and resolved to propose a cessation of arms, and demand a licence for commissioners to repair to the parliament in England. These proposals having been also rejected, [z] the principal part of the nobility and men of rank, then in the town, took shipping in the bay, and left the kingdom in despair.

Its strenous defence and final surrender

Thus circumstanced, the inhabitants unanimously resolved to sell their lives as dearly as they could. Every preparation, both offensive and defensive, was vigorously made; the fortifications were refitted; communication with the country was renewed, and succours contracted for, which would have enabled them to protract the war, and even render its issue in some degree doubtful. These preparations, though they excited the alarm and raised the fears of the enemy, had, however, no other effect than that of rendering them more inclinable to terms of accommodation. The great dearth of provisions, which now threatened the besieged with all the horrors of approaching famine, at length obliged them to submit to a treaty of capitulation with Coote. Commissioners on both sides were appointed; and the conditions originally offered to Limerick, by Ireton, were now made the basis of the articles, which were finally agreed upon, and signed on the 5th of April, 1652. By these articles, the town, forts, fortifications, &c. were to be delivered up to Sir Charles Coote for the parliament on the 12th instant; all persons within the town were to depart with their goods to any other part of the nation, or beyond the seas. The same time was allowed the clergy to quit the kingdom; and all those comprized in the second article were to have an indemnity for past offences, except Dominick Kirwan and others who were concerned in the attack on captain Clarke's ship on the l9th of March, 1641. The inhabitants were to enjoy their estates to them and their heirs for ever, in all houses, castles, lands, &c. within the town and the old and new liberties, with liberty to let and set same, but, in case of sale, to pay a third part of the price to the state of England. They were to be charged with no contribution but in proportion with other cities and towns, and were to enjoy two parts of their real properties in all places within the state's dominion, but subject to regulations for remuneration when contiguous to castles, fortifications or streights. Upon surrender of the town, they were to enter into, and enjoy all their real estates, until persons should be appointed by the parliament to dispose of one third thereof for its use; and the composition of five thousand pounds, insisted upon for the third part of their goods and chattels, was referred to commissioners for remittal or mitigation. The corporation charter and privileges were guaranteed, and liberty to trade provided for. All prisoners, natives or inhabitants of Galway, or the islands of Arran, were to be liberated without ransom; and all ship goods or merchandize, taken by land or sea, going to, or coming from the town, were to be restored. A breach of the articles was to be deemed only the act of the person committing it. The lord president, Coote, was to procure them to be ratified and confirmed, within twenty days by the commissioners, and also to be secured by an act of parliament. Sir Valentine Blake, Sir Oliver Ffrcncll, John Blake, esq. and Dominick Blake, were to be delivered as hostages; and, finally, the new castle at Tirellan and the fort in Mutton-island were to be surrendered by twelve o'clock at noon on the day following. [aa] These were the conditions upon which the town of Galway surrendered to the parliamentary forces, and which will for ever remain an idelible memorial of the perseverance and bravery of its inhabitants, who, after a siege of nine months, during which they suffered every human privation, at length succeeded in obtaining such articles as, if honorably observed, would have had no other effect on the town than that of transferring its allegience to the then ruling power; but how flagitiously they were afterwards infringed in every particular, as will appear in the sequel.

Sir Charles Coote, without delay, transmitted an account of his proceedings to the commissioners of the parliament in Dublin, for their approbation. His dispatches arrived on the 11th of April at the castle, and, though it was then the hour of midnight, a council of war was immediately summoned. The articles were taken into consideration, and, having been unanimously considered as too favorable to the besieged, several resolutions were entered into, which were almost entirely subversive of their spirit and meaning. The result of this conference was dispatched back that night, in order, if at all practicable, to prevent the ratification of the treaty, or if it should, in the mean time, be concluded, to have their counter-resolutions, explanatory of its meaning, signed as soon after as possible; but they arrived too late for the former purpose, and the latter was justly rejected by the inhabitants, as an open violation and infringement of the articles. The town was surrendered on the 12th, and the colonel Peter Stubbers marched in with two companies of foot. The commissioners at Dublin exculpated themselves to the council of state and parliament in England from having consented to the articles, but, at the same time, stated that Sir Charles Coote, in granting them, had, in their judgment, acted very faithfully, and conceived that what he consented to was for the service of the state; and, if he had not made those concessions, there was great possibility that more troops would be brought into the town, which would have kept all the forces in those parts occupied during the summer. From the moment the articles were signed, it was resolved to violate them. Coote informed the commissioners, that if the parliament ordered that no Irish or Papists should be permitted to reside in any garrison in Ireland, he was sure the inhabitants of Galway would declare themselves bound by such a law, and that they would not insist upon the articles. By these and similar contrivances they were gradually evaded, not, however, without leaving a perpetual stain of the character of the then unprincipaled rulers of the country.

Cruel proceedings against the inhabitants

With feelings of the deepest emotion, the attention of the reader will now be turned towards the state of affairs within this devoted and unhappy though once prosperous and flourishing town, whose inhabitants were the first in Ireland that took up arms in defence of their religion and king, and the last, either in Great Britain or Ireland, that laid them down. The surrender was followed by a famine throughout the country, by which multitudes perished. This was again succeeded by a plague, which carried off thousands both in the town and the surrounding districts; so that the severest vengeance of heaven seemed now to have been poured down on the heads of this devoted community. Many, driven to despair by the severities inflicted upon them, instead of avoiding the pestilence, sought refuge in death from their merciless persecutors. This dreadful visitation continued for two years, during which upwards of one-third of the population of the province was swept away, and those who survived were doomed to undergo sufferings to which even death itself was preferable. Col. Stubbers, who was appointed military governor of the town upon its surrender, under pretence of taking up vagrants and idle persons, made frequent nightly excursions, with armed troops into the country, and seized upwards of a thousand people, often without discrimination of rank or condition, whom he transported to the West Indies, and there had sold as slaves.[bb] But the town was the great scene of persecution. Immediately after the surrender, a contribution, amounting to four hundred pounds monthly, was imposed contrary to the articles, which terminated in the total ruin of the inhabitants. This excessive charge was exacted with the utmost severity. An author who was then in the town relates,[cc] that unless it was paid to the last farthing, at a certain hour, every Saturday, of which notice was then given by beat of drum or sounding of trumpets, the soldiers rushed to the houses of the inhabitants, and, with their muskets pointed to the breasts of the inmates, threatened them with immediate death, unless paid whatever they thought proper to demand; and when, from the continual payments, the town's people were unable any longer to discharge it, such articles of household furniture as the soldiery could find, even to the clothes of the women, were seized, and sold in the market-place for whatever they would bring; so that, according to this author, the return of Saturday, being the period of payment and visitation, seemed to the inhabitants to realize the idea rormed of the day of judgment. the sounding of the trumpets striking them with almost equal terror.

Next: Licentiousness of the soldiery

Chapter 5

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