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Battle of Shrule

SHRULE – J.F. Quinn’s History

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At the period in which Sir Edward Fitton destroyed the castles in the barony of Kilmaine a serious rebellion raged all over Connaught. Mayo being the warmest part of it, the old chiefs fighting desperately to clear their country of the British. This was known as Thomond’s rebellion of 1570, Fitton being forced to fall back on Galway and ask for reinforcements, which soon came, where upon Lord Thomond deserted his allies, and unsupported the Burkes decided to meet the English, and with disastrous results. Traitors like Clanricarde, one of the Barretts, and one of the MacDonnells, in order to have revenge taken on the Burkes of Tirawley, joined Fitton, who was supported by cavalry and artillery with which he made short work of the castles and laid the chiefs and their territories prostrate before him. In June, 1570, when the whole country was crying out against the heavy cess put upon them, and the burden imposed by the billeting of soldiers and horses. Fitton laid siege to the fine old castle of Shrule, and soon pounded it and the garrison into submission. It need not be taken that the Burkes remained idle. The decisive battle came on the 21st, when the British were beaten to a standstill.

Occupying a hill close to the English camp, the Burkes opposed them, their men being disposed in six compact bodies. Fitton brought up his men in battle formation, each side keeping the cavalry in reserve. It was an epic struggle. Though received by a deadly volley the Burkes fell upon the English with the steel, the slaughter being great. The English gallowglasses broke and fled, pursued by the Irish. At this stage the English cavalry was brought into action and tried to take the Burkes in the retreat, but were met by the opposing cavalry, Sir Edward Fitton being unhorsed and wounded, as was his chief captain. Burke’s pikemen drove back the English infantry, and covered by the cavalry, they broke, pursued by the Irish. Many of the chief men of the Burkes were killed or wounded. Re-forming, the British wrought havoc in the Irish ranks, and the Burkes withdrew at a time victory was in their hands, had they known it. The British had run out of powder. In fact the Burkes gained by it, and saved a big section of the country. Galway being under seige at the time. Next day Fitton took Shrule castle and put the garrison to the sword. Lord Chanricarde was given the castle, and undertook to guard it at his own expense. Soon after the Burkes again made peace, again broke it, and gave Bingham, the opportunity he sought to exterminate them. In the Composition of 1585 the following appears: “Farragh MacDonnell, of Cloonell, in respect of his good services done on Her Majesty’s side at the meeting of Shrule, shall have that castle and four quarters of his lands free.”

Writing in 1838, John O’Donovan remarked that the parish of Shrule is bounded on the north by the parishes of Kilmainemor and Moorgagagh, on the east and south by Co. Galway, which meets at the bridge of Shrule, on the west by Lough Corrib, and north-west by the parish of Cong. He says the place takes its name from the river which runs under the bridge and divides the Co. Mayo and Co. Galway. It is written Sruthair by the Four Masters at the year 1590, and also by Mac Firbis in his pedigree of the MacWilliam de Burgo. There are several other places in Ireland so called, and his meaning is subsantially what I have already given. After Sir Edward Fitton took Shrule castle for the British he gave it to the renegade de Burgo, who had got the title of Earl of Clanricarde, and Downing, said: “There is in this barony of Kilmaine, upon the extreme bounds thereof, an ancient fair castle and manor house called Shrowle, now and Since the beginning of King James’s reign, belonging to the Earl of Clanricarde, but since then, since the English invasion to another family of great note, formerly of the said Burkes, called Burkes of Shrowle, and of late years of Cloghauns, who is said to be the eldest of the Burkes of Mayo.” “There is also in the village of Shruille, close to the boundary of Co. Galway, a castle in good preservation, which is certainly the one mentioned by Downing, and which held out a siege,” adds O’Donovan.#


