How Waterford won its Civic Sword: the battle of Ballymacaw

How Waterford won its Civic Sword: the battle of Ballymacaw

By Randolph Jones

The fifth annual Dr. Niall Byrne memorial lecture, Medieval Museum, Waterford, 4 November 2016 

Edward IV

Edward IV, National Portrait Gallery

Introduction: Among the many artefacts held by Waterford’s Medieval Museum, there is a plain ‘hand-and-a-half’ sword dating from the fifteenth-century. It is said to have been presented to the city by Edward IV in 1462. The privilege of a sword borne before the mayor was granted by the same king when Waterford’s charter was renewed on 20 November 1461. The reason for the grant is not stated except “that the … city may become more famous and honourable” because of it.

Waterford was the second city in Ireland to be so honoured. Dublin was the first in 1403. No explanation was given in the letters patent, except that the privilege was granted “in honour of the King and of his faithful subjects of the city of Dublin.” Drogheda followed in 1468, but on this occasion, the reasons were given in full. Among others, this was for “resisting John O’Reilly, captain of his nation, in his raid into Co. Louth … killing him and 300 of his accomplices.” The circumstances surrounding Drogheda’s grant therefore begs the question: were Dublin’s and Waterford’s also due to some notable exploit performed on the battlefield by their respective citizens?

The answer to this question is probably ‘yes’. In the case of Dublin, mayor John Drake defeated the “Irish of Leinster” near Bray on 11 July 1402. The mayor and citizens of Waterford also won a similar encounter at Ballymacaw against their long-standing enemies, the Powers and O’Driscolls. The purpose of my talk this evening is to test this probability against the evidence available for Waterford.

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