A. D. 1598—1599.

High harping in Dungannon, and in the halls of Tyr-connell; —and throughout broad Ulster from the Glynns to Ath-Seanagh, from Dundalk to Derry-Calgach, there was feasting and jubilee, and the triumph-song of many a bard. Surely, ye sweet singers of Ulladh! The second Hector — the heaven sent Moses of your prayers, has at length arisen:—the children of the Scythic Eber Scot have returned; and old Ireland is yet fated to rise out of the dust and ashes of Saxon-land[1].

The fame of this victory over the detested English was instantly spread abroad through all the island; and O’Neill was celebrated everywhere as the deliverer of his country and most zealous champion of the Catholic religion. In this letter character he drew into the confederacy many lords of old English race, but Catholic in faith, who never would have been found in the Irish ranks, save to defend themselves from Elizabeth’s persecuting Reformation. These two elements of resistance, therefore, national feeling and religious zeal, united against the queen of England:—the one party could not endure her political usurpation, her judges, lords president and sheriffs; — the other abhorred her forced “Reformation,” and her undertaking bishops. But every enemy of England, from what motive so ever, was now O’Neill’s sworn brother, and looked to the victorious Northern chieftain as the sword and shield of their cause. All Leinster was in arms under O’Cavanagh, O’Byrne, and Owen Mac Rory O’More of Leix, who had by this time, with the aid of O’Neill’s auxiliary troops, expelled all English undertakers from his ancient territory (which they had prematurely named “the King’s county,”) and now his clansmen, with the mountain septs of Wicklow, were ranging through the Pale unopposed and levying tribute from the very valley of the Liffey, while Ormond’s English troops, utterly panic-stricken, shut themselves up in their forts and strong-holds, raised draw-bridge, and pointed cannon from battlement and bastion, and far from assailing their enemy, lived in continual fear, by day and by night, of surprise and slaughter.

Munster also began to breathe after the terrible agony of that Geraldine war, and to look with hope and joy to the dawn that was rising on them from the North. And, though there was in the South a strong English army under the “Lord President,” Sir Thomas Norreys, yet the settlers who had been lately “planted” in the fairest tracts of Munster began to fear for the security of their ill-gotten wealth[2]. A powerful Catholic gentleman of Limerick, named Pierce Lacy, a close ally of O’Neill, sent messengers to the North and to Owen Mac Rory O’More, praying that a band of the victorious Irish of Ulster or Leinster under some active leader might be sent southward, where, so soon as the national standard should be unfurled, all the oppressed Catholics and plundered Irish of Munster would rush to join it in the name of liberty and holy church. O’Neill immediately detached Richard Tyrrell of Fertullagh at the head of a chosen band from the Northern army to join O’Moore; and the chief of Leix, leaving his brother to command in Leinster during his absence, and taking with him the renowned victor of Tyrrell’s Pass, marched rapidly through Ormond, entered Desmond, and was forthwith joined by the remnants of the unfortunate Geraldines. The Knight of Glyn, and the White Knight, Fitzmaurice Baron of Lixnaw, the Knight of Kerry, Dermod and Donogh MacCarthy, the O’Donoghoes, Roche, Viscount Fermoy, and two powerful kinsmen of Ormond himself, Thomas Butler, Baron of Cahir, and Richard Lord Mountgarret, who was married to O’Neill’s daughter, besides the O’Sullivans, O’Driscols, O’Donovans, and O’Mahonys of Carbry, all took arms in the common cause. Norreys, after shutting up a part of his force in garrison at Kilmallock, retreated with the remainder to Cork, with O’More, close upon his rear: while the English undertakers were on all sides ejected from those lands which their queen had so lately taken it upon herself to grant them. Their castles were taken and dismantled, their houses burned down and razed to the ground: we hear of no wanton cruelty done upon the settler but they were all driven away and forced to find refuge in the cities and garrisons, and resume those swords which had carved them out estates before[3]. Amongst those burnt-out adventurers, one cannot much grieve to find the gentle poet of Kilcolman, now sheriff of Cork. He had but lately finished that “View of the state of Ireland,” of which we have already seen somewhat, and from his retreat on “Mulla’s” banks had also issued the Faerie Queene, which he had dutifully presented, with a mellifluous copy of verses, to the Earl of Ormond, then the queen’s Lord Lieutenant and natural patron of all undertakers[4]. He was driven from both house and bailiwick, left Ireland as poor as he had entered it twenty years before, and died in London the following year for lack of bread![5] Ah! Poor Spenser! Those “barbarian” Irish, with their genial nature and poetical temperament, better knew how to honour their inspired poets than these proud English. Not a “lewd barde” of them all but had a better reward than this.

