battle of castlehaven


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Battle of Castlehaven

*This lecture was presented to the Castlehaven Commemoration Committee on December 9, 2001.

 The Battle of Castlehaven

By Edward O`Mahony

In 1601, Castlehaven, played a small, but in certain respects, crucial role in the history of Ireland. On December 1, a few weeks after the Spanish landed at Kinsale in support of Hugh O’Neill’schurch at castlehaven rebellion, a second force landed at view from castlehavenCastlehaven and managed to fight off an English counter-attack. This event radicalized the Gaelic clans of West Cork, most of whom had sided with the English government up until that time. Hundreds of local people, particularly O’Driscolls and O’Sullivans, flocked to join the Spanish and fight for O’Neill. To fully understand why this occurred, it is perhaps necessary to examine the earlier history of Castlehaven and the region.

At the time, Castlehaven was controlled by the O’Driscolls, a wealthy and once powerful clan. There were two branches of the O’Driscolls, the O’Driscoll Oge, who were located near present-day Skibbereen, and the O’Driscoll Mór, the senior branch, whose territory extended from Castlehaven, through Baltimore, to Cape Clear and the surrounding islands. Although the territory they controlled was relatively small, the clan had grown wealthy and powerful on the fish trade in the region. Foreign fishermen, particularly Spaniards, were drawn to the rich fishing grounds off the West Cork coast. These fishermen paid the local lords for permission to fish in their territories and to land and preserve their catch


During the 14th and 15th centuries, the O’Driscolls used these dues to become one of the most powerful maritime powers in the south-west of Ireland. As such they came into serious conflict with the city of Waterford, and several pitched battles were fought between the two sides during these years. In 1538, however, military forces from Waterford attacked and destroyed the O’Driscoll castles and other habitations on Sherkin Island and in Baltimore. (1) Castlehaven and Cape Clear do not appear to have suffered any damage during the attack, but the military power of the O’Driscolls was effectively broken at that point. There are no recorded instances of the O’Driscolls attacking any cities or merchant vessels after 1538, and they appear to have gone out of their way to avoid conflict from that point onwards. Nevertheless, the O’Driscolls were left with their fishing grounds intact, and they continued to grow wealthy on fishing dues.

Throughout this period, the O’Driscolls had been completely independent of government control, and they were only subordinate to their overlords, the MacCarthys Reagh. On November 2, 1568, however, the head of the O’Driscolls, Fineen O’Driscoll, went to Cork to submit himself to the government. (2) This was the first mention of Fineen, who was to play a significant role in the history of the O’Driscolls. At the time, the English government was encouraging English adventurers to settle in Munster as a way of controlling the country. A number of prominent Englishmen had applied to the Queen for a grant of the fishing grounds off the south and south-west of Ireland, and for the incorporation of the town of Baltimore, presumably with the intention of establishing a settlement there. (3) It may have been an attempt to head off this scheme that led Fineen O’Driscoll to submit himself to government authority.

These colonization schemes led directly to the outbreak of the first Desmond Rebellion in 1569. It is unclear what, if any role, the O’Driscolls played during the uprising, but in 1577, Fineen O’Driscoll of Baltimore and Conor O’Driscoll, the lord of Castlehaven, were included in a long list of people who were pardoned for any transgressions they may have committed during this period. (4). Earlier, in March 1573, Fineen O’Driscoll had entered a “suit to surrender all his possessions to the Queen, and to hold by such tenure as shall seem good to her.” (5) The uprising had been almost completely crushed by that point, and O’Driscoll may have been concerned that further confiscations were about to take place. The application for a surrender and regrant, which would solidify Fineen O'Driscolls ownership of the O’Driscoll territories, was formerly presented to the government in September (6), where it received a favorable response. (7) Fineen O’Driscoll would appear to have been regranted his lands shortly afterwards, together with a knighthood. From that point onwards, the O’Driscolls remained completely loyal to the crown until 1601.

