General Henry Ireton

Ireton, Henry, a distinguished general and statesman of the English Commonwealth, who served in Ireland, was born at Attenton, in Nottinghamshire, in 1610. He married Cromwell's daughter Bridget. On 15th August 1649 he sailed from Milford for Dublin as Major-General in command of one division of Cromwell's army, and served through the campaigns of the autumn and spring. After Cromwell's departure for England in May 1650, he was appointed President of Munster and to the supreme command of the Irish army. Connaught with a large part of Munster still acknowledged the King's sway, and Waterford, Galway, and Limerick remained in the hands of the Irish, as well as Sligo, Duncannon, Carlow, Athlone, Nenagh, and Charlemont. There was, however, neither order, union, nor co-operation among the Irish parties; and faction, discord, and ill-management did for Ireton far more than all his military force could have accomplished. After the defeat of the Bishop of Clogher at Letterkenny by Sir Charles Coote, and the surrender of Charlemont, almost the whole of Ulster was subdued.

General Hudson reduced Naas, Athy, Maryborough, and Castledermot. Duncannon was taken. Waterford surrendered on 10th August. The garrison of Carlow, after enduring a short bombardment, surrendered, and were allowed to march out with the honours of war. In December the Marquis of Ormond retired to France, and after the reduction of Athlone by Coote, the only places of importance that remained in the hands of the Irish were Limerick, Sligo, and Galway. Ireton began his operations against Limerick early in 1651. The city was defended by Major-General Hugh O'Neill, who had so distinguished himself in the defence of Clonmel against Cromwell. Ireton forced the passage of the Shannon at O'Brien's-bridge, dispersed Castlehaven's army, and was thus enabled to invest Limerick, while Lord Muskerry, who got together a considerable force to raise the siege, was defeated by Lord Broghill, with great slaughter, at Castleishen, in the County of Cork, on 26th of July. The castle on the salmon-weir at Limerick was next taken. Ireton lost 120 men in his first attempt on King's Island, and 300 more were cut off in a sally; but soon afterwards a bridge was constructed to the island, and 6,000 troops marched over, and effected a permanent lodgment.

The defence was heroically conducted for several weeks. Pestilence raged within the walls, and one of the most thrilling incidents in Ludlow's Memoirs is his account of how they beat back into the town a crowd of famished and plague-stricken non-combatants who sought to leave it. At length, when Ireton's preparations for bombardment were complete, and when upwards of 5,000, according to one account, had fallen by the plague, the city capitulated on 27th October 1651. The garrison and inhabitants, except the governor, Hugh O'Neill, General Purcell, the Bishops of Limerick and Emly, and eighteen other persons of distinction who had "opposed and restrained the deluded people from accepting the conditions so often offered to them," received liberty to remove themselves, their families, and property to any part of Ireland. As the garrison of 2,500 men marched out, several fell dead of the plague. On a third vote of a court-martial, and partly at the solicitation of Ludlow, O'Neill's life was spared, while most of the other excepted persons were executed: O'Dwyer, Bishop of Emly, and Father Wolfe suffered with singular bravery and fortitude. Ireton died of the plague at Limerick on 15th November 1651, aged about 41. His death was deeply felt by his own party, who revered him as a good soldier, an able statesman, and a saint.

Cromwell had a profound faith in his judgment, and entrusted to him the drawing up of many of the important public acts, memorials, and documents of his party. His body was embalmed and conveyed to England, where it was buried in Westminster Abbey. After the Restoration his remains were, with Cromwell's, disinterred, exposed on a scaffold, and burned at Tyburn.

Note from Addenda:

Ireton, Henry — For "O'Dwyer," read "O'Brien."[233]


125. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th edition; as far as published.

170a. Ireland, History of: Martin Haverty. Dublin, 1860.

175. Ireland, History of: Samuel Smiles, M.D. (the Invasion to 1829). London, 1844.

215. Limerick, Its History and Antiquities: Maurice Lenihan. Dublin, 1866. Lodge, John, see also No. 161.

219a. Ludlow, Edmund, Memoirs. 3 vols. Vevay, 1698-'9.

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.