‘By the creek of Baginbun, Ireland was lost and won’ – so goes the famous couplet about a relatively small battle, even by medieval standards, on the south coast of Ireland in the summer of 1170. Unfortunately the date of the battle has been lost but it is likely that it happened in late May or early June.
On one side of the battle at Baginbun was a force of around a hundred Normans and Welsh under Raymond le Gros (the Fat) while facing him was an army of between two and three thousand led by the Hiberno-Norse chieftain, Ragnall Mac Giolla Mhuire of Waterford.
Raymond had been sent to Ireland by his lord Richard de Clare – better known to history as Strongbow – to make a bridgehead in Ireland ahead of his own arrival on August 23 1170 with around a thousand more warriors. Raymond, wisely, made every effort to protect his small army, building strong fortifications across the headland and stealing local cattle to feed his army in the event of a siege.
Amazingly the earthworks upon which Raymond built his fortifications 845 years ago can still be seen out on the headland. Located on the western side of the Hook peninsula, not far from the small town of Fethard-on-Sea, Baginbun has incredible historic value given the tumultuous events that occurred following its construction. It is reputedly named after the two Norman ships which Raymond used to cross to Ireland: La Bague and La Bonne. However, I personally doubt this foundation. The battle forms the backdrop to my new novel, Lord of the Sea Castle, and a few years ago I visited the site and here are a few of my pictures:
Picture One: Looking south over the eastern beach (on Bannow Bay) towards Baginbun Head. It was on this beach that Raymond the Fat is believed to have first landed in Ireland. The Martello Tower was built later to guard against an invasion by Emperor Napoleon.
Picture Two: The view southwards from the top of the beach towards Baginbun Head. The Norman earthworks run east-west between the second and third electricity poles.
Picture Three: Looking westwards along the Norman earthworks on Baginbun Head which were built in the summer of 1170 by Raymond le Gros.A wooden palisade would've topped the fortification creating, ostensibly a castle bounded on three sides by high sea cliffs.
Picture Four: Although overgrown by grass and weeds, the gap between the double battlements is still twice head height. I suspect that the Normans would've staggered the gates so that the attacking army, even if they somehow captured the outer fortifications would've had to charge down a two hundred yard long alley with no cover to reach the second entrance.
Picture Five: The weather has somewhat eroded the edges of the earthworks, but they still reach the whole way to the high sea cliffs at both ends.
Picture Six: The scene from the bottom of the Norman fortifications looking northwards. The landscape has probably changed very little and the attacking army would've had no cover from the Welsh and Flemish bowmen that came to Ireland with Raymond le Gros.
Picture Seven: Pictured from the bridge crossing the tidal inlet to the south of Fethard-on-Sea. Twice daily the tide would've made the crossing all but impassable. This would play a critical role during the Siege of Baginbun in summer 1170.
Picture Eight: Looking south-eastwards from Fethard-on-Sea over the tidal inlet. Baginbun Head is a mile away over the small hillside. It was from this direction that the Hiberno-Norse army would've approached Raymond's fort in 1170.
Edward Ruadh Butler is the author of Swordland which was published by Accent Press in February 2015. The second in the series, Lord of the Sea Castle, will follow within the year. The third book of the Invader Series, charting Strongbow’s arrival in Ireland, will be published in 2016.
Barnes & Noble