Clonmel was the place which held out longest and which Cromwell found hardest to take. It is one of the busiest and cleanest (for many Irish towns are not famous for cleanliness) inland towns of Ireland. It is on the river Suir and on the borders of Tipperary and Waterford. As it lies in the middle of an agricultural district, it does great trade in grain and butter. Much grain is ground here, too, in the mills worked by the water of the Suir. The scenery here, as in many places in Ireland, is very beautiful, and visitors come long distances to see it.
Now, under the shadow of the hills Cromwell's Ironsides lay. Up and down the valleys roared and echoed his cannon. Day after day the walls trembled and shook beneath the awful thunder of shot and shell, until at last a breach was made. Then the Ironsides rushed to the walls, hoping to storm the town. But the defenders met them with such a hail of fire that they fell back again. Again and again they rushed to the attack. Again and again they fell back with sadly thinned ranks before that blazing fire of shot. Night fell, and still the town was untaken, and many an Ironside lay dead around the battlements.
But the brave defenders could hold out no longer. So hot and sharp had been their fire that their powder and shot were all done. In the dead of night they crept away, and next day the mayor of the town yielded it to Cromwell. He was angry when he found that the garrison had escaped. But he did not put the rest of the people to death. Thus Clonmel, too, came into Oliver's hands. But it had cost more men to take than any other town in all Ireland.
While Cromwell had been fighting and conquering in the south, another Parliamentarian army had been fighting and conquering in the north. Belfast, the most important town in all Ireland, had been taken. Although Belfast is not the real capital of Ireland, it is the trade capital, and also the capital of the province of Ulster. It stands upon a field of iron ore, and lying as it does opposite the Ayrshire coast, it can import coal easily from Scotland. The harbour is one of the best in the kingdom, and although there are some sand-banks in the lough, there is good anchorage, sheltered both on north and west by hills.
The graving docks of Belfast are the largest in the world. A graving dock is a dock into which a ship is put when the hull requires mending. When the ship has been sailed into the dock, the gates are shut and then the water is pumped out. The sides of the dock are like steps, and, as the water is drawn off, wooden props are placed against these steps and the sides of the ship, to prevent it heeling over. "Graves" is what is left at the bottom of the pan in melting tallow. "To grave "a ship means to smear the hull with this, but pitch is now used instead of graves.
There are also shipbuilding yards at Belfast, where some of the largest steamers afloat have been built. It has all kinds of imports and exports also, and the factories are almost too many to remember. There are iron foundries, distilleries, breweries, cable and rope factories, bacon-curing, and biscuit-making, and many other things. But the chief industry is linen-weaving. All over Ulster flax is grown, and Belfast is the centre of the linen trade. Linen has been woven in Ireland for at least seven hundred years, and Irish linens and Irish lace are famous all the world over.
Londonderry, too, is a good port, and famous for its linen. But here the chief trade is in shirts. As many as twenty thousand people, mostly women, work at making them. Londonderry had already been in the hands of the Parliamentarians when Cromwell landed, and now that Belfast and the country round was taken, all the east of Ireland, from Lough Foyle in the north to Cape Clear in the south, except Waterford, was held for Parliament.
All the west was still unconquered, but the west is the poorest part of Ireland. Then, there were no large towns there. The people lived in huts built of rough stones and turf, and were very wild and ignorant. It was a land of bog and mountain. The ports on the west look away from the Continent, and, although they look towards America and the New World, the roads and railways inland are not good. So that even were goods landed there, they are not easily carried away to other places. Nor is it easy to bring them from far inland to the shore.
This is not true, however, of Limerick. It lies near the mouth of the Shannon, which flows, connected by a long chain of navigable lakes, right through the heart of Ireland. It does an immense trade in bacon, and, as every one knows, is famous for its beautiful lace. Limerick was still untaken, but Cromwell decided to go home and leave it, and Waterford, and the west to be taken by his son-in-law Ireton. Oliver had been nine months in Ireland, and for many weeks letters had been coming, praying him to return to England, for he was needed there. So now he went, leaving behind him a name to be hated and cursed by Irishmen for many a year to come.