Hugh O'Neill, 1590-1603

From The Historic Case for Irish Independence by Darrell Figgis

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16. At this moment a new figure arose, and he came of the old Monarchic line. Others had arisen in the continual wars that were waged, but they had arisen separately, and so had helped the invader. Time was never allowed for any agreement to mature; the treasury and the secret agent were ever busy to create discord; and offers of separate peace to a harassed foe conspired to break alliances. The new O'Neill, however, had been an English ward, and so had had an opportunity of studying the invader's sleight of craft. Therefore, it fell out that for a number of years English ministers found all their plans matched by perfect knowledge and a better cunning. They had always relied on provoking obduracy to a head before it could contract dangerous alliances, but they found that O'Neill's patience was never to be broken, while he gathered all the North, all the West, and much of the South under his leadership. If wars were pressed against him, he outgeneralled his opponents in the field, and then made peace on terms that he intended to regard neither more nor less faithfully than English monarchs and ministers. In the meantime he entered into alliances with the Papal See and the Crown of Spain for the breaking of English power in Ireland and the complete re-establishment of Irish Sovereignty. The Sovereignty of Ireland was then still recognised as existing in a state of frustration and only partial suppression.

The terms of O'Neill's negotiations with the Spanish Crown supposed this as the basis of the military aid that was promised for its final and complete emancipation; and indeed throughout his life O'Neill himself was treated by the chancellries of Europe as the leader of a nation in misfortune while under no allegiance to the English Crown. In that character he made his pact with Spain, by which he was pledged not to press to a final issue until the promised Spanish assistance came to him. Year after year he waited for this assistance, and year after year he was disappointed. It became increasingly difficult to withhold the decisive action to which the enemy pressed him, and he was compelled to engage in wars that wasted his strength and impoverished the country. When at last the promised aid came he heard of its landing in the South, whereas he had arranged for it to land in the North, where his strength mostly lay. He hastened, however, to effect a junction, and found the Spanish forces invested by an English army. Therefore he, in turn, invested the English. He could have reduced the English, but this meant also the reduction of the Spanish force; and being importuned by them not to wait, against his own judgment, moved by the appeal to his chivalry, he engaged in battle and was defeated, anno 1602.

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