So passed the winter of 1598, and by the beginning of the following year no English force was able to keep the field throughout all Ireland. The Geraldines and their adherents had recovered their power and possessions in the South; and as they had yet no Earl of Desmond there to take the leading of their tribe (a thing unknown in Munster for many an age) O’Neill had to take order for supplying one. And as the kings of England had sometimes presumed to confer Irish chieftaincies and estates, to be held by “English tenure,” even when they had no power of securing to their grantees the benefit of those gifts; so the prince of Ulster, seeing he had the power, knew no reason why he should not create an earl, to hold his earldom by Irish tenure.

There had been queen’s O’Donnells, queen’s MacGwires, queen’s bishops;—there should now be an O’Neill’s Count Palatine of Desmond. Earl Gerald, the last of that title, had left a son who was delivered in his youth to the English as a hostage, and had now, for seventeen years, lain a prisoner in the Tower of London. This was the true claimant of the earldom according to English law: but O’Neill, having regard rather to the Irish custom of Tanistry than to Saxon descents and inheritances, sought out among the Geraldines a fit man to bear the weight of leadership in Munster, and James, the son of Thomas the Red, and nephew to Gerald, was duly invested (by what sort of official document or ceremonial we are not informed) with the dignity, estates and ancient privileges of Earl of Desmond ; stipulating to hold the same as a vassal and tributary to the prince of Ulster[6] And so having established Irish power once more in Munster, the Northern troops were recalled.

While O’Neill was thus predominating over all Ireland, exercising sovereign powers, and cooping up the queen’s troops within their fortifications, one is hardly prepared to find him making more “submissions” but if Lord Mountjoy’s secretary is to be believed (which the one sent writer thinks he is not) this victorious chief was now craving pardon of his beaten enemy, and tendering abject allegiance to the foreigner; “May you hold laughter,” says that singular historian, “or will you think that Carthage ever bred such a faedifragous, truce-breaking wretch, when you shall reade, that even in the middest of these garboyles, whilst in his letters to the King of Spaine he magnified his victories, beseeching him not to believe that he would seeke or take away any conditions of peace, yet, most impudently, he ceased not to entertain the Lord Lieutenant with letters and messages, with offers of submission.” Yet Moryson was not the inventor of this falsehood: such rumours were really spread at the time, to impose upon Catholic powers on the continent, to conceal from them the true nature and magnitude of the Irish war and prevent them from sending troops here:

“And to the same purpose,”[7] suggests Sir Francis Bacon, “nothing can be more fit than a treaty, or a shadow of treaty, of a peace with Spain; which methinks should be in our power to fasten, at least rumore tenus, to the deluding of as wise a people as the Irish.”

