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The History of Ulster
"The Tide of Battle"


War declared against Tyrone - Siege of Ballyshanwon Siege of Blackwater Fort - Death of Lord Burgh - Death of Sir John Norris - O'Donnell's Depredations in Connaught - Trouble at Carrickfergus - Belfast taken by Shane MacBrian O'Neill - James MacSorley, son of Sorley Boy, and his brother Randal - Sir John Chichester killed - The Council appoint Sir Thomas Norris - The Queen appoints Lord Ormonde Lieutenant-General - Tyrone submits.

War was now declared. Lord Burgh ordered a great muster of forces at Drogheda on the 2oth of July, and, marching at their head, crossed the Blackwater without opposition. Tyrone, with 800 foot and 80 horse, had, a little earlier, been encamped between Newry and Armagh, when Captain Turner attacked him suddenly, and so surprised the Earl that he was obliged to make his escape on foot through a bog, in doing which he lost his hat; whereupon Turner dryly remarked: "I trust it presages his head against the next time". When Burgh reached the famous ford over the Blackwater he also determined to surprise the enemy, and, selecting 1200 foot and 300 horse, he started at sunrise and at once undertook the passage. His men hesitated, but despite his ill-health, he gallantly led them on, and they pushed forward. The defenders, dismayed at the audacity displayed by the English, fled, and Tyrone in wrath hanged some score of them.

There is no doubt that this signal victory was the result of Burgh's personal courage, and was due solely to his cheery lead. A wary watch was kept for a reprisal, and a sudden attack made by Tyrone was, being thus anticipated, defeated. There were, however, many volunteers in Burgh's army, and many who were merely u playing at soldiers", with the result, when Tyrone came down "like a wolf on the fold", several casualties occurred, Captain Turner being killed, and also Sir Francis Vaughan, Burgh's brother-in-law. Two of his nephews were wounded, and the losses heavy. Burgh, with indomitable courage, rushed to the rescue, rallied his forces, and saved the situation, defeating the Irish and changing defeat to victory. He had been accused of rashness and foolhardiness in the Netherlands, and anticipated criticism by saying: "I have not that wherein my Lord of Essex is and all generals be in a journey happy, scarcely any of such understanding as to do what they be bidden; as he hath many: When I direct, for want of others I must execute".

The Lord Deputy had directed Sir Conyers Clifford, who had succeeded Bingham as Governor of Connaught, to make a simultaneous movement against O'Donnell, and accordingly the loyalist forces of Connaught assembled on the 24th of July at the monastery of Boyle. They marched to Sligo, and thence to the Erne, which, after some hard fighting, they crossed at the ford of Ath-cul-uain, about half a mile west of Belleek. Murrough O'Brien, Baron of Inchiquin, was shot by the Irish while half across the ford, the bullet passing under one arm and out at the other. He fell from his horse and perished in the waters.

Clifford, having obtained some cannon by sea from Galway, laid siege to the castle of Ballyshannon, which was defended with great bravery for O'Donnell by Hugh Crawford, a Scot, with eighty soldiers, of whom some were Spaniards and the rest Irish. An incessant fire was kept up on the castle for three days, and, under the shelter of a testudo, an attempt was made to sap the walls; but the beams and rocks hurled from the battlements by the defenders demolished the works of the assailants, and O'Donnell, arriving with a considerable force, besieged the Queen's forces in their own camp.

At the dawn of day on the i5th of August, Clifford noiselessly recrossed the Erne at a ford immediately above the cataract of Assaroe, over which several of his men were washed by the impetuosity of the torrent and drowned. O'Donnell, regretting the carelessness which suffered the enemy to escape, pursued Clifford across the river, his men and he not even stopping to put their clothes on; but Clifford reached Drumcliff in Sligo without much further loss. The English had no powder and were completely outnumbered, but torrents of rain fell and wetted the ammunition of the Irish. The royal army in retreating abandoned three pieces of ordnance and a large quantity of stores. Maguire and O'Rourke were both with O'Donnell in this affair. Clifford marched on foot in the rear. He was disgusted with this semi-barbarous method of warfare, and begged to be transferred to take part in some other war without delay.

