A. D. 1578—1584. 

After some years’ confinement in the tower, Gerald, Earl of Desmond, and his brother were sent as state prisoners to Dublin; from whence, in 1574, they had found an opportunity to escape on horseback during a hunting party, and by desperate riding arrived in Munster, whither it did not seem advisable to follow them. For about four years after this Desmond seems to have lived in peace with the English; yet still, as Ware alleges, was keeping up negotiations with the pope and King of Spain, but without much result, until at last James Fitzmaurice, his kinsman, proceeded to Rome, and through the celebrated ecclesiastics, Saunders and Allen, solicited and obtained from his Holiness a bull commanding the chiefs and clergy of Ireland to assist Fitzmaurice in defence of holy church against the heretic English, with promise of indulgences and spiritual privileges, such as the Crusaders had earned by fighting for the blessed sepulchre. 

Thus accredited, Fitzmaurice proceeded to Spain and entreated King Philip, the mortal enemy of England, to supply men and arms for the war. In Spain also he expected to be joined by Stukely, an English adventurer, who had shortly before obtained six hundred Italians from the pope for the invasion of Ireland, and had proceeded as far as Cadiz on his way. A strange career had this Thomas Stukely, and his story is characteristic of the time. It was of course from no patriotic motive that he sought to levy war in Ireland, where his antagonists were to be his own countrymen; — nor yet from religious zeal: for he was, in truth, an undertaker, and was setting forth under the pope’s authority, as Essex had come under Elizabeth’s, to seek his fortune and make a plantation in Ireland — poor Ireland! that hunting-field for all the hungry adventurers of the earth. Essex and Smith had bound themselves, as we saw, to establish the queen’s religion in their settlements: Stukely, as deriving under the pope, was to uphold Catholicity. Elizabeth had entitled those adventurers Lords of Ards; and his Holiness duly created his missionary (whether by letters patent or papal rescript does not appear) Marquis of Leinster, Earl of Wexford and Carlow, Viscount Murrough and Baron of Ross. When he and his six hundred arrived at Cadiz, it happened that Dom Sabastian of Portugal was collecting all his powers for a descent upon Africa, to reinstate King Mohammed on the throne of Fez, and also to found for himself a Portuguese empire upon that continents Stukely was dazzled by the splendour of this African undertaking; and when Sebastian profferred him a share in the enterprize he speedily exchanged his Irish earldom for a principality on the Mediterranean; — perhaps was created Duke of Barbary or Prince of Mauritania — and led his freebooters to the Moorish war. A true adventurer this — a genuine knight-errant of that age, not vowed to God or ladye-love, but to Mammon and Moloch. This poor Stukely indeed never came into the enjoyment of those vast estates and honours of las, whether in Africa or in Ireland. Neither was the Mauro-Lusitanian empire ever founded, nor King Mohammed reinthroned; for, on the bloody field of Alcaçarquivir, swift destruction overtook them all. There fell three crowned kings, ending quarrel and life together, and with them died this most singular Marquis of Leinster and Baron of Ross. 

So when Fitzmaurice reached Spain he found that Stukely had turned his face southward, and abandoned the cause of Ireland: but for him those Moorish kingdoms had no attraction. Not the vales of Atlas, nor the Atlantic island itself could draw him aside. Northward lay the shores of Munster, where, perhaps, even now the adherents of the Geraldine were hard pressed by those accursed English, and from the capes of Desmond were gazing wistfully over the sea, pining for the Spanish ships. At last three small, vessels cast anchor in Smerwick bay, carrying Fitzmaurice and a poor band of eighty Spaniards, accompanied by Allen and Saunders, and bearing a consecrated papal banner, in the sure hope that, if not for love of liberty and old Ireland, yet for the sake of religion and to save their souls alive, the Irish tribes would forget their feuds, and unite against the common foe. 

And now it is heart-breaking to read how poor Fitzmaurice and his Spaniards were received. Desmond’s two brothers indeed joined him at once; but the earl himself, with some views of crafty policy which one finds difficulty in understanding, long held aloof, and even at first pretended to obey the summons of Drury the English president, and raised his troops to resist the invaders. Time was wasted, and the Spaniards were sickened by their cold reception. In vain the gallant Fitzmaurice traversed Limerick, sent messengers to Connaught and the Scots, and made a pilgrimage to Holy-Cross in Tipperary, not to perform his vows alone, but to meet the emissaries of the Leinster chieftains. Before a blow was struck against the English, Fitzmaurice fell in a quarrel with one of the Burkes of Castleconnell, and John of Desmond took the command in his place. 

