Ulster Ancestry : Newsletter
The story of the Army of the Laggan

The Laggan army, so called because of its base in the Laggan district of north-west Ulster
between Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly,essentially the Inishowen Peninsula of County Donegal became active immediately after the outbreak of the
Irish Rebellion in October 1641 to defend the settlers from attack by marauding Irish
forces. The Laggan army drew its manpower from counties Donegal, Tyrone,
Londonderry and Fermanagh. Although the large numbers of Scottish settlers in the
Laggan provided most of the personnel, considerable numbers of English settlers also
fought under the flag of the Lagganeers and contemporary documents often refer to the
army as the ‘British forces in Ulster.’ Significantly they were known to the Irish as the
‘Albonaigh’ or the Scots.

There were four regiments of foot under Sir William and Sir Robert Stewart, Sir Ralph
Gore and Sir William Cole and three troops of horse commanded by the two Stewarts and
one led by Captain Dudley Philips. There were also six companies at Londonderry commanded
by the mayor and governor, Sir John Vaughan and six more at Coleraine under the
mayor and Captain Thomas Philips. These were ably abetted by Bishop Leslie at Raphoe,
the ‘Fighting Bishop,’ as he became known. The Laggan forces were very fortunate in
having the services of officers who were veterans of the Thirty Years War on the
continent. Of particular note was Sir Robert Stewart who had fought with distinction in
the service of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. In April 1638 he was appointed
governor of the strategic fort at Culmore on Lough Foyle guarding the entrance to the
port of Londonderry. He was returned as MP for the city in the Irish parliament of 1639.
After the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion in October 1641 his military experience was
invaluable. Even more than his compatriot and continental veteran, the elderly Sir
William Stewart, he was the natural choice of commander for the hastily assembled
militia. His position was officially sanctioned by a commission of 16 November from
Charles I to raise one thousand foot and a troop of horse.

The Laggan forces
acted almost independently, managing to hold their own against the disorganised Irish
levies and securing a home base in the areas around Derry and Raphoe. The Laggan
settlers were undoubtedly assisted by the activities of a separate force in east Ulster
under the command of Sir George Rawdon and Lord Conway which drew off much of
those Irish forces who might otherwise have descended on Donegal and Tyrone.
Stewart’s troops were initially deployed in a mainly defensive and reactionary posture
because of a lack of supplies from either Dublin or England although they did manage to
relieve other isolated Protestant garrisons such as that of Sir Audley Mervyn at Augher in
County Fermanagh. Even with so little support the Laggan army succeeded in preventing
the capture of Londonderry by insurgent forces under Sir Phelim O’Neill. In fact, they
almost broke the will of the Ulster Irish to continue the conflict. Only two months after
the outbreak of the Rebellion, in December 1641, many contemplated suing for peace.
More might have been achieved had it not been for the perennial lack of military supplies
for the Lagganeers. Although some supply reached them from Dublin and London it was
never sufficient and their officers paid with their own money for powder, match and ball
often bought at exorbitant rates from Scottish merchants. However, by returning to work
their fields when not on campaign, they managed for the most part to feed the army and

Military campaign 1642

In March 1642 they took the offensive against the Irish. Returning from the rescue of the
hard pressed Sir Ralph Gore at Magerabeg Castle in south Donegal the Lagganeers and a
train of refugees were ambushed at Barnesmore Gap by Sir Phelim O’Neill. This
engagement illustrates the ability of the Laggan forces to defeat the Irish levies even
when they held all the tactical advantages. Although heavily outnumbered by the Irish
the better armed and better led Lagganeers invariably came off best in skirmishes. At
Barnesmore, Stewart skilfully turned the tables and the attempted ambush became a
rout. The Lagganeers lost only nine men in the action but Irish losses were in the
hundreds if not thousands. Stewart followed up by capturing Strabane and putting the garrison to the
sword. When the Irish counter-attacked, Stewart managed to draw them into a ground
of his choosing at Glenmaquin, Convoy, in Donegal and routed the Irish army. After this action the
Irish forces were effectively reduced to fighting a guerrilla war and the rebellion in northwest Ulster was as good as over. The Laggan army relieved the small garrison shut up in
Coleraine and raided south into Tyrone, Cavan and Monaghan. Moreover, by August
1642 a Scots army of 10,000 men under the command of Robert Monro and paid for by
the English parliament, was active in Ulster.

