On August 3rd 1913 an imposing memorial to the memory of
Myles O'Reilly (The Slasher) was unveiled in the Co
Westmeath section of the village of Finea.
The unveiling was officially performed by the right honourable
Lorcan Sherlock L.L.D. Lord Mayor of Dublin and the oration
was delivered by the Very Rev. Thomas Canon Langan D.D.
Parish Priest of Abbeylara. Canon Langan was later Parish
Priest of Moate, Co Westmeath and was the oldest priest
in the Diocese of Ardagh when he died there in 1951 aged
The main inscription on the memorial (a Celtic cross) reads
as follows: - The Slasher had with him 100 horse while
the enemy was 1,000 strong. They fought them the whole day
long till his followers were nearly all slain. Finally he
was encountered by a gigantic Scotchman who trust the point
of his sword through the Slashers cheek. The latter
closed his jaw on the blade and held it as if in an iron
vice while he slew his antagonist cutting him through steel
helmet down to his chin with one blow, both falling together.
At that moment reinforcements arrived from Granard and the
Bridge was saved.
A further inscription reads In memory of Myles OReilly,
(The Slasher) who fell on the Bridge of Finea while defending
against the English and Scottish forces under General Monroe
on the 5th August 1646.
While the above probably represents the accepted version
of events in 1913, subsequent studies and research give
an expanded picture and would alter some of the detail.
Writing in a historical compendium published by the New
York - Irish Society in 1967, Fr Finbarr Corr of Ballinagh,
drawing on the Memoirs of Lord Castlehaven, published in
1684, gives the year of battle as 1644. Castlehaven who
fought on the side of the Catholic Confederate forces from
1642 until the peace with Ormonde in 1646 would have to
be credited with getting the year right and probably made
relevant diary or narrative notes on, or shortly after,
the date of the battle.
Perhaps, more to the point, Fr Turlough OMellan, Chaplain
to the Catholic Confederate Army, in his diary for July
1644, gives an account of the battle and lists the names
of some of those killed.
Myles - Death or Escape at Finea?
In his famous one hundred and thirty one line poem, Myles
the Slasher,, William Collins who was born in Strabane,
Co Tyrone in 1838 and died in Brooklyn New York in 1890,
gives us the following:-
But alas for the cause of Green Erin,
The heart of that hero is cold.
He died waving free in the blast,
With his hand on the hilt of a sword.
There is, however, strong evidence that Myles was not killed
in the battle but as another source put it he escaped
by spurring his charger over the battlement and later went
to France where he died.
The most telling argument in favour of the tradition that
Myles did not die at Finea is contained in the work of genealogy
of Chevalier OGorman who states that Myles married
Catherine, the daughter of Charles OReilly of Leitrim
and that they had three sons, John, Edmund and Philip and
two daughters Honora and Rose. They were all alive in 1717
in which year John the eldest died aged 70 years which would
give the year of his birth as 1646 a full two years after
the battle. Given that John was born in 1646 the very earliest
year of the birth of the youngest would be 1650 - six years
after the engagement or - if the year on the memorial is
correct, four years afterwards.
While the evidence for the survival of Myles at Finea is
strong the same cannot be said for his alleged escape to
France. It is far more likely that, under the tortuous and
often dangerous conditions under which the chroniclers of
Irish history worked in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,
the name of Myles of Finea fame became confused with that
of his cousin Colonel Myles OReilly of Denn and Kilmore
who was High Sheriff of Cavan in 1641. This particular Myles
first emigrated to Spain and then to France. He died in
the monastery of the Irish Capuchins at Charleville in 1670.
It would appear, therefore that until research can unearth
a reliable obituary date for Myles the safest course to
adopt is to go along with another local tradition which
has it that Myles, having slept in the de Nogent castle
at Ross overlooking Lough Sheelin on the night before the
battle, returned there afterwards had his wounds attended
to and subsequently made his way back to the stronghold
of the OReillys in mid Cavan where he married and
raised his family.
In the summer of 1644 Owen Roe ONeill was camped with
his Irish forces at Portlester, near Trim in Co Meath. Word
reached Castlehaven, who was then in Granard, that a 17,000
strong English and Scottish army under General Monroe was
approaching from Cavan intent on marching into Leinster
via the bridge over the Inny River at Finea.
ONeills army had not yet reached a state of
preparedness which would equip it to face such a mighty
fighting force as that commanded by Monroe, and so it was
decided that a small but elite force would attempt to halt
his advance at the Bridge - or perhaps Ford - at Finea.
(Finea was then spelled Feinnaugha-The Hounds Ford).
The number of soldiers in the force was about 600 foot and
100 cavalry. Castlehaven, in his Memoirs does not give the
name of the Officer in charge but a contemporary source
offers the name of a Colonel John Butler while in charge
of the cavalry was Brian Roe ONeill. Myles paternal
grandmother was Catherine Butler.
The Irish Defenders were in position for one day when Monroe
arrived and attacked with ferocity. With equal ferocity
and given their grossly outnumbered forces, with far greater
courage the Irish defended all day long and by evening almost
all the Irish force had been killed or seriously wounded
but Monroes losses were also of such horrendous proportions
that, fearing an encounter with the redoubtable ONeill,
he retreated through East Cavan and Louth to the Protestant
stronghold of Ulster.
Despite the serious losses it is probable that ONeill
and Castlehaven considered the strategy a success in that
it inflicted huge damage on Monroes army, gave more
time to the preparation of the Irish forces and was therefore
a major factor in ONeills subsequent victories.
It may also be the reason that the Battle of the Bridge
of Finea has lived so long in folk memory and why in 1913,
269 years later, two committees, one in Dublin and one in
Cavan, got together in difficult times to raise funds for
the erection of a fitting memorial to Myles the Slasher.
For the record the membership of the committees were
Finea: Patrick Fitzgerald, Patrick Clarke, Patrick OConnor,
George Whyte, John Riall, John Clark, Edward Kiernan, John
Donnellan - President, John Ryan - MD, JP Treasurer, John
Arkins - Secretary
Dublin: Thomas Doherty, John Hughes, Edward Dignam, Edward
Brennan, Patrick J OReilly, James McNamee, James Sweeney,
Peter J Duffy-President, Lawrence McNamee, Edwards Brooks
- Joint Treasurers, Patrick OReilly (late of Kilgolagh)
In these days of historical revisionism and political correctness,
expressions of admiration or commemoration of those who
fought on the Irish side against the colonial power are
severly frowned on by a harsh and unyielding intellectual
elite. As proof of this we only have to look at the flood
of criticism showered on those who organised commemoration
of the 1798 rising in 1998.
Despite this let us now and then remember and perhaps say
a silent prayer for those who fought against superior forces
and made the ultimate sacrifice for a cause in which they
Taken from Breffni Blue