Carrickarnon skirmish 1690

Cnoic, Oidhreacht agus Stair ar theorainn Dheisceart Ard Mhacha/Thuaisceart Lú

Hilltops, Heritage and History on the South Armagh/Louth border


King William III landed at Carrickfergus on 14th June 1690, bringing 16,000 men to join the 20,000 already in the field. His march south  to do battle with James II (his father-in-law) was slow, not least because his generals expected the Jacobite forces to make a stand in or around the Gap of the North, which still had a fearsome reputation from the battles against O’Neill a century before.


Indeed, it is believed James’s generals argued in favour of stopping the Williamites between Newry and Dundalk and that it was James himself who over-ruled them and decided to make his stand at the Boyne. However, substantial forces were brought towards Dundalk and some of them pushed towards Newry.


James had many French officers supplied by his own father-in-law, Louis XIV. One of them, Le Marquis de la Hoguette, wrote from Ardee to the French Minister of War that 1500 soldiers were occupying “un chateau sur le grand chemin de Nury (a castle on the main road to Newry)” which sounds like Moyra Castle – but is it?


There was another castle, at Flurrybridge or the Four Mile Water as it was known. It may also have been called the Halfway Bridge. O. Davies (1938) wrote that a small fort was erected there in 1624 to command the crossing of the Flurry. Read PDF on right,page 33


It was known as Waterfort but was also called Four Mile House. The site is unknown but Davies makes the sensible point that it was probably on high ground and the closest is to the east, beside the Carrickdale.


Some of you may remember from the Walk Talks that when you see a castle, you should try to find the quarry the stone came from and a road joining the two. Neither is a problem in this case. The early Baby Boomers out there may remember that the Roadhouse, forerunner of the Carrickdale, was actually built in a quarry so there was stone close at hand.


Diary of Jacobite officer John Stevens

Saturday the 21st: a strong detachment of firelocks was sent out to a castle on the Newry road. At night 200 chosen men out of five regiments, being 40 of each, were sent to lie upon Newry road upon intelligence of some party of the enemy advancing.


Sunday the 22nd: a party of horse under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Dempsey,144 advancing towards Newry, fell into a body of the enemy and, being overpowered, retreated; till coming to the above said detachment of 200 foot under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel FitzGerald145 and finding them receive the enemy vigorously, they rallied. The rebels made no great resistance, our foot firing hotly, but fled towards Newry, the horse pursuing them a considerable space. Of the rebels above sixty were killed, of ours a few wounded and fewer killed, among which was Lieutenant-Colonel Laurence Dempsey, shot through the shoulder whereof he died.


Thanks to PJ Goode, a descendant of the unfortunate Dempsey, who sent me these texts. The Jacobite Narrative of the War in Ireland refers to

“… between two hundred and three hundred English foot and dragoons, at the other end of the pass, who, it seems, were coming from the Newry towards Dundalk, to know the king’s strength, and how his army lay. The Irish suffered them to pass the causeway and then they poured their shot in amongst them. There was a return made. But the English dragoons being more numerous charged the Irish horse with such fierceness, that they disordered the troop. ”


The causeway referred to is the ‘broken causie’ which figured so often in the accounts of the O’Neill Wars. On the main road just past the Edentubber turn there is a little narrow road on the left that runs north to Kinney’s Mill, parallel to the main road. This is the original road, which dips down towards the stream which marks the border. Drainage is still poor around there, but back then there was a substantial bog crossed by some sort of raised causeway, possibly with a wooden bridge or portion. It may have been known as the Five Mile Bridge although less than an Irish mile from the Four Mile Bridge.


Armies of the time were trained to form up in fighting lines of 50 or 100 across if possible – they were vulnerable when strung out in columns for marching. The standard Irish ambush technique was to lie in wait at natural choke points – bridges, fords and bog crossings. The Davies article points out that the word Pass (sometimes spelt Pace) was used in the 16th century not to describe mountain crossings but valley crossings which were more dangerous. The causeway would probably only have been wide enough for two horsemen or four or five pikemen or musketeers. The ambush party would suddenly fire from the bushes and hope to punch a hole in the middle of the column so that it could no longer fight as a single unit.


The ambush was not accidental – the Jacobites had observed that scouting parties were approaching the Half-Way Bridge every night. The fact that they had sent 60 Dragoons (horse) and 200 foot probably meant they intended to push on towards Moyra if they met no resistance.

The ‘broken causie’ of Carrickarnon is shown in the sketch map below, which seems to be by our old friend Bartlett, the mapmaker to Lord Mountjoy.


Anyone wanting to brush up on their 17th century French can read the full account of Le Marquis de la Hoguette here: FullTFrenchtext