In the summer of 1594 the cruel and mercenary Fitzwilliam was succeeded by Sir William Russell, who had served the Queen, both in Ireland "and in divers other places beyond sea, in martial affairs." In lieu of the arbitrary exaction of county cess--so grossly abused by his predecessor--the shires of the Pale were to pay for the future into the Treasury of Dublin a composition of 2,100 pounds per annum, out of which the fixed sum of 1,000 pounds was allowed as the Deputy's wages. Russell's administration lasted till May, 1597. In that month he was succeeded by Thomas, Lord Borough, who died in August following of the wounds received in an expedition against Tyrone; after which the administration remained in the hands of the Justices till the appointment of the Earl of Essex.
On the arrival of Russell, Tyrone for the last time ventured to appear within the walls of Dublin. His influence in the city, and even at the Council table, must have been considerable to enable him to enter the gates of the Castle with so much confidence. He came to explain his wrongs against the previous Deputy, to defend himself against Bagnal's charges, and to discover, if possible, the instructions of Russell. If in one respect he was gratified by a personal triumph over his brother-in-law, in another he had cause for serious alarm, on learning that Sir John Norris, brother of the President of Munster, a commander of the highest reputation, was to be sent over under the title of Lord General, with 2,000 veterans who served in Brittany, and 1,000 of a new levy. He further learned that his own arrest had been discussed at the Council, and, leaving Dublin precipitately, he hastened to his home at Dungannon. All men's minds were now naturally filled with wars and rumours of wars.
The first blow was struck at "the firebrand of the mountains," as he was called at Court, Feagh Mac Hugh O'Byrne. The truce made with him expired in 1594, and his application for his renewal was not honoured with an answer. On the contrary, his sureties at Dublin, Geoffrey, son of Hugh, and his own son, James, were committed to close custody in the Castle. His son-in-law, Sir Walter Fitzgerald, had been driven by ill-usage, and his friendship for Lord Baltinglass, to the shelter of Glenmalure, and this was, of course, made a ground of charge against its chief. During the last months of 1594, Mynce, Sheriff of Carlow, informed the Lord Deputy of warlike preparations in the Glen, and that Brian Oge O'Rourke had actually passed to and fro through Dublin city and county, as confidential agent between Feagh Mac Hugh and Tyrone. In January following, under cover of a hunting party among the hills, the Deputy, by a night march on Glenmalure, succeeded in surprising O'Byrne's house at Ballincor, and had almost taken the aged chieftain prisoner. In the flight, Rose O'Toole, his wife, was wounded in the breast, and a priest detected hiding in a thicket was shot dead. Feagh retired to Dromceat, or the Cat's-back Mountain --one of the best positions in the Glen--while a strong force was quartered in his former mansion to observe his movements. In April, his son-in-law, Fitzgerald, was taken prisoner, near Baltinglass, in a retreat where he was laid up severely wounded; in May, a party under the Deputy's command scoured the mountains and seized the Lady Rose, who was attainted of treason, and, like Fitzgerald, barbarously given up to the halter and the quartering knife. Two foster-brothers of the chief were, at the same time and in the same manner, put to death, and a large reward was offered for his own apprehension, alive or dead.
Hugh O'Neil announced his resort to arms by a vigorous protest against the onslaught made on his friend O'Byrne. Without waiting for, or expecting any answer, he surprised the fort erected on the Blackwater which commanded the highway into his own territory. This fort, which was situated between Armagh and Dungannon, about five miles distant from either, served, before the fortification of Charlemont, as the main English stronghold in that part of Ulster. The river Blackwater on which it stood, from its source on the borders of Monaghan to its outlet in Lough Neagh, watered a fertile valley, which now became the principal theatre of war; for Hugh O'Neil, and afterwards for his celebrated nephew, it proved to be a theatre of victory. General Norris, on reaching Ireland, at once marched northward to recover the fort lately taken. O'Neil, having demolished the works, retreated before him; considering Dungannon also unfit to stand a regular siege, he dismantled the town, burnt his own castle to the ground, having first secured every portable article of value. Norris contented himself with reconnoitring the Earl's entrenched camp at some distance from Dungannon, and returned to Newry, where he established his head-quarters.
