When Did Britain Conquer Ireland?

The British conquest of Ireland from 1649-53 was an event that played a role in shaping the futures of the two nations. An understanding of its background is essential to knowing the situation that led to the conflict.

The Ormond Peace Accord

In 1649, the Irish Confederates forged an alliance with the English Royalists. This group had been involved in a war against the English Parliament. The Ulster Scots also joined forces with the Catholic Irish Confederates against the Protestant British. The Royalists and the Irish Confederates devised a plan to attack England and assume power.

The Battle of Rathmines

The English Parliament would respond by sending Oliver Cromwell to attack. This would prove significant in the British conquest of Ireland. The battle took place in Rathmines near Dublin. On August 2, the British launched a sudden attack that caught the Royalists by surprise.

They were still in the process of preparing their troops when the British attacked. According to some accounts, thousands of Royalist and Irish Confederates were killed. Scores were also taken prisoners. This victory allowed the English to march into Dublin in 1649 with little opposition.

The Invasion of Drogheda and Wexford

Following their victory at Rathmines, Cromwell led his men to Drogheda. Some accounts state that over 3,000 English soldiers came. Scores of civilians and Catholic clergy were killed. During this period in the British conquest of Ireland, civilians were also slaughtered.

At the town of Wexford, Cromwell and his men attacked in force. Over 2,000 Irish / Royalist soldiers were killed. The entire town was burned to the ground and over 1,400 civilians were massacred. Other towns were sacked. Other villages surrendered.

Battle of Leinster

In 1650, Cromwell and his men stormed Leinster. They were able to capture its capital Kilkenny but lost over 2,000 men. He also suffered extensive losses in capturing Clonmel.

The Settlement

After the conquest, the Parliament set about confiscating the properties of the Catholic civilians. The Royalist and Irish Confederate soldiers were imprisoned or banished to foreign lands.

The Catholic religion was forbidden and their books and ritual equipment burned. Rewards were given to those who would pinpoint the location of Catholic priests. Upon capture, they were summarily executed. These policies that took effect after the British conquest of Ireland were in part retaliation for earlier massacres committed by the Catholics.


The results of the brutal war were feelings of animosity by the Irish towards the British and vice versa. In the succeeding centuries, there would be conflicts among the two countries. Even after the monarchies had been replaced on both sides, the struggles continued.

A study of the two nations’ succeeding conflicts can be traced back to this event. Some of the more destructive conflicts like the war in 1689 had their roots in the conquest by Cromwell.

The British conquest of Ireland was an important event that altered the landscape of both countries in many ways. It led to several policy changes that would eventually have an impact not just on the UK but also in most of Europe.

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