The Battle of Kinsale was one of the most important battles in Irish history. It finally brought success to England in its fight to conquer Gaelic Ireland. It was fought on Christmas Eve morning 1601, in the small unknown port of Kinsale. On one side were two of the most important Gaelic leaders in Ulster, Hugh O’Neill and Hugh Roe O’Donnell. On the other, was Lord Deputy Mountjoy and his English Army.
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. With his armies depleted and with much of the O’Donnell lordship lost to his cousin Niall Garbh, Red Hugh fled to Spain. He attempted to secure more help from King Philip III, but died shortly afterwards. In his will, written before his death in Simancas, Red Hugh named his younger brother Rory as his successor.
His blackening body
Here to rest
Walking behind it.”
(from Aodh Ruadh O Domhnaill by Thomas MacGreevy)
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