In July 1579, the Fitzgerald's of Desmond once again rose in rebellion. During this second rebellion, which lasted from 1579 until 1583, Baltimore was used extensively as a staging ground for government forces trying to put down the uprising. The O’Driscolls also provided valuable intelligence. On May 25, 1582, for example, Conor O’Driscoll, the lord of Castlehaven and a close relative of Sir Fineen, informed the government that a Spanish vessel had been surveying Castlehaven and the surrounding coastline, possibly as a prelude to invasion. (8) In August 1583, Sir Fineen was praised as having: “…loyally behaved in this dangerous situation.” (9), and by November of that year, the uprising had been crushed. Following the end of the second Desmond Rebellion, the lands of the Earl of Desmond and his followers were confiscated and extensively settled by colonists. In West Cork, colonial settlements were established near modern-day Bantry, Rosscarbery, and Bandon.

Even though the rebels were unsuccessful in 1579-1583, the involvement of the Spanish and Papal courts during the rebellion meant that Ireland was becoming a new battleground in the conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism-a deeply disturbing prospect for Elizabeth and her government. With Anglo-Spanish relations becoming steadily worse, the attention of the English government was increasingly drawn to the defenses of Ireland. On 31 October 1586, Geoffrey Fenton, a senior English official, apprised the government of a journey he undertook through Munster. In the course of his journey he found the inhabitants of West Cork to be very knowledgeable and concerned about events in Spain, and in his own words he reassured them that the government would protect them. When it came to the harbours of West Cork he was not quite so sanguine, finding the defenses at Kinsale to be particularly poor.

After viewing Kinsale, Fenton had headed south to O'Driscoll country: "Castlehaven and Glandore, alias Dumhaven are the next to [Kinsale], and lie by west the Old Head of Kinsale, where I also was and viewed it at large. They lie one near another, being divided but by a small neck of land, which nevertheless doth not impeach them but that they may succour and relieve one another. Their entry or mouth is somewhat large, but yet a bulwark placed upon the easterly point of either of them may defend them and make it to hot for ships to enter. Their harbours within, but chiefly that of Castlehaven, are large, and draw great water, a good space up into the land, with castles of either side the shore to answer any turn either with or against Her Majesty, as they shall be possessed and employed. If the time continue doubtful for a foreign invasion, it were to good purpose that these castles were taken for Her Majesty, till the danger be past, for that if they should fall into the hands of the enemy, I see not how they might be recovered by any service or attempt by land, the ways being inaccessible either for horse or great artillery, and almost for men to march on foot by reason of rocks and mountainous ground full of difficulties.” (10) At Baltimore, Fenton was assured by a follower of Sir Fineen O'Driscoll that a strategic castle on Sherkin Island would be made available to the government at any time it was required. (11) It is unclear what, if any measures were implemented to strengthen the O’Driscoll harbours, but the destruction of the Spanish Armada in August 1588 removed the immediate threat from Spain

In the early 1590s, a new rebellion broke out in Ulster under the leadership of Hugh O’Neill, and by 1598 it had spread to the rest of the country. In January 1600, O’Neill marched south as far as Kinsale, where he proceeded to get submissions from local landowners. Neither Sir Fineen O’Driscoll nor Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare went to meet O’Neill at the time. (12) The Spanish government had been impressed by O’Neill’s early successes, and it decided it would send a military expedition to Ireland to support him. In April 1600, a Spanish delegation put into Donegal Bay, and met with Hugh O'Neill and his chief lieutenant Hugh O'Donnell. During the conference, O'Neill outlined his ideas for a Spanish invasion. He advised the delegation that if the expedition were small it should put into Donegal Bay, specifically Teelin or Killybegs. If the Spanish force numbered 6,000 or more, it should go to Munster. Munster was easier to live off and operate in than Connacht or Ulster, and it offered more prizes to an invading army. O’Neill emphasized, however, that only a large army could maintain itself there until the Irish leader could arrive with his forces. Of the ports in Munster, O'Neill overwhelmingly favoured Cork as the best place for the Spanish to land. (13)

By May 1601, however, new English military tactics had effectively crushed the rebellion in Munster. The two main leaders of the rebellion in Munster, Florence MacCarthy and James Fitzthomas Fitzgerald, were captured, and in a prescient letter, the commander of English forces in the region, Sir George Carew later wrote to the privy council that: "As Florence McCarthy and James Fitzthomas are now Her Majesty's prisoners the Spaniards will either not come to Munster or, if they do, will hesitate which way to advance after landing, not knowing which of the Irish leaders to trust." (14) At the same time, English military forces were also putting severe pressure on O’Neill in Ulster. The rebels’ only hope now was that Spain would send troops to help them.

