Nine Years' War (Ireland)

Last updated

Nine Years' War
Part of the Tudor conquest of Ireland and the European wars of religion
DateApril 1593– 31 March 1603
Result English victory
Treaty of Mellifont (1603)
Flight of the Earls (1607)
O'Neill Clan.png Irish alliance
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Spain

Flag of England.svg  Kingdom of England

Commanders and leaders
Irish lords:
Hugh O'Neill
Hugh Roe O'Donnell
Hugh Maguire
Brian O'Rourke
Fiach McHugh O'Byrne
Richard Tyrrell
James Fitzthomas
Cormac MacBaron O'Neill
Donal Cam O'Sullivan Beare

Juan del Águila
full list...
English leaders:
William Fitzwilliam
Henry Bagenal
John Norreys
William Russell
Robert Devereux (Earl of Essex)
Charles Blount (Lord Mountjoy)
George Carew
Henry Docwra
Arthur Chichester
Irish leaders:
Niall Garve O'Donnell
Donogh O'Brien
Cahir O'Doherty
Earl of Clanricard
full list...

~21,000, including:

  • 8,000 in Ulster (1594) but thousands joined after
  • 9,000 in Munster
  • 3,500 Spanish (1601)
~5–6,000 (before 1598)
~18,000 (after 1598)
Casualties and losses
~100,000 soldiers and Irish civilians (the vast majority died due to famine) ~30,000 soldiers (though more died from disease than in battle) and hundreds of English colonists
Total dead: 130,000+

The Nine Years' War, sometimes called Tyrone's Rebellion, [1] [2] took place in Ireland from 1593 to 1603. It was fought between an Irish alliance—led mainly by Hugh O'Neill of Tyrone and Hugh Roe O'Donnell of Tyrconnell—against English rule in Ireland, and was a response to the then-ongoing Tudor conquest of Ireland. The war was fought in all parts of the country, but mainly in the northern province of Ulster. The Irish alliance won some important early victories, such as the Battle of Clontibret (1595) and the Battle of the Yellow Ford (1598), but the English won a decisive victory against the alliance and their Spanish allies in the Siege of Kinsale (1601-2). The war ended with the Treaty of Mellifont (1603). Many of the defeated northern lords left Ireland to seek support for a new uprising in the Flight of the Earls (1607), never to return. This marked the end of Gaelic Ireland and led to the Plantation of Ulster.

Hugh ONeill, Earl of Tyrone Irish earl

Hugh O'Neill, was an Irish Gaelic lord, Earl of Tyrone and was later created The Ó Néill. O'Neill's career was played out against the background of the Tudor conquest of Ireland, and he is best known for leading the resistance during the Nine Years' War, the strongest threat to English authority in Ireland since the revolt of Silken Thomas.

Tyrone Gaelic kingdom of ancient and Medieval Ireland

Tyrone was a kingdom and later earldom of Gaelic Ireland, comprising parts of present-day County Tyrone, County Armagh and County Londonderry. The kingdom represented the core homeland of the Cenél nEógain people of the Northern Uí Néill and although they ruled, there were smaller groups of other Gaels in the area. Also known as the guidance of Land. One part of the realm to the north-east broke away and expanded, becoming Clandeboye, ruled by a scion branch of the Ó Néill.

Hugh Roe ODonnell Irish nobleman of the Tudor era

Hugh Roe O'Donnell, also known as Red Hugh O'Donnell, was an Irish nobleman of the Tudor era. A member of the O'Donnell dynasty, he emerged after a succession dispute as ruler of Tyrconnell. Along with his father-in-law Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone he led a rebellion against the government in Ireland from 1593 and fought the Nine Years' War from 1595 to 1602. After defeat during the Siege of Kinsale, he travelled to Spain to seek support from Philip III. Unsuccessful in this attempt, he died in Spain and was succeeded by his younger brother Rory O'Donnell. He is sometimes also known as Aodh Ruadh II or Red Hugh II, especially within County Donegal.


The war against O'Neill and his allies was the largest conflict fought by England in the Elizabethan era. At the height of the conflict (1600–1601) more than 18,000 soldiers were fighting in the English army in Ireland. [3] By contrast, the English army assisting the Dutch during the Eighty Years' War was never more than 12,000 strong at any one time. [3]

Elizabethan era epoch in English history marked by the reign of Queen Elizabeth I

The Elizabethan era is the epoch in the Tudor period of the history of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603). Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history. The symbol of Britannia was first used in 1572, and often thereafter, to mark the Elizabethan age as a renaissance that inspired national pride through classical ideals, international expansion, and naval triumph over Spain. The historian John Guy (1988) argues that "England was economically healthier, more expansive, and more optimistic under the Tudors" than at any time in a thousand years.

