HUGH O’DONNELL FLEES TO SPAIN and with a tidy symmetry that seems unheard of in Irish history, the story has come to an end right back where it began, with the ancient Lebor Gabala, (The Book of Invasions). In the terrible aftermath of Kinsale, O’Donnell rushed to the court of King Philip with a copy of the book under his arm. He no doubt showed the king and anyone who would listen the concluding chapters in which Myles, “The Soldier from Spain,” conquers Ireland, and his followers, the Milesians, become the ancestors of the Irish. But Ireland no longer fit into Spain’s plans for harassing the English. No more soldiers from Spain arrived. O’Donnell—“Red Hugh,” the lord of Ticonnell—died a year later, still in Spain. Some said he was poisoned. Tyrone’s rebellion dragged on, but everyone seemed to know it was lost after Kinsale.

O’Neill continued fighting and negotiating, still stalling for time until he finally gave up in 1603 and eventually made his way to Rome, where he died in 1616, ending his life as either a heroic exile or a pitiful drunk depending on who was telling the story. Some see his flight, and the flight abroad of the other rebellious earls, as the symbolic beginning of the great wave of Irish emigration.

The rebellion cost England a staggering two million pounds, more than all of Elizabeth’s European campaigns combined. Some historians say O’Neill and O’Donnell with their guerrilla tactics could never have captured Dublin anyway, and no one can rule Ireland without holding the capital. But the defeat of the Irish at Kinsale certainly marked the end of the hope that the kings of Ireland would play a role in Ireland’s future as anything more than something for the storybooks. From then on the cause of liberty that Donal O’Neill wrote to the pope about at the time of the Scottish invasion would have to be taken up by the kind of men and women who usually went unmentioned or unnamed in the annals of the kings.

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