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The History of Ulster
"The Real King of Ireland"

Essex's Administration - His Fatuity - The Futility of his Methods - Death of Sir Thomas Norris - Essex marches South - His Campaign in Munster - Death of Sir Henry Norris - Sir Conyers Clifford directed to relieve Coloony Castle - Defeated by O'Rourke and O'Donnell - Dies on the Field - Submission of O'Conor Sligo to Tyrone.

Essex issued a proclamation on his arrival, offering pardon and restoration of their property to such of the Irish as submitted, but very few availed themselves of the proffered favours. His commission, as already stated, was of the most ample kind. He was empowered to lease the lands of all rebels, especially those affected by the attainder of Tyrone and others in his province, and in Tirconnell, Leitrim, Fermanagh, and the Route. An exception was made in favour of O'Dogherty, and also in the case of Sir Arthur O'Neill, who were, it was considered, driven into disloyalty by necessity and not from choice. Pardons might be granted by the Lord-Lieutenant for all treasons, but it was stipulated that the arch-traitor, Tyrone, who had "so vilely abused" the Queen's mercy, was only to be pardoned for life, and not for lands, and even this mercy was only to be extended to him on his giving some kind of guarantee of future good behaviour. As in Lord Burgh's case, knighthoods were not to be given away wholesale, strict injunctions being given to the Lord-Lieutenant to "confer that title upon none that shall not deserve it by some notorious service, or have not in possession or reversion sufficient living to maintain their degree and calling".

The Lord-Lieutenant, "this noble and worthy gentleman", having taken "the sword and sway of this unsettled kingdom into his hands", proceeded to confer with the Council, and, as the result of many meetings, it was decided not to attack Tyrone or O'Donnell, but rather to attack their allies. The Council advised "a present prosecution in Leinster, being the heart of the whole kingdom", a plan which, however, was not carried into effect. About 30,000 rebels altogether were reported to be in arms, and of these Leinster contained 3000 natives, in addition to 800 mercenaries from Ulster. The country was in a state of ferment. Meath and Westmeath were full of armed bands; Longford and Louth suffered greatly from incursions from Ulster.

Essex sent reinforcements to the garrisons of Carrickfergus, Newry, Dundalk, Drogheda, Wicklow, and Naas. A force of 3000 foot and 300 horse was sent forward to Kilcullen, and on the loth of May he set out from Dublin to take the command. He then, instead of marching, as originally intended, towards Ulster, proceeded south.

It is as necessary here to follow the fortunes of Essex as it was on previous occasions not to keep strictly within the confines of the province under consideration, for the fatuous conduct of the Lord-Lieutenant, and the futility of his efforts to grapple with his evil star, ultimately affected the country at large and Ulster in particular.

The English army was repeatedly attacked along the route by Owny MacRory and the other Leinster confederates; and in one of these conflicts Essex lost, according to O'Sullivan Beare, some 500 men, the place being called Bearnanag-Cleti, or the Pass of Plumes, from the number of plumes collected there after the battle. Ormonde made his appearance, accompanied by his kinsmen, Lords Mountgarret and Cahir, both of whom had been considered in rebellion. Mountgarret made his. submission, and Essex then besieged the castle of Cahir, which was held by James, another of the insurgent Butlers, but was thrown open after part of the building had been demolished by heavy artillery, and Lord Cahir had called in vain on his brother to surrender. Essex repaired the damage done, and, placing a garrison of 100 men in the castle, he marched northward along the left bank of the Suir.

Sir Thomas Norris, Lord President of Munster, while waiting the advent of the Lord-Lieutenant at Kilmallock, exercised his men in forays against the Irish, and in one of these was mortally wounded by Thomas Burke, brother of the Baron of Castleconnell. The wound, it was first thought, would not prove fatal, for Norris announced that he had recovered sufficiently to accompany Essex in part of his Munster campaign, but in August he was dangerously ill, and in September commissioners were appointed to execute duties neglected since his death.

Near Limerick, Essex, who was accompanied on this expedition by the Earl of Ormonde, was joined by Sir Conyers Clifford, President of Connaught, the Earls of Thomond and Clanrickard, and Donough O'Conor Sligo. Clifford and Clanrickard returned to Connaught, and Essex, with the other commanders, marched against the Geraldines, who gave them a warmer reception than they anticipated.

After some hard fighting, in his second day's march from Limerick, when he had been entertained with two orations in English, "in which", remarks Harrington, "I know not which was more to be discommended words, composition, or oratory, all of which having their peculiar excellencies in barbarism, harshness, and rustical, both pronouncing and action", the Viceroy pitched his camp a little to the east of Askeaton, and, having succeeded in conveying some ammunition to that garrison, he was again attacked in marching to Adare, at a place called Finneterstown, by the newly-created Earl of Desmond with 2000 or 3000 men. Here Captain Jennings was killed, Sir Henry Norris had his leg broken by a bullet, and a third officer was shot through both cheeks. Norris "endured amputation with extraordinary patience", but died a few weeks afterwards, "making", says Mr. Bagwell, "the third of these famous six brothers who had fallen a victim to the Irish service".

