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Lord Docwra and Sir John Bolle in Ulster

Back to Sir John Bolle in Ireland, Bolles of Haugh in the Military or The Bolles of Haugh
In 1600 Lord Mountjoy was appointed the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland charged by Queen Elizabeth with the task of ending the Tyrone Rebellion.  While the fighting continued in the south he also initiated a plan to lay waste to the rebels home ground, Ulster, in order to weaken their supply lines and to force them to split their forces.

Elizabeth had agreed to provide 2000 more men to supplement the Irish army.  The force gathered in Chester, departed from Liverpool on April 22, 1600, met up with further troop ships in Dublin and sailed together for the north coast of Ireland.  The fleet of 69 sails was divided into three squadrons, The Moon with Mountjoy, the chief commander, at vanguard, The Battle led by Sir Matthew Morgan and the rear guard commanded by Sir John Bolles. 

They were equipped with masons and carpenters and a large quantity of tools to build the necessary fortifications and houses for a garrison. The most vulnerable period for this force would be the period after landing, before adequate defensive works had been prepared.  Accordingly Mountjoy landed in the north in May in order to attract O'Neill's forces towards him, and to give the Lough Foyle force time to dig in and prepare fortifications.  Under cover of this feint, Docwra's force sailed into Lough Foyle and on May 15th they landed by Castle Culmore and began a fort. 

On the 22nd they left 700 men at Culmore and moved on to Derry where they established their headquarters.

Docwra described his first view of the town as: “A place in manner of an island comprehending within it 40 acres of ground, wherein were the ruins of an Abbay, of a Bishopp's house, of two churches, and at one of the ends of it an old castle, the river called Loughfoyle encompassing it all on one side, and a bogg most comonlie wet, and not easilie passible except in two or three places dividing it from the main land.”   Using locally scavenged materials and their own provisions, Docwra's men built two more forts. The lower one at the river's edge (constructed around the ruins of the old O'Doherty castle) was for the stores and the upper or great fort on the high ground above was for the soldiers' quarters and other housing.

General Sir Henry Docwra then sailed upriver from Lough Foyle to Dunnalong where they found an abandoned ruined castle in a very easily defended position and in a strategic location at a ford in the river.  In Docwra's own words "On the 2nd of July, 1600 I put eight hundred men into boates and landed them att Dunnalong, Tyrone lying in campe within two myles of the place, where I presentlie fell to raiseing a Forte.  His men came downe & skirmisht with us all that day, but perceiving the next, wee were tilted & out of hope to be able to remove us, they rise up & left us quietlie to doe what we would, where after I had made it reasonablie defensible, I left Sir John Bowles in garrison, with six companyes of foot, and afterwards sent him fifty horse.”

Sir John Bolles was given the command of their newly built fortress of Dunnalong on the Foyle River from where he would spend two years leading parties out to raze the lands around it, whether produce or people as they encountered them, as part of a deliberate strategy to create famine in the north.  See Sir John Bolle at Dunnalong Fortress

The Bready and District web site describes the Dunnalong Fort: "The fort was star-shaped in imitation of the fortifications which had been built in the Low Countries during the wars between the Dutch and the Spanish. As a veteran of these wars, Docwra had no doubt a good knowledge of their construction. Sir John Bolles’ house stood on the site of the original castle of which only the ruined walls remained. Surrounding it was a ditch filled with water from the River Foyle. Beside the bridge leading to this artificial island there were two pieces of artillery. A ‘great bruehous’, the construction of which Docwra had ordered in October 1600 was sited right on the water’s edge. The brewery was built to supply cheap – and, admittedly, fairly weak – beer to the garrisons in Lough Foyle. Within the fort was a market-place where the merchants traded with the soldiers and possibly also with the local inhabitants who had submitted to Bolles. The market-place would appear to have been an integral part of the fort, both because of its positioning and its extent. At its height the English garrison at Dunnalong numbered more than 1,000 men."

The fort at Dunnalong, like the forts at Culmore and Derry, was constructed with a strong earthen rampart surrounded by a ditch. Docwra himself gave a good explanation of the purpose of these forts when he wrote, ‘one of the chiefest uses we intended these garrisons for was to make sudden inroads upon their country to spoil and prey them of their cattle’, upon which the Irish economy depended.


Surprising to me was that many of the fort's buildings, including the two large warehouses, had been pre-built in Chester, England and sent in by ship to be assembled on site.

  Click on any image for a larger view.



This view of the Foyle Valley in 1601, although not drawn to scale, shows the defenses at Derry on the left, then the Fort at Dunnalong and the town of Strabane.




They were now ready to start their campaign in Ulster.  See Sir John Bolle at Dunnalong Fortress for the next part of this history.



This site was last updated 01/18/20