1601 – Red Hugh O’Donnell leaves Ireland for Spain – Hugh O’Neill withdraws to Ulster.

The Spanish forces arrived in Kinsale, Co Cork in September 1601. However, their army was much smaller than the Irish leaders had hoped for. In spite of this, the Irish were in a good position at the onset of the battle. Red Hugh O’Donnell persuaded a more cautious Hugh O’Neill to attack the assembled English forces, led by Lords Mountjoy and Carew.

The battle was a disaster for the Irish; O’Neill’s forces failed to surprise the English, and were forced to retreat to higher ground, thus losing the advantage. They were mowed down by the English cavalry. On seeing this, O’Donnell’s rear guard forces fled. Everything happened so quickly that the battle was over before the Spanish even rode out into the battlefield.

The Spanish captain, Don Juan del Aguila, quickly gave up hope and nine days later surrendered to Mountjoy.

Afterwards, O’Donnell fled to Spain where he lived comfortably until he died a few months later, said to have been poisoned by a spy of Carew’s named Blake. In his will, written before his death in Simancas, Red Hugh named his younger brother Rory as his successor.

“They brought
His blackening body
Here to rest
Princes came
Walking behind it.”

Hugh O’ Neill surrendered to the English in 1603 and later returned to Ulster, where Lord Mountjoy treated him respectively well; however, most of his lands and authority were non-existent. O’Neill was to later, in 1607, go to Spain with a number of family members and supporters, most of whom were lesser chieftains and this was to become famously known as the Flight of the Earls.

It is safe to say, that although they were defeated, O’Neill and O’Donnell showed a great unity and loyalty for their country, a country which had seen many invasions and battles even then in 1601, and not only did they set an example for future patriots who were to continue to fight their neighbours across the water, but they showed the sheer strength, determination and love that the people inhabited for their small Island.



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