The Battle of Kinsale, 3 January 1602


The final battle of the Nine Years War was fought, and lost, at the Battle of Kinsale, by the same Irish leaders who had confounded the English invaders for years. A Spanish force, which Hugh O'Neill had requested be landed on the west coat of Ireland, between the Shannon and Lough Foyle, to combine with his army, was, instead, due to a breakdown in communication, landed at Kinsale, (near Cork) on the south coast of Munster.
The Spanish force was half the size needed for an invasion of Munster (had it landed in the West and combined with O'Neill's army it would have been another story); in Kinsale it was soon besieged by the English. The Spanish commander then requested that O'Neill reccue him! The three Hughs (O'Neill, O'Donnell and Maguire) set out to march the length of Ireland for that purpose. The final battle occurred
3 January 1602 (Gregorian, new style calendar, adopted by Catholic Europe - in cluding Ireland and Spain - in 1582; the Julian, old style, calendar was not adopted by the English occupation government in Ireland until 1752, i.e., the English thought it was Christmas eve, 1601).
There was little coordination between the Spanish in Kinsale and Irish forces (which included some Spaniards) outside, and not much more among the Irish forces, most of whom, for the first time, would be fighting a formal set-piece battle in the open (not unlike the Irish Volunteers of Easter Week 1916
- who at least were defending structures), for which tactic they were insufficiently prepared, rather than the fluid manoeuvre warfare, which made use of bog and mountain (not unlike "Stonewall" Jackson's "foot cavalry" Valley Campaign in the American Civil War, or, at other times, IRA guerilla tactics during the Irish War for Independence). The Irish, for their part, had in turn invested the English, but, the subsequent Irish attack, being poorly coordinated, lost the initiative which should have given them victory. The Irish light cavalry, past masters at harassment, could not function as heavy cavalry and press an attack home against solid formations, and the three Irish divisions on the field were too widely separated to support one another - neither did the Spanish force in Kinsale sally forth to join the fight. Not even the genius and enthusiasm of O'Neill could save the day.
Even so, the outcome of the campaign was a near thing, in that the English had only three days forrage remaining for their horses, so that a week's delay in the Irish attack would have changed the odds significantly, had the English been unable to field their flying column. G.A. Hayes-McCoy in Irish Battles: A Military History of Ireland (Belfast: Appletree Press, 1989) opined that "It was a hard fate that the Irish memory of former success and of the methods by which it was gained should ensure for the English victory in the one battle of the war that counted." (I.e., it was not enough to defeat the English in the North; they must also be defeated in the South (i.e., Munster)) See also, The Four Masters, Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, Vol. 6 (Dublin: de Burca Rare Books, 1990) known popularly as the Annals of the Four Masters, for a contemporary account.
The defeated Irish retired to the North, and made temporary peace with the invader. In 1607, convinced that their lives were threatened, and that the English had discovered their conspiracy to attract another Spanish military expedition to help liberate Ireland, The O'Neill, The O'Donnell and The Maguire, and others, fled the country in what has become known as
the Flight of the Earls. [See the painting, The Departure of O'Neill out of Ireland (1958), by Thomas Ryan.] For a biography of Hugh O'Neill in Ireland, see The Great O'Neill by Seán O'Faolain (New York: Duell, Sloan aand Pearce, 1942); for O'Neill's never giving up the Cause though in exile, see "Destruction by Peace" : Hugh O'Neill after Kinsale by Micheline Kerney Walsh (Armagh: Cumann Seanchais Árd Macha, 1986), who (while assisting her equally scholarly husband in researching for a biography of Phillip II of Spain) uncovered the letters written by Hugh O'Neill, from exile in Rome, to the King of Spain, requesting to be landed in Ulster with the Irish Regiment then stationed in Flanders (Spanish Netherlands). [Thomás Ó Fiach, late Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, was so impressed with the significance of her discovery that he had a run of her book published, and gave them away to people whom he thought should know that, contrary to the impression created by Ó Faoláin in the 1940s, which was based upon sources available at the time, that O'Neill must have grown depressed and despondent in exile, when the truth was that he never quit, but that, in his corerespondence with the Spanish crown, he observed good diplomatic secrecy and security.  Hugh O'Neill, "The Great O'Neill," never abandoned the dream, or the Cause, of Irish Freedom.]

Hugh O'Donnell's vigorous prosecution of the war against the invader entered the folk memory of Ireland and, in 1843, would inspire Michael J. McCann, a teacher at Saint Jarlath’s College, Tuam, County Galway, and a regular contributor to The Nation (edited originally by the great nationalist poet Thomas Davis) to write “O’Donnell Abú”, the stirring war song set in 16th century Ireland, which was so popular among Irish throughout the world, that it was regarded, for a time, as a virtual Irish national anthem. In the course of the campaign south, Hugh Maguire and an English captain managed to kill one-another in single combat (the English had plenty of captains, Maguire was irreplacable).  The post-Kinsale fate of the people of Munster is most eloquently captured by Morgan Llywelyn in O'Sullivan's March [American edition: The Last Prince of Ireland (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1992)].

The English government in Ireland declared their flight treasonous and confiscated their lands, thus making way for the Plantation of Ulster - one tragic effect of the Battle of Kinsale which is still with us, today.


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