The Avondhu - By The Fireside
The Fermoy Bridge affair of 1690-91
Over 330 years ago Fermoy Bridge was being held by Danish troops against the assaults of Ely O’Carroll. They were left there as part of the Williamite army to deny the Blackwater crossings to the Jacobites coming from Limerick to the relief of besieged Cork.
In an article contributed to The Avondhu by Niall Brunicardi in 1990, he noted that the Irish surrounded the Danish force, not difficult as the water was low, and called on the defenders to surrender. To this, their commander replied that he had brave soldiers with him whom he had been able to test.
‘On this the Irish made an attack on the entrenchment but were repulsed with the loss of two captains and many soldiers. Only two of Your Majesty’s soldiers were shot. After this, the enemy withdrew and resumed his march back to Limerick’.
Smith accounts for this reverse as being due to the Irish being tricked by one of the oldest stratagems used. Colonel Donep with fifty of his horse and thirty militia, by the common stratagem of two trumpeters sounding a march as if fresh recruits were advancing, frightened the Irish into a flight, and they were so briskly pursued to Carigoneidy Ford (Castlehyde) that they lost near eighty men in this action. This place came to be known as ‘Pairc na Fola’ accordingly.
In April, however, the Danes from Fermoy were themselves repulsed. A reconnaissance force sent out towards the Irish based at Kilmallock had got as far as the Fitzgibbon Castle of Ballinahinch on the Morningstar river, when they were charged and chased all the way back to Fermoy in complete disorder, giving rise to a great sense of shame and loss of face among the Danish high command. In the summer the Danes left, to join the attacks on Athlone and Limerick.
The year closed with the sad procession of Irish prisoners taken in the siege of Cork. As Petrie’s history of those days, ‘some two hundred of these unfortunate men were marched to Clonmel under the charge of a Captain Launder, who is said to have shot sixteen of them who fell out owing to sickness and hunger. When this officer’s brutality became known in official circles, the only result was that King William gave him a free pardon’.
‘DESTROY THE BRIDGE’
The bridge at Fermoy had not long been open to traffic when, in September 1690, a large force availed of it on its way to help lay siege to Cork. Besides over 1,800 Danes, there were 1,400 French and Dutch as well as artillery, engineers and the baggage train.
On the 24th, this army had crossed the twelve Irish miles from Clogheen to Kilworth, and early on the following day it had not completed crossing the narrow bridge (in size much like the old bridge at Glanworth today). It is to be supposed that the horse and foot soldiers splashed through the fords at the monastery and Castlehyde, leaving the bridge free for the Duke’s coach and for the guns.
One who arrived while this was going on wrote in his journal:
‘I went early and met the Duke of Wurtemberg at Fermoy where he had just got his cannon over the bridge, resolving to camp that night at Rathcormac. I delivered my message and having received his answer that he would be up with us next night without fail, I returned immediately to Cork’.
The Duke was as good as his word and arrived in the northern suburbs next day, Sunday, leaving his general Tettau guarding the Blackwater.
In January 1691 Colonel Dunop’s regiment of cavalry was garrisoned at Fermoy bridge with an outpost detachment at Ballyhooly. Smith’s History of Cork refers to the Danes having there ‘two field pieces, which gave them more reputation than Force’.
To hold the bridge there were two Danish companies of forty men each.
On the 19th O’Carroll’s dragoons led a force of several thousand ‘turned again towards Fermoy’, as the Duke reported to his King, ‘to destroy the bridge over the Blackwater’.