Thursday, 18 February 2016

THE ANTIQUARIAN: The Glorious Revolution & the Galway Prisoners


In 1685, King Charles II of England died and his Catholic brother, James, ascended the throne.  As a result, positions of power in Ireland were re-possessed by Catholics and members of the Protestant gentry in the south (already a minority), who did not immigrate to England, or transplant themselves north, began to organize themselves into defensive positions in the larger country houses (Wright & Warren).  Aristocrats in England, also fearing the consequences of rule under a Catholic King, formally invited the Dutch Prince of Orange to become King William III and by February of 1689 “The Glorious Revolution” put an end to what many at the time referred to as the Romanizing of England.


Soon after, on 1st March 1689 (just before James II landed in Ireland with 5000 French troops to join an Irish army of 50,000 men, as part of a Jacobite plan to re-take the English throne) about 200 gentleman of Cork, along with their tenants and servants, responded to a program of Protestant disarmament by deciding to march north and join Lord Kingston’s forces at Sligo. 

The group, led by Sir Thomas Southwell and several old officers, met at Mallow and then headed in the direction of Limerick.  After a few successful encounters, including an exchange of fire at Brian’s Bridge in County Clare, intelligence of the march spread; as they approached Galway, in need of both food and water, they encountered several troop of horse advancing toward them.

 It suddenly became clear that their guide had led them into an ambush, and the group found themselves cut off, on a narrow passage, in the middle of a bog just outside Loughrea, surrounded by a company of men on either side of them; this included, several troops of King James’s horse in front as well as four to five hundred militia men behind.  Before being forced to halt, shots were exchanged and one of Southwell’s group, Morgan Williams, was killed.

 Finally, unable to form themselves into any cohesive defense, the group halted.


In the chaos that preceded the surrender, chronicles of the event cite the behaviour of two of Southwell’s party: Captain Bartholomew Purdon & Catherine Gun.

An eyewitness account records that, either through loss of temper or through a calculated attempt to reduce the lopsided confrontation down to a single win or lose combat, Captain Bartholomew Purdon of Ballyclough, with his pistol in one hand and his sword in the other, spurred his horse toward the troop of horse in front of them and challenged its commander, Captain Burke, to a duel. This, the commander refused and after some bickering, negotiation ensued. 

It may have been during some of this bickering or, perhaps, it may have been Catherine Gun, herself, who prior to this had inspired Purdon’s charge, because eyewitness accounts state that she was one of the most vocal against surrender.  Miss Hickson’s Old Kerry Records states that after another of Southwell’s party, Captain Thomas Miller, had cried out “Gentlemen you have the sword before and the gallows behind”(17), Catherine entreated all to “fight and die honourably rather than trust to the mercy of a perfidious enemy”(Wright & Warren, 118). 

Catherine was the only woman who had attended the march, refusing to stay behind, and, dressed in men’s clothing, was described as mounted amazon-like in her saddle (Burke, 51).  One legend of her recorded that she and her husband had been in some place that had been besieged and forced to surrender.  After terms had been reached, all the women present were allowed to leave, carrying their valuables; observing these requirements, Catherine subsequently declared that the only valuable she wished to take was her gun and to this end immediately scooped up her husband, William Gun of Rattoo, County Kerry, and, upon her back, carried him off with her (Burke, 117).


According to the official articles of surrender, Southwell, Purdon and Captain Miller agreed to “lay down such horse and arms, as was fit for the king’s service” to James Power, High Sheriff of Galway, and Captain Burke, commander of the King’s Horse (Burke, 65); in return, members of Southwell’s party would be allowed to retain their own personal arms, one horse each and granted safe passage to any place except their original destination of Sligo.

After being halted a week at Loughrea, however, it became apparent that the terms of the treaty were not being upheld, and, as a result of a court hearing held soon afterward, the gentlemen in the party were placed, against their will, in private lodgings, while their tenants and servants were forced to live, without shelter, outside. 

The landing of King James in Ireland precipitated another appearance in court on the 16th of March, and it was at this point that the members of Southwell’s group were officially declared traitors and sentenced to a traitor’s death of being hanged, drawn and quartered. 

Once again placed in different locations about the town, which included a public house, a castle, and a marshalsea (Wright & Warren, 190), the Galway prisoners spent the next months in varying degrees of comfort; they later reported being well treated by their captors some of the time, abused in different ways at other times and, in one instance, assured by the Earl of Clanricarde’s men that they were only hours from torture and death.

By the beginning of 1690, however, they were moved back south to Dublin and, while James was confronting William of Orange at the Boyne, three hundred members of Southwell’s group were locked inside a small church to await the outcome of a battle that would decide the fate of both themselves and the future United Kingdom.

One eyewitness reported that it was from the windows of this church that they observed the chaotic retreat of what was left of James’s army rushing through the city streets toward Limerick, followed soon after by the company of guards standing watch outside their church prison.

After eighteen months of captivity, the ordeal of the Galway prisoners was over.

Burke, Oliver Joseph.  Anecdotes of the Connaught Circuit. Dublin: Hodges, Figgis &
            Co., 1885

Hickson, Mary Agnes. Selections from Old Kerry Records. London: Watson & Hazell,

Townsend et al. An Officer of the Long Parliament & His Descendants. London: Oxford University Press, 1812.

Wright, Thomas & Henry Warren. History of Ireland; From the Earliest Period of the Irish Annals, to the Present Time. London: J. Tallis & Company, 1854.

*It is worth noting that both of these individuals were the children of prominent officers in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, whom Oliver Cromwell distinguished as being instrumental in the return and keeping of both Cork & Youghal for the parliamentarians (Townsend, 83).  Catherine Gun was the daughter of Colonel Richard Townsend & Captain Bartholomew Purdon was the eldest son and heir of Sir Nicholas Purdon, which some historical accounts record as the officer who killed the famed Alasdair MacColla after the battle of Knockanass.

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