Battle of Meelick Island
The Battle of Meelick Island took place on the river Shannon, on the border between Connacht and Leinster, in Ireland in October 1650. It was fought between the armies of Confederate Ireland and the English Parliament during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The battle occurred when an English force under Colonel Daniel Axtell attacked the Connacht Irish army led by Clanricarde. The result was the rout of the Connacht army by Axtell's soldiers.
The Parliamentarian capture of the Castle at Tecroghan enabled the English to approach the borders of Connacht during the summer of 1650. Ulick Burke, then Earl of Clanricarde, was forced into action by the impending threat. Clanricarde was the leading Irish commander in the province and by August recognised as the de facto successor to Ormond as Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. Clanricarde was a better diplomat than a military man, but he had maintained peace in Connacht during the turmoil of the 1640s. As the English armies approached the borders of Connacht, Clanricarde organised an army of 3,000 men to support Lord Dillon's garrison at Athlone. When Ireton marched south from Athlone in late September and early October, Clanricarde launched a counter-attack across the River Shannon, with the intention of cutting English communications between Athlone and Limerick and denying them supplies from King's County.
Clanricarde's forces crossed the Shannon at fords around Shannonbridge (to the south of Athlone) in early October. The Connacht army quickly captured Ferbane Castle and Colonel Axtell, the English commander in the region, was forced over the River Brosna and then to Birr after some skirmishes between his regiment and the Irish army. Clanricarde's forces then seized some small English outposts. As Axtell's regiment retreated, Clanricarde was reinforced by James Preston, bringing the strength of his army to just over 4,000 infantry and 500 cavalry. However, English reinforcements under Colonels Cook and Abbot quickly marched up from Wexford and Kilkenny to join Axtell at Roscrea on 21 October. When Axtell advanced towards Birr to challenge the Irish army, Clanricarde decided to withdraw and to take up formidable defensive positions on Meelick Island, a Crannog on the River Shannon.
Soldiers were posted to overlook the ford that the English would have to cross in order to attack the Irish entrenchments on Meelick Island. Axtell however launched an attack as the light was fading on the evening of 25 October. The fighting was initially fierce, with clubbed muskets being used in close quarter fighting, but soon the Irish were driven from the forward post guarding the ford and the Parliamentarians gained an entrance to the island. The Irish were thereafter routed. Several hundred Irish soldiers were killed in the battle, many drowning in the waters of the Shannon as they tried to escape. The English captured Clanricarde's baggage train, including weapons, tents and many horses, though Burke himself escaped. The castle and posts taken by the Irish on the eastern side of the Shannon were quickly recaptured by the victorious Parliamentarians.
The rout at Meelick Island was a major blow to the Connacht Irish army, comparable to the loss of the Leinster army at Rathmines or the defeat of the Ulster army at Scarrifholis a few months before. Clanricarde attempted to put an army back together in subsequent months, but after this defeat he had great difficulty. After the battle it was alleged that Axtell's soldiers had executed many of the Irish soldiers after promise of quarter. As a result, Axtell was court-martialled by Ireton and ordered to return to England.