Some obscurity rests upon the events of that desultory war which followed the first Spanish landing — English historians asserting that John of Desmond was signally defeated by Malby at Monaster-neva, and that Dr. Allen was amongst the slain1— O’Sullivan and O’Daly2 that the Geraldines were victorious, not only there, but shortly after at Atharlam and Gort-na-pissi. On the whole, there appears to have been nothing very decisive done upon either side until the following year, when the Earl of Desmond seeing his lands laid waste, and himself proclaimed a traitor by the English, at last raised his standard and openly joined in the war. The earl wrote to Pelham, the Lord Deputy, announcing that he was in arms for the Catholic religion; sent messengers to Fiach Mac Hugh, chief of the O’Byrnes of Wicklow, and Eustace, Lord Baltinglass, that they might lay waste the neighbourhood of Dublin, and keep the forces of the Pale employed; while Desmond himself marched suddenly against Youghal, which he took by escalade, plundered, and garrisoned. 

In the meantime the Earl of Ormond and the English generals, Malby and Pelham, were wasting and plundering the county of Limerick: and indeed on their part the war was entirely carried on by destroying the cattle and growing crops of the country, and reducing Desmond’s castles of Carrig-a-foyle, Askeaton, Ballyloghan, and Castlemaine. There was no pitched-battle, “so that in all that warre there perished not many by the sword, but all by the extremity of famine.”3 The cruellest warfare ever waged by man; until the whole territories of Desmond lay a smoking desert where neither man nor beast could live. The Catholic clergy who had been the principal cause of the war were pursued with unusual fury; and eight hundred Spaniards who landed at Smerwick in September 1680 were instantly besieged there by Ormond, and shortly after invested closely both by sea and land, until they surrendered at discretion;4 and were all in cold blood massacred by order of Lord Grey. 

The most powerful opponent of Desmond was his hereditary enemy the Earl of Ormond, who was assisted also by the Lord Roche and other Anglo-Irish lords, and, rather unaccountably, by Hugh O’Neill of Dungannon, who commanded a body of cavalry for the queen. One would prefer to find this Hugh on the other side; but it seems that the nationality of an O’Neill did not yet extend beyond Ulster, at which we can wonder the less when we read that in the southern war the greater portion of the Irish race was on the side of Elizabeth and at feud with the Geraldines. Hugh was content to keep the English at a distance from his own territories, and had not probably at that period conceived the grand design of uniting all Ireland against the stranger. Of his achievements in the South we have no particular record, save that he behaved himself right valiantly, as we can well suppose; and further that he gained the good-will of his ally the Earl of Ormond, for it was one of the gifts of Hugh O’Neill that he irresistibly attracted to himself the hearts of all men, and all women also, whose love he desired to win. 

Two other very notable men appear in the ranks of the English, in that Munster war. One is Walter Raleigh, afterwards Sir Walter; then one of the most active of Irish undertakers; destined to be a planter in Virginia to be an undertaker in El Dorado; to wander wide over earth and sea, fighting the Spaniards, chasing plate fleets, navigating the Orinoco: — and alas I destined also to dree his weary thirteen years in the dungeons of London, and write a “History of the World” there, and at last to lay his grey head upon the block, and so end the career of the wildest and most brilliant adventurer of that adventurous age. 

And the other is Edmund Spenser, a man well known to Gloriana and all the realm of Faërie. He came over in the train of Lord Grey of Wilton,5 saw the horrible ending of the Geraldine war, and had his share of the spoils. Kilcolman castle and its fair domains fell to the poet undertaker; and there, ”under the foot of Mole, that mountain hoar,” dwelling contentedly in another man’s house — sitting in quietness under another man’s vine and fig-tree, within view of the smoking ruins of tower and town and the unburied skeletons of a famished nation, he began inditing that solemn and tender strain, the intent of which he has informed us is “to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline,” — nay, he drew inspiration from the hideous Golgotha that lay around him; and when his Merlin tells of the ravage to be made by king Gormonde,6 he has only to describe what the poet saw with his mere bodily eye in the vales of Munster: 

“He in his furie all shall over-ronne, 
And holy church with faithless hands deface, 
That thy sad people, utterly fordonne,  
Shall to the utmost mountains fly apace:  
Was never so great waste in any place,  
Nor so fowle outrage doen by living men;  
For all thy citties they shall sack and rase,  
And the greene grasse that groweth they shall bren, 
That even the wilde beast shall dy in starved den.7 

From Kilcolman also the poet took that most astonishing “View of the State of Ireland,” of which we shall see more hereafter; — a most practical view, — the view not of a bard but of an undertaker, whereby we find, that however his imagination may have bled for enchanted damosels or elfin knights, suffering sentimental woes, the heart of him, in dealing with mere living wights, was harder than the nether millstone. 