O’Donnell, in the meantime, had cleared the plains of Connaught of all Englishmen, and adherents of England, and had driven Sir Conyers Clifford once more into garrison. He kept his Christmas piously in Ballymote: then led his troops into Clanrickarde, plundering the country and compelling the western clans to acknowledge the jurisdiction of his newly created MacWilliam. Athenree was taken by his fierce assault; its English garrison put to the sword, and all the plunder of the enemy, clothing, arms, and many herds of cattle, sent home to Tyr-connell. The whole of Connaught had now been over-run by the Kinel-Conal, except only Thomond: and Red Hugh’s army had a month’s repose; when the fiery chief began “to think it long that they were at rest”[8] and prepared to invade the territory of the Dal-Cais, where Donogh O’Brien, Earl of Thomond, and the Baron of Inchiquin, still retained their base titles and preserved a shameful “loyalty” to the Queen of England. Thomond was doomed to plunder and slaughter; but “because it would be encountering,” says O’Donnell’s chronicler, “certain opposition and battle to assail the noble race who dwelt therein, the tribe of Cas, son of Conal, of the swift steeds, descended from Brian Boroihme, son of Kennedy, “the chieftain took care to gather a powerful force of all his tributaries and allies. He summoned the clans to Ballymote, and was speedily attended by his three brothers, Rory, Manus, and Cathbar, by Hugh Oge O’Donnell, O’Boyle, O’Dogherty, and the Mac Swynes, with all the troops of Tyr-connell: Mac Gwire with the clans of Fermanagh, also attended this rendezvouz; and of the tribes of Connaught O’Ruarc and Mac William, with O’Dowd, Mac Donough, O’Hara, O’Kelly, and Mac Dermott. We find also in that army, holding high command under his chieftain, a certain Niall Garbh O’Donnell—a name accursed—of whom we are to hear more in the course of this story. O’Donnell’s Irish chronicler is very minute in his detail of this expedition: how Red Hugh marched southwards silently and rapidly, through Clanrickarde, and halted in the evening at the Red beach between Kilcolgan and Ardrahan; how they bivouacked in the woods, lighted fires, and took food and wines of Spain: how, at midnight, they all arose as one man, continued their silent march, and by the dawn of day arrived at Clancy’s wood: then how O’Donnell “as the light of day prevailed over the stars, advanced to Corcomroe, and thence to Kilfenora, sending out strong parties to scour the country and ravage the lands of all those who were friendly to the stranger, or owned the sway of Saxon earls and barons; how Mac Gwire attacked and took the castle of Conor O’Brien, Baron of Inchiquin, and made the baron prisoner, while other bands ranged through Thomond, burning, slaying, and ravaging; how they drove all the cattle to Kilfenora; and how the whole northern army, having feasted and regaled themselves, turned their faces homewards, each party driving its own allotted prey, and the hills of Burren could hardly be seen by reason of the multitudes of sheep and cattle that trooped over them, wending their way to the pastures of Connaught and Tyr-connell.

Now there was a certain poet in Thomond, by the name of Maoilin Oge, and whilst lie was absent from home, some of the northern forayers had driven away his cattle, not knowing that it was to one of the honoured race of bards those sheep and kine belonged: and Maoilin Oge, when he came to know his loss, having heard of the generosity of this noble Red Hugh, and how reverently he cherished and protected the bards and Ollarahs of the North, took his harp and hastened after the host of O’Donnell: and being introduced into the chieftain’s presence, he shewed him, out of ancient writings, “that it was no shame to the Dal-Cais to be plundered by one bearing the name of Hugh O’Donnell;”—and he touched his harp and sang how the holy Columkille had foretold this very event—” that a certain Hugh, “of the Kinel-Conal should come to revenge on the Dal-Cais the destruction of that royal seat of Aileach and the carrying away of the stones thereof by Murkertach O’Brien.”[9] “My wood, my grove!” (so ran the prophecy of the blessed saint,) “Ah! my dwelling and my school: alas! Oh God, a multitude of men. He who will revenge my Aileach: the Hugh of steeds of rough roads, the polished body, fame without reproach, long hair in ringlets.” And assuredly “he was that Hugh;” and this plunder of the tribe of Cas was indeed heaven’s vengeance granted to the prayer of the patron saint of Tyr-connell. Then O’Donnell was well pleased both with the poet’s song and with Columba’s prophecy: and he restored to Maoilin Oge all his herds and cattle, and the bard went on his way rejoicing, and left his benediction with the princely chief.