In the months leading up to the Spanish invasion, there was considerable disagreement among the Spanish officials about where to land. Don Juan del Aguila, who was to lead the military forces once they had landed, wanted to sail to Donegal Bay, where he felt the northern leaders could join him more easily. Another official, however, Fray Mateo de Oviedo, who had been on the embassy to Ireland in 1600 and claimed to speak for O'Neill, insisted on a Spanish landing at Cork, Waterford, or Limerick. On August 26, the war council of the Spanish government ordered that the armada should go wherever Oviedo ordered. Aguila continued to protest the decision to land in the south but was only able to extract one concession from Oviedo-that the Spanish forces could land at Kinsale (a port never mentioned by O'Neill) rather than Cork, which was heavily fortified. (15)

On September 3, 1601, the armada for Ireland set sail with 4, 432 troops on board, well below the stipulated 6,000 thought necessary for a Munster landing. In addition, the weather now turned against the Spanish, with foul weather and contrary winds preventing the fleet from reaching the Irish coast for almost four weeks. Shortly before they reached Ireland, a conference was held among the Spanish leaders, and it was decided that if the fleet should become separated everyone should rendezvous at Kinsale, or if that were impossible at Castlehaven. On the evening of September 17, the Spanish fleet reached the Irish coast, and somewhere between the Blaskets and Dursey Island took on pilots preparatory to landing the following morning. That night, however, a storm hit the fleet, separating two galleons and six smaller craft from the main fleet. Despite this loss, which left him with only 1,700 men, Aguila was determined to land, and on September 21 the Spanish army landed unopposed at Kinsale. (16)

With the Spaniards was a follower of Florence McCarthy, Cormack McFineen McCarthy, who inquired of the mayor where Florence McCarthy and James Fitzthomas were. (17) Disappointed to discover that the two leaders had been captured, Aguila decided to await reinforcements from Ulster or Spain and fortified himself in Kinsale. Shortly afterwards, some of the ships that had been lost arrived at Kinsale with reinforcements, bringing the total number of Spanish forces in the town to between 3,300 and 3,400 men. The rest of ships, the galleon San Felipe, under the command of Don Pedro de Zubiaur, and three hookers tried in vain for five days to link up with the rest of the fleet, or to make it to Castlehaven. Zubiaur next tried to make for Teelin in County Donegal, but again the winds were against him and so he finally sailed for home. What made the loss of these vessels worse, apart from the 674 soldiers they had on board, was the fact that they also carried most of the munitions and match for the arquebuses, leaving Aguila very short. (18)

Afraid that a general insurrection would take place if Aguila were not defeated, Lord Mountjoy, the leader of the English forces in Ireland, immediately left for Cork and was besieging the Spaniards by October 26 with a force of 7,000 men. On his arrival near Kinsale, the leading men of Carbery and Beare, with the exception of Donell Cam O'Sullivan Beare, were brought by the Lord President of Munster, Sir George Carew, before Mountjoy, where they swore their allegiance to the Crown. They included the two sons of Sir Fineen O'Driscoll, Conor and Fineen, who were undoubtedly there on their father’s orders. (19)

