John Drake (mayor)

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John Drake (died after 1422) was one of the most celebrated medieval Mayors of Dublin. He was acclaimed by his fellow Dubliners as a hero for his decisive victory over the O'Byrne clan of County Wicklow at the Battle of Bloody Bank in 1402.

He was a member of the prominent Drake family of Drakerath, County Meath, who were a junior branch of the wealthy English landowning Drake family of Ash, Devon. Sir Francis Drake is said to have belonged to another branch of the same family, although this has been disputed. John was a close relative, possibly a son, of Richard Drake of Drakerath, who was High Sheriff of Meath in 1385, and he was probably the John Drake who held the same office in 1422. Matilda (or Maud) Drake, who married the eminent judge Sir Christopher Bernevall, was a close relative, possibly a sister, of John.

Battle of Bloody Bank[edit]

Drake was elected Mayor of Dublin for the first time in 1401. In the summer of the following year the O'Byrnes, who periodically raided Dublin, moved a large force of mercenaries to the banks of the River Dargle at Bray in County Wicklow, about twelve miles south of Dublin. There they remained for some days, being apparently uncertain how to proceed. This fatal hesitation gave the Walsh family, who owned nearby Carrickmines Castle, a chance to warn the authorities in Dublin of the impending raid.

Drake, who seems to have been given sole power to deal with the emergency, acted quickly and decisively: he assembled a large and well-armed force of Dublin citizenry, assisted by the fighting monks of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, and fell on the mercenary camp at the Dargle and defeated them with heavy loss of life. The casualties on the O'Byrne side were so high - one estimate puts the death toll on their side at 4000- that the area became known as Bloody Bank, and was so called until the nineteenth century. The outcome of the battle did much to enhance the security of Dublin and the Pale (the counties adjoining Dublin) while it greatly weakened the power of the O'Byrnes, who were forced to acknowledge the authority of the English Crown, and to surrender the key fortress of Newcastle MacKynegan, near present day Newcastle, County Wicklow.

Drake's popularity was greatly enhanced by his victory at Bloody Bank, and he served three terms as Mayor in all, finally stepping down in 1412. A thanksgiving ceremony to celebrate his achievements was held at Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin in 1402. Drake was the first Mayor of Dublin to carry the city's ceremonial sword and mace, which were gifts from King Henry IV of England.

Reputation[edit]

Although he was a hero to the people of Dublin, Drake was regarded in quite a different light by the O'Byrnes, who maintained that the "battle" at Bloody Bank was actually an unprovoked massacre, since they had not attacked Dubin, and insisted that they had not intended an attack (although what else they intended to do with such a large army is unclear). They did not forget or forgive him: a much later ballad composed by an O'Byrne descendant referred bitterly to Drake as the general who slaughtered hundreds of innocents at the Dargle.

References[edit]

  • Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 London John Murray 1926
  • Harris, Walter The History and Antiquities of the City of Dublin Dublin 1766
  • O'Byrne, Dr Emmett "O'Byrne promised to be loyal to the King" Irish Independent 18/04/2012