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The History and Topography of the County of Clare by James Frost

Part III. History of the County of Clare
Chapter 19. Rising of the Catholics, 1641; — Siege of Ballyallia Castle

Progress of the siege

About the 6th of February, Dermot O’Brien and John MacTeige MacNamara, asked for a parley which was granted. They promised us safe conduct to Bunratty, on condition of delivering the castle into their hands, but we refused, expecting relief, conformably to the proclamation recently proclaimed in England. They then threatened us with the instruments Turlogh O’Brien intended to make; these would be of a character we could not resist. They further informed us that Turlogh had taken Abraham Baker, as he was going to Bunratty, and forced him to go on with his sow, which they afterwards finished. After this, the enemy would, daily, in our sight, draw forth their skeans and swords, flourishing them, swearing many dangerous oaths, that ere long they would draw us forth and hack us to pieces, terming us Puritan rogues, and all the base names that might be invented, vowing that, shortly, Sir Phelim O’Neill, with 40,000 soldiers, would come to Thomond and not leave a Protestant living.

Now, the enemy having finished their two sows, and their leathern great piece, they brings them within sight of the castle, and then sends Captain Henry O’Grady, of Knockaney, in the county of Limerick, to summon the castle. Upon our demand as to what authority he had, he replied that he had commission from his Majesty to banish all Protestants from the kingdom of Ireland. Hereupon, without further examination, there was a bullet sent by one of the warders to examine his commission, which went through his thigh, but he made shift to rumbel to the bushes and there fell down, but only lay by it sixteen weeks, in which time, unhappily it was cured.

This evening, a poor maid that formerly came stript to the castle, being desirous to venture to an aunt she had at Ballycar castle, living with Mr. Coalpis (Colpoys) had no sooner began her journey, but was, by the enemy taken before their commanders. These put her to much torture to make her reveal what she knew of the castle, and whom it was who shot at Grady, the whole of which she was forced to confess, the party being Andrew Chapling Minister.

[Here follows a description of a “sow,” which appears to be a hollow tube of wood, covered with hides, mounted on wheels, and capable of containing men in the interior. It was moved by levers, and brought close to the wall, so that the men could work with pick axes and crow bars, without danger from above. A description is also given of a leathern cannon which, when an attempt was made to discharge it, only blew out the breech backwards.]

Sir Daniel O’Brien, after lighting a number of fires around the country, to distract our attention, in the night, sent forty musketeeres to force their way into the haggard beyond the castle. This stratagem succeeded, and we were thus deprived of all access to water, and indeed of any power of going outside the walls. We continued exchanging shots, very hot, till the Sunday morning, and had the killing of divers, and lost not one within the castle. All this while, the men in the haggard had been disappointed of their victuals, by reason of our good watch, which caused them to rub out the corn from the ears and feed upon it. But their fellows abroad, considering their great want, appointed three men to venture to them, with a pair of quearns and a sieve, that they might make bread of the corn and relieve themselves therewith, but these three men could not escape to them but lost their lives by the way. Hereupon, their commanders sent a cot to relieve them by water.

Water was now grown so scarce with us that we were fain boil the salt meat two or three times in one water, and save all the rain water in sheets and vessels; but all was too little to quench our thirst, so that many who had not beer were like to perish, and would have given six pence a quart for water to any that would venture for it, but being compassed in the manner as they were, none would venture.

On Sunday morning, my brothers and the rest of the men resolved to venture forth for water. They first killed all the men in the haggard except one who swam over the lough. They then fell upon the sows and seized both, after killing or mortally wounding all those who had charge of them, excepting Abraham Baker, whom they took prisoner. They found in the sows one great fowling-piece, one halberd, one sword, four skeanes, four pikes, three half pikes, two great iron sledges, two great iron bars, two pick-axes, four spades, five shovels, one great hammer, one borer, one pair quearns. Notwithstanding this success, the enemy kept their camp and did not remove from us till the 12th of March.