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The History of Ulster
The Turn of the Tide


O'Donnell's Plundering- Excursions - Mountjoy's Marches - He builds and fortifies Forts - Nial Garv O'Donnell joins Docwra - Spanish Ships in Killybegs - The O'Dogherties desert O'Donnell - Fanatical Attempt on Tyrone's Life - The Currency debased - Nial Garv besieged by O'Donnell - Help for the Irish arrives from Spain.

O'Donnell soon grew weary of the slow work of besieging Docwra in his fort at Lough Foyle ; his taste was for a more active and desultory warfare. So, leaving the task of watching the movements of the English commander to Nial Garv O'Donnell and O'Dogherty of Innishowen, he set out himself with the hosting of North Connaught, taking with him such men as could be spared from Tirconnell, and marched into the territories of Clanrickard and Thomond. His plundering parties visited almost the whole of Clare, and, the work of pillage having been completed without any opposition, he returned by the 24th of June to his own territory. While he was in Clare he pitched his camp at Ennis, and "many a feast," say the Annalists, "fit for a goodly gentleman, or for the lord of a territory, was enjoyed throughout Thomond at night by parties of four or five men, under the shelter of a shrubbery or at the side of a bush". On the 28th of June some English troops were defeated and their leader, Sir John Chamberlaine, slain in an attack on O'Dogherty, his body being pierced by no fewer than sixteen wounds. On the 29th of July O'Donnell drove off, from their pasture before Deny, a great number of the English horses, and repulsed Sir Henry Docwra, who went in pursuit with a strong force, the commandant himself receiving a wound in the forehead which obliged him to return to his fortress.

Mountjoy now established a camp at Faughard, near Dundalk. The heavy and continual rains caused the health of the soldiers to suffer, and the army, nominally 4000 strong, was actually under 3000. "Our tents", wrote Mountjoy, "are often blown down, and at this instant it doth rain into mine, so that I can scant write." Tyrone did what he could to harass and impede the progress of the Lord Deputy, but, recognizing the futility of his efforts, he left the passage open to Newry, and Mountjoy seized the opportunity given him to make the passage more practicable. Half-way between Newry and Armagh the Lord Deputy built a strong fort, which he named Mount Norris, in memory of Sir John Norris. Tyrone hovered near but could do nothing to hinder the work, and the fort was finished, victualled, and garrisoned in one week. Mountjoy now proclaimed a reward of 2000 for Tyrone alive and 1000 for him dead. He then returned to Carlingford, as his men were suffering from scarcity of provisions. The narrow pass between the mountains near Carlingford was disputed by Tyrone, the result being an engagement in which Mountjoy's chief secretary was killed. Fynes Moryson, the historian, was appointed to fill his place. In this engagement Tyrone narrowly escaped being killed. Fynes Moryson, who was at Dundalk with his brother, the Governor, says "the Irish lost 800 men, while the English had 200 killed and 400 not seriously wounded", adding that "Tyrone's reputation (who did all things by reputation) was clean overthrown, so that from all places they began to seek pardons and protections".

In October O'Donnell set out on another plundering excursion to Thomond, leaving the command at home to his brother-in-law, Nial Garv O'Donnell, grandson of Calvagh. Nial Garv, seeing, no doubt, that the Irish cause in the face of such odds was hopeless, came in to Docwra, bringing with him his brothers, Hugh Boy, Donnell, and Con, and 100 men, whereupon Docwra promised him Tirconnell as soon as Hugh Roe was expelled. The garrison of Derry had been very closely pressed, and Nial Garv's arrival was warmly welcomed, for it meant a plentiful supply of fresh meat to the beleaguered force. The condition of the English in Derry had been pitiable "men wasted with continual labours, the island scattered with cabins full of sick, our biscuit all spent, our other provisions of nothing but meal, butter, and a little wine, and that, by computation, to hold out but six days longer".

