Cromwell landed in Dublin, with eight regiments of foot, six of horse, and several troops of dragoons - in all seventeen thousand of the flower of the Puritan army.
They were extraordinary men, his Ironsides - Bible-reading, psalm-singing soldiers of God - fearfully daring, fiercely fanatical, papist hating, looking on this land as being assigned to them the chosen people, by their God. And looking on the inhabitants as idol-worshipping Canaanites who were cursed by God, and to be extirpated by the sword.
They came with minds inflamed by the lurid accounts of the "great Popish Massacre," which for some years now had been, by the Parliamentarians sedulously circulated among the English people.
To keep the mens venom at the boiling point there were chosen to travel with the troops, and also to sail with the fleet, Puritan preachers of the Word distinguished for their almost demoniacal hatred of the papistical Irish.
Stephen Jerome, Hugh Peters, and the likes, noted for the violence of their invective against all things Irish and Catholic, preached a war of extermination in the most startling and fearful manner - in the pulpit invoking the curse of God upon those who should hold their hands from slaying "while man, woman or child of Belial remains alive." Peters exhorted his heares to do as did the conquerors of Jericho, " Kill all that were, young men and old, children, and maidens."
The great leader of the grim Ironsides, himself, was destined to leave behind him in Ireland for all time a name synonymous with ruthless butchery.
The first rare taste of the qualities of this agent of God the just, and first friend of the Irish was given to the people of Drogheda. When he took the city he give it and its inhabitants to his men for three days' and three nights' unending orgy of slaughter.
Only thirty men out of a garrison of three thousand escaped the sword; and it is impossible to compute what other thousands of non-combatants, men,woman and children, were butchered.
They were slain in the streets, in the lanes, in the yards, in the gardens, in the cellars, on their own hearthstone. They were slain in the church tower to which they fled for refuge, in the churches, on the altar steps, in the market-place - till the city's gutters ran red rivulets of blood.
In the vaults underneath the church a great number of the finest woman of the city sought refuge. But hardly one, if one, even of these, was left to tell the awful tale of unspeakable outrage and murder.
In the despatch to the Speaker of the House of Commons, after Drogheda, Cromwell says: " It has pleased God to bless our endeavour at Drogheda....the enemy were about 3,000 strong in the town. I believe we put to the sword the whole number.... This hath been a marvelous great mercy....I wish that all honest hearts may give the glory of this to God alone, to whom indeed the praise of this mercy belongs.
On October 2nd 1649, the English Parliament appointed a national Thanksgiving Day in celebration of the dreadful slaughter and by unanimous vote placed upon the Parliamentary records " That the House does approve of the execution done at Drogheda as an act of both justice to them ( the butchered ones ) and mercy to others who may be warned by it."
After Drogheda, Cromwell, in quick succession reduced the other northern strongholds, then turned and swept southward to Wexford - where he again exhibited to the people the face of the King and Friend. Two thousand were butchered here.
He thought it a simple act of justice to "the saints," his soldiers, to indulge them in the little joy of slaughtering the Canaanites.
He writes: "I thought it not right or good to restrain off the soldiers from their right of pillage, or from doing execution on the enemy."
Lingard in his History of England says: " Wexford was abandoned to the mercy of the assailants.
The tragedy recently enacted at Drogheda was renewed. No distinction was made between the defenceless inhabitants and the armed soldiers, nor could the shrieks and prayers of the three hundred females who had gathered around the great Cross in the market-place, preserve them from the swords of the ruthless barbarians.
Cromwell reduced the garrisons of Arklow, Inniscorthy and Ross on the way to Wexford. After Wexford he tried to reduce Waterford, but failing in his first attempt, and not having time to waste besieging it, passed onward and found the cities of Cork an easy prey. For, as Lord Inchiquin had garrisoned them with English Protestants, these garrisons readily sold the cites - and were later rewarded with large grants of Irish lands in the North.
He rested at Youghal, getting fresh supplies and money from England. In January he took the field again, reduced Fethard, Cashel, Carrick, and eventually got Kilkenny by negotiation. Against his new and powerful cannon, the ancient and crumbling defenses of the Irish cities were of little avail.