Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
Beatha Aodha Ruaidh Uí Dhomhnaill (Author: Lughaidh Ó Cléirigh)

section 8

The Seventh Year, 1598

¶88] The time when O Ruairc made his alliance with the Governor was at the end of January, 1598. O Domhnaill was not pleased at hearing the news, for the race to which O Ruairc belonged were akin to his ancestors in old time, and he was himself his relative. For these reasons he was not eager to attack him or plunder his country like others, but he knew that that would be necessary unless he returned to the confederacy of the Irish, for his goodwill was withdrawn from every one who made friendship with the English. He proceeded to beg and entreat him, secretly at first, to return, and then again to threaten and menace him for remaining in the condition in which he was. O Ruairc continued to parley with him to the beginning of summer. He feared very much at that time the preying of his territory, for he saw that the English were not stronger than the Irish, and what he did was to come at the call of O Domhnaill and do what he asked, and he made submission to him as he demanded him.

¶89] Tidings of O Néill awhile: so numerous were his skirmishes and preyings on the English that he slew many of their soldiers and leaders of battle. He preyed the districts that were supporting them and under their power, so that he wasted the territories along the Boyne, north to Dundalk, besides the fortresses and the strong castles in which they had posted their soldiers and warriors against Cenél Eóghain and the Oirghialla who lay near them. It is not to conceal or blot them out that we have not given these great deeds amongst the great deeds and exploits of the Irish in general, and it is not through error or mistake in remembering them, but lest their educated scholarly tutors, their ollamhs, and their learned men also should be jealous of us, and say that it was pride, presumption, and vanity caused us to anticipate them in relating the battles


and skirmishes of their princes, leaders, and stout-chieftains, and also lest they should assert it was as a reproach and censure of their learned men that it was done. However, we will relate this little of the exploits of the Clann Eóghain in spite of the criticism of their poets, i.e. the battle of the Yellow Ford, since Cenél Conaill assisted in it.

¶90] It was thus it happened: The English had a fortress to the north of Armagh, on the Blackwater. It was first built in a time of peace and amity, and it was fortified a second time by the Lord Deputy, Thomas Lord Borough, in expectation of the war, so that it was a strong impregnable earthen rampart, and war-towers on the battlements all round, in which were windows and loopholes to shoot from. The English placed three hundred of their choice warriors in the fortress to hold it against the Cenél Eóghain. O Néill, too, placed the same number opposite them, that they might not come to prey the country anywhere around them. Later O Domhnaill came to the aid of O Néill when he knew the straits in which he was. O Néill complained to him of his anxiety concerning the said fortress, and declared he was tired of being continually investing it, as he always was. O Domhnaill said it would be far better to attack it, to batter it down and destroy it if they could, rather than have the districts injured and preyed by its means, and that it was not easy for the soldiers to be standing to arms for a long time. O Néill agreed with that opinion. Both of them ordered their people to attack the fortress. Afterwards they made a brave attack on it as they were bidden. A great number of them were wounded and killed, and they gained nothing thereby. Then they retired from it and went to their homes.

¶91] O Néill got tidings after a while that they had consumed nearly all their provisions. When he found that they were in this condition he encamped opposite them, between them and Armagh, that no other force might come to relieve them from the pressing danger in which they were. When it became known to the Senate and Council that they were without food,


and O Néill attacking them, as he was, they assembled a large body of the choice soldiers of the English, so that they numbered five thousand, both infantry and cavalry, of youths with arms and armour, with regular supplies of everything that was needed. Henry Bagnal was put in command of them. He was a famous, daring knight, and one of the Council too. Iobhar Cinn Choiche mic Nechtain was his dwelling. When O Néill learned they were assembling he sent his messengers to invite O Domhnaill, before the English would be ready.

¶92] He came with a great body of his forces, both infantry and cavalry, and some of the province of Connacht with him. The Irish of the province of Ulster came with haste to that muster. When the English were ready and prepared they went the first day's march to Drogheda. From that to the town of Dundalk. After that to Newry and Armagh. They remained there till they got rid of their fatigue. The Irish on the other side camped near them, between them and the aforesaid fortress. They proceeded to watch and prepare against each other, and to threaten and bluster. When it seemed to the English full time to assist their people they rose up at the dawn of day and proceeded to clothe themselves with strange tunics of iron, and high-crested, shining helmets, and foreign shields of well-tempered, refined iron. They seized their broad-shouldered, firmly rivetted spears, their wide-edged axes, smooth and bright, and their straight two-edged swords, and their long, single-edged blades, and their loud-voiced shot-firing guns, so that it would be very hard for their leaders to recognise them if they were not known by their speech, owing to the array of shields, helmets, and armour on them outside, hiding and covering their faces and their features, and to the quantity of arms also concealing them.