Essex now returned, without even attempting any further service with his fine army, by a circuitous route, through Fermoy and Lismore, into Leinster, the Geraldines hovering on his rear and cutting off several of his men in the early part of the march, while the Leinster insurgents were equally unmerciful to him in the latter portion of it.

O'Conor Sligo, on returning from Munster, was blockaded in his only remaining castle of Coloony by O'Donnell, and Essex directed Sir Conyers Clifford to hasten with all his available forces to relieve him, and to dispatch by sea, from Galway, materials for the construction and fortification of a strong castle at Sligo, to defend that passage against the men of Tirconnell. Clifford proceeded to obey these orders, and while the naval expedition sailed round the coast, under the command of Theobald of the Ships (so called from his having been born at sea), he himself, with a well-appointed army, advanced from Athlone towards the Curlieu mountains, beyond which, in the famous Pass of Ballaghboy, O'Donnell awaited him, with such men as he could spare, after leaving a sufficient force under his kinsman, Niall Garv O'Donnell, to continue the blockade of Coloony Castle.

Clifford, with a force of something under 2000 men, went to Boyle, and, in spite of Essex's caution against over-confidence, resolved to pass the Curlieu mountains without resting his men, after two days* march in the hot harvest weather. The day (i5th of August, 1599) was already far advanced when the Irish scouts from the hill-tops signalled the approach of the English army from the abbey of Boyle, where it had encamped the previous night; and O'Donnell, having addressed his people in a few soul stirring words to encourage them, sent the youngest and most athletic of his men, armed with javelins, bows, and muskets, to attack the enemy as soon as they should reach the rugged part of the mountain, the way having been already impeded by felled trees and other obstructions, while he himself followed with the remainder of his small force, marching with a steady pace, and more heavily armed for close fighting.

Clifford does not seem to have expected any opposition, but O'Donnell had been watching the pass for weeks, and had given orders that the army should be allowed to get well on to the mountain before they were attacked. The Irish scouts saw them leave the abbey of Boyle, so that there was plenty of time for O'Donnell to bring up his forces. On arriving at the narrowest part of the pass, between Boyle and Ballinafad, Clifford found it strongly defended by a breastwork and held by 400 men, who fired a volley and then fell back. The English army continued to advance in a solid column by a road which permitted twelve men to march abreast, and which led through a small wood, and then through some bogs, where the Irish made their principal stand. It is clear that the latter behaved with desperate bravery from the outset. Their musketeers were few, but they made up for the smallness of their number by the steadiness of their aim.

The road up the mountain, which consisted of "stones six or seven foot broad, lying above ground, with plashes of bog between them", ran through boggy woods, from which the Irish galled the English, who exhausted their powder with little effect. Sir Alexander Radcliff, commanding the advance-guard, was slain early in the fight, and the English vanguard soon after was thrown into such disorder that it fell back upon the centre, and in a little while the whole army was flying panic-stricken from the field. Indignant at the ignominious retreat of his troops, Sir Conyers Clifford refused to join the flying throng, and, breaking from those who would have forced him from the field, even after he was wounded he sought his death from the foe. The Four Masters say he was killed by a musket-ball, but according to O'Sullivan Beare and Dymmock he was pierced through the body with a spear. Sir John MacSwiney, an Irish officer in the Queen's service, faced the enemy almost alone, cursing the vileness of his men, and "died fighting, leaving the example of his virtue to be intituled by all honourable posterities". Only the horse (Lord Southampton's cavalry), under Sir Griffin Markham, behaved well, covering the retreat and charging boldly uphill "among rocks and bogs, where never horse was seen to charge before". Markham had his arm broken by a shot. O'Rourke, who was encamped to the east of the Curlieus, arrived with his hosting in time to join in the pursuit and slaughter of the Queen's army, which lost, according to O'Sullivan Beare, 1400 men; but Harrington, who was present, says Clifford's whole force hardly amounted to that number. The English and the Anglo-Irish of Meath suffered most, as the Connaught Royalists were better able to avail themselves of the nature of the country in the flight.

O'Donnell, though at no great distance from the fight, took no part in it; and O'Rourke, who remained in possession of the field, recognizing the dead Clifford after the battle, cut off his head and sent it to O'Donnell and MacDermot, accompanied by a letter " barbarous for the Latin, but civil for the sense", announcing that for the love he bore the Governor he had sent his decapitated body to be buried in the old monastery of Lough Ce. Clifford's head was later taken to Coloony and shown to O'Conor, who, on receiving this evidence of the failure of his friends to relieve him, surrendered his castle to O'Donnell, who magnanimously restored his lands to the fallen chief, together with cattle to stock them. O'Donnell and his late foe now seemed to be on friendly terms, and Theobald of the Ships, before returning with his fleet to Galway, also made peace with the triumphant Chief of TirconnelL "The immediate result of the battle", says Mr. Bagwell, "was that O'Conor Sligo submitted to Tyrone, and became a loyal subject of the real King of Ireland."

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