The Irish naturally were elated at so signal a success. Tyrone laid siege to the new Blackwater fort, but in storming it by the aid of scaling ladders which proved to be too short he lost thirty of his men, and then resolved to starve the garrison into submission, and Captain Williams and his men had a hard time. The storming party were picked soldiers, who first received the Sacrament, and were sworn not to abandon their task till they had carried the fort, but they lost all their ladders and about 400 men were either wounded or killed. Burgh, on the news reaching him at Dublin, at once marched to the relief of the beleaguered garrison, and reached Armagh without opposition. He succeeded in raising the siege and throwing in relief both in men and provisions.

Burgh, who was a martyr to swollen legs, was taken suddenly ill, and after victualling and relieving Blackwater he had to be carried in a litter to Armagh. From Armagh he was carried to Newry, where, realizing the seriousness of his illness, he made a will in the presence, amongst others, of John Dymmok, author of a well-known treatise on Ireland. He named Bagenal and Cecil as executors, and left all he possessed to his wife, Lady Frances, for whom and for his children he prayed the Queen's protection, "myself having spent my patrimony and ended my days in her service". This will was unsigned, for Burgh's strength failed as the concluding sentence which he had dictated was being put on paper. He died I3th of October, 1597. Bagenal, being on the spot, had in his capacity as executor to arrange for a funeral. He was somewhat perplexed as to what he should do, matters being somewhat complicated by Burgh's servants decamping.

The Queen, by the death of Lord Burgh, lost an able and faithful servant. She had already lost another. Sir John Norris retired to his province of Munster, which he reported to be in a very poor state of defence. Elizabeth could not spare the money needed, and as there was no immediate risk of hostilities on the part of Spain, Norris begged leave to recruit his health, at the same time stating that he was willing to remain at his post if his presence was required. He forwarded to Burgh, unopened, a letter he had received from Tyrone, and urged that the rebel should be well pressed during the summer, and added: "I am not envious though others shall reap the fruits of my travail, an ordinary fortune of mine". He died on 9th of September, 1597 of gangrene, which supervened the unskilful treatment of old and neglected wounds.

Meanwhile O'Donnell plundered the lands of O'Conor Roe, who had joined the English party, and this produced some jealousy between O'Donnell and O'Rourke, who was friendly to O'Conor. Hugh Maguire and Cormac, brother of Tyrone, entered Westmeath and sacked and burned Mullingar. Theobald, son of Walter Kittagh Burke, retook the territory of MacWilliam and plundered the Owles or O'Malley's country. Tyrrell, at the head of the Leinster insurgents, devastated Ormonde and cut to pieces a large body of the royal troops at Maryborough; in short the country was almost wholly in the hands of the Catholics.

At Carrickfergus, which was an exposed place, there had lately been many bickerings among the authorities, insomuch that Captain Rice Maunsell, who commanded the troops, imprisoned Charles Egerton, constable of the castle. One consequence was that Belfast fell into the hands of Shane MacBrian O'Neill, who hanged and disembowelled every Englishman found therein.

"Belfast", said Sir John Chichester, a younger brother of the better-known Sir Arthur, and Governor of Carrickfergus, "is a place which standeth eight miles from Carrickfergus, and on the river, where the sea ebbs and flows, so that boats may be landed within a butte (musket) shot of the said castle; for the recovery whereof I made choice that it should be one of my first works; and on the eleventh day of July following attempted the same with some hundred men, which I transported thither in boats by sea; and indeed our coming was so unlocked for by them as it asked us no long time before we took the place, without any loss to us, and put those we found in it to the sword."

