The Butcher of Drogheda and a long-running war of attrition

I recently came across an article from the Irish News (available here), and it gave me my laugh for the day. Apparently there have been some shenanigans at Westminster involving one particular statue–a bust of Oliver Cromwell. Someone had turned it to face the wall, very like a naughty schoolboy. When the bust was righted, it was later found to be turned again to the wall.

Picture via social media

“I feel we may have stumbled into some underground, long-running war of attrition,” staff in the Labour Whips’ office tweeted.

It’s curious that Cromwell’s bust would be tucked away in a stairwell by a tea room. One MP even said she had never noticed it before. Possibly because it was facing to the wall for much longer than anyone expected.

It’s not all curious that the Irish News would have picked up on the joke and ran with it. Oliver Cromwell would very likely make Ireland’s Top 10 list of Most Reviled. Go on, ask anyone from Ireland about Ollie–perhaps not on St. Patty’s Day.

Why do they hate him so? In Ireland, he’s known as the Butcher of Drogheda.

The English Civil War should have been called the War of the Three Kingdoms, because it wasn’t localized to England. After Parliament executed Charles I in January 1649, James Butler (1st Duke of Ormonde), the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, proclaimed Charles II as the new king to the ire of England’s Parliament.

In August 1649, Cromwell landed in Ireland with a force of 12,000 to re-conquer Ireland and immediately moved against the port town of Drogheda. On September 3, 1649*, the Siege of Drogheda began. The defenders were outnumbered 6 to 1 but they refused to surrender. When Cromwell’s forces broke the siege eight days later, they slaughtered the entire town, civilians and all. The rules of warfare were clear. After rejecting surrender, the defenders could be lawfully killed, but the slaughter of innocents was particularly heinous. This was Oliver Cromwell making an example of Drogheda for all the other Irish Royalist garrisons in his path–take note, this will be you if you resist. What happened at Drogheda was vicious and bloody.

St Laurence’s Gate – the last remaining of the ten original defensive gates; picture by Kieran Campbell, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It worked. Cromwell continued his campaign, and by the time he was recalled to England to take up another invasion (this time in Scotland), leaving his second in command to carry on, he had taken southern and eastern Ireland. By May 1652, the Parliamentarian army had defeated the Irish Confederates and Royalists and occupied the country. The colonization of Ireland by Cromwell’s supporters would then start in earnest, but that is a post for another day.

*Note: September 3rd was a meaningful date for Cromwell. September 3, 1649 was the start of the Siege of Drogheda. Exactly a year later in 1650, he’d have a stunning victory against the Scottish army at Dunbar, and a year after that in 1651, he’d defeat King Charles II army at Worcester. He died seven years after that, on September 3, 1648. You can say the date finally caught up with him.



  1. He was also notorious for sending thousands of children to the ‘islands’ where they worked the fields and were called ‘red legs’ because of their fair skin that burned in the hot sun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it was a tragedy. I believe over 50,000 women and children were shipped down to Barbados in the mid 1650s. I’ve been reading about it.


  2. Thank you, great post. One of my areas of research as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Nancy. To a lesser extent, I touch on this period of history with my next novel. I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you how very much I enjoyed your novel The Prince of Glencurragh. Loved the characters and the story.


      1. Thank you! I’m honored. Cromwell is in my first novel, Sharavogue, and the protagonist spends most of her time indentured on Montserrat. Fascinating and horrifying time, especially that Cromwell should ever have been so elevated. I’ll look forward to your book!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ll definitely have to pick up Sharavogue. Agreed about Cromwell.


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