The campaign in another quarter was attended with even better success for the Confederates. Hugh Roe O'Donnell, no longer withheld by the more politic O'Neil, displayed in action all the fiery energy of his nature. Under his banner he united almost all the tribes of Ulster not enlisted with O'Neil; while six hundred Scots, led by MacLeod of Ara, obeyed his commands. He first descended on the plains of Annally-O'Farrell (the present county of Longford), driving the English settlers before him: he next visited the undertaker's tenants in Connaught, ejecting them from Boyle and Ballymoate, and pursuing them to the gates of Tuam. On his return, the important town and castle of Sligo, the property of O'Conor, then in England, submitted to him. Sir Richard Bingham endeavoured to recover it, but was beaten off with loss. O'Donnell, finding it cheaper to demolish than defend it, broke down the castle and returned in triumph across the Erne.
General Norris, having arranged his plan of campaign at Newry, attempted to victual Armagh, besieged by O'Neil, but was repulsed by that leader after a severe struggle. He, however, succeeded in throwing supplies into Monaghan, where a strong garrison was quartered, and to which O'Neil and O'Donnell proceeded to lay siege. While lying before Monaghan they received overtures of peace from the Lord Deputy, who continually disagreed with Sir John Norris as to the conduct of the war, and lost no opportunity of thwarting his plans. He did not now blush to address, as Earl of Tyrone, the man he had lately proclaimed a traitor at Dublin, by the title of the son of a blacksmith. The Irish leaders at the outset refused to meet the Commissioners--Chief Justice Gardiner and Sir Henry Wallop, Treasurer-at-War--in Dundalk, so the latter were compelled to wait on them in the camp before Monaghan. The terms demanded by O'Neil and O'Donnell, including entire freedom of religious worship, were reserved by the Commissioners for the consideration of the Council, with whose sanction, a few weeks afterwards, all the Ulster chiefs, except "the Queen's O'Reilly," were formally tried before a jury at Dublin, and condemned as traitors.
Monaghan was thrice taken and retaken in this campaign. It was on the second return of General Norris from that town he found himself unexpectedly in presence of O'Neil's army, advantageously posted on the left bank of the little stream which waters the village of Clontibret. Norris made two attempts to force the passage, but without success. Sir Thomas Norris, and the general himself, were wounded; Seagrave, a gigantic Meathian cavalry officer, was slain in a hand to hand encounter with O'Neil; the English retreated hastily on Newry, and Monaghan was again surrendered to the Irish. This brilliant combat at Clontibret closed the campaign of 1595. General Norris, who, like Sir John Moore, two centuries later, commanded the respect, and frankly acknowledged the wrongs of the people against whom he fought, employed the winter months in endeavouring to effect a reconciliation between O'Neil and the Queen's Government. He had conceived a warm and chivalrous regard for his opponent; for he could not deny that he had been driven to take up arms in self-defence. At his instance a royal commission to treat with the Earl was issued, and the latter cheerfully gave them a meeting in an open field without the walls of Dundalk. The same terms which he had proposed before Monaghan were repeated in his ultimatum, and the Commissioners agreed to give him a positive answer by the 2nd day of April. On that day they attended at Dundalk, but O'Neil did not appear. The Commissioners delayed an entire fortnight, addressing him in the interim an urgent remonstrance to come in and conclude their negotiation. On the 17th of the month they received his reasons for breaking off the treaty--the principal of which was, that the truce had been repeatedly broken through by the English garrisons--and so the campaign of 1596 was to be fought with renewed animosity on both sides.
Early in May the Lord Deputy made another descent on Ballincor, which Feagh Mac Hugh had recovered in the autumn to lose again in the spring. Though worn with years and infirm of body, the Wicklow chieftain held his devoted bands well together, and kept the garrison of Dublin constantly on the defensive. In the new chieftain of the O'Moores he found at this moment a young and active coadjutor. In an affair at Stradbally Bridge, O'Moore obtained a considerable victory, leaving among the slain Alexander and Francis Cosby, grandsons of the commander in the massacre at Mullaghmast.
The arrival of three Spanish frigates with arms and ammunition in Donegal Bay was welcome news to the Northern Catholics. They were delivered to O'Donnell, who was incessantly in the field, while O'Neil was again undergoing the forms of diplomacy with a new royal commission at Dundalk. He himself disclaimed any correspondence with the King of Spain, but did not deny that such negotiations might be maintained by others. It is alleged that, while many of the chiefs had signed a formal invitation to the Spanish King to assume their crown, O'Neil had not gone beyond verbal assurances of co-operation with them. However this may be, he resolved that the entire season should not be wasted in words, so he attacked the strong garrison left in Armagh, and recovered the primatial city. According to the Irish practice, he dismantled the fortress, which, however, was again reconstructed by the English before the end of the war. Some other skirmishes, of which we have no very clear account, and which we may set down as of no decisive character, terminated the campaign.
