PÖ¡draig Lenihan, ed. Conquest and Resistance: War in Seventeenth-Century Ireland. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2001. viii + 382 pp. $112.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-90-04-11743-3.
Reviewed by D. J. B. Trim (Early Modern Research Centre, University of Reading)
Published on H-Albion (August, 2004)
Military Mismatch: The English and Scottish Conquest of Seventeenth-Century Ireland
This handsome looking volume, a contribution to Brill's excellent History of Warfare series, comprises ten thematic essays that explore the seventeenth-century Irish experience of war, from political and social contexts, military finance and logistics, and strategic geography, to the actual conduct of a range of different types of military operations. They are topped and tailed by editorial pieces, which try to pull the various threads together and advance arguments for the volume as a whole; but while the editor deserves praise for providing a conclusion as well as an introduction, the conclusion is essentially a contribution to early-modern military history's most significant debate--over whether there was a "military revolution" in the period--and relates military developments in seventeenth-century Ireland to the military revolution theory.
Ten thematic essays fall into two halves. Five assess strategic considerations in various local and international contexts. Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin surveys the role of European powers in Irish military affairs from 1596 to 1691 (the effective terminal date of the seventeenth century in this volume); John Young considers Hiberno-Scottish relations, especially the passage of military forces between the Hebrides and Ulster from 1641 to 1691; John McGurk focuses on how topography influenced the conduct of the final English campaigns against Tyrone, in 1600-03; the editor develops the theme of geographical influences on strategy and operations in an essay on the period 1641-91; and Paul M. Kerrigan considers English, Irish rebel, and French naval strategy in the same half century. The remaining five essays are more diverse in subject matter. James Scott Wheeler boils down his work from two substantial books in a study of logistics and military finance over the period 1598-1692. Weapons and tactical systems between 1594 and 1691, and siege warfare between 1648 and 1691, are considered by Donal O'Carroll and James Burke respectively. Two "war and society" studies round out the volume: Raymond Gillespie surveys the effects of war on Irish towns and cities from the 1570s to 1691, and Bernadette Whelan examines women and warfare between 1641 and 1691.
Overall, the volume follows Lenihan's argument in his introduction that the military potential of England and, later, Great Britain, was immeasurably greater than that of Irish Catholics. McGurk, Wheeler, and Kerrigan evaluate the logistical and naval strategies that exploited this advantage. The disparity between Ireland and the English-cum-British kingdom was such that an effective Irish military response to conquest and colonization was only feasible in the favorable archipelagic and continental European circumstances explored by Young and Ó hAnnracháin. Defeat or victory ultimately depended on relative military performance in maneuver, battle, and siege--operations evaluated by Lenihan, O'Carroll, and Burke. Whelan's study of the role of women as victim, survivor and (occasionally) combatant, and Gillespie's insightful analysis of Irish towns bring out well the impact of the unequal struggle on Irish society. The conclusion pulls a number of strands together in arguing that a military revolution can be witnessed in seventeenth-century Ireland and that the application of the military revolution was an important factor in the conquest of Ireland.
The volume's main weakness is that most of it is actually on the period 1641-91. One can have no argument with the terminal date: "the Irish century of warfare has a definite conclusion" (p. 21). But given the title, and the fact that Tyrone's rebellion (the so-called "Nine Years' War") was only defeated in 1603, it would be reasonable to find a seventeenth century that runs from 1594 to 1691. Possibly the Nine Years' War--which dwarfs all subsequent military events in Ireland until the great rebellion of 1641--would have been better left to a volume on sixteenth-century Ireland, yet, given this volume's title, one reasonably expects more on the first four decades of the seventeenth century. Five of the ten main essays deal only with events in the 1640s and after (and one, that by Burke, commences with Cromwell). Of the remaining five, only one chapter, McGurk's, is focused only on events before 1641. And among all the broad thematic surveys, McGurk's intensive case study of 1600-03 seems oddly out of place. Thus, only four essays actually cover the whole of the seventeenth century, even though Lenihan begins his introduction by stressing the value of a comparative approach that ranges across the seventeenth century.
