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The History of Ulster
The Siege of Kinsale

Tyrone and O'Donnell arrive on the scene - A Night Attack on the English determined - Treachery in the Irish Camp - The Irish taken unawares - Total Rout and Defeat of the Northerners - O'Donnell sails for Spain - Tyrone returns to Ulster - Kinsale evacuated by the Spaniards - Don Juan de Aguila returns to Spain.

"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick", and sick indeed was the heart of Don Juan de Aguila, who day after day looked in vain for the approach of his Irish allies. Early in November Tyrone began his southward march, and, tarrying on his way to plunder Meath, at length arrived, and on the 21st of December showed himself, with all his forces, on a hill to the north of Kinsale, at a place called Belgoley, about a mile from the English camp. "O'Donnell," said Fenton, "and Tyrone following after, used all the means they could to work the royalists to their side, but have reduced none of reckoning, for anything yet discovered: only they both made havoc of some countries, as a revenge to the loyalists that refused to rise with them." The only allies gained by Tyrone in Munster were in West Cork and Kerry, and they did not declare themselves until the Spanish reinforcements arrived at Castlehaven. Tyrone had with him MacMahon, Maguire, Randal MacSorley MacDonnell, and some of the O'Conors and Burkes, but his chief reliance was placed upon Captain Richard Tyrrell and his mercenaries. His own division must have been under 4000 men, seeing that with O'Donnell's 2500, O'Sullivan Beare's retainers, and the few others whom the shattered resources of Munster could supply, the whole Irish army amounted to only 6000 foot and 500 horse, with 300 Spaniards from Castlehaven under Captain Alphonso Ocampo; while the English force at this time, allowing for losses, must at least have been 10,000 strong.

The position of the English was now very critical. They were losing great numbers by sickness and desertion, and were so closely hemmed in between the Irish on one side and the Spaniards on the other, that they could procure no fodder for the horses, which it was decided by a council of war held on 23rd of December should be sent away to Cork. In addition, the troops were threatened with famine, so that Mountjoy thought seriously of raising the siege and retiring to Cork for the winter.

On the other hand, the Spaniards in Kinsale had lost all patience. They had been in error as to the state of the country, and on their arrival had learned with chagrin that Florence MacCarthy and the Earl of Desmond were prisoners in London; that the Catholics of Munster could afford them no active co-operation; and that a large portion of the army arrayed against them consisted of Catholic Irish. Their own ships had been sent back to Spain, and the harbour was blockaded by an English squadron, which cut off all hope of succour from abroad.

Under these circumstances Don Juan del Aguila wrote pressing letters to the Irish chiefs, importuning them to come to his assistance without further delay. He was a brave soldier but a somewhat incompetent general, and in his ignorance of their real circumstances had conceived a disgust for, and personal enmity to, the Irish which unfitted him to act effectively with them. He urged them to attack the English camp on a certain night, and promised on his side to make a sortie in full force simultaneously; but when this plan was discussed in the council of the Irish chiefs it was opposed by Tyrone, who knew full well that with delay the total destruction of the English army by disease and famine was certain. O'Donnell, a much younger man, was "oppressed at heart and ashamed to hear the complaint and distress of the Spaniards without relieving them", and thought they were in honour bound to meet the wishes of their allies. The majority being with him, it was decided that an immediate attack should be made.

The attack might have been successful had there not been treachery in the Irish camp. Brian MacHugh Oge MacMahon, one of Tyrone's chief officers, had a son who had been a page in Carew's service, and on the night of the 22nd of December MacMahon sent a boy to the English camp to ask Captain William Taaffe to procure for him, from the President, a bottle of whisky. The request, for old acquaintance' sake, was readily granted, and next day MacMahon again sent the boy with a letter, in which he thanked Carew for his courtesy, and warned him of the attack which it was decided to make on the English lines that night. This message, which was confirmed by an intercepted letter from Don Juan to Tyrone, put Mountjoy on his guard, and, amongst other precautions against attack, a flying column of about looo men was kept under arms.

