The Rebellion of Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, 1595-1597

Patrick Weston Joyce

433. The friendly relations between the earl and the government may be said to have ended with the close of the year 1594. He had adopted the course of action related in last Chapter without any intention of rebelling, and while maintaining his rights he endeavoured to conciliate the authorities. But he was continually harassed by the untiring machinations of Marshal Bagenal, who intercepted many of his letters of explanation; and this and his determination to regain all the ancestral power of his family in Ulster gradually drew him into rebellion.

434. There were now many alarming signs and rumours of coming disturbance; and at the request of the deputy a force of 3,000 troops was sent over early in 1595, under the command of Sir John Norris president of Munster, an officer of great ability and experience, on whom was conferred the title of "lord general."

435. O'Neill evidently regarded this movement as the first step towards the subjugation of the whole country, including his own province of Ulster; and he decided on immediate action. His young brother Art seized Portmore; and he himself plundered the English settlements of Cavan.

436. He next, in the same year—1595—laid siege to Monaghan and reduced its English garrison to great distress. Norris and his brother Sir Thomas managed to relieve the town. But on their return march to Newry they found O'Neill with his army drawn up on the far bank of a small stream at Clontibret, six miles from Monaghan. After a brave contest the English were defeated; the two Norrises were severely wounded: and O'Neill himself slew in single combat a gigantic officer named Segrave, who had attacked him.

437. In Midsummer of this year—1595—lord general Norris marched north; but he was opposed and harassed by O'Neill and O'Donnell, and returned without much result.

438. There were next many negotiations and conferences, in which O'Neill always insisted, among other conditions, that the Catholics should have full liberty to practise their religion; but this was persistently refused, and the war still went on.

439. The queen was anxious for peace, and she was greatly exasperated when she heard of the cruelties of Sir Richard Bingham president of Connaught, who had driven nearly all the chiefs of that province into rebellion. She removed him in January 1597, and sent in his place Sir Conyers Clifford, a just and humane man.

440. Thomas Lord Borough was appointed lord deputy in 1597, and made preparation for a combined attack on Ulster from three different points;—he himself to march from Dublin towards Portmore against O'Neill; Sir Conyers Clifford to move from Galway, to Ballyshannon against O'Donnell; and young Barnewell, son of Lord Trimblestone, to proceed from Mullingar: all three to form a junction near Ballyshannon. O'Neill and O'Donnell made preparations to intercept them.

441. In July 1597 the deputy marched with his Leinster forces towards Portmore, and after much destructive skirmishing O'Neill attacked him in force and defeated him at Drumflugh on the Blackwater. Borough himself and the earl of Kildare were wounded, and both died soon after. But the deputy accomplished one important object:—he regained Portmore, and left in it a garrison of 300 men in charge of a brave and capable officer, Captain Williams.

442. Sir Conyers Clifford forced his way across the Erne and laid siege to O'Donnell's castle of Ballyshannon. But the garrison, commanded by a Scotchman named Crawford, after desperate fighting forced the attacking party to retire with considerable loss. Clifford was attacked daily by O'Donnell and reduced to great distress: till at last he was forced to recross the river and retreat back to Connaught, abandoning all his cannons, carriages, and stores to O'Donnell.

443. Young Barnewell marched with 1,000 men from Mullingar; but he was intercepted by Captain Tyrrell at Tyrrell's Pass, where his army was exterminated, and he himself was taken and sent prisoner to the earl of Tyrone.