If Ireland will not help us, still we must go forward. These MacDonnells in Antrim were helping the English from time to time. These brave men were mercenary soldiers. They came from Scotland on the invitation of Conn O’Neill and of his father, and they settled in Antrim and in Dalriada (the present counties Antrim and Down). Shane was not easy in his mind as long as they were in the country. They submitted to him and assisted him once, but he had no confidence in them. They told him he had no control over them, and that there was no necessity for them to help him except by their own free will. Queen Elizabeth used covertly to encourage them. ‘Very well so,’ said Shane to them. ‘Get ye away home. I have not further business of ye.’ But the Scotsmen assumed a threatening attitude, and they said to him that they would stay where they were without dependence on him. ‘We got the better of your father before, and of Sussex besides,’ said the bold Scots.
Shane the Proud threw his leg over his horse Mac-an-Fhiolar, gathered his hosts around him, and broke in upon Antrim like a wave of the sea. The Scots met him in Glenshesk, in fierce hands, and a bloody battle was waged between them. There is an old road behind the village of Cushendun, in county Antrim, and Shane the Proud galloped his coal-black horse Mac-an-Fhiolar over the bodies of Scotsmen in it, and by the middle of the day the MacDonnells were stretched in rows around him. Angus MacDonnell and seven hundred of his men were killed, James MacDonnell was wounded and taken prisoner, and Shane also took Somerled the Sallow (or Sorley Boy), the other chief over them. It would have been better for them if they had taken his advice and gone off out of his way, and it would have been better for himself too, for it was the remnant of that company who treacherously killed him two years later.
At this time he was only thirty-eight years of age, and there was no man in Ireland of greater reputation and power than he. The English pretended to be great friends with him. They were very glad at first that he had routed the Clan Donnell of Scotland, and they rejoiced with him. Shane understood them right well. Not without reason was that proverb made: ‘An Englishman’s laugh is a dog’s grin.’ (i.e., a preparation for biting). ‘It is a good thing,’ said they, ‘that the Clan Donnell are defeated, for we never knew when they might help the Irish; but, for all that, O’Neill will be too strong altogether now.’
It is a pity he did not make friends with the chieftains of Ireland at this time. Instead of that he began to force them to submit to him, whether they liked it or not. ‘The princes of Connacht must give me their yearly tribute, as they used to give it to the Kings of Ulster,’ said he. The Connachtmen refused, and he rushed suddenly upon the lord of Clan Rickard, the strongest man in Connacht, and despoiled him without much trouble. He plundered Tir-Conaill in the same year (1566), and fear fell upon England. Elizabeth incited Maguire, Earl of Fermanagh, to rise against him; but the Maguire was crushed as a millstone would crush a handful of oats.
Sydney was Lord Justice (or Deputy) of Ireland again at this time in place of Sussex, and he knew Shane well. He sent a Government envoy, named Stukeley, to him to urge upon him that he should keep quiet. ‘Do not rise out against the English, and you shall get whatever you want,’ said Stukeley. ‘They will make you Earl of Tir-Eoghain, if you would like that.’ Shane snorted, and he spoke defiantly. ‘That earldom is a toy,’ said he. ‘Ye made an earl of MacCarthy in Munster, and I have serving-boys and stable-men that are as good men as he. Ye thought to hang me when ye had a grip of me. I have no trust in your promises. I did not ask peace of the Queen, but she asked it of me, and it is ye yourselves that have broken it. I drove the English out of Newry and out of Dundrum, and I will never let them come back. O’Donnell will not dare to be prince again in Tir-Conaill, for that place is mine henceforward. Let there be no doubt upon you that Ulster is mine. My ancestors before me were kings over it. I won it with my sword, and with my sword I will keep it.’
Though Sydney was a very brave, courageous man, his heart was in his mouth when Stukeley told him this conversation. ‘If we do not make a great effort Ireland will be gone out of our hand. O’Neill owns the whole of Ulster, and he must be checked,’ said Sydney to Elizabeth. ‘Attack him at once,’ said she. She sent a troop of English over, and Sydney collected men from every quarter of Ireland, English and Irish, for there was many a chief who assisted him. Some of them were sufficiently disinclined for the business; but they had to make themselves ready for the assistance of England, as they do at this day.
They are coming against you, Shane the Proud, horseman of the sharp sword! Get ready Mac-an-Fhiolar, and arrange your little band of heroes. Ye have nothing but the strength of your own arms, for there is no help nor succour for ye from anyone outside.
The English districts about Dublin were called the Pale. Into the Pale Shane leaped like a thunderstorm. He ravaged and plundered it to the walls of Dublin. He made an attempt upon the English in Dundalk, and he had a fight with Sydney near that town. They were too much for Shane that time, and with some difficulty they repulsed him; but he made havoc among Sydney’s troops before he moved off. Sydney continued to press on. He went through Tir-Eoghain, and from that to Tir-Conaill, in spite of Shane; but the latter followed him every inch of the way and little rest he gave him during the journey. Never did he show better skill in tactics than at that time. Sydney and his numerous army were harassed and wearied by Shane’s sudden attacks. He moved close up to them near Derry and gave them battle. A tough fight it was, for many men fell on both sides, and Shane thought the victory was with him; but beware! See this company coming from the West upon him—the stern Tir-Conaill men under O’Donnell, who was always against him—and Shane was defeated at last. He fell back to the passes of Tir-Eoghain, growling at Sydney. He was so fearless, and so confident in himself, that the foreigners were afraid to come near him, and they betook themselves to Dublin again, having got very little by their journey. ‘I will put the mark of my hand on them yet,’ said Shane. ‘Not a creature of them would have gone back if it were not for those villains in Tir-Conaill. There is a swarm of bees there that are worrying and stinging me this long while; but cut the ear off me but I will smoke them out very soon.’