The Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars between rival factions for the throne of England, does not on the face of it have much to do with Ireland or the Irish. True Ireland was nominally ruled by the English at the time, but this control really only extended to a variable but small part of Ireland known as the Pale, centred around Dublin, while the bulk was made up of largely independent fiefdoms of various lords. Of course any conflict will attract mercenaries and others looking for action and reward from the surrounding area, so some Irish undoubtedly did fight on English soil, but Ireland was more important as a place of refuge for those currently out of favour in the struggle, and as a launch point for further action in England.
The power struggle in England naturally weakened the English grip on Ireland, and the Pale did shrink during this period, but Ireland did not completely escape the effects of the war. One full-scale battle took place there – at Piltown, Co Kilkenny, near Waterford, in 1462 – between rival Irish families backing different sides in the war, and in addition there was the Lambert Simnel revolt of 1487. This was a final Yorkist attempt to overthrow the Lancastrian Henry VII, and involved an invasion of England which included many Irish troops. The invasion was crushed at the Battle of Stoke Field on 16th June, marking the last act of the Wars of the Roses.
Piltown (Baile an Phoill) is a small village in Co Kilkenny.
Approaching Piltown from the west (on the road from Carrick-on-Suir) the unmissable landmark of “the Tower” (or Sham Castle) forms a roundabout in the road. This monument, dedicated to the son of a local nobleman, dates back to the Napoleonic era. Today its upper section serves as a water tower.
Piltown also has a unique place in English history as it was the only place on the island of Ireland to see a battle in the War of the Roses. In the Battle of Piltown (1462) the Earl of Desmond, on the side of the House of York, defeated the Butlers of Kilkenny, fighting for the House of Lancaster, resulting in more than 400 casualties for the Butlers. Local folklore claims that the battle was so violent that the local river ran red with blood, hence the names Pill River and Piltown (Baile an Phoill) – Town of the blood.