Eighty Years War 16th and 17th-century Dutch revolt against the Habsburgs

The Eighty Years' War or Dutch War of Independence (1568–1648) was a revolt of the Seventeen Provinces of what are today the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg against Philip II of Spain, the sovereign of the Habsburg Netherlands. After the initial stages, Philip II deployed his armies and regained control over most of the rebelling provinces. Under the leadership of the exiled William the Silent, the northern provinces continued their resistance. They eventually were able to oust the Habsburg armies, and in 1581 they established the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. The war continued in other areas, although the heartland of the republic was no longer threatened; this included the beginnings of the Dutch Colonial Empire, which at the time were conceived as carrying overseas the war with Spain. The Dutch Republic was recognized by Spain and the major European powers in 1609 at the start of the Twelve Years' Truce. Hostilities broke out again around 1619, as part of the broader Thirty Years' War. An end was reached in 1648 with the Peace of Münster, when the Dutch Republic was definitively recognised as an independent country no longer part of the Holy Roman Empire. The Peace of Münster is sometimes considered the beginning of the Dutch Golden Age.


The Nine Years' War was caused by the clashes between the Gaelic Irish lord Hugh O'Neill and the advance of the English state in Ireland, from control over the Pale to ruling the whole island. In resisting this advance, O'Neill managed to rally other Irish septs who were dissatisfied with English government and some Catholics who opposed the spread of Protestantism in Ireland.

The Tudor conquestof Ireland took place under the Tudor dynasty, which held the Kingdom of England during the 16th century. Following a failed rebellion against the crown by Silken Thomas, the Earl of Kildare, in the 1530s, Henry VIII was declared King of Ireland in 1542 by statute of the Parliament of Ireland, with the aim of restoring such central authority as had been lost throughout the country during the previous two centuries.

The Pale Part of Ireland controlled by England in the Late Middle Ages

The Pale or the English Pale was the part of Ireland directly under the control of the English government in the Late Middle Ages. It had been reduced by the late 15th century to an area along the east coast stretching from Dalkey, south of Dublin, to the garrison town of Dundalk. The inland boundary went to Naas and Leixlip around the Earldom of Kildare, towards Trim and north towards Kells. In this district, many townlands have English or French names.

Protestantism Division within Christianity, originating with the 16th century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be errors in the Roman Catholic Church

Protestantism is the second largest form of Christianity with collectively between 800 million and more than 900 million adherents worldwide or nearly 40% of all Christians. It originated with the 16th century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be errors in the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants reject the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal supremacy and sacraments, but disagree among themselves regarding the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They emphasize the priesthood of all believers, justification by faith alone rather than also by good works, and the highest authority of the Bible alone in faith and morals. The "five solae" summarise basic theological differences in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church.

Rise of Hugh O'Neill

Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone Hugh O'Neill, 1608.jpg
Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone

Hugh O'Neill came from the powerful Ó Néill sept of Tyrone, which dominated the centre of the northern province of Ulster 3 . His father, Matthew O'Neill, Baron Dungannon, was the reputed son of Conn O'Neill the Lame, the first O'Neill to be created Earl of Tyrone by the English Crown. [4] Matthew O'Neill was murdered, and Shane O'Neill banished the child Hugh O'Neill from Ulster. The Hovenden family brought Hugh up in the Pale, and the English authorities sponsored him as a reliable lord. In 1587 Hugh O'Neill persuaded Queen Elizabeth I to make him Earl of Tyrone (or Tir Eoghain), the English title his grandfather had held. However, the real power in Ulster lay not in the legal title of Earl of Tyrone, but in the position of The Ó Néill, or chief of the O'Neills, then held by Turlough Luineach Ó Neill. This position commanded the obedience of all the O'Neills and their dependants in central Ulster; in 1595. Only after Turlough Luineach O'Neill died in September 1595 could Hugh O'Neill be inaugurated as 'the O'Neill'.

Ulster province in Ireland

Ulster is a province in the north of the island of Ireland. It is made up of nine counties: six of these constitute Northern Ireland ; the remaining three are in the Republic of Ireland. It is the second largest and second most populous of Ireland's four provinces, with Belfast being its biggest city. Unlike the other provinces, Ulster has a high percentage of Protestants, making up almost half of its population. English is the main language and Ulster English the main dialect. A minority also speak Irish, and there are Gaeltacht in southern Londonderry, the Gaeltacht Quarter of Belfast and in Donegal, where 25% of the total Gaeltacht population of Ireland is located. Lough Neagh, in the east, is the largest lake in the British Isles, while Lough Erne in the west is one of its largest lake networks. The main mountain ranges are the Mournes, Sperrins, Croaghgorms and Derryveagh Mountains.