After some dispute about the command for it appears that Tyrone and O'Donnell were not at all in accord on this illconcerted enterprise the Irish army, on the night of the 23rd of December, set out under cover of the darkness in three divisions. "The chiefs", say the Irish Annalists, "were at variance, each of them contending that he himself should go foremost in the night's attack, so that they set out from their camp in three strong battalions, shoulder to shoulder, and elbow to elbow." O'Neill with the Kinel-Owen and others were in a strong battalion apart; O'Donnell, with the Kinel-Connell, his sub-chieftains, and the Connaught men in general formed the second battalion; those gentlemen of Munster, Leinster, and Meath, with their forces, who had risen up in the confederacy of the Irish war, and who had been in banishment in Ulster during the preceding part of this year, were in the third.

The darkness of the winter night was broken by frequent flashes of lightning; but this fitful light only rendered the course to be taken more doubtful. The guides missed their way, and, after wandering about all night, Tyrone, at day- break, accompanied by O'Sullivan and Ocampo, ascended a little hill and saw the English entrenchments close at hand, with the men under arms, the cavalry mounted and in advance of their quarters, and all in readiness for battle. His own men were at this time in the utmost disorder, and O'Donnell's division was at a considerable distance. Under these circumstances it was determined that the attack should be postponed. Tyrone drew off his horse to re-form them, and the foot, supposing him to be flying, began on all sides to waver. At this moment O'Donnell came up and made the confusion greater still. The Earl of Clanrickard, who was lashed up to a pitch of wild enthusiasm, implored Wingfield not to lose the opportunity, and in a moment the English cavalry poured out upon the broken masses of Irish, charging them in their disordered state and creating a scene of frightful carnage and confusion, and the retreat, which had actually commenced before the charge, was soon turned into a total rout. Tyrrell and Ocampo's Spaniards made a gallant stand; but the Spanish commander was taken prisoner, and most of his men were cut to pieces. O'Donnell's division came at length into the field, and repulsed a wing of the English cavalry; but the panic became general, and in vain did Red Hugh strain his lungs to rally the flying multitude. Tyrone acted with all his wonted bravery, but all his efforts were fruitless, for the ground, being open and flat, left no scope for his usual tactics. "All", says O'Sullivan, "were seized with panic terror, or rather routed by divine vengeance." The Irish lost something like 2000 men, while the loss of the English was very trifling. "The Earl of Clanrickard", says Mountjoy, "had many fair escapes, being shot through his garments, and no man did bloody his sword more than his lordship that day, and with his own hand he killed above twenty Irish kerne, and cried out to spare no rebel." The pursuit continued for two miles, and was only abandoned owing to the weary condition of the half-starved horses.

The night after their defeat the Irish halted at Inishannon, near Bandon, and no further attempt was made to relieve Kinsale. "There prevailed", say the Annalists, "much reproach on reproach, moaning and dejection, melancholy and anguish, in every quarter throughout the camp. They slept not soundly, and scarcely did they take any refreshment." Tyrone especially was plunged in the deepest dejection. He was already advanced in years, and now seemed to have abandoned all hope of retrieving his lost fortune.

Next day it was resolved that O'Donnell should go to Spain to explain the position to Philip, and that the Ulster chiefs should return home. O'Donnell, who knew well that the reception of the broken columns on their homeward march would be very different to that experienced in marching south, when "it was roses, roses, all the way", urged that the whole army should remain in the south until he brought reinforcements from Spain. But the Irish, true to their tribal traditions, broke up into small companies, and, each sept under its individual chief, struggled homewards. The reception they got was what O'Donnell foretold, for, "they which did kiss them in their going forward, did both strip them, and shoot bullets at them on their return, and for their arms they did drown them and tread them down in every bog and soft place". The straggling army killed their horses for food, the wretched animals being themselves half-starved. It is computed that at least 3000 men and 500 horses were lost on this homeward march.