¶93] Their captains of battle and chiefs of combat proceeded to place the soldiers and warriors in their appointed places, so that the infantry were in three bodies, back to back, behind each other. They placed their provisions and supplies moreover in the middle between them. They made battle-wings of their


cavalry in series of troops placed on both flanks. They put fine active bodies of their light soldiers and of their marksmen outside the cavalry to defend and protect them. In truth it was not easy to go through them together to the secure position where their champions and chiefs, their heroes in battle, and leaders in the fight were; and if one did at all go through, it was not easy to attack the griffin's nest and the lion's den in which the champions of London were, owing to the outlandish and strange weapons and armour and engines, and the variety and vast number of themselves, for it did not enter the mind nor is it in the memory of venerable elders nor to the ancients for long past that the English had assembled a host like that to fight against the Irish since first they attacked the island. They proceeded to march slowly along the road in that way to meet the Irish.

¶94] These advanced with their war-weapons very quickly to oppose them. The weapons and dress of these were different, for the Irish did not wear armour like them, except a few, and they were unarmed in comparison with the English, but yet they had sufficient wide-bladed spears and broad-grey lances with strong handles of good ash. They had straight two-edged swords and slender flashing axes for hewing down champions. There were neither rings nor plates on them, as there were on the axes of the English. The implements for shooting which they had were darts of carved wood and powerful bows, with sharp-pointed arrows, and the English generally had quick-firing guns.

¶95] O Néill and O Domhnaill proceeded to harangue the champions, and exhort the soldiers, and instruct the heroes, and this was what they said to them: ‘Brave men,’ said they, ‘be nor feared or frightened by the English on account of their strange engines, their unusual armour and arms, and the thundering sound of their trumpets and tabours and war-cries, and of their own great numbers, for it is absolutely certain that they shall be routed in this day's fight. Of


course the day is ours because you are on the side of truth and the others on the side of falsehood, confining you in prisons and beheading you, in order to rob you of your own patrimonies. Moreover, we are quite sure that this day will distinguish between truth and falsehood, as Morann, son of Maen, said in the well-known proverb: 'There has not been found, nor will be found, a more truthful judge than the battlefield,' as we have heard from our poets, and they have long since taught it to us. Besides, it is easier for you to defend your own fatherland against a foreign race of strangers than to wrest another's patrimony after being driven from your own land, which has been in your possession from the year 3500 of the age of the world to this day.’

¶96] The nobles and chiefs said that what their princes asserted was true. The address which they made to the brave men produced an effect on them, for the minds of the heroes and the courage of the soldiers were roused, so that fury, and vigour, and a great desire to use their arms filled Cenél Conaill, Cenél Eóghain, Airghialla and Uí Eachdach of Ulster, owing to the speeches of their princes and true lords, and they promised them that they would not yield a foot, but would suffer death on the spot rather than be routed. Another reason too for which the spirits of the soldiers were roused. It was told them that St. Berchan, the prophet of God, had foretold that a battle would be won there against the English of Dublin by Aodh O Néill and the province also, for he promised that they would come to his aid, and especially Cenél Conaill. The heroes believed that the holy prophet would not tell a lie. He who first made known the prophecy of the Saint was a certain famous poet of O Domhnaill's own people, who happened to be with him on the expedition, to gratify him. His name was Ferfesa O Clérigh. He asked what was the name of that place. It was told him. He said that St. Berchan had foretold a defeat of the English there by Aodh O Néill, as we have said, and that he had in mind for a long time past the prophecy which the holy man made, and he proceeded to excite and exhort the


soldiers, as was meet for one like him, and spoke thus:

    1. 'In the battle of the Yellow Ford
      it is by him the foreigners shall fall.
      After the destruction of the foreigners
      men from Tory will be glad.

