The guided tour on the 17th August of the route taken by the English army at the Battle of the Yellow Ford was organised by Armagh Irish language group, Cairde Teo.
The historian, Antaine Ó Donnaile, a local man and an acknowledged expert on the period, led the walk and his imtimate knowledge of the local countryside brought the detail of the battle back to life as we followed in the footsteps of the doomed English forces.
Led by Henry Bagenal, the objective of the English force was to relieve the besieged garrison at Port Mór (Blackwatertown). Six regiments, numbering about 4,000 men (infantry, cavalry and artillery) left Armagh at 8.00 am on the 14th August, 1598, in a formation that was one mile long.
Taking advantage of their superior knowledge of the countryside, and having prepared substantial defensive positions in advance, O'Neill and Red Hugh O'Donnell delivered a crushing blow against the Elizabethan army, defeating them on the field of battle before then accepting their surrender in Armagh.
Cairde Teo have produced a bilingual report of the day here:
The group are in the process of erecting a series of information panels along the route, from Armagh city to Blackwatertown, which will enable anyone with an interest to follow the route and access the information at their own pace. Some of the notable sites along the way are:
1. The Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh city - where the English survivors retreated to and obtained refuge until Hugh O'Neill agreed to allow them safe passage back to Dublin.
2. An Tulach Ard (Tullyard) -The High Hill - The topography here is dominated by a series of low, rounded hills and the English army marched along the hilltops to avoid the dense woods and boggy ground that would leave them vulnerable to ambush from the Irish. However, the Irish forces, under Randall McSorley McDonnell and Brian McArt Ó Neill, engaged the English at the first hill they encountered as they left the safety of Armagh. From the summit of Tullyard, the Ó Neill stronghold of Dungannon is visible, and it can be easily imagined how threatening was the prospect of an English army of 4,000 men encroaching so far into Gaelic Ulster. This was a battle Ó Neill could not afford to lose.
3. Trasnú na Cáille ag Tulach Uí Dhonnagáin (Tullygoonigan River Crossing) - Harassed along the route from Armagh, the English forces encountered the first serious attacks here. The Irish commanders allowed the first four English regiments to cross the Callan river here but attacked the rearguard. This delayed the rearguard from crossing the river for an hour, whilst the first four regiments continued on their march.
4.Cnoc Eanach Each (Annahagh Hill) - Unaware that the rearguard had been cut off, the first four English regiments continued onwards in confidence of a quick and easy victory. The Irish forces enticed them to push forward, and the English commanders in the vanguard could only see 500 Irish in front of them at any time.
5. An t-Áth Bogach (The Boggy Ford) - The first two English regiments were permitted to advance through the bog without serious attack. However, the third and fourth regiments were assailed by heavy fighting, and the English formation was broken up even more.
6. Príomhthrinse Uí Neill (O'Neill's Main Trench) - The Irish commanders realised that the English forces would have to cross a particular spot on the journey between the Callan and Blackwater Rivers. They prepared a massive trench, over a mile long and four feet deep, with the extracted soil heaped on the opposite side so that the English faced a trench with an 8 foot climb on the other side. Although a severe drawback, the infantry could manage it. However, the English cavalry, with their heavy armour and weaponry, could not. These were the 'killing fields' of the battle, and some 1,000 men lost their lives in these fields, now the townland of Mullyleggan (the hill of the standing stone).
7. An Port Mór (Blackwatertown) - A hilly mound on the left hand side of the river at Blackwatertown marks the spot were the besieged English garrison was located. Bagenal's relieving force never reached the fort, Bagenal himself died in the battle, 18 officers and 14 'colours' were lost and around 2,000 of the original 4,000 English forces managed to escape to Armagh.
Cairde Teo have produced an excellent map and detailed guide to the battle, Turas Eolais le Béal an Átha Bhuí a Chomóradh, which is available from their office in Armagh city.
On completion of the project to erect information signposts along the 6-7 mile route, this will be a fascinating and rewarding challenge for any visitor to the Armagh area.