The Battle of Kinsale (3)

Eleanor Hull
The Battle of Kinsale | start of chapter
Sir Donal O'Sullevan Beare

Sir Donal O’Sullevan Beare
National Gallery, Dublin

Meanwhile, O’Sullevan had been fully employed in strengthening the defences of the castle, and building a new bastion on the side of attack; he also fortified the small island of the Durses near the mouth of the harbour, to which, in case of the castle falling, he proposed to retire. The bastion, however, turned out to be a disadvantage to the besieged, for, being battered by the enemy’s cannon, the rubbish fell between it and the main wall, and the English were able to get access across it into the upper part of the fortifications.

O’Sullevan had placed the defence in the hands of Richard MacGeoghegan, the Constable, and Thomas Taylor, an Englishman, who believed they had made not only the castle itself but also the approaches impregnable. All around, at every possible landing as was thought, the shore had been trenched and gabioned, so that anyone putting his foot on the island would meet a certain death.

But Carew was out betimes in the morning, and his experienced eye, as he passed in his pinnace close to the shore, discerned a small island close to the mainland where a strip of ground, hidden from the castle by a cleft rock or gully, afforded space for two small pieces of brass. By a ruse he succeeded in distracting the attention of the defenders until he got his cannon landed and fixed, while his regiments, creeping up on the farther side of the small island, succeeded in landing on the mainland under cover of the guns.

On the same day a Spanish ship entered the bay, with £1200 and large promises, bringing also the energetic Owen MacEggan, Papal Bishop of Rosse, who was a constant intermediary between the Irish and the Spanish Court. The Jesuit, James Archer, another active supporter of the insurgents, was at Dunboy.

Now began the famous siege of Dunboy, in which the small garrison of less than a hundred and fifty men challenged the host of the besiegers battering on the walls with their guns from the opposite shore. On one occasion the President, the Earl of Thomond, and Sir Charles Wilmott, riding together on the shore, were nearly carried off by a cannon-shot from the walls.

The fall of the new turret, which buried in its ruins many of the besieged, brought down part of the tower, and a message was sent to the President offering to yield the castle. Carew hanged the messenger and ordered an assault. Led by Lieutenant Kirton, the breach was entered and the turret gained; the President’s colours flew out from its top, and a captured piece of cannon was turned on the defenders.

The Spaniards were forced back into a narrow passage, where they stood pouring stones on their pursuers, who were slowly but surely fighting their way to the top of the vault. At length Captain Slingsby succeeded in reaching the top, and on clearing away the rubbish he found a spike or window commanding the part of the barbican where the inhabitants were still defending themselves.

Pushed on both sides and in desperate case, some forty of the defenders made a sally out of the castle on the sea side, where, being met by a waiting party under Captain Blundell, “we had the execution of them all,” as Carew reports. Eight desperate men leapt into the sea to save themselves by swimming, but they were cut down by men in boats. One man, who leaped from the top of the vault, proved to be that follower of Owny O’More who in 1600 had dragged Ormonde from his horse and taken him captive.

The English flag now flew from the top of the castle, but the rest of the ward, over seventy men, took refuge in the cellars, where, the sun being set, they remained all night under a strong guard placed at the top of the narrow stone steps which led below. The next morning twenty-three of them gave themselves up.

The Constable was mortally wounded, and the command of the dark chamber was given to Taylor, whose father was “the dearest and inwardest man” with Tyrrell, one of the most intractable of the Munster rebels. He took a desperate resolve. In the cellar were nine barrels of gunpowder, and beside an opened case Taylor sat down, with a lighted match in his hand, swearing to set the powder alight and blow up all that was left of the castle and all that were within it, unless the President gave them promise of their lives. This was refused, and a new battery was begun with the intention of burying them in the ruins.

Some of the bullets entered the cellar, and his companions besought Taylor to submit; by ten in the morning he was forced by them to give way, and they prepared themselves to come forth. Sir George Thornton and Captains Harvey and Power entered the vault to receive their submission, when MacGeoghegan, who was stretched dying on the floor, seeing Taylor and the rest about to yield, suddenly raised himself from the ground, snatched a lighted candle, and staggering toward the open barrel of powder was on the point of flinging it into the cask when Captain Power caught him in his arms, and he fell to earth under the swords of the soldiers, dead. The rest were taken and executed.

Taylor, having been proved to have had a chief hand in the murder of Sir George Bingham at Sligo, was hanged in chains at Cork. The same fate befell a friar named Collins at Youghal. The garrison is said by Carew to have consisted of “the best choice of their forces,” and “so obstinate and resolved a defence had not been seen within this kingdom.”

Dunboy was emptied of its still large stores of provision, and then the old castle was blown up with the nine barrels of powder, as it was found impracticable to defend the ruins in so isolated a situation.[14]

The rebellion was practically over. Even the Wicklow clans had been reduced by a rapid march into the mountains in the depth of winter when the country was covered with snow. Mountjoy’s rapidity of movement was so great that Sir Phelim MacFeagh, O’Donnell’s friend, found his house surrounded with troops when he was preparing for his Christmas festivities. His wife and son were taken, and he himself with difficulty escaped from a back window. He spent a cold Christmas in the wood, writes Moryson, “while my Lord lived plentifully in his house, consuming such provisions as were prepared for him and his ‘bonnaghs’ and kerne to keep a merry Christmas.”

Submissions began to come in from all parts of the country. In the North the lesser chiefs of the Ferney, the Fews, and the Brenny submitted, while some of the chiefs of O’Doherty’s country and of the O’Hanlons gave in their submissions to Sir Henry Docwra on Lough Foyle, and pardons were granted to the chiefs of the O’Byrnes and O’Tooles of Wicklow and to the heads of the septs of the MacMahons and Magenneses.

