Irish History

Battle of Kinsale

Christmas Eve 1601,The Battle Of Kinsale.
The Irish Gaelic Chieftans Hugh O’Neill (Tír Eoghain) & Hugh Roe O’Donnell (Tír Chonaill) had been fighting the English since 1593 which became known as the nine years war.
O’Neill had persuaded the Spanish King Phillip II and later King Phillip III to help the Irish cause, in June 1601 Philip III sent Don Juan del Águila and Don Diego Brochero to Ireland with 6,000 men and a significant amount of arms and ammunition.
Bad weather separated the ships and nine of them, carrying the majority of veteran soldiers and gunpowder, had to turn back. The remaining 4000 men disembarked at Kinsale on September 21st 1601. Another force commanded by Alonso de Ocampo managed to land in Baltimore. The Spaniards rushed to fortify precarious fortifications to withstand the approaching English armies.
On hearing of the Spanish landing, Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, the assigned Lord Deputy of Ireland, weakened the garrisons around the Pale and rushed to Kinsale with as many men as he could take and lay siege to the town on October 2nd. The English in Munster were commanded by Sir George Carew who also headed to Kinsale.
The Irish chieftains now had a very tough decision to make, the Spanish had landed in Cork many miles from the Irish base in Ulster. To reach the Spanish they would have to march through areas not exactly keen on their rebellion and the Pale was now wide open for them to invade which was very tempting, but the Irish chieftains knew that if they left the Spanish to fight on their own King Philip III would never send help again.
So after weeks of no decision, on October 23rd 1601 O’Donnell and his forces started the 300 mile march to Kinsale and O’Neill was not too far behind leaving a few days later to relieve the Spanish in Kinsale who were under constant bombardment from the English.
The winter of 1601 was one of the harshest on record and the English forces besieging Kinsale had been hit hard. Mountjoy’s original force of 7,000 was being wasted by cold, sickness, and desertion. O’Neill with over 4,000 horse and foot and O’Donnell with 4,000 foot and 3,000 cavalry and the celebrated Captain Richard Tyrrell of Brenockton, County Westmeath, with his muster of about 600 veterans, things looked bad for the English who’s forces were now separated into two camps.
O’Neill now abandoned his customary caution and agreed with O’Donnell to a coordinated attack on both English camps to allow the Spaniards to sally forth, thus committing to a formal battle. He also gambled on wholesale desertion of Irishmen fighting under Mountjoy. This was a huge mistake, O’Neill wanted to wait and let the English starve but O’Donnell wanted a swift victory.
Mountjoy for his part calculated that in any set-piece battle his cavalry would hold the field and draw the enemy on to the open ground, even though he could detach no more than 2,000 infantry from the siege to oppose the Irish. English scouts had been watching very carefully the Irish troops movements and knew exactly what they had planned to do on Christmas Eve.
After leaving a number of regiments behind to guard the camp and cover Kinsale, Mountjoy led his forces to meet the enemy at a ridge northwest of the town. O’Neill controlled the ridge and intended to fight for it, with support from Aguila, O’Donnell, and Tyrell on multiple sides. Del Águila, the Spanish commander, was an experienced soldier and put up a fierce defence.
His instructions were, however, to hold the town until the Irish army came down from Ulster to combine with them. When neither of his allies showed signs of movement, O’Neill ordered a retreat into the marshes, hoping to mire the English cavalry in the soft land. In the end, the Irish were overpowered by the English cavalry, who charged through O’Neill’s men and prevented a flanking manoeuvre by O’Donnell.
The Irish army left the field in some disorder while the supporting Spanish army led by Ocampo tried to hold up the English charge and the ensuing massacre of the Irish. In reality lack of communication and disorganisation meant that the battle of Kinsale was over before it even started.
The English resumed their encirclement of the town of Kinsale, Del Águila saw his position as hopeless without the Irish chieftains effective action. The Spanish, who lost many men in the siege, gave up the town to Mountjoy, “on Terms” and were allowed to sail back to Spain, not knowing that another Spanish force had been sent and was within a few days of arriving.
The Ulster forces returned to their home province, and after two more years of attrition, the last of them surrendered in 1603, just after the death of Queen Elizabeth. In the following year, England and Spain agreed to make peace with the signing of the Treaty of London.
O’Neill returned to his native Ulster and then decided to go to Spain. He was accompanied by many supporters and other chieftains. This is known as the “Flight of the Earls”. Their intention was always to raise an army and oust English authority in their home province, but the territories they had left behind were soon divided up in the Plantation of Ulster, and they were never able to return.
The English administration saw the ideal opportunity to seize most of the land of Ulster and to bring in Presbyterian Lowland Scots and northern English settlers to farm it. The English had achieved their objectives of destroying the old Gaelic order, ridding themselves of the clan system and the more troublesome chieftains.
This is why the battle of Kinsale would turn out to be the most important battle in Irish history as it led to the defeat of the Gaelic Irish and to the Plantation of Ulster which is still felt in Ireland today.
Sources: wikipeadia, Irish