At last all the Munster and Leinster Irish were broken and reduced, except the redoubtable Fiach Mac Hugh of Wicklow; and during all this long and inglorious war the only day of which one can speak with pleasure, is the day of Glendalough. Immediately on Lord Grey’s arrival in Dublin — it was the summer of 1580 — he led a large force of horse and foot into the mountains, fully resolved to grapple with the fierce O’Byrne in his own strongholds, and crush that gallant sept for ever. When the army arrived at the entrance of the valley, the cavalry under command of Grey himself scoured the open ground while the foot were ordered to advance into the glen. The O’Byrnes allowed them to proceed into the silent recesses of the mountain, wondering that they found no enemy, — and then suddenly shouting their battle-cry, rushed from all sides upon the sagums dearg, and hewed them to pieces till their arms were weary with skying. Grey and his horsemen could give no assistance, and had to retreat much more rapidly than they had advanced, leaving in that fatal glen eight hundred slain, and amongst them Sir Peter Carew, Colonel Moore, and Captains Audley and Cosby. Never, since black Monday at Cullenswood, had the sword of the Cullane mountaineer drank so deep of the stranger’s blood. 

But this was of no service to the luckless Desmond. He was hard pressed by his mortal enemies the Butlers. His Spanish auxiliaries were cat off and the coast blockaded by Admiral Winter with the English cruisers. Most of the Munster lords were either weary of the war or in the fanks of England. His country was a howling wilderness, — himself an aged and homeless fugitive, and at last in a wood near Tralee, he fell by the hand of a common soldier, and his head was sent to the Queen of England, who caused it to be impaled in the usual manner upon London bridge. 

Thus fell the great Earl of Desmond; and thus the fairest province of this island, wasted and destroyed by the insane warfare of the Irish themselves, lay ready for the introduction of the foreigner’s law, civilization and religion; or, as Doctor Leland has it, “for effectually regulating and modelling this country upon the principles of justice and liberal policy.”8 And accordingly a parliament was soon held for the purpose of vesting in the Queen of England all the lands which had been inhabited by the kinsmen and adherents of Desmond. Letters were written to every county in England offering estates in fee to all “younger brothers” who would undertake the plantation of Munster; each undertaker to plant so many families; but “none of the native Irish to be admitted.”9 No specific mode of disposing of these poor native Irish seems to have been pointed out in any official document; but how the thing was done we know — they were simply starved to death; and the end was attained more speedily than poet Spenser tells us he could even have hoped. “The end will (I assure me) be very short, and much sooner than can be hoped for; although there should none of them fall by the sword, nor be slaine by the souldiours, yet thus being kept from manurance, and their cattle from running abroad, by this hard restraint they would quickly consume themselves and devoure one another.”10 And so “in a short space there were none almost left, and a most populous and plentifull countrey suddainly left voyde of man and beast.” And starvation being in some instances too slow, crowds of men, women, and children were sometimes driven into buildings which were then set on fire. The soldiers were specially careful to destroy all Irish infants — ”for if they were suffered to grow lip, they would become popish rebels.” Women were found hanging upon trees, with their children strangled in the mother’s hair.”11 — 

But we turn from those fields of blood, and come back to the North. 

1 Camden. Queen Eliz. 

2 O’Daly is cited by the Abbé Mac Geoghegan.

3 Spenser’s View

4 The Irish historians say they capitulated on sworn articles; but Spenser elaborately controverts this. 

5 1580.

6 “Faërie Queene,” B. 3. c. 8.

7 ”The very wolves, the foxes, and other like ravening beasts, many of them lay dead, being famished.”— Holinshed. See also Spenser’s own horrible picture of this famine. 

8 Leland’s History, vol. 2, p. 291.

9 MS. in Trin. Coll. cited by Leland.

10 Spenser’s View, p. 166. 

11 Lombard, Comment, de Hibern. ap. Curry.