Ballamoy: The End Game

The end-game pretty much sputtered to a conclusion. Although O’Donnell had agreed to clear the Protestants out of the stream crossing he was not keen on needlessly wasting his men to do so. Driscoll was in a strong blocking position at the bridge and could rake the road with musket fire, something at which his musketeers had already demonstrated their skill (would they never run out of powder and shot?). The only feasible approach was up the road into the face of withering fire. If he could acquire three actions he could make a rapid advance into contact (worrying only about one volley of defensive fire). Anything less and he could be subjected to multiple volleys.

Driscoll had a similar problem. While not in the best defensive position he did have an excellent field of fire and could turn the road into a kill zone (as he had done a half hour before on the road into Ballamoy). Knowing that once the Irish were upon him his company would likely be ripped to shreds, he wanted to take up a position on the hill north of the stream. To do so he would also need three actions. Anything less would likely cause him to be caught in a position much worse than the one he was now in.

Wargamming being Wargamming, the critical rolls would not come for either side (which I took to mean that everyone had had their fill of fighting!). On the third turn of this impasse, the last civilian piece exited the board and the game ended.

Below Driscoll maintains his blocking position in the foreground while the Irish work on positioning for a rush against him from the area of the village:

Balleyeasca - end game

From a tactical stand point, based on the points acquired, the Protestants won handily – 80 points to 45 – but from a strategic standpoint the Insurgents now had their forward base for later operations against Derry. In the end both forces achieved their goals set prior to the engagement, the Protestants got all their civilians and key possessions safely away and the regional insurgency (O’Donnell) took possession of Ballamoy. For the local insurgents Ballamoy was a disaster. Not only did they gain very little in prizes they suffered all the casualties on the Irish side – 72 to be exact. The ransom they received for Sir Hexham Babbington and several other gentlemen (nearly £650) at least assured that the widows and orphans would not starve over the winter and that each of survivors would receive a small purse.

In retrospect it was simply the fear of the local insurgents and what they might do to their families that caused the defenders to fight savagely to delay them. The delay was even more costly for the Anglo  /Scots – 123 casualties and most of the rest made prisoner.  In late 1641, most of the encounters between Catholic insurgents and Protestant settlers were very small affairs and if the settlers were inclined not to resist they were general only robbed and rarely roughed-up. As word of atrocities (real and imagined) began to circulate, however, and the forces on both sides became larger and more impersonal, the fighting seen in this fictional battle became more the norm.

As I write this I have  received Robert Armsrong’s Protestant War – The ‘British’ of Ireland And The Wars Of The Three Kingdoms which I look forward to reading. My hope is that it will shed more light on my meager understanding of things in Ireland during this period.

A quick note on the principal dramatics personae:

For the skill shown at Ballamoy, Capt. Robert Driscoll (Derry Relief Force) was promoted to major. This promising officer’s career was sadly cut short by a musket ball at Liscarroll only a few months later.

Likewise, Capt. Liam O’Neill (the Irish left) ended his short military career at Drogheda a couple of weeks into December of 1641. Always rash and fearless, he was leading his men as part of an ill-conceived assault when he too was carried off by a musketball.

Capt. Rory O’Donnell (the Irish right), a gifted speaker and organizer, went on to serve in the Kilkenny government but by 1645 had become disenchanted by the petty feuds and intrigues (which idealistically he considered to be unworthy of the political process). He joined his cousin’s regiment  as part of Lord Antrim’s and the Confederation’s expeditionary force to aid the royalist cause in Scotland. He led a company at Tippermiur and Aberdeen, but fell in the fierce fighting at Inverlochy, skewered it is said, by a Campbell half-pike.

Sir Hexham Babbington (Protestant commander at Ballamoy) survived the wars living to the age of seventy-nine. When the war broke out in England he joined the King and served with distinction at Edgehill but was severely wounded a short time later at Brentford. He went into exile to convalesce (some say in Helsingborg) and finally returned to Ireland as Lord Ballymoy (by then the more common spelling) in 1660. The Battle of Ballamoy was the last time Sir Hex saw his wife. It was locally rumored that after thoughtfully paying his ransom, she absented herself  to Virginia, taking with her a lover (and  a substantial portion of his remaining gold – no doubt the heavier blow!) but this has never been substantiated.

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