The Four Masters, A.D., 1570, wrote of the Castle of Shruile: “The same President (Fitton) and the Earl of Clanricarde (Richard, the son of Ulick na Gilann Burke, who was son of Richard, who was son of Ulick of Cnoc Tuagh) laid siege to Sruthair in the summer of this year. In the President’s army on this occasion were some of the most distinguished chiefs, heroes and champions of Upper Connaught, from Magh Aoi (Campus Connaciae) to Echtge, and from Galway to Athlone. In his camp there were great numbers of captains with their soldiers, and two or three battalions of Irish Giomachs as also Calbhach (the son of Torlogh, who was son of John Carragh, who was the son of MacDonnell), his two sons and their forces, a party of the descendants of Donall (who was son of John, who was son of Owen na Lathaighe McSweeney), namely, Hugh (the son of Owen, who was son of Donnell Oge and Donnell (the son of Morogh, who was son of Rory More), attended by choice battalions of Gallowglasses of the Clan-Dowell. He had ordnance and forces, which had been .brought from Galway, and he had also a body of vigorous cavalry, to the number of three hundred, accoutred in armour and coats of mail.

“As soon as MacWilliam Burke (John, the son of Oliverus, who was son of John), heard that the President and the Earl had assembled this great army about Scruthair his heart became sorrowful and his mind confused. He immediately, however, summoned to his assistance the Lower Burkes and the descendants of Meyler Burke, as also the Clan Donnell Galloglach and Morogh of the Battle Axes (who was the son of Teige, who was the son of Morogh, who was son of Rory 0’Flaherty). These crowded to his standard, attended by as many as they had been able to procure of hired soldiers and youths, both Scotch and Irish, and never halted until they had arrived on a hill which was convenient to the President’s and the Earl’s camp. There they held a consultation to consider in what way they could best disperse or scatter those choice and unconquerable forces who had invaded their territory. At length, having by common consent converted their horsemen into infantry, they marched onward in ordered and regular array, and promised one another that they would not disperse or depart from that order whether they should defeat the army or be defeated by them. They all likewise resolved that if the son or relation of one of them would be slain before them they would not stop for him, but pass him by at once as though he were a stranger. In such state they advanced towards the other army.

“As to the President and the Earl, they placed their advance, their archers, their halberdiers and their mail-clad (horsemen on foot), in the narrow defiles through which they supposed the enemy would pass, placing by their side the Clan Sweeny, the Clan Donnell, the Clan Dowell, and all the other infantry of their army, while they themselves and the powerful body of energetic cavalry they had with them stood nigh ready to support the fight when occasion should require. It was wrestling with peril and facing destuction for the youths of West and Lower Connaught to attempt to pass this dangerous road. Nevertheless, they marched onward, but had not advanced far before their sides were pierced and their bodies wounded by the first volley of large shot discharged at them from guns, and of arrows from elastic bows. It was not, however, fear or terror, cowardice or even distardiness that these wounds produced in them, but rather a magnanimous determination of advancing directly to the contest, in which they soon tried the temper of their samhthachs, the hardness of their swords, and the heaviness of their battle-axes on the heads of their enemies. Their enemies did not withstand long those vigorous onslaughts, for a numerous body of them took to wild and precipitous flight, upon which the others (the Burkes) advanced and took their stations. They then proceeded to kill those who stood before them, and with vigour and switftness to pursue those who fled for the distance of two miles from the camp, during which pursuit they slew and disabled great numbers.

The Irish Victorious

“As the people of MacWilliam Burke while thus following up the pursuit were passing by the cavalry of their enemies, which stood apart, they were attacked by that numerous body, by whom numbers of their troops were felled and a still greater number would have been cut off, but for the closeness and compactness of the battle array which they had agreed that morning to preserve. They afterwards returned home victorious and triumphant. They had committed, however, one great mistake. As they had cleared the field of battle by putting their enemies to fight they should have remained that night in the camp, for in that case no dispute could arise as to whether they had routed the enemy, and they would have obtained the name and renown of having gained that battle. As to the President and the Earl of Clanricarde on the other hand, with the descendants of Donall MacSweeny (those who had not maintained the field against their enemies on that day), and a party of their archers remained in the camp that night. They afterwards stopped to search for and inter their slain friends, and to relieve the wounded throughout the field of slaughter.

