Assembling The New Parts (II)



Obviously the Celtic Fringe also includes Ireland and wargaming the 17th century in the Third Kingdom presents the opportunity for exploring the use of many unconventional units. Over time the Irish Confederation raised and trained armies of a more conventional nature, particularly in Ulster, but the great 1641 rising and the year or more that followed, is a patchwork of mobs and semi-organized militias, disjointed organization and a welter of goals and objectives. Warband is probably the best collective term for these native Irish Catholic units (although it is a useful term to describe some of the early Protestant units as well).

With the final defeat in 1603 of the Earl of Tyrone who had led a fierce nine year rebellion against England, the native Irish clan system was effectively broken and much of the country disarmed. There was between 1603 and 1641 a very low intensity resistance to the English (and the Scots in Ulster) occupation but it tended to look more like brigandage than an armed rebellion. England held the major population centers in Ulster, Leinster and Munster and was content to break up anything that looked like a large rising but otherwise kept reducing the strength of  garrisons. These had fairly rapidly diminished from near 20,000 in 1603 to around 3000 by 1641.

An exception to this downward trend was the raising of a mainly native Irish Catholic army of about 10,000 men at the king’s behest for possible use against the Scottish Covenanters in 1640.  They were apparently well equipped and trained but short lived, being disbanded in the summer of 1641 after Wentworth, the Lord Lieutenant, was executed for treason at the insistence of Parliament (in part for raising a Catholic army to employ against the king’s subjects). Undoubtedly their arms were sequestered in Protestant armories but their training was likely useful in the wars to come.

The great revolt of 1641 caught all but the Dublin garrison by total surprise. The Catholic powers of Europe as well as the Church quickly supported the rebellion with arms and money which began arriving in some quantity after the formation of the Irish Catholic Confederation in the summer of 1642. Equally important was the return of many trained soldiers and officers who had been fighting in Europe (principally in the armies of Spain).

If you would like to get a feel for my impression of the fighting as it occurred in the early stages of the 1641 rebellion I did a series of posts a few months ago on a fictional village near County Tyrone, Ballamoy. (Press “Older Posts” to see them in sequence.) I am sure I still have many details wrong but this is an evolving project and I plan to visit the first year of the rebellion again (and probably multiple times).

The following pictures are based on the units I describe in my unit builder and can be enlarged by clicking or touching them:


To the left is a Mob (WBmob) of Irish insurgents in the late Autumn of 1641. They carry no firearms and many of their weapons are improvised. The unit on the right is an Enhanced Mob (WBmobe) so typed because they possess a smattering of old muskets and civilian fowling pieces. They are configured as English clubmen circa 1645 but with reflagging could serve on any side in Ireland during 1641 and much of 1642.

I’ll grant that it is strange to classify a pike block (below) as a warband. The movement of warbands is generally thought of as quick, fluid and maneuverable and pike blocks are nearly the opposite in all respects. The Irish insurgents had lots more pikes than muskets. With officers trained in the Spanish service, exercising the recruits as a pike block may have seemed the sensible way to transition to a more disciplined and regular force. They are classed as a warband due more to their lack of cohesion than their appearance in the field.

An Irish Pike Block (WBpike) as it may have been configured at the Battle of  Liscarroll in Munster, Summer of 1642

What started as a well planned revolt to seize essential strong points, exploded into a nationwide general revolt the intensity of which surprised even the native Irish. Reports of atrocities by both sides (many vastly overblown in the best tradition of yellow journalism) flooded out of Ireland which only continued to fan the flames. Both England and Scotland raised and ultimately sent armies to the aid of their respective planters (colonial settlers) and co-religionists. In the interim the Protestant population began organizing their own proto-armies (largely Royalist in Leinster and Munster) that were somewhat better equipped thanks to various public and private armories. The units below represent the Protestant response.

WB ad hoc

In the lower left is a Protestant ad hoc militia (WBah) that is flagged to represent a unit of New Scots planters in 1641. These would quickly become the bases of the Lagan Army and other regular units in a Ulster. In the upper right, with more fire power, is an enhanced ad hoc militia (WBahe). It is flagged as a private retinue belonging to a lord or estate holder that reflects the beginnings of the Protestant and/or Royalist response in Leinster and Munster. These would go on to become the more regular units of Ormond and Inchiquin

In all of the Warband types I have shown it is still important to realize that they reflect my own sense of things based on the primary sources I have found as well as the many secondary sources. My imagination may have exceeded my scholarship. 😀