In May, 1597, Lord Borough, who had distinguished himself in the Netherlands, replaced Russell as Lord Deputy, and assumed the command-in-chief, in place of Sir John Norris. Simultaneously with his arrival Feagh Mac Hugh O'Byrne, was surprised in Glenmalure by a detachment from Dublin, and slain; he died as he had lived, a hero and a free man. O'Neil, who was warmly attached to the Wicklow chief, immediately despatched such succour as he could spare to Feagh's sons, and promised to continue to them the friendship he had always entertained for their father. Against Tyrone the new Lord Deputy now endeavoured to combine all the military resources at his disposal. Towards the end of July, Sir Conyers Clifford was ordered to muster the available force of Connaught at Boyle, and to march into Sligo and Donegal. A thousand men of the Anglo-Irish were assembled at Mullingar, under the command of young Barnewell of Trimbleston, who was instructed to effect a junction with the main force upon the borders of Ulster. The Lord Deputy, marching in force from Drogheda, penetrated, unopposed, the valley of the Blackwater, and entered Armagh. From Armagh he moved to the relief of the Blackwater fort, besieged by O'Neil. At a place called Drumfliuch, where Battleford Bridge now stands, Tyrone contrived to draw his enemies into an engagement on very disadvantageous ground. The result was a severe defeat to the new Deputy, who, a few days afterwards, died of his wounds at Newry, as his second in command, the Earl of Kildare, did at Drogheda. Sir Francis Vaughan, Sir Thomas Waller, and other distinguished officers, fell in the same action, but the fort, the main prize of the combatants, remained in English hands till the following year. O'Donnell, with equal success, held Ballyshannon, compelled Sir Conyers Clifford to raise the siege with the loss of the Earl of Thomond, and a large part of his following. Simultaneously, Captain Richard Tyrrell of West-Meath--one of O'Neil's favourite officers--having laid an ambuscade for young Barnewell at the pass in West-Meath which now bears his name, the Meathian regiment were sabred to a man. Mullingar and Maryborough were taken and sacked, and in the North, Sir John Chichester, Governor of Carrickfergus, was cut off with his troop by MacDonald of the Glens.
These successes synchronize exactly with the expectation of a second Spanish Armada, which filled Elizabeth with her old apprehensions. Philip was persuaded again to tempt the fortune of the seas, and towards the end of October his fleet, under the Adelantado of Castille, appeared off the Scilly Islands, with a view to secure the Isle of Wight, or some other station, from which to operate an invasion the ensuing spring. Extraordinary means were taken for defence; the English troops in France were recalled, new levies raised, and the Queen's favourite, the young Earl of Essex, appointed to command the fleet, with Raleigh and Lord Thomas Howard as Vice-Admirals. But the elements again fought for the northern island; a storm, which swept the channel for weeks, drove the English ships into their ports, but scattered those of Spain over the Bay of Biscay. In this second expedition sailed Florence Conroy, and other Irish exiles, who had maintained for years a close correspondence with the Catholic leaders. Their presence in the fleet, the existence of the correspondence, and the progress of the revolt itself, will sufficiently account for the apparent vacillations of English policy in Ulster in the last months of 1597. Shortly before Christmas, Ormond, now Lord Lieutenant, accompanied by the Earl of Thomond, attended only by their personal followers, visited Dungannon, and remained three days in conference with O'Neil and O'Donnell. The Irish chiefs reiterated their old demands: freedom of worship, and the retention of the substantial power attached to their ancient rank. They would admit Sheriffs, if they were chosen from among natives of their counties, but they declined to give hostages out of their own families. These terms were referred to the Queen's consideration, who, after much protocoling to and fro, finally ratified them the following April, and affixed the great seal to O'Neil's pardon. But Tyrone, guided by intelligence received from Spain or England, or both, evaded the royal messenger charged to deliver him that instrument, and as the late truce expired the first week of June, devoted himself anew to military preparations.
