The Earl of Essex, 1599-1600

Patrick Weston Joyce

458. Matters had now become very serious in Ireland; and at this grave juncture the queen, in March, 1599, appointed as lord lieutenant Robert Devereux second earl of Essex, son of Essex of the Plantations (412). He brought an army of 20,000 men, and got distinct instructions to direct all his strength against the earl of Tyrone and the other rebels of Ulster, and to plant garrisons at Lough Foyle and Ballyshannon. This latter direction he quite neglected, and the other he delayed.

459. Having scattered a large part of his army by sending them to various stations, he set out for the south on the 21st of May with 7,000 men, chiefly with the object of chastising the Geraldines. Through the whole of this disastrous journey, which occupied about six weeks, the insurgents constantly hung round the army and never gave him an hour's rest, so that he had to fight every inch of his way.

460. The O'Moores killed 500 of his men at the "Pass of the Plumes" near Maryborough. He pushed on for Caher in Tipperary, where he took the castle, the only successful exploit of the whole expedition. Passing round by Limerick, Fermoy, Lismore, and Waterford, he returned to Dublin in June, the soldiers being weary, sick and incredibly diminished in numbers.

461. Sir Conyers Clifford marched from Galway this year—1599—to relieve the castle of Collooney in Sligo, which was besieged by O'Donnell. Having arrived at Boyle, he started to cross the Curlieu Hills into Sligo; but he was intercepted by O'Donnell in a difficult part of the mountain road, called Ballaghboy or the Yellow Pass. After a very sharp fight the English were defeated and fled; and Sir Conyers, endeavouring to rally his men, was killed in the pass. He was greatly regretted by the Irish, who buried him with much respect.

462. Essex's fine army of 20,000 had melted away in a few months; and at his own request he now got 2,000 more from the queen. In August, 1599, he set out at last for the north, with only 2,500 men: but he found O'Neill so strongly entrenched in his camp that he did not dare to attack him.

O'Neill now requested a conference, which was granted; and a truce was agreed on. But nothing came of it; for immediately afterwards Essex suddenly sailed for England. The remainder of his short career, ending in the block, belongs to the history of England.

463. O'Neill visited Munster in January, 1600, and encamped with his army at Inniscarra on the Lee near Cork. Here most of the southern chiefs visited him and acknowledged him as their leader.

For the last two years victory and success had attended the Irish almost without interruption; and Hugh O'Neill earl of Tyrone had now attained the very summit of his power. But after this the tide began to turn; and soon came the day of defeat and disaster.