It is not clear why some essays deal only with post-1641 events. Was Ireland not important in English/British (and Spanish!) naval strategy before 1641? There was certainly just as much to-ing and fro-ing of troops, ranging from small groups of volunteers, to large-scale forces, between Scotland and Ireland in the half century which preceded 1641 as that following it. Siege warfare probably was more common from the 1640s, but Kinsale, in 1603, doomed Tyrone's rebellion to defeat and was thus one of the most significant military events--much less sieges--in seventeenth-century Ireland. That a chapter called "Siege Warfare in Seventeenth-Century Ireland" does not even mention it, and also overlooks the important sieges in the early days of the great rebellions, is absurd and a reproach to the editor.
Burke's chapter is, in fact, basically a narrative of important sieges between 1648 and 1691, but other contributors stick well to the task of producing analytical essays; these are often conceived in broad terms, and this makes for stimulating chapters. Thus, Kerrigan relates naval strategy to Mahan, one of the most influential writers on maritime strategy, while Whelan's study is theoretically informed and conceptualizes its subject broadly, delivering a rounded picture of women's relationship with war. The inclusion of an essay on the difficult (and therefore often overlooked) areas of logistics and finance is to the editor's credit. It is a pity that Wheeler does not place events in Ireland and the British Isles in a wider context of the supply of war in this period, but he brings out well how English/British superiority left the Irish gravely disadvantaged. The Catholic challenge in 1689-90 was only as effective as it was because France deployed "large amounts of logistical and naval support to offset superior English resources" (p. 207). O'Carroll very effectively puts tactical and technological systems in a European context, capably summarizing developments over the century 1594-1691 as a whole (though he is too pessimistic about cavalry before 1640, having misconstrued developments in the Netherlands), as a prelude to a narrative of particular campaigns that brings out "the fundamental weakness of the Irish infantry, lack of firepower" (p. 252). Lenihan's own thematic essay, on strategic geography, at times fails to distinguish appropriately between strategy and tactics, but his conclusion that "ethnics geography patterned Irish warfare at least as much as physical geography", so that "geographical determinism is inappropriate" is an important contribution to early-modern Irish history and to military studies more generally. Gillespie similarly has produced a study that is of relevance to the growing literature on early-modern urban life as well as to Irish social history.
Overall, the thematic focus of essays is a definite virtue, allowing continuity and change to emerge. Arguably it might be helpful if Lenihan's conclusion were less narrowly focused, but it makes a telling contribution to the military revolution debate and there is certainly ample scope for readers to draw comparative insights for themselves.
The volume is not as well produced as it should be. Most of the problems are slight, but taken as a whole they detract from the book's quality, if only by distracting one from the text. Lenihan's introduction uses parenthetical references; but Ó hAnnracháin and Young then use footnotes, before McGurk cites sources using both systems. The next five chapters, and the final two, all use parenthetical referencing, but in between Gillespie cites with footnotes again. This is off-putting (and hints at some slackness of the editorial reins) but, more fundamentally, parenthetical referencing is better suited to the social or political sciences, where authors are generally summarizing a body of secondary literature, than to historical scholarship, which tends to draw on a more complex (and therefore not easily cited) range of sources. In those chapters that are heavily archivally-based, such as Wheeler's, parenthetical references become particularly cumbersome, and distract from the text. At least all chapters, regardless of citation method, are consistent in providing bibliographies. There is no list of contributors. Many of them are well-known names, but not all, and it would be helpful to know more about them. There is also no list of figures, maps, or illustrations; the table of contents lists a list of illustrations, but it is not to be found inside! This is especially annoying since the volume does contain illustrations and maps. On the plus side, the index is comprehensive.
The thematic and generally broad nature of the essays and the provision of bibliographies make the volume an excellent resource for students, at undergraduate as well as postgraduate level. One hopes that the publisher puts this into paperback, because it would make a valuable addition to the libraries of any institution that has classes on seventeenth-century Irish history, or on general military history--but Brill's absurd hardback prices will no doubt put many librarians off this collection, rendering it accessible only to scholars able to consult it at major research libraries. This would be a pity, for despite the problems highlighted in this review, Conquest and Resistance will stimulate early modernists, military historians, and historians of Ireland and British-Irish relations, to all of whom it is recommended.
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D. J. B. Trim. Review of Lenihan, PÖ¡draig, ed., Conquest and Resistance: War in Seventeenth-Century Ireland.
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