¶97] When the chiefs had ended instructing and exhorting the people they placed them in suitable positions opposite the foreigners, and a peremptory order was given by the princes that they should not go forward to meet the English until they came to the rampart where the ditches and trenches and deep pits of earth were, which the Irish army had made against the English in the road they had chosen to take. As the English drew near them they sounded their trumpets and horns and their war cries, so that to hear the clamour of the foreign forces was a cause of terror and dismay to the weak and feeble horseboys and to the cowardly and timid. When the English army had crossed the first broad, deep trench which had been dug in front of them, the Irish advanced against them, and answered them boldly and fiercely. Their van was obliged to halt, owing to wounds, and stop on account of the shooting. They poured showers of very slender, light darts on them, and of sharp-pointed arrows, and of heavy leaden balls. The English proceeded to shoot in the same manner from their slender, straight-aiming steady guns and from their loud-sounding muskets, so that the report and noise of their discharge was heard in the woods and forests and hollows of the rocks, and in the stone fortresses of the neighbouring territory. Many were wounded and hurt in both armies by the shots, but yet the shots of the English reached farther. This was the manner of fighting which the Irish adopted in consequence: they spread themselves about the English all round, and they closed on them and engaged the English at close quarters, so that they drove the wings which were on the outside, and the sharpshooters and soldiers beyond them, into the centre, so that


the English were confused by that and by the shots of the Irish, by the closeness and the compactness of the set order in which their leaders of battle and captains of the fight had placed them. Anger and wrath seized on the soldiers on both sides in consequence of the killing, the slaughtering, and the wounding of their friends, their companions, and those dear to them before their faces. They were struggling and slaughtering each other in this way for a good while and a long time, until the closeness and compactness of the English army was thinned out and their leaders and nobles were gapped.

¶98] As the glorious God and Almighty Lord ordained victory and triumph for the Irish that day, He allowed a certain English soldier who had spent all the powder he had to go to the nearest of the barrels of powder carried by them, in the very middle of the army, to refill his pouch once more, and when he stretched out his hand to the powder a tiny spark leapt from the match which he had lighting, into the barrel, and from that to each of the barrels in succession, so that whatever was near the place where they were standing, men and horses, arms and armour, and everything which they needed to have by them, was blown up into the regions and clouds of the air. The great gun which they carried with them was moved from where it was to another place by the force and conflagration of the dry powder, when it blazed up fiercely to the clouds of the heavens. The hill too all round was one mass of dark, black fog for a while after, so that it was not easy for any one to recognise a man of his own people from one of his enemies. However, the General of the English army and their champion of battle, Henry Bagnal, and with him very many of their nobles and leaders were slain. The English were defeated, as is usual with an army whose battle chief, and supplier and counsellor had been taken away. The Irish proceeded to mangle and hack, to kill and destroy in twos and threes, in scores and thirties, in troops and hundreds until they came in over the midmost walls of Armagh. The soldiers and their attendants returned and proceeded to strip


the people who had fallen in the battle and to behead those who were severely wounded there. The booty of unusual, varied supplies was great. The Irish remained to besiege Armagh at each of the four quarters of the town, so that they did not allow anyone in or out for a space of three days and three nights. At that time the English sent messengers to the Irish to ask them to confer with them about surrendering the fortress mentioned, where their people had been in garrison for a long time, and that the warders be allowed to go safe to them to Armagh after giving up the place to Aodh O Néill, and that he permit both parties to retire from Armagh.

¶99] The nobles went to take counsel on that proposal. Some of them said it would be right to allow the English to go on condition they surrendered the fortress, since it was on its account they had engaged them and fought the battle. Many of their people were wounded and slain, and their defeat and overthrow was a great triumph to them. Others of them opposed this, and said it was not right to let the English escape from the great straits in which they were, and that they would not be found careless a second time if they escaped from them then. However, it was decided by the chiefs at last to let them go away. Terms were agreed on between them on this side and on that to be observed by both, except the Irish did not allow any supplies of food, guns or ordnance, powder or lead to be taken away by anyone out of the fortress except his trunk and his arms which were allowed to the captain who was there. The English thereupon left the fort, and protection and quarter was given them till they came to Armagh. The next day the two bodies of English went from Armagh to Newry and to their own homes, and they made a census of their army to see what number were missing since they went on their expedition. The number, as their well-informed reckoned, was two thousand five hundred, besides their General and eighteen captains also of nobles and gentlemen. But all the same, a great number of them escaped luckily without being slain, though they were wounded, and they reckoned the missing


as well as those who were slain. This battle was fought on the tenth day of August, in the very beginning of harvest. Meantime, O Néill, O Domhnaill, and the Irish also returned to their homes after that victory, and the minds of the nobles were satisfied though their losses were many, and they did not show care or anxiety for those who were slain, for a battle for right is not remembered (with regret) as the proverb says.

