THE ANNALS OF THE FOUR MASTERS

THE BATTLE OF KINSALE, AN IRISH VIEW

The Four Masters’ account of the battle continues. The interesting point here is the disagreement between the two Hughs. O’Neill does not want to attack the English troops. Continuing to follow his unconventional tactical style, he wants to keep the English trapped between the Irish rebels and the Spanish-held city and starve them into submission. O’Donnell—his younger, more impetuous son-in-law—sees the trapped English being attacked from both sides as easy pickings. O’Donnell wins the day in the council of war, but as we know from Fynes Moryson’s diary, the Spanish never realize a battle is going on until the English fire their cannon to celebrate victory.

WHEN THE IRISH CHIEFS AND their forces met together at one place, they encamped a short distance to the north of the camp of the Lord Justice at Bel-Guala, in Kinelea. Many a host and troop, and lord of a territory, and chief of a cantred, were along with O’Neill and O’Donnell at this place ….

The Irish reduced the English to great straits, for they did not permit hay, corn, or water, straw or fuel, to be taken into the Lord Justice’s camp. They remained thus for some time watching each other, until Don Juan, the General of the Spaniards, sent a letter privately to the Irish, requesting them to attack a part of the Lord Justice’s camp on a certain night, and [adding] that he himself would attack the other part of it on the same night; for they [the Spaniards] were reduced to great straits by the English, as the English were distressed by the Irish.

The chiefs of the Kinel-Connell and Kinel-Owen began to deliberate in council on this suggestion; and they were for some time dissentient on adopting this resolution, for it was O’Neill’s advice not to attack them immediately by any means, but to keep them still in the strait in which they were, until they should perish of famine, and the want of all the necessaries of which they stood in need, as some of their men and horses had already perished. O’Donnell, however, was oppressed at heart and ashamed to hear the complaint and distress of the Spaniards without relieving them from the difficulty in which they were, even if his death or destruction, or the loss of his people, should result from it; so that the resolution they finally agreed to was, to attack the Lord Justice’s camp, as they had been ordered.

When the particular night upon which it was agreed they should make this attack arrived, the Irish cheerfully and manfully put on their dresses of battle and conflict, and were prepared for marching. Their chiefs were at variance, each of them contending that he himself should go foremost in the night’s attack; so that the manner in which they set out from the borders of their camp was in three strong battalions, three extensive and numerous hosts, shoulder to shoulder, and elbow to elbow. O’Neill, with the Kinel-Owen, and such of the people of Oriel and Iveagh-of-Uladh as adhered to him, were in a strong battalion apart; O’Donnell, with the Kinel-Connell, his sub-chieftains, and the Connaughtmen in general, formed the second battalion; [and] those gentlemen of Munster, Leinster, and Meath, with their forces, who had risen up in the confederacy of the Irish war, and who had been in banishment in Ulster during the preceding part of this year, were in the third battalion, [and marched] steadily and slowly, without mixing with any other host.

After they had marched outside their camp in this manner, the forces mistook their road and lost their way, in consequence of the great darkness of the night, so that their guides were not able to make their way to the appointed place, opposite the camp of the Lord Justice, until clear daylight next morning. Some assert that a certain Irishman had sent word and information to the Lord Justice, that the Irish and Spaniards were to attack him that night, and that, therefore, the Lord Justice and the Queen’s army stationed themselves in the gaps of danger, and certain other passes, to defend the camp against their enemies. When the darkness of the night had disappeared, and the light of the day was clear to all in general, it happened that O’Neill’s people, without being aware of it, had advanced near the Lord Justice’s people; but, as they were not prepared, they turned aside from them to be drawn up in battle array and order, and to wait for O’Donnell and the other party, who had lost their way, as we have before stated.

As soon as the Lord Justice perceived this thing, he sent forth vehement and vigorous troops to engage them, so that they fell upon O’Neill’s people, and proceeded to kill, slaughter, subdue, and thin them, until five or six ensigns were taken from them, and many of their men were slain.

O’Donnell advanced to the side of O’Neill’s people after they were discomfitted, and proceeded to call out to those who were flying, to stand their ground, and to rouse his own people to battle [and so continued], until his voice and speech were strained by the vehemence and loudness of the language in which he addressed all in general, requesting his nobles to stand by him to fight their enemies. He said to them, that this unusual thing which they were about to do, was a shame and a guile, namely: to turn their backs to their enemies, as was not the wont of their race ever till then. But, however, all he did was of no avail to him, for, as the first battalion was defeated, so were the others also in succession. But, although they were routed, the number slain was not very great, on account of the fewness of the pursuers, in comparison with those [flying] before them.

Manifest was the displeasure of God, and misfortune to the Irish of fine Fodhla, on this occasion; for, previous to this day, a small number of them had more frequently routed many hundreds of the English, than they had fled from them, in the field of battle, in the gap of danger (in every place they had encountered), up to this day. Immense and countless was the loss in that place, although the number slain was trifling; for the prowess and valour, prosperity and affluence, nobleness and chivalry, dignity and renown, hospitality and generosity, bravery and protection, devotion and pure religion, of the Island, were lost in this engagement.

The Irish forces returned that night, with O’Neill and O’Donnell, to Inis-Eoghanain. Alas! the condition in which they were that night was not as they had expected to return from that expedition, for there prevailed much reproach on reproach, moaning and dejection, melancholy and anguish, in every quarter throughout the camp. They slept not soundly, and scarcely did they take any refreshment. When they met together their counsel was hasty, unsteady and precipitate, so that what they at length resolved upon was, that O’Neill and Rury, the brother of O’Donnell, with sub-chieftains, and the chiefs of Leath-Chuinn in general, should return back to their countries, to defend their territories and lands against foreign tribes; [and] that O’Donnell (Hugh Roe), Redmond, the son of John Burke, and Captain Hugh Mus, the son of Robert, should go to Spain to complain of their distresses and difficulties to the King of Spain ….

After this defeat of Kinsale had been given by the English, on the third day of the month of January, to the Irish and the few Spaniards of the King of Spain’s people who happened to be along with them at that time, O’Donnell (Hugh Roe) was seized with great fury, rage, and anxiety of mind; so that he did not sleep or rest soundly for the space of three days and three nights afterwards; so that he despaired of getting succour in Ireland. At the expiration of that time, the resolution he came to (by the advice of O’Neill, who, however, gave him this advice with reluctance), was, to leave Ireland, and go to Spain to King Philip III, to request more forces and succour from him; for he thought that the King of Spain was the person who could render him most relief, and who was the most willing to assist those who always fought in defence of the Roman Catholic religion; and, moreover, on account of his [Philip’s] attachment to the Gaels, from their having first come out of Spain to invade Ireland, as is manifest from the Book of Invasions.

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