The Siege of Dunboy

Patrick Weston Joyce

483. THE Irish chiefs were very indignant with Del Aguila for surrendering Kinsale; and they were incensed beyond measure when they heard that he had agreed to hand over to the deputy the castles of Baltimore, Castle-haven, and Dunboy. The castles had not yet been given up however, and Donall O'Sullivan Beare, the owner of Dunboy, resolved to regain possession of it and defend it.

484. In February 1602, he threw in a body of native troops under the command of Richard Mac Geoghegan and Thomas Taylor an Englishman. The Spaniards were overpowered and sent away; and now Mac Geoghegan's whole garrison amounted to 143 men, who straightway began to make preparations for a siege.

It might seem an act of madness for such a small garrison to attempt a defence against the overwhelming force at the disposal of Carew: but O'Sullivan hoped that O'Donnell would return with help from king Philip, and that the fortress could hold out till the arrival of the Spaniards.

485. Carew set out from Cork with 3,000 men, sending round his ships with ordnance and stores. At Bantry Sir Charles Wilmot joined him with 1,000 more. The whole army was conveyed to Great Beare Island by sea in the first few days of June; and encamped near the ill-starred castle. The devoted little garrison never flinched at sight of the powerful armament of 4,000 men, and only exerted themselves all the more resolutely to strengthen their position.

486. And now the siege was begun in good earnest, and day after day the ordnance thundered against the walls. On the 17th of June the castle was so shattered that Mac Geoghegan sent to Carew offering to surrender, on condition of being allowed to march out with arms: but Carew's only answer was to hang the messenger and to give orders for a final assault. The storming party were resisted with desperation and many were killed on both sides; but the defenders were driven from turret to turret by sheer force of numbers: till at last they had to take refuge in the eastern wing which had not yet been injured.

487. The only way to reach this was by a narrow passage where firearms could not be used; and a furious hand to hand combat was kept up for an hour and a half, while from various standpoints the defenders poured down bullets, stones, and every available missile on the assailants, killing and wounding great numbers.

While this was going on some of the besiegers, by clearing away a heap of rubbish, made their way in by a back passage, so that the garrison found themselves assailed on all sides; whereupon forty of them sallying out, made a desperate rush for the sea, intending to swim to the island. But before they had reached the water they were intercepted and cut down, all but eight who plunged into the sea; and for these the president had provided by stationing a party with boats outside, "who," in Carew's words, "had the killing of them all."

488. This furious struggle had lasted during the whole long summer day, and it was now sunset; the castle was a mass of ruins, and the number of the garrison was greatly reduced. Late as it was the assault was vigorously renewed; and after another hour's fighting the assailants gained all the upper part of the castle; and the Irish, now only seventy-seven, took refuge in the cellars. Then Carew, leaving a strong guard at the entrance, withdrew his men for the night; while those in the castle enjoyed their brief rest as best they could, knowing what was to come with the light of day.

489. On the next morning—the 18th of June—Taylor was in command; for Mac Geoghegan was mortally wounded; and the men resolved to defend themselves to the last, except twenty-three who laid down their arms and surrendered. Carew now directed his cannons on the cellars till he battered them into ruins on the heads of the devoted band; and at length Taylor's men forced him to surrender. When a party of English entered to take the captives, Mac Geoghegan, who was lying on the floor, his life ebbing away, snatched a lighted candle from Taylor's hand, and exerting all his remaining strength, staggered towards some barrels of powder which stood in a corner of the cellar. But one of Carew's officers caught him and held him in his arms, while the others killed him with their swords.

490. On that same day Carew executed fifty-eight of those who had surrendered. He reserved Taylor and fourteen others to tempt them to give information; but as they firmly refused to purchase their lives on such terms, he had them all hanged.

491. It is from Carew himself that this account of the siege is chiefly taken: and he concludes by saying that of the 143 defenders of Dunboy "no one man escaped, but were either slaine, executed, or buried in the ruins; and so obstinate and resolved a defence had not been seene within this kingdom." The powder that was in the vaults was heaped together and ignited; and all that remained of Dunboy was blown into fragments, except two parallel side walls which still remain.