On Aguila's arrival in Kinsale, Donell O'Sullivan Beare had offered to provide him with two thousand men, one thousand armed, and another thousand to be armed by the Spanish, in order to block Mountjoy's progress and prevent a siege until O'Neill's army arrived. Suspicious of O'Sullivan's motives, however, Aguila decided to wait until he had assurances from O'Neill and O'Donnell before trusting him. (20) Aguila may have been influenced in his decision by the followers of Florence McCarthy whom he had brought with him. For most of his life, Donal O'Sullivan Beare had been engaged in a bitter legal battle with his uncle for possession of his father’s lands. As a result, he had been forced to live in exile, and he had spent many years in Dublin and London. In the end, the government divided the lands between Donal O’Sullivan Beare and his uncle, in a decision that satisfied neither side. Throughout this period, Donal O’Sullivan Beare had studiously avoided any contact with insurgents, and he had repeatedly sworn to the government that he was loyal. Only a few months before the Spanish landing, he had written to Sir George Carew, thanking God that the times had been:"...reduced to some quiet" (21) and asked him for his help in surrendering his land to the Crown and having them regranted. All of this would have been well-known among people in West Cork His reasons for joining the rebellion can only be guessed at now. He would undoubtedly have been bitter about the division of his lands, and he would have seen firsthand the effects of English colonization in Bantry. Perhaps it was simply the case that the arrival of the Spanish provided the first real evidence that O’Neill was not fighting on his own, and that there was now a good chance that the English could be beaten. His subsequent record would indicate that he was strongly motivated by patriotism.

In early November, the sons of Sir Fineen O’Driscoll, Conor and Fineen, and the sons of Sir Owen MacCarthy Reagh, Donough Moyle and Fineen, contacted Aguila in Kinsale and gave their word to support the Spanish. (22) Such an offer, at a time when thousands of English troops were besieging the Spanish in Kinsale, is somewhat harder to explain. The younger O’Driscolls and MacCarthys may have been influenced by the actions of O’Sullivan Beare, and their subsequent record shows that they to were strongly motivated by patriotism. It could also be, however, that this was an instance of generational conflict. Unlike their father, Fineen and Conor O’Driscoll would not have had first-hand experience of the events of 1538 or of the two Desmond rebellions. However, they would have-like Donough Moyle and Fineen MacCarthy-witnessed how the older generation had steadily lost power as the English government imposed its will on Ireland and how more and more Irish lands were being taken over by English colonists. And they would undoubtedly have realized that their world would change completely if O’Neill and the Spanish were defeated.

Only days later, on the tenth of November, 1000 English foot and 100 horse, which had been blown off course, arrived at Castlehaven from Bristol commanded by Donough O'Brien, the third earl of Thomond. It was now that Aguila's unwillingness to allow O'Sullivan Beare to mobilize forces in support of the Spaniards first really told. Thomond's forces do not appear to have encountered any opposition from the O'Driscolls of Castlehaven, and they were able to link up with Mountjoy shortly afterwards without incident. (23)

At the end of November, the lost portion of Aguila's fleet under Zubiaur finally arrived off the coast of West Cork. A few weeks after arriving back in Spain, Zubiar had set out from Corunna in late November with ten ships and once again headed for Ireland with the objective of reaching Kinsale. A contrary wind once more prevented him from reaching Kinsale, splitting his fleet during the course of it, and he finally decided to land at Castlehaven on December 1. This turned out to be a fortuitous occurrence, since it prevented him from being captured by the English fleet stationed off Kinsale. Zubiaur's fleet of six ships carried food, arms, and artillery, as well as 621 infantry under the command of Captain Alonso de Ocampo. (24)

At that time, Castlehaven was in the possession of four brothers, the sons of Conor O’Driscoll. The O’Driscolls appear to have rowed out to the Spanish vessels and showed Zubiaur how to enter the harbour. One of the brothers, Dermot, who spoke Latin, informed the admiral about the political situation. (25) In particular, Dermot O’Driscoll appears to have told Zubiaur that government military forces were besieging Kinsale, and that an English fleet was blockading Kinsale harbour. Realizing that the English would probably send their naval forces against him, Zubiaur had five cannons unloaded and placed along the shoreline. The O’Driscolls also apparently told Zubiaur about Donal O’Sullivan Beare’s offer to help the Spanish at Kinsale. The Spanish commander immediately sent letters to O’Sullivan Beare asking for his help.

