King John, an Anglo-Norman, officially established the town of Drogheda in 1194 but the actual history of inhabitation extends back to the times when the Celts first arrived.
Drogheda was the scene of several important historical events, such as the Battle of the Boyne and the Surrender of the Irish Chieftains to the King of England. It is located on the eastern coast of Ireland. There is record of the arrival of the Vikings in 911, and they colonized the area until the arrival of the Normans some 200 years later. Hugh de Lacy, the lord of Trim, fortified the town along the River Boyne. The town of Drogheda is divided by this river, and in the beginning was actually two separate towns.
In 1649, Oliver Cromwell arrived with the goal of banishing native Irish Catholics to the wilds in the west of the country. He gave them the option to go to “Hell or Connaught”. Cromwell had a particularly difficult time when he approached the sturdy walls of Drogheda. The citizens stood their ground through two attacks before finally falling to the third. A massive slaughter of as many as 3500 people – including women and children – followed.
One group of Drogheda residents sought refuge in St. Peter’s Church and were burned along with the building. Sir Arthur Aston, one of the citizen leaders, was actually beaten with his own wooden leg until he died. The events, which took place near Millmount, established Cromwell as vicious when dealing with rebellion and were used to quell the same type of behavior in nearby areas. His reputation, however, never really recovered from these acts of cruelty, which most people viewed as excessive.
Today, the massacre of 1649 is memorialized at Millmount Museum and Martello Tower. The attached buildings are filled with exhibits that focus on the progress of Drogheda and its people over the centuries, proof that Cromwell was not successful in breaking the will and spirit of the local people. Trade Guild memorabilia signifies rebuilding, a willow and leather coracle (traditional River Boyne fishing boat) and commercial and industrial artifacts illustrate the many ways Drogheda has used to prosper.
Memorabilia of the bloody events in 1649 is on display and the rich military history of the town is detailed by exhibits housed in Martello Tower.
Drogheda’s unique features include St. Laurence’s Gate, a genuine 13th century gate that was once one of the eleven openings in the fortified enclosure of the city. It is very well preserved, and includes two drumtowers that stand four stories tall. Also surviving is Butler’s Gate, which is estimated to be at least fifty years older.
In the centre of town, spanning the River Boyne, is the railway viaduct. Engineered and built during the Victorian Period (1850), the viaduct still functions as a part of the Dublin to Belfast rail line and is visible from most areas in and around the town. St. Peter’s Church, a Roman Catholic house of worship was built in the Gothic Revival style. It contains the head of St. Oliver Plunkett, preserved and retained after it was extracted from the fire used to execute him.