Cromwell in Callan

Cromwell In Callan

Peter McQuillan

When Oliver Cromwell came to Callan in 1650 the town was quite a large place, as Joe Kennedy, Hon. Secretary of Callan Heritage, points out in the ‘Old Kilkenny Review, 1984.’ It was one of the principal towns of the Ormond domain, a walled town with 8 castles, with its own Corporation and Sovereign, and its own Court of Justice. It had a Charter since 1217, and it sent, not one, but two members to the Irish Parliament.
After the Civil War in England Cromwell turned his attention to Ireland, which, in the wake of the Confederation of Kilkenny, needed to be secured for the Commonwealth. Following the successful assaults on Drogheda and Wexford, Cromwell took his army into winter quarters in County Cork and resumed his campaign, on 29th January 1650, by marching on Kilkenny, taking the royalist Irish army by surprise by moving so early and so rapidly.
Part of his army under Col. Reynolds approached from Carrick via Goats Bridge along the King’s River and arrived at the walls of Callan at the Great Castle, which was at the end of Mill Street. Cromwell himself, meanwhile, took his forces up through Mallow and County Tipperary.
Callan at that time was garrisoned by 1500 soldiers of the Irish Army under Sir Richard Talbot, considered a weak leader, more concerned with saving his own skin than saving Callan. His intention to surrender the town was thwarted by some of his own officers who insisted on opposing the assault.
Col. Reynolds located his troops at the Fair Green and approached the South Gate at Green Street to ask for surrender. He lost 112 men when the garrison answered his request with gunfire. He promptly bombarded the Gate and surrounding area with cannon fire and followed up with infantry assaults. After three repulses and further bombardment the fourth assault was successful and the troops proceeded to where they met a force of 100 cavalry near the present Courthouse and routed them, taking two officers captive and hanging another. Townspeople fled before them and sought shelter in the castles and in the old St. Mary’s Church, where tradition says they were butchered.
Meanwhile Cromwell arrived via Fethard and came in the West Gate and both armies attacked Skerry’s Castle on West Street. Some fierce fighting ensued and rocks and boiling water were used against the attackers. Capt. Mark Geoghegan, who led the defenders, fell, and his wife was assumed dead but in fact survived and lived to an advanced age.
With the defeat at Skerry’s Castle the fate of Callan was sealed. Talbot surrendered the Great Castle and 1200 Irish troops marched from the town without their arms. Enraged at the resistance and the loss of men Cromwell let his soldiers loose on the town and there followed an orgy of looting, burning and killing.
On March 20th Cromwell’s army met that of his son-in-law Henry Ireton, who had marched from Dublin, at Gowran and together they prepared for the assault on Kilkenny City……ach sin scéal eile.