On December 2, a day after the Spanish arrived in Castlehaven, a man by the name of Donogh O’Driscoll came to the English encampment outside Kinsale and informed Lord Mountjoy that six Spanish ships had entered the harbour of Castlehaven. (26) It is unclear if the man was from Castlehaven, or whether he was sent by Sir Fineen. The English apparently sent some men to check out the report, because on December 4, Mountjoy received confirmation of the story. The danger posed by the Spaniards’ arrival was immediately realized, and the government forces took immediate steps to strengthen their defences. (27) The commander of the English naval forces at Kinsale, Sir Richard Levison, was also ordered to “seeke the Spanish fleete at Castlehaven, to take them if he could, or otherwise to distresse them as much as he might.” (28) Levison had with him four naval vessels, the Warspite, the Defiance, the Swiftsure, and the Marline, as well as a merchantman and a carvel. The following day, the wind was blowing inland, thereby preventing the English ships from leaving. Levison had his vessels towed out of Kinsale harbour, and he then set off for Castlehaven. At 10 o’clock the next morning, the 6th of December, Levison’s fleet arrived off Castlehaven and attacked the Spanish vessels. From then until four o’clock that afternoon the two sides battled. One Spanish ship was sunk, while Zubiaur’s vessel took nine feet of water in the hold before the Spanish beached her. The remaining four Spanish vessels were also driven onto the shore. (29)

As the English fleet entered the harbour, the Spanish opened fire with the cannon they had on the shore. Levison tried to withdraw his forces, but the wind was blowing from the southeast and they were unable to get out of the harbour. (30) The English started to take to small boats in order to land and seize the Spanish cannon, but just at that moment Donal O’Sullivan Beare arrived with his men. Faced with the combined force of several hundred Spanish and Irish troops, the English reembarked onto their ships. (31) For the rest of that day and the next, the Spanish continued to fire on the English vessels. As Levison later reported, he “..was forced to ride four and twentie hours within the play of those five Peeces of Ordnance, and received in that time about three hundred shot, through Hulke, Mast and Tackle being by no industry able to avoid it…All the shot were made particularly at his ship, except some few at a Pinnace of the Queen, wherein Captain Flemming was Commander..” (32) English losses were reported to have been quite heavy. During the night of December 7, the wind finally began to blow from the south-west and Levison was able to tow his vessels out of the harbour and sail back to Kinsale.

Sir Fineen O'Driscoll and his son Conor, who appears to have overruled his elderly father's objections towards supporting the rebels, had also shown up with O'Sullivan Beare. Following the battle, Sir Fineen O'Driscoll allowed Spanish troops to occupy the O'Driscoll castles of Donnelong on Sherkin Island and Donneshed near Baltimore, while O'Sullivan Beare gave them Dunboy castle. (33) Sir Fineen’s actions came as a major shock to the English, for as Carew later wrote: “Sir Finnin Odrischall…never in the course of his whole life had beene tainted with the least spot of disloyaltie” (34)

Zubiaur's arrival brought a general rally of the lords of south-west Cork to Castlehaven, where they took oaths of loyalty to the King of Spain, Philip III, and were armed with 350 arquebuses and 650 pikes. O'Sullivan Beare proceeded to assemble a force of 1,000 men, while Conor O'Driscoll raised a company of horse. (35) Shortly afterwards, O'Neill and his ally, Hugh Roe O'Donnell took the considerable risk of marching south in mid-winter to relieve the Spanish. To distract the attention of the government forces, O'Neill tarried for a while in Leinster raiding the property of loyalists. O'Donnell headed straight down to Cork, eluding a force of two regiments led by Sir George Carew. Once in County Cork, which he reached on December 12, he camped near modern-day Bandon. He was subsequently met there by 500 Munstermen under O'Sullivan Beare and 200 out of the 500 Spanish reinforcements who had landed at Castlehaven.

On Christmas Eve, O'Neill gave in to the pleas of the besieged Aguila and ordered his forces to move up towards the English lines. During the night of December 24, the Irish forces marched into position for the attack. In the vanguard was Tyrrell and his forces, the Munster Irish under O'Sullivan Beare, and the 200 Spaniards from Castlehaven. The main Irish force was commanded by O'Neil, while the rear was led by O'Donnell. During the night, however, the three sections lost touch with each other. In addition, Tyrrell failed to reach the rendezvous point where Aguila was to link up with the Irish forces. When morning came, O’Neill realized that his men were not in position and that the English were aware of the attack. Accordingly, O'Neill decided to retreat.

