The Sack of Wexford took place on October 11 1649, during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, when the New Model Army under Oliver Cromwell took Wexford town in south-eastern Ireland. The English Parliamentarian troops broke into the town while the commander of the garrison, David Sinnot, was trying to negotiate a surrender – massacring soldiers and civilians alike. Much of the town was burned and its harbour was destroyed. Along with the Siege of Drogheda, the sack of Wexford is still remembered in Ireland as an infamous atrocity.
Oliver Cromwell was the most influential General of the English Civil War, famous for creating the New Model Army and decisively defeating King Charles I at Naseby in 1645.
However, his fighting career didn’t end with the final defeat of the King. Ireland still held Royalists, who had recently allied with the local Confederate rebels, and the these combined forces were preying on Parliamentary shipping. Cromwell was not a man to sit my and let this happen and in August 1649 he landed in Ireland with a highly trained army of Civil War veterans.
The town’s garrison initially consisted of 1500 Confederate soldiers under David
Sinnot. However, the morale of the town was low – perhaps as a result of hearing of the fall of Drogheda (below) on September 11 – and many of the civilians in Wexford wanted to surrender. Sinnot however, appears to have strung out surrender negotiations with Cromwell and was steadily reinforced, bringing his garrison strength up to 4,800 men by the 11th of October.
While negotiations continued on the 11th October Cromwell’s troops suddenly stormed the vulnerable town. Cromwell denied giving the order,
but chaos ensued as the Parliamentarian troops flooded into Wexford. The town’s castle was inexplicably surrendered without a fight by its English Royalist captain, Stafford, and after this any notion of a fight was over. Irish troops fled from their stations in panic and were then pursued and often massacred by Cromwell’s men. Many more tried to cross the nearby river Slaney to escape the orgy of violence unfolding in the town, but most, including the governor Sinnot, drowned or were shot as they tried to swim. Violence in the town grew out of hand, spreading to its civilian population and the buildings as well as the survivors of the garrison. By the end of the day 2000 soldiers and 1500 civilians had been killed, at the cost of just 20 of Cromwell’s men.