Battle of Kinsale

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXVII

Attempts were made to assassinate O'Neill in 1601. £2,000 was offered to any one who would capture him alive; £1,000 was offered for his head; but none of his own people could be found to play the traitor even for so high a stake. The "Sugane Earl" was treacherously captured about the end of August, and was sent to London in chains, with Florence MacCarthy. But the long-expected aid from Spain had at last arrived. The fleet conveyed a force of 3,000 infantry, and entered the harbour of Kinsale on the 23rd of September, under the command of Don Juan d'Aquila. It would appear as if Spanish expeditions were not destined to succeed on Irish soil, for only part of the expedition arrived safely, and they had the misfortune to land in the worst situation, and to arrive after the war had ceased. The northern chieftains set out at once to meet their allies when informed of their arrival; and O'Donnell, with characteristic impetuosity, was the first on the road. Carew attempted to intercept him, but despaired of coming up with "so swift-footed a general," and left him to pursue his way unmolested.

The Lord Deputy was besieging Kinsale, and Carew joined him there. The siege was continued through the month of November, during which time fresh reinforcements came from Spain; and on the 21st of December, O'Neill arrived with all his force. Unfortunately, the Spanish general had become thoroughly disgusted with the enterprise; and, although the position of the English was such that the Lord Deputy had serious thoughts of raising the siege, he insisted on decisive measures; and O'Neill was obliged to surrender his opinion, which was entirely against this line of action. A sortie was agreed upon for a certain night; but a youth in the Irish camp, who had been in the President's service formerly, warned him of the intended attack. This was sufficient in itself to cause the disaster which ensued. But there were other misfortunes. O'Neill and O'Donnell lost their way; and when they reached the English camp at dawn, found the soldiers under arms, and prepared for an attack. Their cavalry at once charged, and the new comers in vain struggled to maintain their ground, and a retreat which they attempted was turned into a total rout.

A thousand Irish were slain, and the prisoners were hanged without mercy. The loss on the English side was but trifling. It was a fatal blow to the Irish cause. Heavy were the hearts and bitter the thoughts of the brave chieftains on that sad night. O'Neill no longer hoped for the deliverance of his country; but the more sanguine O'Donnell proposed to proceed at once to Spain, to explain their position to King Philip. He left Ireland in a Spanish vessel three days after the battle—if battle it can be called; and O'Neill marched rapidly back to Ulster with Rory O'Donnell, to whom Hugh Roe had delegated the chieftaincy of Tir-Connell.

D'Aquila, whose haughty manners had rendered him very unpopular, now surrendered to Mountjoy, who received his submission with respect, and treated his army honorably. According to one account, the Spaniard had touched some English gold, and had thus been induced to desert the Irish cause; according to other authorities, he challenged the Lord Deputy to single combat, and wished them to decide the question at issue. In the meantime, O'Sullivan Beare contrived to get possession of his own Castle of Dunboy, by breaking into the wall at the dead of night, while the Spanish garrison were asleep, and then declaring that he held the fortress for the King of Spain, to whom he transferred his allegiance. Don Juan offered to recover it for the English by force of arms; but the Deputy, whose only anxiety was to get him quietly out of the country, urged his immediate departure. He left Ireland on the 20th of February; and the suspicions of his treachery must have had some foundation, for he was placed under arrest as soon as he arrived in Spain.