¶100] As for O Domhnaill, he remained quiet with his army resting after that battle of the Yellow Ford. There was a strong, very secure fortress in the province of Connacht at Corran precisely, named Ballymote. The English were in garrison in that castle continuously for the space of thirteen years, to see if they could get an opportunity of seizing on the neighbouring territory by means of it, and it could not be taken from them during that time. Some of the nobles who claimed the town and lands near it took the place unawares and seized it by force from the English. Those by whom it was taken were of the Clann Donncha of Corran. They were Cathal Dubh and Tomaltach Óg, the two sons of Cathal Mac Donncha; and to them the castle belonged by inheritance. It was a great affliction to the Governor of the province, Sir Conyers Clifford, that the place should be taken from his people, and he set to entice the Clann Donncha to restore the castle to him, and he promised large rewards for it, together with the freehold of their land for themselves and their posterity. When this was told to O Domhnaill he assembled his forces in the month of September, and he did not halt until he came to Ballymote, and he set to besiege the place, at one time blustering and threatening the Clann Donncha if they did not deliver up the place to himself rather than to anyone else. At another time he begged and prayed them to give it up to him for the price they would themselves put on it, wherefore it was decided by Cathal and Tomaltach, of whom we have spoken, to surrender the place to O Domhnaill and his family for ever for four hundred pounds and three hundred cows. When they


had concluded the agreement with each other in this way, O Domhnaill went immediately with his forces to northern Uí Maine. What was under the power of Sir Tibbot Dillon was plundered and preyed by him, so that his army took away with them a plenty of every kind of spoil moreover to Ballymote, and he gave the four hundred pounds, of which we have spoken, and the three hundred cows to the Clann Donncha as they had arranged with him. Seaán Óg O Doherty gave nine score pounds of that money to O Domhnaill to aid him. The town was given over to O Domhnaill then, and he remained there afterwards.

¶101] At that particular time Mac William, Tibbot, son of Walter Ciotach, came to O Domhnaill to ask him for aid in men to strengthen him against his enemies. He sent with him strong bodies of his people, of his soldiers and mercenaries, with Seaán Óg O Doherty and Mac Suibhne Banagh, Donncha, son of Maolmhuire Meirgeach. Mac William then went with that army silently and without being noticed or heard, except by a few, through every territory through which they passed, until they came to the Owles, for it was there the greater part of the herds and flocks and property of Mac William's Portion were. Free rein and dispersal was given to his eager, unrestrained war-bands through all the country round, and they gathered the herds and droves of kine and cattle which were not in islands on lakes nor on the sea, so that they had full plenty of every kind of cattle then. Though it would have been easy to pursue them owing to the quantity of plunder, they came without wound or danger with their plunder and spoils to Tír Auley and Mac Suibhne to Tír Boghaine, and O Doherty to Inis Eóghain.

¶102] In the meantime the miseries of war spread throughout the extent of Ireland, and James, son of Tomás Ruadh, was made Earl of Desmond at that time by the power of the Irish, against the opposition of the English, and he rose in war like the rest. His family was of the Geraldines by descent, having taken the name by which they were called from a certain Gerald


