Laggan Army

The Laggan Army, sometimes referred to as Lagan Army, was a militia formed by Protestant settlers in the fertile Laggan Valley of County Donegal, Ulster, during the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

Militia in the Plantation of Ulster during the Irish Rebellion of 1641
Ireland and Ulster (Dark Green)
Irish Confederate Warsor Eleven Years’ War
Depicting an atrocity committed upon civilians during the Irish Rebellion of 1641

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Following the defeat of Gaelic Ireland after the Nine Years War and the Flight of the Earls in 1607, the colonization of Ulster began in 1609. English and Scottish settlers, supported by the Crown, started to colonize the north-east province of Ulster. The settlers largely settled on land which was confiscated from Gaelic chiefs in Ulster, many of whom had fled from Ireland following the Irish defeat in the Nine Years’ War.[1]

In 1641, the Irish rose up in a coup led by Felim O’Neill. This coup’s purposes included putting an end to anti-Catholic discrimination, greater Irish self-governance, and to partially or fully reverse the plantations of Ireland. Although it was intended to be bloodless, the rebellion was characterized by rebel atrocities against Protestant settlers. While O’Neill himself was opposed to these attacks he was unable to control the Irish rebels under his command.[2][3]

At the outset of the rebellion, thousands of Protestant settlers were evicted from their lands. Their homes were burned and their possessions taken. Most attacks involved robberies and assaults, however if the settlers resisted they were often murdered by the Irish rebels. Thousands of the Protestant refugees sought safety and protection in Royalist strongholds or attempted to leave Ireland and return to England and Scotland.[4][5]

Protestant militias along with English soldiers frequently committed brutal reprisals, especially after rebels surrendered, often where they were given no quarter. The most notable example, however, was the Rathlin Island massacre, where as many as 3,000 Catholic women and children were thrown from cliffs onto rocks below.[6] Reports of the violence against the Protestants were widely exaggerated in press reports in Britain. Initially, Parliamentarian propaganda pamphlets claimed over 200,000 Protestants were killed, which was widely believed despite the fact that the estimates being stated were almost twice the number of Protestants living in Ireland at the time. On 3 April, 1642, a Scottish Covenanter expeditionary army landed in Ulster to protect the Planter population. Prior to that Protestants had to defend themselves by means of militias such as the Laggan Army. Afterwards the Laggan Army continued to operate in Ulster, and often participated in joint campaigns with the Scottish expeditionary force.[7]

Eventually, violence against civilians by both sides began to calm, mainly due to the arrival of Eoghan Ruadh O’Néill, an experienced Irish general who had served under the Spanish in Flanders in the Eighty Years’ War. He landed in Ireland in 1642 along with several other Gaelic Irish and Old English officers, an example of the latter being Thomas Preston. Due to their experience they were given positions of command within the Confederate military. O’Neill began disciplining the troops of the Irish Ulster Army and hanged soldiers who attacked civilians. In turn, reprisals by Protestants also declined.[8]

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