On this day in history : 10th October 1580 – After the three day Siege of Smerwick, in Ireland, the English Army behead over 600 Irish civilians and Papal soldiers….

The massacre site today – Image credit : Sharon Loxton CC BY SA 2.0

On the 10th of September 1580 some 600 Italian and Spanish Papal troops landed in Smerwick under the command of Sebastiano di San Guisseppi…. They had been sent by Pope Gregory to help with the ongoing rebellion…. English forces were quick to respond and blockaded the Papal ships into Smerwick Bay…. The Papal troops had little choice but to take refuge in the fort at Dun an Oir….

In October 4,000 English troops arrived led by Grey de Wilton and laid siege to the garrison – the Papals had no way of escaping…. After three days of negotiations San Guisseppi ordered his men to surrender…. It is unknown if de Wilton offered clemency as part of the deal….

But what is known is that de Wilton callously ordered the massacre of the Papal troops along with scores of Irish civilians – sparing only between 20 and 30 Papal commanders…. The Italian and Spanish troops and Irish men and women were slaughtered by beheading – their bodies then thrown into the sea and their heads thrown into a field, now known as Gort na gCeann – Field of the Heads….

Memorial monument at the Field of the Heads – Image credit : Expresso Addict CC BY-SA 2.0

Irish folklore tells of how the massacre took two days to complete – the condemned lined up in a field to await their turn…. The field is now known as Gort a Ghearradh – Field of the Cutting…. One of those ordered to carry out the executions was Sir Walter Raleigh….

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