NICHOLAS PURCELL (1652-1723)
Nicholas Purcell was born at the Castle of Loughmoe early in September 1652 just when the “Curse of Cromwell” had fallen upon the land. He was only three months old when his father James Purcell died at the early age of 30.
James Purcell, the only son the Theobald Purcell, Baron of Loughmoe was the first man in Munster to engage in the Rebellion of 1641, when on the 6th December of that year he led a force of 500 of his kinsmen and followers to take the walled and fortified city of Cashel. On New Year’s Eve, 31st December 1641 the town was taken without a shot being fired, the Gate having been secretly opened by the Irish within the Walls. Theobald continued to be an active member of the Catholic Confederates until his death in 1644, at the age of 49. James succeeded his father as Baron of Loughmoe, but because of his youth he took little active part in the rebellion. When he died in 1652, the Catholic cause was lost and Cromwell was preparing to transplant the Irish “to Hell or to Connaught”. With other Irish Catholic proprietors, his estates of nearly 11,500 Irish acres were declared forfeited and were parcelled out to Cromwellian adventurers.
James Purcell had married in or about the year 1639, and by his wife, Elizabeth, he had four daughters and only one son, Nicholas, the last Baron. In 1653, after her husband’s death, Mrs Purcell was ordered to transplant to Connaught, where she was allotted as much land as would afford her an income of £200 a year for the support of herself and her children. It would appear that she was permitted to return from Connaught before the end of the Cromwellian regime, as in 1657 we find her renting Loughmore and 222 acres there from a Cromwellian named William Barker, a London merchant, who had acquired the property from the grantee, Edmund Blake.
In 1660, Charles II was brought back to the throne. The Irish, who had supported his father’s cause, had high hopes that Charles would return their confiscated estates to them, but their hopes were soon dashed. Young Nicholas Purcell was one of the lucky ones. His uncle, now Duke of Ormond, became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and all-powerful. The Duke had little sympathy for the dispossessed Irish, but took good care to run the Cromwellian planters off his own estates and those of his nephew, Nicholas Purcell.
In 1685, James II, a Catholic, came to the throne of England and forthwith set about granting full civil and religious rights to his Irish Catholic subjects, opening up to them all civil and religious offices, and promising redress to those dispossessed of their estates. Nicholas Purcell was one of the first to avail of the toleration and entered the army. He was promoted to the rank of Captain in 1686, and Colonel a short time later. In May 1686, he was honoured by appointment to the Privy Council of Ireland. In England, the Protestant ruling class viewed with alarm the favour shown to Catholics, and deposed King James. They brought over William Prince of Orange from Holland, and put him on the English throne. King James fled to France, but hearing that Catholic Ireland was staunchly supporting his cause, he came over with some money and arms and summoned a Parliament in Dublin in 1689. The majority of Lords and Commons in that Parliament were Catholics. The member for Co. Tipperary was Nicholas Purcell. At this time the Cromwellians, almost to a man, fled back to England. King William however had no intention of leaving Ireland in Catholic hands. In August 1689 he sent over 20,000 men, mostly seasoned Dutch troops, under marshal Schomberg, and in June of the next year he himself landed with a further 36,000 men.
In the meantime, what is known as the Williamite War had started with the Siege of Derry. At his own expense, Nicholas had already raised a regiment of horse, known as “Purcell’s Yellow Horse” from the colour of their uniform, composed of his kinsmen, tenants and followers. They saw service at the siege, which failed, through lack of artillery, to batter down the walls. During the siege, Purcell is specially mentioned in dispatches for bravery. In one charge on an enemy entrenchment, his horse was shot from under him, but he managed to throw himself clear and escape, although weighed down with armour. With the arrival of the English reinforcements, the Irish had to fall back from Derry, and Purcell and his Regiment fought valiantly in various engagements, at Belturbet, Enniskillen, Armagh, and the disastrous Battle of the Boyne. With Ulster and Leinster now firmly in the hands of William, James abandoned the Irish and again fled to France. The Irish continued to fight on for religion and country, assisted by same French troops sent by the King of France. Hostilities ceased during the winter of 1690-91, the Irish withdrawing behind the Shannon, which was made the line of defence.
When the war was resumed in 1691, King William’s General, Ginkel, forced a crossing of the Shannon at Athlone, and the Irish fell back to Aughrim. There, a decisive battle was fought on 12 July 1691. Victory was within the grasp of the Irish, when their leader, the French General St Ruth, was killed by a canon ball. The Irish forces, without a leader, became disorganised and victory was turned into a rout. In that engagement, Purcell and his regiment were again to the forefront, fighting on the left flank of the army with Sarsfield.
The remnant of the Irish army retreated to Limerick, where a last stand was made. The second siege began on the 4th September 1691. After a heroic defence, the Irish, with ammunition exhausted, the walls tottering, pestilence raging, beset by traitors, were forced to sue for terms. The Irish proprietors were guaranteed their estates; Catholics were granted freedom in the practice of their religion; Irish troops were granted permission to return home, enlist abroad or join King William’s Army, at their choice. Nicholas Purcell was one of the Irish plenipotentiaries who negotiated the terms, and one of the seven on the Irish side who signed the Treaty on 3rd October 1691, a Treaty which was to be soon shamelessly broken by the English Government.
Sarsfield and the vast majority of the Irish leaders and soldiers elected to go into exile. Nicholas Purcell, however, elected to return home to Loughmore. He was now a broken man, beset with debts and failing in health. His sisters and the husbands of his daughters were clamouring for their dowries; he had no hope of recovering the money he had expended in raising and equipping the troops, so he had to sell a large portion of his estates, chiefly in the parish of Upperchurch, and at a bargain rate, to Joseph Damer of Dublin and John Ryan, an ancestor of the Ryans of Inch. He was continually subjected to petty annoyances and indignities by the Civil authorities, who had now nothing to fear from the dispirited Irish, the flower of whose leaders and men were fighting, not for Ireland, but for foreign powers from Dunkirque to Belgrade. In 1705, he who had led armies was forced to beg for a licence to hold a gun, sword and pistols, without which no one was regarded as a gentleman in those days. On rumours of a Jacobite Rising in 1714, he was ordered to hand up even his arms and “any serviceable horses, gelding or mares which he had”, under severe penalties. Magistrates and other officers of the Crown were empowered to enter his premises at any time to search for arms or horses which he might have concealed, and if any were found he was to suffer the full rigours of the law.
When the Jacobite Rising took place in Scotland in 1715, Purcell and other Catholic gentlemen, suspected of sympathy with “Bonnie Prince Charlie” were arrested and imprisoned in Clonmel Gaol until the Rising had been put down.
Nicholas Purcell died in Loughmore Castle on 24th March 1723, at the age of 71, and was buried in the chancel of the ruined Church in Loughmore graveyard. As he had no male issue, the remnants of his estate were divided between his daughters. His daughter Mary, and her husband, John White, of Leixlip, Co. Kildare, obtained the Castle portion and came to live in Loughmore.