The Defence of Clonmel by D. A. McCArthy

WHEN Oliver Cromwell – whose name is still remembered with horror in Ireland – besieged Clonmel, the garrison of fifteen hundred men, commanded by Hugh Duff O’Neill, and aided by the townspeople, resisted most bravely. At length, finding further struggle against overwhelming odds hopeless, O’Neill decided to evacuate the town ; buy before taking this step, he planned and executed a stroke which for the time being, almost demoralised the enemy and filled them with such a wholesome respect for the prowess of the town’s defenders that, when Clonmel surrendered, its people received favourable terms from Cromwell. General Sir William Butler, KC.B., writing of this event, says: “No opposition appeared until the leading troops entered the breach. The column anticipated an easy victory, but there was terrible slaughter, and they were repulsed. An hour after nightfall O’Neill withdrew his forces, and the town was surrendered.”

“Ho, chosen warriors of the Lord,
Gird up your loins to-day!
Yon breach within, the sons of sin
Stand desp’rately at bay.
Draw, draw your swords, your pieces prime,
Let drum and trumpet swell !
This charge must tout the Papists out”
Cried Cromwell at Clonmel.

E’en at his word the army stirred,
Grim veterans all were they,
Whose swords had flashed, whose cannon crashed
In many a fiery fray.
At Naseby field and Marston Moor
Full well they’d fleshed their spears,
When fast before their charge had fled
The haughty Cavaliers.

The eyes beneath each morion glowed
With strange, fanatic light;
They deemed themselves the saints of God,
His instruments of might.
No doubt this firm conviction vexed,
But fierce, ferocious, calm,
Their war-cry was a Scripture text,
Their battle-song a psalm.

Across the land their march had been
A devastating flood;
Where’er it twined it left behind
A crimson stain of blood.
Not e’en the piteous plea of age
Their fury could disarm,
And vain the wile of childhood’s smile
Their murderous mood to charm.

And now, behold, against Clonmel
They vainly fling their bands!
Battered and bayed but undismayed
The town defiant stands.
Battered and bayed but undismayed
It meets each fresh attack;
With soldiers few and faint but true
It hurls the foemen back.

Hugh Duff O’Neill commands the town,
And marks, with looks that lower,
Cromwellian cannon batter down
His forts from hour to hour.
He marks the famine-stricken few
That hold the crumbling wall,
And knows that vain is all their pain –
Clonmel at last must fall.

The up he speaks unto his chiefs ;
“Ere yet this town we leave,
We’ll make a stand for fatherland
Will cause the foe to grieve.
The breach that yeawns so widely now
Wil serve our purpose well ;
Before we go we’ll make the foe
Remember ‘Rare Clonmel’!”

Within the breach’s ywning mouth
A lane of stone he rears;
He lines the walls on either side
With all his musketeers,
across the end another wall
With cannon furnished fit –
“I have a mind,” quoth he, “they’ll find
This breach the devil’s pit”

The trap is made, but scarcely laid,
When Cromwell’s voice rings out;
With eager cry his troops reply,
In one wild charging shout.
Then, like the thundering wave that roars
Along the sounding beach,
The rushing Roundhead army pours
Its thousands through the breach!

Clonmel, Clonmel, thy fate is sealed!
Thy sun is sunk in gloom!
No strength thy puny arm may wield
Can save thee from thy doom –
The doom that fell on Drogheda
And Wexford town as well –
Slaughter and flame, defeat and shame,
Are thine today, Clonmel!

But see! But see! Who can these be
From out the breach that run ?
What panic-stricken wretches flee
With broken blade and gun?
Can these be Cromwell’s chosen troops,
Erewhile so fierce and fell,
That stagger out, a broken rout,
From dauntless old Clonmel ?

Yes, yes! Thank God for cannoneers,
Who mowed them down in ranks!
Thank God for ready musketeers
Whose volleys swept their flanks!
Thank God for gallant soldiers all,
Who charged and broke and slew
In one brief hour the very flower
Of Cromwell’s canting crew!

Yes, yes! Thank God for Irish hearts,
Unconquerable still !
Of war’s red cost the Roundhead host
To-day have had their fill.
Honour to these who held the town,
And let the future tell
How Irish swords beat back the hordes
Of Cromwell at Clonmel !

Taken from My Clonmel Scrapbook
Compiled & Edited James White
Second 1000 ; Published E. Downey & Co., Waterford ; 1907 ; No. ISBN