A Drawn Battle

“Little Patrick Cusack who was slain in this battle by the English and his death was generally lamented,” continues the Four Masters. “In this battle were also slain on the side of the Earl Calbhach (the son of Torlogh, who was the son of John Carragh), and many others not enumerated. On the other side were slain Walter (the son of John, who was son of Meyler Burke), who was called Cluas le Doininn (Ear to the Tempest), Randal, the son of MacDonnell Gallowglach, and the two sons of John Erenach, and two constables of the Clan Donnell of Scotland. On the field were also left dead countless numbers of Irish and Scotch auxiliaries of the MacDonnells, the MacSweenys, and the adherents of the Burkes. The victory was claimed by both sides. Those who had put the army of their adversaries to flight, but who had not maintained the field, thought that the victory was theirs, while, on the other hand, those Lords who had remained during the night in the camp considered that they only were entitled to the fame of having conquered.” The Four Masters make no mention of the taking of the castle. Fitton took it at his leisure when the Irish withdrew, putting to death the garrison, and for years after Clanricarde held it for the British.

President Of Connaught

Rev. Dean D’Alton in his History of the Archdiocese of Tuam gives a concise pen-picture of Sir Edward Fitton, who as President of Connaught, had, in military matters supreme and unfettered command at the time of the `Last Seige Of Shrule,’ in 1570. “It was Fitton’s duty also to uproot Catholicity. But such drastic changes as these neither chiefs nor people would have, and in consequence the Mayo Burkes broke out into open rebellion. Fitton, in 1570, took to the field against them, having with him the Earl of Clanrickard, 500 hired Gallowglasses, some English foot soldiers, 300 mounted men, and some artillery. On the opposite side the leaders were MacWilliam Burke, aided by his own kinsmen, the Burkes of Mayo, and by some of the 0’Flaherties of Iar-Connaught. The opposing forces met at Shrule, on the borders of Mayo and Galway, and the fight resulted in a hard-won but not decisive victory for Fitton. To induce the natives to. accept English rather than their own Irish law, to abandon their language and customs, and, above all, to desert the faith in which they were born, and turn upon the priests of their own blood, and then join with Elizabeth in cursing the Pope, would be no easy task for any man. But for a man of Fitton’s temper and character success was utterly impossible. He had no tact in government, no sympathy with the people, no patience with their prejudices, no toleration for their religious belief. On the contrary, he despised them. He was cruel and corrupt, arrogant and domineering, perfidious and intriguing, ready to make reckless charges against men much better than himself, and protesting to Cecil, the Queen’s chief adviser, that gentleness would be useless in Connaught, and that he could do no good without force. His desire was not just to administer even-handed justice, and thus show that English justice was superior to Irish, but rather to involve the Irish chiefs in rebellion, so that he could confiscate their lands.Finally, the Viceroy, Fitzwilliam, and Fitton quarrelled. The Viceroy even threw Fitton into prison, and complained to the Queen that Fitton’s insolence was unbearable. But the offending President was soon restored to the Queen’s favour – and returned to Connaught in 1574. by that time even the Queen was convinced of Fitton’s incapacity to govern Connaught – and in the following year Fitton was deprived of his commission, and ceased to be President of Conaught.

JF Quinn

J.F. Quinn series of articles on Mayo history published in the Western People during the 1930s

History of Mayo

by J. F. Quinn , Brendan Quinn
ISBN 0951928007 (0-9519280-0-7)
Hardcover, Brendan Quinn

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One Response

  1. Eamon J MartinAugust 30, 2019 @ 10:44 amReply

    A brilliant historical account of the area from past times.

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