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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Irish Historian's Report November 2015


THE BATTLE OF YELLOW FORD
by Mike McCormack

Map and Illustration of The Battle of Yellow Ford

  
   The year was 1587, and the English were concerned about the Irish Chieftains whom they had not yet brought under control – especially in Ulster.  Something had to be done to insure their non-interference with Crown activities.  One of the more powerful clans was the O'Donnell of Tyr Connail, the present day Donegal.  Doe Castle was the seat of ‘The MacSweeney of the Battleaxe’ and the teenage son of ‘The O’Donnell’, was sent there to be trained in the arts: literature, music, swordsmanship, horsemanship and all the educational pursuits befitting a young Irish prince.  One day, a trading ship sailed into Rathmullen on Lough Swilly, 24 miles from Doe Castle.  They were offering Spanish wines, and fine fabrics for the Donegal Chieftains and their ladies.  Red Hugh O'Donnell, the 15-year old heir to the Tyr Connail Chieftainship and two friends, Dan MacSweeney and Hugh O’Gallagher, were invited aboard to see the merchandise.  Once on board, they were overpowered and the young prince was taken captive.  The kidnapping infuriated the Irish, but Lord Deputy Perrot reassured them that Red Hugh would remain alive, as long as the O'Donnells remained passive.  The young prince was taken to Dublin Castle.  The O’Donnells had been harboring 25 survivors of the Spanish Armada who shipwrecked on the Donegal coast in August 1588; they offered them to the English in exchange for Red Hugh.  The offer was accepted and the Spaniards were marched to Dublin to make the exchange.  When the English got the Spaniards, they beheaded them on the spot and sent the O’Donnells home, refusing to honor the agreement.

   As Christmas neared in 1591, O’Donnell had been imprisoned and brutally treated for near six years.  So many wardens had been replaced, it was doubtful if anyone remembered a red-haired boy in a cell in the bowels of Dublin Castle.  Then, on Christmas night, 21-year old Red Hugh made a daring escape with Henry and Art O’Neill, sons of the late Shane O’Neill, Chieftain of Tyrone. They fled into the Wicklow Mountains where, days later, close to death, covered with snow and embracing the lifeless body of Art O’Neill (Henry died during the escape) in an attempt to keep him from freezing, Red Hugh was found by the great Munster Chieftain, Fiach McHugh O'Byrne.  Red Hugh's escape sent a thrill through all of Ireland:  the heir of Tir-Connaill was safe.  He was brought to Hugh O’Neill at Dungannon, who escorted him to Hugh Maguire, Lord of Fermanagh.  The Maguire brought him to Tir-Connaill, where in May, 1593, he stood on the Rock of Doone, the ancient crowning stone of Clan O'Donnell, and received a title higher than any foreigner could give - that of The O'Donnell, Prince of Tir-Connaill.  There were now two War Chiefs in Ulster ready to oppose the English.

Painting - "The Battle of Yellow Ford" by JB Vallely

   The English, worried by the audacity of the northern Chieftains, captured The Maguire's fort at Enniskillen which guarded the Gap of the Erne - one of the two the main accesses to Ulster.  Maguire called on The O'Donnell for assistance, and O'Donnell rallied his clan.  Thus began the great rising of the Ulster Chieftains known as The Nine Years War.  O'Donnell swept through Ulster driving the English before him.  By the time they reached Enniskillen, Hugh O'Neill's brother, Cormac had joined them, and Enniskillen was recaptured.  The English attacked Monaghan and again were defeated, but in the battle, the banner of the Red Hand of O'Neill flew among the Irish; Clan O'Neill had taken the field against the English, and at their head was The O'Neill, England's trusted Earl of Tyrone.  The English were now in trouble for, the Irish had revealed their strength.  The three Hughs were in command of close to 1,000 horse-soldiers and 7,000 foot, at a time when the entire English force in Ireland was less than 2,000.  With Enniskillen safely in their hands, the three Hughes moved toward the Blackwater where an English Fort controlled the other main access to Ulster - the Gap of the North.  The Crown sent Lord Ormond and a newly arrived army of 4,000 foot and 300 horse to reinforce Blackwater. The Irish decided to stop him at a ford in the Callan River known as the Yellow Ford.

  The O'Neill constructed defenses, The O'Donnell organized a cavalry and The Maguire set to block an enemy retreat.   What happened next had never before happened in Ireland.  On the morning of August 14, 1598, the English were outmaneuvered, outgunned, outfought, and out-generaled by the Irish.   The Queen's army was destroyed, Blackwater Fort was in Irish hands and all of Ireland stood open before their army of liberation.  Elizabeth was not on the brink of losing Ireland; she had lost it, and would spend a fortune to regain it.  She raised the largest force ever assembled – 25,000 troops – and sent her Earl of Essex to lead them.  But Essex delayed, though Elizabeth demanded he attack.  In September, he finally moved north.  The two armies met in Louth, and O'Neill called for a parlay.  The two leaders met on horseback in the middle of a stream at the Ford of Bellaclynthe.  What was said will never be known, but when it was over, Essex turned his army south, and returned to Dublin.  In defiance of Elizabeth, he had granted O'Neill a truce! 

Hugh O’Neill and his Troops

     Essex deserted his army and left for England to plot rebellion against her.  Whether O'Neill had proposed such a strategy during their meeting is unknown, but he was playing the politics of avoiding conflict with Elizabeth.  She was, after all, an old woman and couldn't last much longer.  He had been negotiating with her successor, James Stuart of Scotland, and may well have offered Essex a position in the new reign in return for a truce until Elizabeth's death.  The only obstacle between O'Neill and the Kingship of Ireland was a frail old woman who would not die.  However, before she did, she had one more go at taking Ireland – and she succeeded.  But that’s another story.  For now, Ireland was Irish.

DIVISION OFFICERS


Chaplain

Rev. Matt Janeczko OFM

President
Kevin Ellis

Vice President
Jim Walsh

Recording Secretary

Robert Eggen

Financial Secretary
Dan Mulvey

Treasurer
Mike Morley

Chairman Standing
Committee

Dennis O'Brien

Marshal
Ronan O'Brien

Sentinel
Scott McGown

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Mailing Address:

A.O.H. Myles Scully
Division One
P.O. Box 1020
Yonkers, NY 10703

Email Address:

aohyonkers@gmail.com

DAILY IRISH WORD

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