The title Baron of Dungannon in the Peerage of Ireland was associated with the first creation of the title of Earl of Tyrone.

Conn O'Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone, was King of Tír Eógain, the largest and most powerful Gaelic lordship in Ireland. In 1541 O'Neill travelled to England to submit to Henry VIII as part of the surrender and regrant policy that coincided with the creation of the Kingdom of Ireland. He was made Earl of Tyrone, but his plans to pass the title and lands on to a chosen successor Matthew were thwarted by a violent succession dispute that led to another son, Shane O'Neill, emerging triumphant.

From Hugh Roe O'Donnell, his ally, Hugh O'Neill enlisted Scottish mercenaries (known as Redshanks). Within his own territories, O'Neill was entitled to limited military service from his sub-lords or uirithe. He also recruited his tenants and dependants into military service and tied the peasantry to the land to increase food production (see Kern). [5] In addition, he hired large contingents of Irish mercenaries (known as buanadha) under leaders such as Richard Tyrell. To arm his soldiers, O'Neill bought muskets, ammunition and pikes from Scotland and England. From 1591, O'Donnell, on O'Neill's behalf, had been in contact with Philip II of Spain, appealing for military aid against their common enemy and citing also their shared Catholicism. With the aid of Spain, O'Neill could arm and feed over 8,000 men, unprecedented for a Gaelic lord, and so was well prepared to resist any further English attempts to govern Ulster. [6] [ need quotation to verify ]

Redshank (soldier) Scottish mercenaries

Redshank was a nickname for Scottish mercenaries from the Highlands' Western Isles. They were a prominent feature of Irish armies throughout the 16th century. They were called redshanks because they went dressed in plaids and waded bare-legged through rivers in the coldest weather. An alternative etymology, illustrated by Jamieson by a quote from Sir Walter Scott, is that it referred to the untanned deer leather buskins worn by Highlanders, although Jamieson notes that Scott's source, John Elder of Caithness, actually stated its origin was from their habit of going "bare-legged and bare-footed". The term was not derogatory, as the English were in general impressed with the redshanks' qualities as soldiers.

Kern (soldier) Gaelic soldier, specifically a light infantryman in Ireland during the Middle Ages

A Kern was a Gaelic warrior, specifically a light infantryman in Ireland during the Middle Ages.

Pike (weapon) pole weapon

A pike is a pole weapon, a very long thrusting spear formerly used extensively by infantry. Pikes were used regularly in European warfare from the Late Middle Ages to the early 18th century, and were wielded by foot soldiers deployed in close quarters, until their replacement by the bayonet. The pike found extensive use with Landsknecht armies and Swiss mercenaries, who employed it as their main weapon and used it in pike square formations. A similar weapon, the sarissa, was also used by Alexander the Great's Macedonian phalanx infantry to great effect. Generally, a spear becomes a pike when it is too long to be wielded with one hand in combat.

Crown advances into Ulster

By the early 1590s, the north of Ireland was attracting the attention of Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam, who had been charged with bringing the area under crown control. A provincial presidency was proposed; the candidate for office was Henry Bagenal, an English colonist settled in Newry, who would seek to impose the authority of the crown through sheriffs to be appointed by the Dublin government. O'Neill had eloped with Bagenal's sister, Mabel, and married her against her brother's wishes; the bitterness of this episode was made more intense after Mabel's early death a few years after the marriage, when she was reportedly in despair about her husbands's neglect and his mistresses[ citation needed ].

Sir Henry Bagenal PC was marshal of the Royal Irish Army during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Newry city in Northern Ireland

Newry is a city in Northern Ireland, divided by the Clanrye river in counties Armagh and Down, 34 miles (55 km) from Belfast and 67 miles (108 km) from Dublin. It had a population of 26,967 in 2011.

A sheriff is a government official, with varying duties, existing in some countries with historical ties to England, where the office originated. There is an analogous although independently developed office in Iceland that is commonly translated to English as sheriff, and this is discussed below.

In 1591, Fitzwilliam broke up the MacMahon lordship in Monaghan when The MacMahon, hereditary leader of the sept, resisted the imposition of an English sheriff; he was hanged and his lordship divided. There was an outcry, with several sources alleging corruption against Fitzwilliam, but the same policy was soon applied in Longford (territory of the O'Farrells) and East Breifne (Cavan — territory of the O'Reillys). Any attempt to further the same in the O'Neill and O'Donnell territories was bound to be resisted by force of arms.

