Your RDA of Irony

On This Day in 1649

Speaking of Oliver Cromwell, today is the anniversary of his most notorious campaign: the sack of Drogheda in 1649. The Irish remember it as a massacre while the English describe it as a siege: they are both right. Drogheda was an Irish town with Royalist sympathies and a backwater garrison whose heroism far surpassed common sense. The town’s 3000 militia and volunteers faced Cromwell’s 12,000 man “model army” and defied the English demand to surrender. What was that garrison thinking? Were there rumors of Cromwell’s affable nature or his military ineptitude? Had the garrison seen visions of St. Patrick doing a jig on the battlements? The punters in Dublin wouldn’t have given Drogheda good odds.

Now, the terms of a surrender should not be confused with a retirement package. The yielding garrison would have an indefinite term of imprisonment; however, it would be spared massacre or slavery–the very fate guaranteed if the garrison refused to surrender. Furthermore, the choice of surrender or death was not even Cromwellian. It was the standard etiquette of siege warfare–and dated back to Troy and Jericho.

Perhaps it was prospect of English food or mandatory bible classes, but Drogheda preferred to die. And it did. Cromwell’s army stormed the town, massacring the garrison and much of the civilian population. Some desperate souls sought sanctuary in the town’s Catholic churches; could you imagine a worse place to avoid the fury of Puritans? Even by the fairly lax standards of massacres, setting afire a crowded church was unusually odious.

The Irish have not forgotten Drogheda or Cromwell.

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