The Battle of Julianstown was fought during the Irish Rebellion of 1641, at Julianstown near Drogheda, Co Louth in November 1641.
The prelude to the planned Siege of Drogheda 1641 by northern counties insurgents led by Sir Phelim O’Neil and supporters from Cavan and Monaghan to lay siege to the strategic garrison, grain store and seaport. Insurgents, during their plan to unsettle English rule in Ireland, had already attacked several towns and villages within the Pale including the palace of the Protestant Bishop of Meath and the burning of Navan and Athboy. Either by chance or otherwise the insurgents came upon an untrained and hastily raised force of Government soldiers, largely composed of planter refugees from the northern counties sent against them. The two sides met at the bridge at Julianstown. The British commander gave the order to counter march, which the half trained recruits misinterpreted as a march to the rear. The British army began slowly edging backwards. However, the rebel force believed that the British had shouted contúirt bháis! (danger of death). The Irish, up on hearing this and seeing the panic and confusion amongst the British force let loose with a war cry and charged with unyielding ferocity. What followed was a simple route. The soldiers attempted to hold them off by firing in volleys, but were unable to coordinate their actions and panicked when they saw the rebels bearing down on them. Many threw down their muskets and ran away, the remainder being either killed or captured. One disputed source tells that the rebels spared the Irish in the soldier’s ranks, but killed the English and Scots. It is noted from the Cavan depositions that several of those men killed at Julianstown were in fact refugees who had joined the ranks of the army, having previously been robbed and turfed out of their homes by the insurgents.
The Officer in charge of the battle of Julianstown was Sir Patrick Wemyss. His account of the battle can be read in his letter to the Earl Ormonde, recorded in the Calendar of State Papers relating to Ireland, 1641.
The consequences of the Julianstown skirmish were far more disproportionate to its military significance. The victory by the insurgents made them seem much more formidable than they actually were and helped to spread the rebellion to the rest of Ireland. This also was a rude wake up call to the marquis of Ormond’s crown forces and showed the determination and support in Ireland for the insurgents supported by old English palesmen. This indirectly helped to trigger the English Civil War and Confederate Ireland, a short-lived independent Irish state.
Photo: The River Nanny at Julianstown, Co Meath