Sensing his opportunity, Mountjoy launched his cavalry against the rebels, forcing them to embattle their forces. Tyrrell was placed in the center, O'Neill's section formed the right and O'Donnell came up with the rear to form the left. During the subsequent confusion as the various units aligned themselves, the English cavalry launched a massive attack on the Irish horse assembled in front of O'Neill's section. This initial attack was repulsed by the Irish horse, but the English attacked again shortly afterwards with reinforcements and this time the Irish horse broke. The English cavalry now attacked the Irish foot in the rear, while English infantry attacked them in front. These simultaneous attacks-and the flight of the Irish horse, composed as it was of their leading men-were to much for the Irish and they fled in a disorganized manner. Seeing the rout of O'Neill's section, Tyrrell began a flanking movement to try and place his forces between O'Neill and the English foot but was himself attacked and forced to retreat. The Spanish forces with Tyrrell were unable to move as fast as the Irish and made a stand instead. Ninety of them died on the field and another fifty were captured.

O'Donnell's men had provided no support during the battle, probably because they were stationed to far away. The sight of the other sections being routed was to much for them, however, and they to became demoralized and retreated. The English forces followed for about a mile and a half, attacking constantly and killing many of the fleeing rebels. The whole battle lasted for barely an hour but resulted in between 500 and 1,000 Irish dead. The English lost fewer than a dozen men. At the end of the battle the English fired off a volley to symbolize their victory. Believing this was finally the signal for the Spanish to surge out and link up with their Irish allies, Aguila advanced with his forces. He soon realized his mistake, however, when he saw captured Spanish colours being carried by English soldiers, and he beat a hasty retreat back into Kinsale. To emphasize the disaster that had befallen the Irish forces, Mountjoy subsequently had between 200 and 300 prisoners hanged before the walls of Kinsale. (36)

The day after the battle, O'Neill informed Aguila that he could no longer assist him since his own lands were now being devastated by the English, and he headed back to the north. O'Donnell gave command of his forces to his brother Rory, who also headed back home, while he went to join Zubiaur at Castlehaven. O'Donnell arrived at Castlehaven on December 27, where he informed the astonished Spaniards of the rebels' defeat. The following day, Zubiaur left for Spain, together with O'Donnell who wanted to speak to the Spanish king himself, and other Irish leaders. These included Donal O'Driscoll, one of Sir Fineen’s sons, and O'Sullivan Beare's son, who was sent as a pledge for his father.(37)

O'Sullivan Beare had decided to continue the fight in West Cork. (38) He wrote to Aguila, urging him not to surrender Kinsale and promised to cut off English supplies with his forces. At the time, O'Sullivan Beare had with him not only his own forces, but also those of Conor O'Driscoll, Dermot O’Driscoll, and Richard Tyrrell, numbering altogether between 2,000 and 3,000 men. Together with his men, O'Sullivan Beare now took up position at a mountain pass a few miles from Castlehaven, while Tyrrell placed his forces on Cape Clear where there was also an O'Driscoll castle. (39)

Although the English felt they could deal with this situation and were confident of being able to root the Spanish out of Kinsale, they were seriously worried that further reinforcements would be landed at Baltimore, Bearhaven, and Castlehaven. Such reinforcements would not only encourage the rebels to hold out, but it would also make it even harder to capture the harbours. Just as important were the geographical obstacles the English would be faced with, for as Sir George Carew wrote: "The West of Munster, where these havens are seated, is a mountainous, barren country, wherein no horse can serve or carriage pass..[and where] no relief can come unto us but by sea.." (40)

As for Aguila, despite the defeat his position was still quite strong. The wind favoured ships from Spain, raising the hope that reinforcements would arrive shortly, while the Spanish in Kinsale had six week's food left. This compared with the six day's worth of food available to Mountjoy and his men. In addition, Aguila's forces had more protection than the English, and therefore were suffering less from exposure and disease. Nevertheless, the Spanish were losing about a dozen men a day, and by late December, Agulia had only 1,800 effective troops left. More importantly, he was without the two major advantages necessary for a besieged place to hold out indefinitely in those days: strong fortifications, and control of the water approaches, allowing supplies and reinforcements to land. That, and the belief that the Irish had let him down, led him to surrender to Mountjoy on January 2, 1602.