Civil War, Covenant and Cessation

Events in England radically altered the situation in Ireland. In August civil war broke out
between Charles I and Parliament and these divisions added one more dimension to the
fractured politics of Ireland. In April 1643 Sir Robert Stewart was appointed governor of
Londonderry by the Earl of Ormond, the Royalist commander in Ireland, mainly because
he was known to be sympathetic to the cause of the King. Most of Stewart’s troops were
also royalist, but many, the faction who supported Sir William Stewart, leaned towards
parliament. To add to Sir Robert’s difficulties, Owen Roe O’Neill had landed in Donegal in
July 1642 with a force of veteran officers from the continent. These men began to
transform the largely untrained Irish levies into a disciplined military force.
Determined not to let this situation develop, Stewart attacked the Irish at Clones in June
1643 and utterly defeated them. So great was the rout that O’Neill even considered
abandoning Ireland but resolved in the end never to fight a battle again until he had a
fully trained force. The Irish also lost some of those continental veterans who were to
form the backbone of any new Irish army.

In September 1643 the situation was radically altered by the declaration of a Cessation
of Arms between the royalists under the earl of Ormond and the Irish Confederation. The
truce was designed to allow the king to request assistance from the Confederacy in his
war against parliament. The Scots in Ulster did not accept the Cessation as Monro rightly
suspected that this would give the royalists and Irish the chance to drive them out of
Ulster. Instead, many accepted the Solemn League and Covenant which bound the Scots
and the English parliament in alliance against the king. The debate on this matter divided
the Laggan forces with Robert Stewart and his officers generally against the Covenant
and for the king and much of the rank and file opposed to the Cessation. By early 1644,
however, most had accepted the Covenant. Resupplied by the Committee of Both
Kingdoms the Lagganeers cooperated with Sir Charles Coote and captured Sligo on 8
October 1645.


All these successes were almost brought to nothing in June of the following year when
Owen Roe O’Neill’s retrained and re-equipped army almost annihilated Monro’s army at
Benburb in 1646. The Laggan forces were actually en route to support Monro but failed to
arrive in time for the battle. It is questionable whether or not their presence could have altered
the outcome but one thing is clear: after Benburb the Laggan army was the only effective
Scots army left in Ulster and on them fell the full burden of the war. The Lagganeers
were forced to retreat and consolidated their position in Derry, Donegal and Tyrone.
Fortunately, O’Neill did not follow up the Irish victory but turned south to assist the papal
nuncio against his enemies in the Confederacy.

1649: The Siege of Derry

In England, a faction in the victorious parliament executed King Charles I in January
1649. This led the Scots in particular to reject their alliance with parliament and many
declared instead for the new king, the young Charles II. In December 1648, to pre-empt
any activity by royalist troops, Sir Charles Coote seized Londonderry on behalf of
parliament and arrested the leading officers of the Laggan army. Sir Robert Stewart
managed to escape from the Tower and rejoined his troops in May 1649. From March
onwards, a combined force of royalists: Lagganeers, Irish Confederate troops, Scottish
highlanders, and Scots forces from east Ulster under the command of Lord Montgomery
of Ards besieged Sir Charles Coote at Derry. The besieging army was driven off in August
by the unlikely combination of Owen Roe O’Neill and the Ulster Irish army in support of
Coote. Thereafter, Cromwellian forces managed to scatter the Scots and capture their
garrisons. Colonel Robert Venables and Coote, in a series of bloody engagements,
destroyed the Scottish forces in Ulster. One of Coote’s victories was later reported in
England, incongruously to modern eyes, as a bloody fight in Ireland, and a great victory
obtained by Sir Charles Coote, Lord President of Connaught, and commander of those
forces, and of Londonderry, against the British forces of Laggan, with some Regiments of
Irish and Highlanders under Major-General Monro.

Some Lagganeers fought on for the king under the command of the Earl of Clanricard but
eventually the army disintegrated in the face of overpowering parliamentarian might. The
Laggan soldiers accepted the Cromwellian settlement which allowed them to return in
peace to their farms in Donegal and families which they had so bravely defended by force of arms for over ten years.

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