The Siege and Battle of Kinsale

Patrick Weston Joyce

474. On the 23d of September, 1601, a Spanish fleet entered the harbour of Kinsale with 3,400 troops under the command of Don Juan del Aguila. They immediately took possession of the town: and Del Aguila despatched a message to Ulster to O'Neill and O'Donnell to come south without delay.

Mountjoy and Carew mustered their forces, and at the end of three weeks encamped on the north side of Kinsale with an army of 12,000 men.

475. On the receipt of Del Aguila's message the northern chiefs made a hasty preparation to march south. O'Donnell was first: and crossing the Shannon into Tipperary he encamped near Holy-cross. But here his further progress was barred; for Carew, whom Mountjoy had sent to intercept him, lay right in his path near Cashel; the Slieve Felim mountains on his right—to the west—were impassable for an army with baggage on account of recent heavy rains; and he dared not go through Kilkenny, as he might encounter the army of the Pale. At the same time, wishing to reserve his strength, he was determined to reach Kinsale without fighting.

Luckily there came a sudden and intense frost on the night of the 22d of November, which hardened up bog and morass and made them passable. The Irish general, instantly taking advantage of this, set out that night westwards, crossed the Slieve Felim mountains, reached Croom the next night after a march of forty English miles —"the greatest march with [incumbrance of] carriage," says Carew, "that hath been heard of."

476. During the month of November the English had carried on the siege vigorously. The ordnance made a breach in the walls, and a storming party of 2,000 attempted to force their way in, but after a desperate struggle were repulsed. On the other hand, one stormy night, 2,000 of the Spaniards made a determined sally to destroy some siege works, but were driven off after sharp fighting.

477. After O'Donnell's arrival things began to go against the English, who were hemmed in by the town on one side, and by the Irish army on the other, so that they were now themselves besieged. They were threatened with famine, and the weather was so inclement that they lost numbers of their men every day by cold and sickness.

478. O'Neill arrived on the 21st December with an army of about 4,000, and encamped at Belgooly north of the town, about three miles from the English lines. His advice was, not to attack the English, but to let their army melt away; for already 6,000 of them had perished. But he was overruled in a council of war, and a combined attack of Irish and Spaniards was arranged for the night of the 3d of January, 1602. Meantime an Irish traitor sent secret information to the English.

479. The night was unusually dark, wet, and stormy; the guides lost their way, and the army wandered aimlessly and wearily, till at length at the dawn of day, O'Neill unexpectedly found himself near the English lines, which he saw were quite prepared to receive him.

His own men were wearied and his lines in some disorder, so he ordered the army to retire a little, either to place them in better order of battle or to postpone the attack. But Mountjoy's quick eye caught the situation, and he hurled his cavalry on the retreating ranks. For a whole hour O'Neill defended himself, still retiring, till his retreat became little better than a rout. All efforts to rally his ranks were vain; by some mistake Del Aguila's attack did not come off; and the Irish lost the battle of Kinsale.

480. Soon after the battle Del Aguila surrendered the town; and having agreed also to give up the castles of Baltimore, Castlehaven, and Dunboy, which were garrisoned by Spaniards, he returned to Spain.

481. On the night following that fatal day, the Irish chiefs retired with their broken army to Innishannon. Here they held a sad council, in which it was resolved to send O'Donnell to Spain for further help; leaving his Tirconnellian forces in command of his brother Rory. Philip king of Spain received him most cordially, and assured him that he would send with him to Ireland an armament much more powerful than that of Del Aguila.

482. But Red Hugh O'Donnell never saw his native Ulster more. He took suddenly ill at Simancas, and his bodily ailment was intensified by sickness of heart, for he had heard of the surrender of Kinsale and of the fall of Dunboy; and he died on the 10th of September 1602 in the twenty-ninth year of his age.