On April 23 the Deputy kept St George’s Feast at Dublin with solemn pomp, the captains bringing up his meat and the colonels attending on his person at table. The newly received protected Lords were all present—Turlogh MacHenry, Ever MacCooley, Phelim MacFeagh, chief of the O’Byrnes, and Donal Spaniagh, chief of the Kavanaghs. These were entertained “with plenty of wine and all kindness,” the Deputy assuring them that as he had been a scourge to them in rebellion, so he would now be mediator for them to her Majesty in their state of subjects, if they would stand firm and constant to their obedience.[15]

More important still were the Munster submissions. From the end of March to the beginning of May the following lords came in with their followers: MacCarthy Reagh, chief of Carbery, O’Sullevan Beare, and O’Sullevan Bantry, FitzJames FitzGerald, and several minor chiefs. O’Sullevan More came in a few days later with one of the O’Mulrians of Co. Cork.

Mountjoy was able to write on May 2 to the English Government that Munster was not only well reduced, but “began to taste the sweetness of peace,”[16] that the like might be said of Leinster, except the O’Mores and O’Connors, who were scattered and had sought but could not obtain of him the Queen’s mercy; that the northern borders of Ulster were assured; that garrisons were planted in the Brenny, and the Queen’s Maguire settled in Fermanagh; that Sir Henry Docwra at Lough Foyle and Sir Arthur Chichester at Carrickfergus had made their neighbours sure to the State and both had done excellent service. He reports further the unusual information that “we have a constant and of late extraordinary conceived confidence in this people.”

After the fall of Dunboy it was expected that the Munster chiefs would all come in, but they did so very slowly. Hugh Roe in Spain grew sick at heart as he waited in vain for promised succours, and Cecil’s view that except at the time of the Armada the object of the King of Spain was rather to “consume the Queen with charges in Ireland and to divert her troops from the Spanish wars in Flanders” was probably true. The smallness of the help sent and the uncertainty with which it came hardly looks like a determined effort to support religion or to aid the Irish, and this view is borne out by the cynical conversation between Pedro Lopez de Soto, who came over with Don Juan, and Captain Harvey. The former refused to believe that Harvey could seriously think that the Spaniards wished to assist the Irish.[17]

But the King of Spain offered an asylum to O’Donnell, and he was on his way to visit the King at Valladolid about August 9, 1602, when he was suddenly taken ill and died on September 10, supported by the affection of Father Conry and a friar from his own monastery of Donegal. We now know from the State Papers that he was poisoned, or, in the euphemistic language of the day, “practised against,” by one James Blake, with the approval of Carew and Mountjoy.[18]

“O’Donnell is certainly dead,” wrote Carew; “I know they dare not deliver untruths to me.” He left the charge of his sept to his brother Rory.

After the treaty between Don Juan and the President, O’Sullevan found himself homeless. His almost impregnable castle of Dunboy, placed on a spacious haven, the haunt during the fishing season of fisherfolk of all nations, from whose dues O’Sullevan gained £500 yearly, was handed over by his allies the Spaniards to his enemies. Secure in his isolation, he had taken little part in the wars of the province, but his relations were found fighting on both sides. For a time he held out with the lords of the country who were still in arms and two thousand picked young men who drove the Queen’s forces into the towns.

Losing heart after the news of O’Donnell’s death, and having the choice to submit or to quit the country, O’Sullevan took the desperate resolve to march with the remnants of his people, and in the depth of a stormy winter, from Glengariff to O’Donnell’s country in Donegal—a hundred leagues of wild mountain travelling, with the crossing of the Shannon, every ford of which was watched, on the way.

The history of their sufferings is vividly told by Don Philip O’Sullevan Beare, who had taken refuge in Spain. The nearest help on which they could rely was O’Rorke of Leitrim, and when they came knocking at his fort, after crossing the Curlew Mountains, only thirty-five of the thousand persons who had set out from Kerry were alive, one of them a woman, another the historian’s father, an old man of nearly seventy years of age.[19] This famous retreat of the O’Sullevan from Glengariff has become celebrated in the pipe-march which bears his name.

The pacification of Munster was over, but Munster was ruined. Edmund Spenser, from his castle at Kilcolman, tells us what, even in the better-inhabited parts of Munster, his own eyes had seen. He says, speaking of the comparative speed with which the country was subdued, that owing to the system of winter campaigns it was impossible for them to continue long in arms.

“The trees are bare and naked, which use both to clothe and house the kerne; the ground is cold and wet which useth to be his bedding; the air is sharp and bitter to blow through his naked sides and legs; the kine are barren and without milk which useth to be his food; … besides, being all with calf for the most part, they will, only through much driving and chasing, cast all their calves and lose their milk which should relieve him the next summer.”

Starvation quickly finished the work that the sword began, and

“notwithstanding that Munster was a most rich and plentiful country, full of corn and cattle, that you would have thought they would have been able to stand long, yet ere one year and a half they were brought to such wretchedness as any stony heart would have rued the same. Out of every corner of the woods and glens they came creeping forth upon their hands, for their legs would not bear them; they looked like anatomies of death; they spake like ghosts crying out of their graves. They did eat dead carrions, happy where they could find them, yea and one another soon after, insomuch as the very carcasses they spared not to scrape out of their graves; and if they found a plot of water-cresses or shamrocks, there they flocked as to a feast …; in a short space there was none almost left, and a most populous and plentiful country suddenly left void of man and beast. Yet, sure, in all that war there perished not many by the sword, but by the extremity of famine which they themselves had wrought.”[20]