In the month of June, 1598, the Council at Dublin were in a state of fearful perplexity. O'Neil, two days after the expiration of the truce, invested the fort on the Blackwater, and seemed resolved to reduce it, if not by force, by famine. O'Donnell, as usual, was operating on the side of Connaught, where he had brought back O'Ruarc, O'Conor Sligo, and McDermot, to the Confederacy, from which they had been for a season estranged. Tyrrell and O'Moore, leading spirits in the midland counties were ravaging Ormond's palatinate of Tipperary almost without opposition. An English reinforcement, debarked at Dungarvan, was attacked on its march towards Dublin, and lost 400 men. In this emergency, before which even the iron nerve of Ormond quailed, the Council took the resolution of ordering one moiety of the Queen's troops under Ormond to march south against Tyrrell and O'Moore; the other under Marshal Bagnal, to proceed northward to the relief of the Blackwater fort. Ormond's campaign was brief and inglorious. After suffering a severe check in Leix, he shut himself up in Kilkenny, where he heard of the disastrous fate of Bagnal's expedition.
On Sunday, the 13th of August, the Marshal reached Newry with some trifling loss from skirmishes on the route. He had with him, by the best accounts, six regiments of infantry, numbering in all about 4,000 men and 350 horse. After resting a day, his whole force marched out of the city in three divisions; the first under the command of the Marshal and Colonel Percy, the cavalry under Sir Calisthenes Brooke and Captains Montague and Fleming; the rear guard under Sir Thomas Wingfield and Colonel Cosby. The Irish, whose numbers, both mounted and afoot, somewhat exceeded the Marshal's force, but who were not so well armed, had taken up a strong position at Ballinaboy ("the Yellow ford"), about two miles north of Armagh. With O'Neil were O'Donnell, Maguire, and McDonnell of Antrim--all approved leaders beloved by their men. O'Neil had neglected no auxiliary means of strengthening the position. In front of his lines he dug deep trenches, covered over with green sods, supported by twigs and branches. The pass leading into this plain was lined by 500 kerne, whose Parthian warfare was proverbial. He had reckoned on the headlong and boastful disposition of his opponent, and the result showed his accurate knowledge of character. Bagnal's first division, veterans from Brittany and Flanders, including 600 curassiers in complete armour, armed with lances nine feet long, dashed into the pass before the second and third divisions had time to come up. The kerne poured in their rapid volleys; many of the English fell; the pass was yielded, and the whole power of Bagnal debouched into the plain. His artillery now thundered upon O'Neil's trenches, and the cavalry, with the plain before them, were ordered to charge; but they soon came upon the concealed pitfalls, horses fell, riders were thrown, and confusion spread among the squadron. Then it was O'Neil in turn gave the signal to charge; himself led on the centre, O'Donnell the left, and Maguire, famous for horsemanship, the Irish horse. The overthrow of the English was complete, and the victory most eventful. The Marshal, 23 superior officers, with about 1,700 of the rank and file fell on the field, while all the artillery baggage and 12 stand of colours were taken: the Irish loss in killed and wounded did not exceed 800 men. "It was a glorious victory for the rebels," says the cotemporary English historian, Camden, "and of special advantage: for hereby they got arms and provisions, and Tyrone's name was cried up all over Ireland as the author of their liberty." It may also be added that it attracted renewed attention to the Irish war at Paris, Madrid, and Rome, where the names of O'Neil and O'Donnell were spoken of by all zealous Catholics with enthusiastic admiration.
The battle was over by noon of the 15th of August; and the only effort to arrest the flight of the survivors was made by "the Queen's O'Reilly," who was slain in the attempt. By one o'clock the remnant of the cavalry under Montague were in full career for Dundalk, closely pressed by the mounted men of O'Hanlon. During the ensuing week the Blackwater fort capitulated; the Protestant garrison of Armagh surrendered; and were allowed to march south, leaving their arms and ammunition behind. The panic spread far and wide; the citizens of Dublin were enrolled to defend their walls; Lord Ormond continued shut up in Kilkenny; O'Moore and Tyrrell, who entered Munster by O'Neil's order, to kindle the elements of resistance, compelled the Lord President to retire from Kilmallock to Cork. O'Donnell established his head-quarters at Ballymoate, a dozen miles south of Sligo, which he had purchased from the chieftain of Corran for 400 pounds and 300 cows. The castle had served for thirteen years as an English stronghold, and was found staunch enough fifty years later to withstand the siege trains of Coote and Ludlow. From this point the Donegal chieftain was enabled to stretch his arm in every direction over lower Connaught. The result was, that before the end of the year 1598, nearly all the inhabitants of Clanrickarde and the surrounding districts were induced, either from policy or conviction, to give in their adhesion to the Northern Confederacy.