The Battle of Rathmines was fought in and around what is now the Dublin suburb of Rathmines in August 1649, during the Irish Confederate Wars, the Irish theatre of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It was fought between an English Parliamentarian army under Michael Jones which held Dublin and an army composed of Irish Confederate and English Royalist troops under the command of the Earl of Ormonde. The battle ended in the rout of the Confederate /Royalist army and facilitated the landing in Ireland of Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army several days later, who in the next four years completed the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.
By 1649, Ireland had already been at war for eight years, since the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641. During this time, most of Ireland was ruled by the Irish Confederate Catholics, a government of Irish Catholics based in Kilkenny. The Confederates allied themselves with the English Royalists in the English Civil War, against the English Parliament, which was committed to re-conquering Ireland, suppressing the Catholic religion and destroying the Irish Catholic land-owning class. After much internal in-fighting, the Confederates signed a peace treaty with Charles I, who was soon to be executed by the Rump Parliament, agreeing to accept English Royalist troops into Ireland and put their own armies under the command of Royalist officers, in particular James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde. By 1649, the English Parliament held only two small enclaves in Ireland –at Dublin and Derry.
In July 1649, Ormonde marched his coalition forces of 11,000 men to the outskirts of Dublin, to take the city from its Parliamentary garrison, which had landed there in 1647. Ormonde took Rathfarnham Castle and camped at Palmerston Park in Rathgar, about 4 km south of the city. The area from Ormonde’s camp to the city of Dublin is now a heavily urbanised area, but in 1649, it was open countryside. Ormonde began inching his forces closer to Dublin by taking the villages around its perimeter and to this end, sent a detachment of troops to occupy Baggotrath Castle, on the site of present-day Baggot Street bridge. For reasons which have never been clear, they took several hours to reach Baggotrath, a distance of about a mile, and they arrived to find that the Parliamentary troops had already occupied the castle.
However, Ormonde was not expecting Michael Jones, the Parliamentary commander, to take the initiative and had not drawn up his troops for battle. Unfortunately for the Royalists, this is exactly what Jones did, launching a surprise attack on 2 August from the direction of Irishtown with 5,000 men and sending Ormonde’s men at Baggotsrath reeling backwards towards their camp in confusion.
Too late, Ormonde and his commanders realised what was going on and sent units into action piecemeal to try to hold up the Parliamentarian advance, so that they could form their army into battle formation. However, Jones’ cavalry simply outflanked each force sent against them, sending them too fleeing back south through the townlandof Rathmines. The battle became a rout as scores of fleeing Royalist and Confederate soldiers were cut down by the pursuing Roundheads. The fighting finally ended when the English Royalist troops under Murrough O’Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin mounted a disciplined rearguard action, allowing the rest to get away. Ormonde claimed he had lost less than a thousand men. Jones claimed to have killed around 4000 Royalist or Confederate soldiers and taken 2,517 prisoners, while losing only a handful himself. Ormonde certainly lost at least one leading officer, Christopher Plunkett, 2nd Earl of Fingall, who was fatally wounded and died in Dublin Castle a few days later. Ormonde also lost his entire artillery train and all his baggage and supplies.
In the aftermath of the battle, Ormonde withdrew his remaining troops from around Dublin, allowing Oliver Cromwell to land in the city (at Ringsend) with 15,000 veteran troops on 15 August. Cromwell called the battle “an astonishing mercy”, taking it as a sign that God had approved of his conquest of Ireland. Without Jones’ victory at Rathmines, the New Model Army would have had no port to land at in Ireland and the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland would have been much more difficult. Ormonde’s incompetent generalship at Rathmines (and subsequently) disillusioned many Irish Confederates with their alliance with the English Royalists and Ormonde was ousted as commander of the Irish forces in the following year.
The battle gave the names to several local landmarks. ‘The Bleeding Horse’ public house, which stands at the corner of modern Upper Camden street, was established in 1649, when, after the Battle of Rathmines, a wounded horse wandered into a tavern. This made such an impression on the owner that he named his premises ‘The Bleeding Horse’.
In addition, an area in the townland of Milltown was formerly known as the “Bloody Fields”, where it is believed that some of the fleeing Royalist soldiers were overtaken by the Parliamentarian cavalry, killed and subsequently buried. At the time of Griffith’s Valuation (15 February 1850), The Bloody Fields were the property of Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, who left them to his stepson, William Cowper-Temple, 1st Baron Mount Temple. They were subsequently built over, with the roads named in honour of Temple, Palmerston and Cowper.