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On This Day… The Siege Of Smerwick

Written by: George Chittenden : 10 Jun 2019

It was on this day, 10th Nov, back in 1580 when the English beheaded around six-hundred people following a three-day siege in Smerwick, Ireland. The siege occurred during the Second Desmond Rebellion in Ireland. Two months earlier, a squadron of Spanish ships had landed a Papal force of Spanish and Italians numbering six-hundred men at Smerwick. They had been sent by Philip II to aid the rebellion, but English forces blocked them, and forced them to retreat to a fort at Dún an Óir.

Sir Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh

The English who numbered around four-thousand besieged the fort for several days. Eventually the defenders surrendered and most of them were then massacred on the orders of the English commander, the 14th Baron Grey de Wilton, the Lord Deputy of Ireland. The English beheaded all but the commanders and lined up the heads in a nearby field. Their bodies were thrown into the ocean.

The few that were spared suffered a worse fate. They were offered life if they would renounce their Catholic faith; on refusal, their arms and legs were broken in three places by an ironsmith. They were left in agony for a day and night and then hanged. One of the executioners was a man named Captain Raleigh, a man who history remembers as Sir Walter Raleigh. Three decades after the massacre when Raleigh had fallen out of favour, his involvement in it brought a criminal charge against him in one of his trials.

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