While it is generally accepted that the town of Drogheda was established by the Normans, the area around the mouth of the Boyne has a history that streches back thousands of years.
The stones used to build the famous passage graves at Newgrange and Knowth were trannsported to there present locations byway of the river . St Patrick landed at the mouth of the river and made his way along the river to Slane where he lit the Paschal Fire.
Raiding parties of Vikings wintered in the area, a fact recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters.
The Anglo Norman contact with Ireland began in 1169 with the arrival of three shiploads of mercenaries at Bannow Bay County Wexford. Further contingents arrived in 1170 and assisted Diarmuid McMurchada to regain his kingship of Leinster. On Diarmuid's death Richard Fitzgilbert de Clare (Strongbow) leader of the mercenaries was acknowledged as the new king. The growth of the mercenary's power threatened an independent Norman Kingdom in Ireland and this induced Henry II to cross from England in 1172 with an army of 4000 men to ensure his recognition as overlord of Ireland.
On his departure he appointed Hugh de Lacy as his deputy in Ireland. He granted him the land of Meath about a million acres consisting of the county of Meath, West Meath, and part of Louth and Cavan. De Lacy gradually extended his sway and each advance was secured by "mote and bailey" as at Drogheda where the topography was very suitable.
The war of the Roses in England came to an end in 1485 with Henry VII, a Lancastrian becoming the first Tudor king. He appointed Sir Edward Poynings as his deputy. The latter arrived in Ireland in 1494 with the intention of reducing the Anglo-Irish Lords to submission and ending the rule as enjoyed by the Yorkist supporters.
He appointed English born officials to various posts in the council and sent Sir Edward Poynings to Ireland as lord deputy, to reduce the country to 'whole and perfect obedience' and to prevent Yorkist pretenders from using it as a base.
He conviened a parliament at Drogheda, which met on the First of December 1494 at the old Tholsel or Castle of Comfort in the Bull Ring (site of Ollies Pub today). The most important act passed was called "Poyning's Law". This stated that no law could be passed by the parliament of Ireland without first having been approved by the King and his council in England and by the deputy and council in Ireland. The law mattered little at the time but became very important later when the Irish Parliament legislated for the entire country. It was not until 1782 that Poyning's Law was partly rescinded by Grattan's Parliament.
That fateful morning of Monday 9th September 1649 dawned and Cromwell had risen in time to summon Sir Arthur Aston, the Governor of the town to surrender at 8.00 a.m.
Rumours probably began to circulate that day that the Governor had received a request to surrender and people living in the much smaller south side of the town must have flocked across the bridge to the relative safety of the north side while many others fled from the town with the memory of the 1641 sige fresh in their minds .
Cromwell had 10,000 men, Aston had 2,300. Cromwell was well supplied with stores and equipment while Aston was virtually without cannon or gunners to fire them. So the rejection of Cromwell's summons was merely a formality.
Cromwell ordered his artillery to bombard a church located where the present St Mary's Church of Ireland now stands in an area known locally as "the Mollies" and during the day an incessant hail of solid shot was rained upon the church, the churchyard and the wall surrounding it.
On Tuesday 10th, the second day of the siege Cromwell turned cannon against the heart of the town with a design to demolish some of the principal houses in which he partly succeeded, beating down the tower of St. Mary's Church, and opening two breaches in the south and east wall. But the garrison redoubling their exertions, prevented him from entering while several of his soldiers fell around him (Alton).
The third day, Wednesday 11th September, Cromwell continued his battering until the afternoon when he gave the order to storm at 5.00 p.m. The town was taken by storm and over the next days Cromwell's army exacted their retribution on the stubborn garrison, putting many to the sword including the Governor Ashton with many more being transported into slavery in the Caribbean. It is the most tragic event in Drogheda's long history.
Following King James 11 fleeing to France in 1688 and his nephew and son in law William III taking the English throne . William came in person to Ireland in June 1690 with a large and well-equipped army composed of Dutch, Germans, Huguenot French and many other nationalities as well as English and Scottish. He was joined by Schomberg and regiments from Londonderry and Enniskillen leaving him with about 35,000 men .. James II's army numbered about 25,000 including 6,000 French under Lauzun, but he had few cannon and many of his infantry were ill-trained and poorly equipped. Against the advice of both Tyrconnell and Lauzun, James decided to block William's advance towards Dublin at the River Boyne near Drogheda.
The battle fought at the Boyne on 1st July (by the old calendar then used in the British Isles, 12th July by the present one) was not a great affair in military terms: about 1,000 Jacobites and 500 Williamites were killed (of whom Schomberg was one).
Most of the Jacobite army, and a large part of the Williamite one, saw little action and most of the Jacobite army retreated entact afterwards. By threatening to outflank the Jacobite left, William pinned down many of James's best troops for most of the day while the main Williamite force crossed the river near Oldbridge and overcame stiff, resistance including repeated charges by the Irish cavalry .James retreated ahead of his army to Dublin
Though not by any means the end of the war, the Battle of the Boyne caused James II to quit Ireland but the war continued for another year with William defeating the Irish at Aughrim and the Treaty of Limerick being signed in 1691.