One must admit that all the expeditions of this wild leader, though daring and dashing, resembled more the cruel and predatory raids of a horde of savages, or of the border clans of Scotland a century before, than any more regular military movements: but an intense hatred of the Saxons and of all Saxon usages was Red Hugh’s master passion: his whole life was vowed to vengeance: those cruel fetters of Perrot had worn his young flesh—had burned into his proud heart his crippled feet yet bore the shooting pangs of frost that had benumbed him while he lay perishing, in his flight, upon the snowy mountains: and his daily thoughts, his dreams by night, were of rooting out and utterly exterminating those treacherous foes of his race, and all who held with them. The smoke of their blazing towers was pleasant as incense to his soul, and he deemed a hecatomb of their slain the offering most grateful to heaven.

Hugh O’Neill who was now the recognized leader, the head and the heart of our national confederacy, and directed its operations everywhere throughout the land, at length saw foreign power totally prostrated in Ireland, its military resources annihilated or defeated, its Irish adherents either crushed, or, what was better, brought over to the cause of patriotism and honour: but still he omitted no means of strengthening the league: he renewed his intercourse with Spain, planted permanent bodies of troops on the Foyle, Erne, and Blackwater, engaged the services of some additional Scots from the Western Isles, improved the discipline of his own troops, and on every side made preparation to renew the conflict with his powerful enemy. For he well knew that Elizabeth was not the monarch to quit her deadly gripe of this fair island without a more terrible struggle than had yet been endured.

[1]. See the song of Fearflatha O’Gnive, a poet of Clanhugh-buidhe, in Walker’s Irish Bards —“Is there no Hector left for the defence, for the recovery of Troy? — It is thine, oh my God, to send us a second Moses: thy dispensations are just: and unless the children of the Scythian Eber Scot return,”. A translation of it by Callanan appears in the “Ballad Poetry of Ireland.”

[2] Camden.

[3] This transaction in Munster seems to have been precisely similar to the resumption of plundered estates in Ulster in 1641.

[4] “Receive, most noble lord, a simple taste of the wilde fruit which saluage soyl hath bred,” When one reads of Spenser’s expulsion from Kilcolman, and the burning of his furniture and effects, it is not easy to forget the mode of treatment he had suggested for his brother bards of Ireland, who were always regarded by the English government, and with reason, its natural enemies—”I would wish.” says he, “that a Provost Marshal should be appointed in every shire, which should continually walke about the countrey with halfe a dozen or halfe a score horsemen to take up such loose persons as they should finde thus wandering, whom he should punish by his own authority with such paines as the person shall seem to deserve: for if hee be but once so taken idly roguing hee may punish him more lightly, as with stocks or such like; but if hee be found againe so loytering he may scourge him with whippes or rodds; after which, if hee be againe taken let him have the bitternesse of marshall law.” — View of the State of Ireland.

[5] Ben Johnson’s Letter to Drummond of Hawthornden.

[6] “On condition that (forsooth) he should be vassal to O’Neill.” – Moryson.

[7] That is “the cutting off the opinion and expectation of foreign succours.”—See Bacon’s Considerations touching the Queens Service in Ireland. This is the same Bacon who was afterwards discoverer of a “Novum Orgauon Scientiarum,” and also Lord Chancellor of England.

[8] MS. Life of O’Donnell.

[9] This was six hundred years before. The sovereignty of Ireland had been disputed between Mac Lochlin, chief of the Hy-Niall and the O’Briens of Thomond. The Ulster chieftain had invaded Munster, wasted Limerick, and burned the great palace of Kiucora. A few years after, in revenge, O’Brien led a great army to the North, levelled the famous royal residence of Aileach, four miles from Derry, and caused his clansmen to carry of each man one stone of it to Thomond.