In the meantime Don Juan, after some fruitless sallies, sent proposals of capitulation, which were accepted by Mountjoy. They were very honourable to the Spaniards, who evacuated Kinsale with their colours flying, and it was agreed that they were to be conveyed back to Spain on giving up their other garrisons of Dunboy, Baltimore, and Castlehaven. Don Juan declared that he felt himself absolved from all engagements to the Irish. "Noster Rex Philippus", he said, "had sent him to co-operate with the Condees O'Neill and O'Donnell, who had long delayed their coming; and when they did come they were shamefully defeated by a handful of men" (Carew had said: "A troop of women might have beaten Tyrone's army"), and "blown asunder into divers parts of the world, so as now I find no such Condees in rerum naturd (for those were the very words he used) as I came to join withal, and therefore have moved this accord the rather to disengage the King, my master, from assisting a people so unable in themselves that the whole burden of the war must lie upon him, and so perfidious as perhaps might be induced in requital of his favour at last to betray him."

The siege of Kinsale, which, save that of Londonderry, is the most important in Irish history, had lasted for more than ten weeks, and in it the Spaniards lost about looomen; while the loss of the English, by war and by disease, must have been at least 4000 men. Don Juan's chivalry was of the Quixotic kind. He challenged Mountjoy to settle by single combat the questions at issue, but the offer was, of course, rejected. After the surrender of Kinsale an intimate friendship sprang up between him and Sir George Carew, to whom he presented, as a keepsake, a treatise on fortifications.

The Irish, for whom Don Juan expressed contempt, believed him to be guilty of perfidy or cowardice; and O'Sullivan Beare, acting under this impression, contrived to recover possession of his own Castle of Dunboy, by causing a breach to be made in the wall, and entering it with eighty men, at dead of night, while the Spanish garrison were asleep, and then declaring that he held it for the King of Spain, to whom he had formally transferred his allegiance. He wrote an eloquent letter to Philip, begging for help; and if help could not be given, then he asked that means might at least be provided to carry his family and himself to Spain. Don Juan was enraged when he heard of this proceeding, which he considered a violation of the capitulation, and offered to go himself to dispossess O'Sullivan ; but Mountjoy was more desirous for his departure than for his assistance, and the Spaniards re- embarked for their own country, some on the 2Oth of February, and the remainder, with Don Juan, on the i6th of March. Don Juan, on landing in Spain, was placed under arrest, and died of grief.

The news of the victory at Kinsale was conveyed to London by Sir Henry Danvers, and most gracious thanks were sent by the Queen to all concerned, more especially to the Lord Deputy, the Lord President of Munster, and to the Earls of Thomond and Clanrickard. The first news, however, which was unofficial, was brought by that remarkable man, Richard Boyle, afterwards Earl of Cork, who gave in after years the following account of his trip: "I left my Lord President'*, he said, "at Shandon Castle, near Cork, on Monday morning about two of the clock, and the next day delivered my packet, and supped with Sir Robert Cecil, being then principal Secretary, at his house in the Strand; who, after supper, held me in discourse till two of the clock in the morning, and by seven that morning called upon me to attend him to the Court, where he presented me to Her Majesty in her bedchamber, who remembered me, calling me by name, and giving me her hand to kiss, telling me that she was glad that I was the happy man to bring the first news of the glorious victory. And after her Majesty had interrogated with me upon sundry questions very punctually, and that therein I gave her full satisfaction in every particular, she gave me again her hand to kiss, and commanded my despatch for Ireland, and so dismissed me with great grace and favour."

The Queen was much relieved that the war was at an end. The loss of men and money had weighed heavily upon her. Now, in order "to save the blood of her subjects, dearer to her than revenge or glory", she even proposed to allow Tyrone to come to terms, though she felt that it was "waste of time, and that there was no " other way with the arch-traitor than the plain way of perdition ".

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