Under the terms of the surrender, Aguila agreed to hand over the castles of Castlehaven, Donneshed (Baltimore), Donnelong (Sherkin), and Dunboy, and promised not to take up arms again even if reinforcements arrived. Mountjoy, who was very worried about the effect such reinforcements would have, readily agreed to Aguila's terms, which involved providing the Spanish with enough shipping and food to allow him to transport his men, Spaniards and Irish back to Spain with all their arms, artillery, money, ensigns, and so forth. In the event, reinforcements did arrive two days after the surrender on board three vessels under the command of Captain Martin de Ballecilla. On arriving at Kinsale, Ballecilla discovered that the town had surrendered, and so promptly returned to Spain.(41)

The surrender of Aguila came as a considerable shock to the chieftains of West Cork, most of whom, with the exception of McCarthy Reagh and a few others, had given their support to the Spaniards. Many of them now hurried to placate the government. On February 15, 1602, Sir George Carew wrote to the government: "..Few of the 'provincials' here were in rebellion. The best of them, namely Sir Fynin O'Driscoll, O'Donovan and Sir Owen McCartie's sons, have not joined Tyrrell and the northern rebels, and ask to be received to mercy. They say they only conversed with Tyrone, O'Donnell and the Spaniards, and did no harm to any of her Majesty's subjects. I believe this is true."(42)

Although the Spanish commanders were sympathetic to the rebel's situation, they nevertheless followed their orders and prepared to surrender the castles in their possession to the English. Despite this, the rebels continued to believe that Spain would not abandon them and they renewed their oaths of fidelity to the Spanish king, promising to hold out until the end of May. Bad weather delayed the castles' handover, and government troops under Captain Roger Harvey did not finally arrive in Castlehaven until February 10. There they found the castle being besieged by the Spanish, who had lost it to the O'Driscolls through a ruse. However, when the O'Driscolls saw the English ships they surrendered the castle to the Spanish commander, Pedro Lopez de Soto, on condition that they be allowed to leave in safety. Dermot O’Driscoll, who had assisted Zubiaur when he first landed at Castlehaven, subsequently left for Spain with Don Juan del Aguila in March 1602. He took with him his sons and one of his brothers. (43)

Harvey decided to leave his brother Gawen in command in Castlehaven and together with de Soto sailed to Baltimore where the English took over the castles of Dunashed and Dunalong. Harvey also placed troops in the O'Driscoll castle on Cape Clear. Before the troops' arrival on the island, Richard Tyrrell and his forces retired to Dunboy, where they joined up with O'Sullivan Beare. From Baltimore, two companies of troops were sent under the command of Captain George Flower to take Dunboy. Contrary winds, however, kept them out at sea, and although Harvey was eventually able to see Dunboy, he and his forces were unable to land. (44)

On hearing that the Spanish were to hand over Dunboy to the English, O'Sullivan Beare decided to take back his castle. He marched back to Beare and on the night of February 23, he had a mason knock a hole in the wall and then sent his forces in to capture the Spanish. A short but vicious fight followed, in which three of the Irish were killed and several injured on both sides, before the Spanish surrendered. They were then sent to Baltimore where they were embarked for Spain. (45) O'Sullivan Beare subsequently garrisoned Dunboy with 150 men, while stationing 1,200 others outside the walls as skirmishers. O'Sullivan Beare was well aware of the difficulties in defending Dunboy against English bombardment, and decided to make a last stand, if necessary, on Dursey Island. For that purpose, he placed Conor O'Driscoll with 60 men, mostly O'Driscolls, and three artillery pieces there. (46) O’Sullivan Beare was to hang on to Dunboy until June 17, 1602, when the castle was captured by Carew. At the same time, English forces attacked the Irish positions on Dursey Island and massacred the defenders.