from whom this family was descended. They came from the English territory to the island to seize it like the rest, and they settled in the territory of Fermorc, south of the Shannon. They contracted friendship with the descendants of Míl after a time, and conformed to their manner of life and habits, and were full of honour and hospitality like them. The soldiers of London came then to the island by order of their King to govern the ancient Kingdoms and keep them by law, and they brought the Geraldines, of whom we have spoken, into subjection and contempt, like the Irish. The Geraldines rose in arms against them at last. They were driven from their territory by the English, and soon all but a few were slain. One of them was James, son of Tomas Ruadh, of whom we have spoken, and they thought he would not oppose them, owing to the disrespect, and contempt they had for him, and they set little store by him because the son of the true prince, James, son of Garret, who first began the war, son of James, son of John, was in prison in the Tower of London. However, the one God made an oak of the acorn and a fire on a hill-top of the spark and other things in the same way. He raised up too families after their ruin before this. Since it was so, it was not right for the English of Dublin to wonder that James, son of Tomás Ruadh, should be made Earl, and should come against them to vent his enmity on them. Great numbers came to him to serve under and assist him from the province of Connacht and the province of Ulster. The Irish of the province of Leinster too rose in arms in the same way, i.e. the race of Cathaoir Mór, son of Feilim in attacks and struggles against the English, in pillagings and burnings, liftings of cattle and flocks on the peoples who were under their yoke and control, which it would be tedious to relate or describe.

¶103] As for O Domhnaill, when he had resolved all the difficulties mentioned above, his dwelling and abode was at Ballymote. He thought it long that the Spaniards did not come to aid the Irish as they had promised. Wherefore he sent his


messengers to Spain to complain of the suffering and oppression of the Irish to King Philip. In the month of September, in the middle of harvest, the messengers were sent. Philip died before they returned. In all the world there was no greater tidings, for his fame was spread through the whole earth. If one like him followed him in the world, it was from him he sprang. Meantime O Domhnaill was at ease in Ballymote up to the feast of the Nativity of the Lord, and when he had finished celebrating the feast, as was proper, he gathered his forces to him to go into the neighbouring territory; and when they had come together at his summons, he marched secretly unperceived, without fore-warning, into Clanrickard (though the inhabitants of the territory were afraid and terror-stricken before them), until he came unannounced and unknown in the half-light of early morning to Cill Colgáin. On coming there his marauders spread out on every side into the country all round, right through the middle of Clanrickard, westwards, until a body of them came to the borders of Oireacht Réamonn and another body to Dungory, in Coill Ó bhFiachrach. Many of the lowborn and highborn were killed and massacred by them. The principal men of the nobility who fell there were Turloch Buidhe and Brian, two sons of Ros, son of Uaithne, son of Maelechlainn O Lochlainn. There was slain by that Turloch, when defending himself, one of the Clann Domhnaill Gallóglach, who was with Mac William on that hosting; Aodh Buidhe Óg, son of Aodh Buidhe, son of Maelmhuire, was his name. There were also killed by another body of O Domhnaill's people two sons of William, son of John of Rinvylle, and a son of Tibbot, the son of Dabhóg, from Doire Domhnaill, and his son's son. Many were the causes of woe and lamentation in Clanrickard for those of them who were slain beside these nobles. Mac Hubert of Disert Ceallaigh, i.e. Ulick, son of Ulick Ruadh, son of Ulick Óg, is captured by Manus Óg, son of Aodh, son of Manus, O Domhnaill's brother. Cattle and booty of the country were gathered in heavy, immense droves, and other great


spoils besides, by O Domhnaill's people to the place where he himself remained, and though the mercenaries and soldiers of the Earl of Clanrickard were numerous in the district, and though it was hard for the territory to endure their unjust demands for the sake of being protected from its enemies, O Domhnaill and his army took the prey with them without strife or skirmish till they came by slow marches to Ballymote. Never before was a spoil of enemy's cattle collected the like or equal to it in that place since it was first built. Thereafter O Domhnaill's army go to their homes.

¶104] Whenas the Queen of England observed the general rising in arms which the Irish and also some of the Old English of Ireland engaged in against her, and the number of her nobles and chiefs, soldiers and mercenaries who were slain at the Yellow Ford, and in every other battlefield where her people were massacred throughout Ireland, she fell into anxiety and great grief, so that she and the English Council resolved to send the Earl of Essex to Ireland in the following May with the fullest powers and the largest armies, as books state, that ever came to Ireland from England up to that. That was put in train in the very beginning of February, 1599. The reason why the Earl of Essex, of whom we have spoken, was selected to be sent to Ireland rather than anyone else, was to see would his success in war be greater than that of the people who had come hither from the Queen before, for he was the foremost war-leader of the English and their spear-head in conflict and contention and a battle-smiter for his Queen in every battlefield where he was ordered to go in Europe.