The first task set Nial Garv was to take Lifford, and for this purpose over 300 men were sent under his guidance. Hugh Roe had left but thirty men in charge, and on Nial Garv's approach these fled, after setting fire to the place so effectually that but thirty houses were left standing. O'Donnell, on hearing of his kinsman's defection, hastily returned, and devoted thirty days to a vain endeavour to retake the place. Some skirmishes took place, in one of which Captain Heath was killed, and Nial Garv had a horse shot under him. O'Donnell then departed to secure his men in winter quarters, but not before he had the satisfaction of learning that Sir Art O'Neill had succumbed to a fever brought on by "drinking too many carouses on his marriage day".

Two Spanish ships arrived off the Con naught coast about the beginning of November, and, at the desire of O'Donnell, put into the harbour of Killybegs. O'Donnell immediately sent notice to Tyrone, who hastened to Donegal, where the two chiefs divided the money, arms, and ammunition sent to them from Spain, and distributed these gifts among their adherents. During the winter months many services were rendered to the English by Nial Garv, and so greatly were they appreciated that Docwra confesses that but for his "intelligence and guidance" little or nothing could have been done by the English troops at Lough Foyle.

Nial Garv and his brothers, Hugh, Donnell, and Con, made many raids from Lifford into Tyrone, in one of which they took Newton, now Newton Stewart, from the O'Neills. O'Donnell now endeavoured to secure Nial Garv, and with that end in view he employed two men named Hugh Boy and Phelim Reagh, both MacDevitts (a sept of the O'Doghertys), to decoy Nial Garv by pretending to be friends with Captain Lancelot Atford, Governor of Culmore. Atford, on hearing this, in order to draw them into an ambuscade, agreed to give up Nial Garv on conditions. These were agreed to, and included 1000 down. An hour was appointed for the transfer, matters even going so far that, as earnest, a gold chain, the gift of Philip II of Spain to O'Donnell, was handed over to Atford. Notwithstanding all these elaborate arrangements the deal never came off, the Irish breaking tryst, with the result that Hugh Boy and Phelim Reagh forsook O'Donnell and joined hands with Docwra.

O'Donnell made yet another serious error of judgment. He had in safe keeping a youth named Cahir, a son of the Irish chieftain, Sir John O'Dogherty, and had promised that he should succeed his father; but, when the time came for him to fulfil his promise, he, having found Cahir's uncle of much service to him, declared in the elder man's favour. Cahir had been fostered (after the manner of the Irish) by members of the sept to which Hugh Boy and Phelim Reagh belonged, and they were so wroth with O'Donnell for his breach of faith regarding Cahir that they repaired to Docwra and promised to keep Innishowen at his service if their protege were established in the chieftaincy. Pressure was brought to bear on O'Donnell, and he set young Cahir at liberty, whereupon the entire sept of O'Dogherty forsook O'Donnell, and, taking all their cattle with them, left for their own district. The history of Ireland abounds in betrayals. This is only one instance, which could be repeated ad nauseam, of how the Irish, by fighting amongst themselves, were defeated by the common foe. "They had their own ends in it," remarked Docwra dryly, "which were always for private revenge; and we ours, to make use of them for the furtherance of the public service."

The early months of 1601 were spent by Mountjoy in devastating the central districts. In June he once more crossed the Pass of Moyry, and erected a strong castle on the northern side. He then marched beyond Slieve Fuaid and the Blackwater, burning and destroying the crops as he passed. The Barony of Farney, in Monaghan, was next invaded, and the adherents of Ever MacCooly MacMahon had their houses burned; after which Mountjoy stayed for a month at Drogheda. The Lord Deputy was tired of marching and countermarching, and longed for a solution of the Irish problem one way or the other. He told Carew that he could, from very ennui, welcome the Spaniards, "but I fear", he said, "they are too wise to come into this country, whom God amend or confound, and send us a quiet return and a happy meeting in the land of good meat and clean linen, lest by our long continuing here we turn knaves with this generation of vipers, and slovens with eating draff with these swine".

