Prelude to Benburb – June 5, 1646

Note: Today I started adding pictures to this blog from my small collection of 16th and 17th Century arms and armor. They can be found in the page menu or with direct link to the entry page: 

Equipment in 1:1 scale

The Battle of Benburb, proper, began in the late afternoon of June 5th, 1646 but the Irish were sparring throughout the day with the advancing Protestants. In his excellent ECW scenario series, Robert Giglio makes Benburb a double battle, the first the Irish failed ambush of Munro’s army at Ballaghkillgevill along the road approaching Benburb from the West and the second the Main battle at Benburb.

This is a well conceived approach since it recognizes that Owen Roe was, for all intents and purposes, threading the needle through as many as four Protestant forces arrayed against him. As it happened the Marquis of Ormond’s army in Lienster had failed to make its much expected move into Ulster, reducing the number to three. O’Neil, of nessecity, needed to have at least some of his forces scout for and occasionally delay the Protestants who wished to trap him.

Ballaghkillgevill was such a delaying skirmish as was a somewhat smaller action at a ruined monestary to the north of Benburb. Both of these actions, fought earlier in the day of the main battle, had at least some effect on the outcome at Benburb.

Since I am now happily using One Hour Wargames (OHW) to setup and fight small battle scenarios, I have designed two as part of the prelude to the Battle of Benburb and their outcome may have some effect on the way Benburb is setup and wargamed.


When General Owen Roe O’Neill, who was preparing his positions on Drumflugh Hill near Benburb, learned that Monro had crossed the Blackwater and was now rapidly approaching on the north side of the river, he determined to harass and slow the Protestant advance as much as possible. The slowing was perhaps viewed as necessary since most of O’Neill’s horse was off on another mission (see Battle of the Nephews, below), but certainly the harassment and ambush of the enemy was an often used Irish tactic. Monro was pushing his men very hard (he likely feared that O’Neill’s army would escape and he greatly desired a desicive battle with the Irish). From O’Neill’s standpoint, the more obstacles that could be thrown into Monro’s path the better:

Benburb Campaign OHW G1 Ballaghkillgevill

The Irish under Major Mac MacHugh Boy O’Neill picked an excellent place to set an ambush where the Benburb road was pinched between the wooded slopes of Knocknacloy Hill and the Lough of the same name. Immediately beyond this stricture the road had to climb over Ballaghkillgevill Hill which would serve as a strong blocking position to hold the enemy within the trap. As it turned out the summer heat had dried the lough to make it passable. The local Irish apparently knew this but that knowledge was not put to advantage. The Protestant advanced force apparently did not even investigate the possibility that it was passable.

What the Protestants did do well was scout ahead sufficiently to notice the Irish setting the trap (apparently they had not the time to to weave the concealing thickets as was the usual practice or, for that matter, to ditch defensive positions). The discovery seriously blunted the effectiveness of the ambush and allowed a Protestant flanking force to end run Knocknacloy Hill to the left.

A downloadable scenario, G1 – Ballaghkillgevill,  can be found at my other blog.

“Battle of the Nephews” (The Ruined Monestary)

Having already taken the decision to stand his ground on Drumflugh Hill (just west of Benburb) O’Niell remained concerned about the possible approach of two other protestant forces, Sir Robert Stewart’s capable Lagan Army (which was actually out of range to the West) and the Colerain force commanded by Munro’s nephew, Col. George Monro (which at that moment was approaching from the North near Dungannon). O’Neill dispatched his own nephew, Col Brien O’Neill along with a large portion of the horse, to deal with the threat.

Seeing the Irish horse (500 to 600) approaching and being outnumbered, the Protestant van of the Colerain force took up defensive positions around a ruined monastery:

Benburb Campaign OHW G2 Battle of the Nephews

The action, just south of Dungannon, was actually a very small skirmish. Brien O’Neil, either receiving a recall from Owen Roe, or more likely hearing the opening of the Protestant cannonade at Benburb broke off contact and returned to support his Uncle’s right flank. George Monro was somewhat less sanguine and moved back toward Dungannon. A move that deprived his Uncle of additional troops (but did not prevent him from later marrying his cousin, General Robert Munro’s daughter).

Brien’s check of George and his timely return to Benburb assisted in turning the Protestant left flank during the battle.

A downloadable scenario, G2 – Battle of the Nephews, can be found at my other blog.