Flight of O'Sullivan Beare

It is interesting to note that Donnell O’Sullivan Beare was not the duly elected chieftain of Dunboy. After the death of the late chief, his father, the clans elected Owen O’Sullivan, Donnell’s uncle, to the chieftaincy. This was in accordance with Irish law, but Donnell appealed to Elizabeth, and invoked English law, which lays down the principle of primogeniture. (Conduct such as this was the curse of the nation). The appeal, of course, succeeded, but now Donnell had to gain the favour of his clan, which he could not do without renouncing allegiance to Elizabeth. Owen O’Sullivan, to obtain a footing on his native soil, had to become a royalist. The famous Murty Oge and the other O’Sullivans of Beare and Bantry were his descendants.

After the destruction of Dunboy Castle, O’Sullivan Beare led 1,000 men into Musketry, and captured some forts. He ravaged the country, sending great booty to Beare. Sir Charles Wilmot was appointed Commander over the troops operating in Cork, and held Dunkerron Castle with a garrison of 1,000 men. At this time news of the death of O’Donnell in Spain was brought to Ireland, and this was a great blow to O’Sullivan and his followers, as they immediately lost all hope of obtaining Spanish aid. Thereupon all the chiefs of Muskerry deserted him. Tyrell, with his troops, set out for Connaught. The Knight of Kerry, O’Connor, Dermot O’Sullivan, and William Burke fled, and some of these sought the favour of the English, which they easily obtained, with the view of weakening O’Sullivan. Wilmot, with an army of 5,000 men, of whom only 500 were English, marched to Glengariff, where O’Sullivan then was, and pitched his camp there. Some skirmishes between the two armies ensued, and on one of these the English captured 2,000 cows, 4,000 sheep, and 1,000 garrans.

To prevent the return of O’Sullivan, or the revolt of his clan, the Lord President ordered Beare, Bantry, and Carbery, to be left wasted, and the inhabitants thereof were ordered to withdraw their cattle and goods to the east and northern parts of Cork. He sent Captain Fleming with some soldiers in a pinnace to Dursey Island. The cattle of the surrounding country were removed thither for safety, and all were seized. Let Philip O’Sullivan relate the rest of the story:—

“The English, after their wonted manner, committed a crime far more notable for its cruelty than their honour. Having dismantled the fort and fired the church and houses, they shot down, hacked with swords, or ran through with spears the now disarmed garrison and others, old men, women, and children, whom they had driven into one heap. Some ran their swords up to the hilt through the babe and mother, who was carrying it on her breast, others paraded before their comrades little children, writhing and convulsed, on their spears, and, finally, binding all the survivors, they threw them into the sea over jagged and sharp rocks, showering on them shots and stones. In this way perished about 300 Catholics, the greater part of whom were mercenaries of my father, Dermot.”

In one of the skirmishes that took place at this time, Owen MacEggan, Bishop Elect of Ross, at the head of 100 men, with his beads and breviary in one hand and sword in the other, was killed in Carbery. Another priest, chaplain to MacEggan, was taken, carried to Cork, and executed.

On the 31st December, 1602, O’Sullivan Beare set out from Glengariff with 1,000 followers all told, 400 of whom were fighting men. Their destination was the North of Ireland, Breffney, O’Ruarc’s country. They covered the first day a journey of 26 miles, pitching their tents in Muskerry.

On the 1st of January, 1603, he marched to Ballyvourney, and was pursued by Thady MacCarthy and his followers, who kept on his rear, harassing him for hours until he made an attack with his whole column; killing some, he put the rest to the rout. This was his daily experience—the lords of the soil through which he passed attacked him without fail. They may have been justified in trying to protect their property, which certainly was not safe in the presence of a hungry army. And O’Sullivan’s army was often hungry, as they could not easily procure food, and never carried with them more than one day’s provisions, and often had to feed on plants, roots, and leaves of trees.

On one occasion, being bitterly pinched by hunger, O’Sullivan ordered Thomas Burke and Daniel O’Malley to seek after booty and food. They were suddenly attacked by the enemy; Daniel and twenty men were killed and Thomas Burke captured. O’Sullivan, however, rescued him.

Having arrived at the Shannon, he found himself in a very tight corner. All boats were removed by the enemy, and every ferryman was warned under severe penalty against carrying him over. They set about building two boats of osiers and the limbs of trees, and had them covered with the hides of twelve horses, which they killed for the purpose; they lived on the flesh in the meantime. In the night the boats were launched, and immediately the men were ordered on board. One of the boats suddenly sunk on its first trip, and all hands drowned. The other boat, which carried thirty men at a time, conveyed the whole party across the river.

On landing on the opposite bank, Donogh MacEgan made an attack on the luggage and the women, attempting to drive them back into the river. Thomas Burke, who had been placed in ambush by O’Sullivan, unexpectedly attacked Donogh, who, having killed fifteen, routed the rest.

On reaching a place called Aughrim, Henry Malby, an Englishman, with Thomas and Richard Burke, and five companies of foot, and some natives, rose up against him. The large forces quite unnerved O’Sullivan’s men, but, making a spirited speech, he roused their drooping spirits. He had scarcely concluded his speech when the royalist cavalry were down upon him. He avoided the onset by marching his men through swampy ground to a small wood near at hand. The enemy dismounting tried by running through the bog to be the first to arrive at the wood. O’Sullivan’s men gained the ground, but they were not yet properly arranged, and the royalist musketeers pressed on his rear, whereupon he suddenly turned round on the enemy, made a fierce charge which struck such terror into them that some fled; many, however, kept their ground. It now became a hand-to-hand fight. Malby, the Commander, fell, and the fight began to go against the royalists, who soon fled.

The natives usually declined to supply food to the hungry soldiers, though O’Sullivan had plenty money and could pay for it. When they happened to fall upon uncooked food, as barley, wheat, or oats, they devoured the grains with avidity, and with as much relish as if it were a sumptuous feast. After long marches and watchings, they were worn out from fatigue and the inclemency of the weather, for it was the depth of winter, and the ground was covered with snow, so that they had to pull one another along the drifts, which were numerous. On one occasion they pitched their camp at nightfall in the woods of Slieve O’Flynn, and thought they might enjoy one good night’s rest, so they lit their fires, and prepared themselves for the enjoyment they fancied before them. Scarcely had they stretched out their wearied limbs when a man came to announce to them that the natives had arranged to surround and destroy them at break of day. Thereupon they kindled larger fires to deceive the enemy, and marched further on through the woods in great darkness.

Three long days and nights of sufferings were still before them before they came in sight of O’Ruarc’s Castle. They had to travel through narrow passes, and rugged paths, as the highways were blocked by the enemy. Their numbers were daily decreasing, as some had to be left behind on the pathways, and many had succumbed to their hardships. At last, when they saw O’Ruarc’s Castle in the distance, they were reduced to 35, of whom 18 were armed, 16 camp followers, and one woman.

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