Mountjoy was particularly active during the summer months, planning and erecting forts and strengthening others. In Armagh he placed a garrison of 750 foot and 100 horse. A post was established at Downpatrick, and the Lord Deputy crossed the Blackwater. From this he threatened Tyrone's castle of Benburb; but, though there was much firing, no one of note was injured save the chaplain, Doctor Latwater, who, "affecting some singularity of forwardness more than his place required", was shot in the head.

In July an Englishman named Thomas Walker visited Ireland, and on reaching Armagh informed the governor, Sir Henry Danvers, that he was going to kill Tyrone, and that the idea originated with him and that he required no assistance. Danvers, who no doubt thought it no great harm to assassinate a traitor on whose head a price had been placed, and possibly anxious to do something to obliterate from men's memories his brother's (Sir Charles) connection with Essex's treasonable folly, consulted Mountjoy, and finally gave Walker leave to pass the English sentinels on his way to Tyrone's camp. Walker, in common parlance, had "a slate off", for we learn from his account that when he succeeded in reaching Tyrone's presence and told him of the force at Armagh, he turned pale! From Walker's report, which must be taken cum grano salts, we learn that Tyrone was dressed in a frieze jacket open in front; but as Walker stood before him with a sword in his hand his heart failed him. There is little use in following the maunderings of this visionary, who, on being sent back to England, maintained that he never thought of assassinating Tyrone until he found himself in Ireland! Walker was pronounced to be of unsound mind, and Mountjoy considered him "little better than frantic" (fanatic), adding, significantly, "not the less fit on that account for such a purpose".

Continual dropping of water will wear away a stone, and the Irish troubles and the terrible expense they put her to were having a disastrous effect on the health of Elizabeth. The great Queen, clear-minded and far-seeing, now permitted herself to be persuaded into a measure which never spelt anything but disaster to all who adopted it. We have seen how, from the days of Henry VIII, the debasing of the currency was always attended with miseries manifold, poverty, starvation, and death. The Queen recognized that such a measure was a mistake, and one which of necessity must spell ruin. Lord Treasurer Buckhurst, however, carried the day, and by proclamation all coin current in Ireland was cried down, and new twelvepenny, sixpenny, and threepenny pieces were issued, containing only threepence worth of silver to each shilling. Insult was added to injury by these coins being issued with the device of the Wild Harp of Erin engraven on one side. The new coinage was only value to the extent of nineteen shillings in the pound, and had no currency in England. The only known person who profited by this state of things was Sir George Carey, the Vice-Treasurer, who controlled the course of exchange. Mountjoy protested in vain: "the alteration of the coin, and taking away of the exchange, in such measure as it was first promised, hath bred a general grievance unto men of all qualities, and so many incommodities to all sorts, that it is beyond the judgment of any that I can hear to prevent a confusion in this estate by the continuance thereof". The subject was a sore one to Fynes Moryson, who pointed out that it was not the rebels who suffered by the debasing of the coinage but the Royalists; he says: "we served in discomfort and come home beggars, so that only the treasurers and paymasters had cause to bless the authors of this invention".

Some of the smaller chieftains in Tirconnell went over to the English, and O'Donnell was kept in a state of constant activity by enemies on every side. The young Earl of Clanrickard marched against him, but was compelled to retire, and Nial Garv was sent by Docwra, with 500 men, to occupy the monastery of Donegal, where he was besieged by O'Donnell. On the evening of the 2gth of September some gunpowder exploded in the monastery and set fire to the building, this being a signal to O'Donnell to attack the garrison. A struggle, of which the horrors were intensified by the conflagration and the surrounding darkness, was kept up during the night, but Nial Garv held out with indomitable courage. He was supported by an English ship in the harbour, and retreated next morning, with the remnant of his troops, to the monastery of Magherabeg, which he fortified and defended against O'Donnell's renewed attacks.

On the 2Oth of September, 1601, the Spanish fleet of forty-five sail was seen off Old Kinsale Head. The long-expected aid from Spain had arrived, and for the moment the attention of all men in Ireland and England, friends and foes alike, was turned towards the south.


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