Conor O'Driscoll, who does not appear to have been on Dursey Island when it was captured, was sent to Spain on July 3 to seek more help. He left from Ardea and took with him his son, as well as many of the O'Driscolls of Castlehaven and Cape Clear. (47) None of the O’Driscolls were ever to return home. Around the same time, Carew burnt and ransacked a castle called Lyttertenlis [Lettertinlish] belonging to Conor O'Driscoll (49) to prevent it being taken over by the rebels. The O'Driscoll castles of Dunnalong, Duneshead, and Castlehaven were temporarily spared pending further orders from the government, although Carew did have the O'Driscoll castle on Cape Clear destroyed.(177) O’Sullivan Beare continued to hold out until early 1603, when he to was forced to flee to Spain. Sir Fineen O’Driscoll, who actively helped to fight the rebels after Baltimore and Castlehaven were retaken, (50) got his lands back after the war. A few years later, however, he was forced to mortgage most of his lands, and he subsequently lost them when he could not make the repayments. (51)



1. O’Mahony, Edward; “The Sack of Baltimore, 1538,” The Irish Sword Vol. XXI (Winter 1998), pp. 137-154

2. CSP Ireland 1509-1573; p. 392

3. Ibid; p. 399

4. Nicholls, Kenneth and O'Canann, Tomas G.; The Irish Fiants of the Tudor Sovereigns: During the Reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Philip & Mary, and Elizabeth I, Vol. 2 1558-1586 (Dublin, 1994); p. 406

5. CSP Ireland 1509-1573; p. 498

6. Ibid; p. 523

7. Ibid; p.p. 523, 525

8. CSP Ireland 1574-1585; p. 342, 369

9. Ibid; p. 470

10. CSP Ireland 1586-1588; pp. 191-192

11. Ibid; p.p. 191-192

12. O'Mahony, Rev. Canon; “A History of the O'Mahony Septs of Kinelmeky and Ivagha,” Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society (1903)

13. Silke, John J.; Kinsale: The Spanish Intervention in Ireland at the End of the Elizabethan Wars (Liverpool, 1970); pp. 73, 87-88

14. CSP Ireland 1601-3; p. 4

15. Silke; p. 102-103

16. CSP Ireland 1601-3; p.81 / Silke; pp. 109-111

17. CSP Ireland; pp. 84-85

18. Silke; p. 110

19. CSP Ireland 1601-3; p. 217

20. Silke; p. 111

21. CSP Ireland 1 November, 1600-31 July, 1601; pp. 309-310

22. CSP Ireland 1601-3; p. 161

23. Falls, Cyril; Elizabeth's Irish Wars (Syracuse, N.Y., 1997); p. 298

24. Silke; p. 131

25. O'Sullivan Beare, Don Philip (translated by Mathew J. Byrne); Ireland under Elizabeth: Chapters towards A History of Ireland in the Reign of Elizabeth (London, 1970); p. 143

26. Fynes Moryson; An History of Ireland From the Year 1599, to 1603. With a short Narration of the State of the Kingdom from the Year 1169. (Dublin 1735) Vol. II, p. 22

27. Moryson; Vol. II, p. 23

28. Stafford, Thomas; Pacata Hibernia; or, A history of the wars in Ireland, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth (Dublin 1810); Vol. II; p. 399

29. Ibid; Vol. II, p. 403

30. Ibid; Vol. II, p. 403

31. O’Sullivan Beare; p. 143

32. Stafford; Vol. II, p. 403

33. O’Sullivan Beare; p. 143

34. Stafford; p. 401

35. Silke; p. 132

36. Ibid; pp. 140-146

37. Cal. Carew Mss 1601-1603; p. 200

38. CSP Ireland 1601-3; p. 244

39. Silke; p. 155

40. CSP Ireland 1601-3; p. 243

41. Silke; pp. 149-151

42. CSP Ireland 1601-3; p. 296

43. Stafford; Vol. II, p. 425

44. CSP Ireland 1601-3; p. 329

45. CSP Ireland 1601-3; p. 299

46. Ibid; p. 299

47. Ibid; p. 448

48. Cal. Carew Mss 1601-1603; p. 267

49. Ibid; p. 267

50. Stafford; Vol. II, p. 503

51. O’Mahony, Edward; “Baltimore, the O’Driscolls, and the end of Gaelic Civilization 1538-1615,” The Mizen Journal No. 8 (2000); p. 124


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