Jay's Wargaming Blog

October 12, 2009

The Moyry Pass

Filed under: Scenarios — Jay @ 1:03 pm

Hugh O'Neill

In the year 1600, as Lord Mountjoy succeeded the Earl of Essex as viceroy of Ireland, Hugh O’Neill was at the height of his power. He had given the English a bloody nose at Clontibret (1595) and The Yellow Ford (1598), and had successfully prevented the enemy from encroaching into his earlship of Tyrone. His first confrontation with Mountjoy, the man who was eventually to prove his match, occurred in the autumn of that year when the English leader attempted to force the Moyry Pass, the difficult and well-defended gateway to Ulster. The succeeding battle – ‘one of the greatest fights that hath been seen in Ireland’ – provides excellent material for a solo scenario. For a full account of the battle see G.A. Hayes-McCoy’s comprehensive ‘Irish Battles – A Military History Of Ireland’. You can also read a brief account of the battle on Wikipedia.

The battlefield should be set out along roughly the following lines (click on image for a full size version):

Moyry Pass

As you can see, the battlefield is effectively divided into three distinct zones. In the centre, the pass is blocked by three barriers, “long traverses with huge and high flankers of great stones, mingled with turf and staked on both sides with palisadoes wattled” (Fynes Moryson, Mountjoy’s secretary). Plashed barriers separated the central highway from the rough rising ground on either side.

As a solo scenario, you take the side of the English commander, who must force the Irish from two of the three zones in order to win the day. The English forces consisted of 3,000 foot – a mix of pike and shot, some of largely untried quality – and 300 horse. The number of Irish troops is unknown, but for the purposes of this scenario we should assume that they significantly outnumber the English; as a rough guideline allow them at least 50% greater strength. The Irish appear to have fought well and to have had both high morale and a high degree of mobility, and it is likely that they would have been armed similarly to the English (though perhaps with a greater preponderance of calivers over pikes). The actual number of figures or elements used should be tailored to your preferred ruleset in order to give both sides a chance of winning the battle.

The following scenario notes apply:

A. Initial disposition of Irish troops unknown. As the English commander you can see that some troops are manning the first barricade, and there appear to be some troops on both sides of the pass along the rising ground. Lay your plans and deploy your troops.

B. Dice for Irish dispositions once your troops have begun their advance into the pass. Note that you cannot re-allocate or shuffle your infantry once you have seen the Irish dispositions, but must continue with your initial plan of attack. You can however freely move your cavalry to whichever side of the battlefield you wish at any time. Throw a D6 to determine the Irish dispositions:

1,2: One third of all troops placed in each of the 3 combat zones (left, right and centre)

3,4: Half of all troops placed in the pass itself, remainder divided equally between flanks

5: Irish centre and Irish left strongly manned, Irish right screened only

6: Irish centre and Irish right strongly manned, Irish left screened only

C. The English will fight at a combat disadvantage of minus one on the flanks of rough, rising ground, and will suffer a movement penalty on that terrain of minus 25%.

D. The Irish behind the barricades count as being in soft cover.

E. Irish casualties: eliminated or routing elements have a chance of rallying and reappearing along the Irish baseline, in the sector of the battlefield from which they fled. Throw a D6 at the start of the Irish turn to determine this for each such element, a throw of 5 or 6 meaning that they have successfully rallied.

F. Irish at the barriers: any elements pushed back from the barriers will automatically retreat to the next barrier to their rear. They will do this successfully unless their retreat is physically blocked by an English unit.

G. Any Irish shot along the rough ground will attempt to enfilade the advancing English in the pass unless they are attacked to their own front.

H. Irish troops on the rough ground attacked to their front will attempt to close with the English if they outnumber them by a factor of 3:2 or better. Otherwise they will engage the English in a fire-fight whilst slowly falling back to avoid contact. They will however hold their ground at all costs if they have fallen back to the line of the last barricade in the pass.

I. As the English commander you must attack the barriers in the pass with a minimum of one quarter of your force, though these troops may be used to hold or pin the Irish at their barrier(s) rather than attempt to actually storm them.

J. To reiterate, you win if you succeed in pushing the Irish off the field in any two sectors of the terrain; should this happen the Irish will have lost their overall advantage and will melt into the hills. Any other result means that the Irish have won.

Good luck and happy gaming!




  1. This looks like another very interesting scenario. I would have to use some stand in troops for Irish though. Would they still have had some of the more ‘medieval’ troop types in 1600 or had these gone by 1600?

    Comment by Dave Knight — October 13, 2009 @ 7:19 pm

  2. Hi Dave,

    It seems that under Hugh O’Neill the process of ‘modernising’ the Irish infantry was well under way. Hayes-McCoy comments that: ‘It was said in 1596 that the Irish, having plenty of muskets, fowling pieces, calivers, swords, helmets, powder and shot, had converted most of their kern into musketeers and their galloglas into pikemen’. Ian Heath’s Osprey on ‘The Irish Wars’ is a bit more equivocal, suggesting that the Irish would still be fielding some of the more traditional troop types at this time (though presumably not galloglas). I think the problem lies in the paucity of original sources, but I would tend to trust Hayes-McCoy over Heath on this; OTOH I’m no expert, and on top of that I’m probably rather biased towards the Irish! For playing this scenario myself I used generic shot in 6mm for most of the Irish troops.

    Cheers, Jay.

    Comment by Jay — October 14, 2009 @ 7:23 am

  3. Sounds like I might be able to get away with a few earlier troops.

    Looks interesting – if I ever give it a try I will let you know


    Comment by Dave Knight — October 14, 2009 @ 4:15 pm

  4. Please do, would be very interested to hear how it goes! Cheers, Jay.

    Comment by Jay — October 15, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

  5. Hi,

    There is a product called “Mythic” that does something similar to what you are doing. It uses percentages to determine the likelihood that a given question is true. It is all true false based. The system is designed for RPGs but could easily be adopted for wargaming in general.

    Hope your experiment goes well and works.


    Comment by John — December 30, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

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