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Sir John Bolle at Dunnalong Fortress

Back to Lord Docwra and Sir John Bolle in Ulster, Bolles of Haugh in the Military or The Bolles of Haugh

In July Docwra moved 800 men from Derry upriver to the site of a ruined O’Neill castle at Dunnalong.  Sir John Bolles was left there with six companies of foot to establish a base for a garrison.   Each company would be commanded by a Captain with the support of a Lieutenant and at least one Ensign and would have about 100 to 150 men in it.  Sir John would have been the Captain of one of the companies as well as Commander of the overall garrison.  In Docwra's own words "On the 2nd of July, 1600 I put eight hundred men into boats and landed them at Dunnalong, Tyrone lying in camp within two myles of the place, where I presentlie fell to raising a forte.  After I had made it reasonablie defensible, I left Sir John Bolles in garrison, with six companies of foot, and afterwards sent him fifty horse.”  Sir John was to oversee the completion of the fortress which plans show was a star shaped fortress with earthen walls surrounding the moated ruins of the old castle, several buildings and warehouses including a house built right beside the old castle protected by the rebuilt moat and two cannons is marked ‘John Bolles house’.  The fortress grounds included the barracks and other support buildings for the 1,050 foot soldiers, a brewery and a marketplace.  The site was intended to protect the English while encouraging the support of the local people.  Beer from the brewery was transported down river to Derry by means of a horse pulled barge.  Archaeological work done there has shown that most of the buildings were built from locally found turf and other materials but several buildings were of stronger construction with slate roofs (shown as having blue roofs in the colored illustration below). 

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.  See Pre-Fab Construction in 1600 below

  Click on any image for a larger view.



The following 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, Lifford Castle and the town of Strabane.




They were now ready to start their campaign in Ulster.


See Sir John Bolle's Campaign in Ulster for the next part of this story



Pre-Fab Construction in 1600

Some of these buildings were apparently shipped pre-fabricated from England.  On May 15, 1601 Captain Humphrey Covert wrote from Dunalong to the Secretary of State, Sir Robert Cecil, in London “One of the two storehouses, which was sent in March last, was very well set up, and covered with slate, but the Commissary of Victuals having stowed in the middle floor thereof about 15 ton weight at the most, the two great main pieces of timber that lie athwart the house brake in the middle.”  There is additional evidence of their use of pre-fab housing in the list of supplies which Sir John made in May 1601 for the cross country expedition to build a fortress at Ballyshannon: ‘ordnance, shipping, houses ready framed for lodging the forces, storehouses, a hospital for forty beds, boards of oak, fir and deal, a smith’s forge, Welsh coal etc.’

When John Bolles was tasked with establishing a garrison at Ballyshannon his list of requirements included “that those Captains and officers, which have built their houses at Lough Foyle, may not be forbidden to take them with them” and for the buildings they would need in Ireland “that an overseer of the artificers may be appointed and sent presently away to Bristol to see the building of the necessary houses, stables and such like.”

It looks like this was more than just sending over the raw building materials.  They actually built pre-assembled sections of storehouses, stables and houses in England which were then shipped to Ireland for assembly and which could then be taken down and re-assembled at another site.  In 1600!


This site was last updated 02/02/21