Carrickfergus was soon the scene of active hostilities. Donnell and Alaster MacDonnell, sons of Sorley Boy, being dead, the chief of the Irish MacDonnells at this time was James MacSorley. He had been patronized by King James VI, at whose Court he was favourably received, and the King had as a special mark of favour lately knighted him. MacDonnell and his younger brother Randal now appeared at Carrickfergus, and having demolished their castles at Glenarm and Red Bay, they concentrated their strength at Dunluce, which they armed with three guns taken from the Spanish Armada. Chichester's attention being drawn to their suspicious proceedings, he demanded the surrender of these guns, especially as he noticed a somewhat super-friendly feeling to exist between Randal and Tyrone, whose daughter the former eventually married. The MacDonnells refused to surrender the guns, and Chichester invited them to a parley to discuss the situation, the immediate cause of which was a complaint that the brothers had been plundering in Island Magee.

The MacDonnells, in response to Chichester's invitation, advanced with about 600 men to within four miles of Carrickfergus, and the Governor marched with all available troops to meet them. His men had done some heavy field work of late and were weary, and their stock of powder was damp. At a council of war held before they started, Lieutenant Moses Hill offered to surprise the enemy in their camp if Chichester consented to delay the attack till nightfall. Captain Merriman, on the contrary, remembering with a glow of pleasure his own feat in capturing some 50,000 head of MacDonnell cattle, was impatient and eager to fight, and begged for immediate action. To this Chichester, when Merriman's plea was backed up by others, willingly consented, and it was resolved to lose no time.

The MacDonnells, on the appearance of the royal troops, beat a hasty retreat, but not to any great distance. They then turned upon Chichester, whom they shot in the shoulder and the leg, and finally killed with a shot in the head; and in a moment the pursued became the pursuers, the English horse and foot being driven in a disorderly rabble back towards the town, their muskets being almost useless, and despair breaking up their ranks. Maunsell and other officers fell, and only two seem to have escaped scatheless. Out of a force of about 300, more than half were killed, and the few survivors either saved their lives by swimming over into Island Magee, or were, as in the case of Captain Constable, taken prisoners. The survivors from the battle and the officers who had remained in reserve selected Egerton as their governor and prepared for an attack, but MacDonnell preferred to assume the airs of one aggrieved, who had only fought in self-defence.

When the news of Burgh's death reached Dublin the Council chose as his successor Sir Thomas Norris, the President of Munster; but this selection^ which was made much against his will, was provisional, for a month later the Queen committed the civil duties of the Government to Archbishop Loftus, who was also Lord Chancellor, and Sir Robert Gardiner, Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench, appointing them jointly Lords Justices, and the supreme military government of the country she gave to Ormonde, with the title of Lieutenant-General. Norris the Queen ordered back to his own province.

With Ormonde's appointment fresh negotiations were opened with the recalcitrant Earl of Tyrone, for it was recognized that the appointment would find favour in Tyrone's eyes. "You now represent our person," wrote the Queen to Ormonde, "and have to do with inferior people and base rebels, to whose submission if we in substance shall be content to condescend, we will look to have the same implored in such reverend form as becometh our vassals and such heinous offenders to use, with bended knees and hearts humbled; not as if one prince did treat with another upon even terms of honour or advantage, in using words of peace or war, but of rebellion in them, and mercy in us, for rather than ever it shall appear to the world that in any such sort we will give way to any of their pride, we will cast off either sense or feeling of pity or compassion, and upon what price soever prosecute them to the last hour."

Shortly before Christmas, 1597, the Earls of Ormonde and Thomond, at Tyrone's request, went to Dundalk, and Tyrone submitted to the Queen's representative. "I do", he said, "here acknowledge, upon the knees of my heart, that I am sorry for this my late relapse and defection." There was a three -days' conference, at which O'Donnell, as well as Tyrone, was present. The northern chiefs agreed to a treaty, the terms of which were to be submitted to the Queen, and a truce was to be observed until May, when the royal decision on the points at issue was expected.


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