The most significant difficulty for English forces in confronting O'Neill lay in the natural defences that Ulster enjoyed. By land there were only two viable points of entry to the province for troops marching from the south: at Newry in the east, and Sligo in the west – the terrain in between was largely mountains, woodland, bog and marshes. Sligo Castle was held by the O'Connor sept, but suffered constant threat from the O'Donnells; the route from Newry into the heart of Ulster ran through several easily defended passes and could only be maintained in wartime with a punishing sacrifice by the Crown of men and money.

The English did have a foothold within Ulster, around Carrickfergus north of Belfast Lough, where a small colony had been planted in the 1570s; but here too the terrain was unfavorable for the English, since Lough Neagh and the river Bann, the lower stretch of which ran through the dense forest of Glenconkeyn, formed an effective barrier on the eastern edge of the O'Neill territory. A further difficulty lay in the want of a port on the northern sea coast where the English might launch an amphibious attack into O'Neill's rear. The English strategic situation was complicated by interference from Scots clans, which were supplying O'Neill with soldiers and materials and playing upon the English need for local assistance, while keeping an eye to their own territorial influence in the Route (modern County Antrim).

War breaks out

In 1592 Hugh Roe O'Donnell had driven an English sheriff, Captain Willis, out of his territory, Tir Chónaill (now part of County Donegal). In 1593, Maguire supported by Troops out of Tyrone led by Hugh O'Neill's brother, Cormac MacBaron, had combined to resist Willis' introduction as Sheriff into Maguire's Fermanagh. After Willis was expelled from Fermanagh Maguire with the aid of MacBaron launched a punishing raids into northern Connacht, burning villages around Ballymote castle. [7] . Maguire launched a more ambitious raid into Connacht during June, when he clashed with forces led by the governor of Connacht, Sir Richard Bingham, but the English were beaten back and Maguire continued to spoil thorough Roscommon before returning north. IN response the crown forces were gathered under the command of Sir Henry Bagenal, who launched an expedition into Monaghan then Fermanagh to crush Maguire and his allies, receiving his commission on 11 September 1593. Bagenal had under his command 144 horse, 763 foot and 118 kern, to which O'Neill was to bring a further 200 horse and 1,200 foot. [8] Baghenal entered Fermanagh on 22 september and jos joined by O'Neill four days later. Unable to make a crossing of the River Erne, Bagenal and O'Neill marched (separately) northwards to the northern end of Lower Lough Erne. Blocking forces were posted by Maguire at the ford of Belleek, but these were overcome by Bagenal and O'Neill at the Battle of Belleek on 10 October.

Initially O'Neill assisted the English, hoping to be named as Lord President of Ulster himself. Elizabeth I, though, had feared that O'Neill had no intention of being a simple landlord and that his ambition was to usurp her authority and be "a Prince of Ulster". For this reason she refused to grant O'Neill provincial presidency or any other position which would have given him authority to govern Ulster on the crown's behalf. Once it became clear that Henry Bagenal was marked to assume the presidency of Ulster, O'Neill accepted that an English offensive was inevitable, and so joined his allies in open rebellion in February 1595, with an assault on the Blackwater Fort, which guarded a strategic bridge on the River Blackwater.

Later in 1595 O'Neill and O'Donnell wrote to King Philip II of Spain for help, and offered to be his vassals. He also proposed that his cousin Archduke Albert be made Prince of Ireland, but nothing came of this. [9] [10] Philip II replied encouraging them in January 1596. [11] An unsuccessful armada sailed in 1596; the war in Ireland became a part of the wider Anglo-Spanish War.

Irish victory at Yellow Ford

The English authorities in Dublin Castle were slow to comprehend the scale of the rebellion. After failed negotiations in 1595, English armies tried to break into Ulster but were repulsed by a trained army including musketeers in prepared positions; after a stinging defeat at the Battle of Clontibret, successive English offensives were driven back in the following years. At the Battle of the Yellow Ford in 1598 up to 2,000 English troops were killed after being attacked on the march to Armagh. The rest were surrounded in Armagh itself but negotiated safe passage for themselves in return for evacuating the town. O'Neill's personal enemy, Sir Henry Bagenal, had been in command of the army and was killed during the early engagements. It was the heaviest defeat ever suffered by the English army in Ireland up to that point.

The victory prompted uprisings all over the country, with the assistance of mercenaries in O'Neill's pay and contingents from Ulster, and it is at this point that the war developed in its full force. Hugh O'Neill appointed his supporters as chieftains and earls around the country, notably James Fitzthomas Fitzgerald as the Earl of Desmond and Florence MacCarthy as the MacCarthy Mór. In Munster as many as 9,000 men came out in rebellion. The Munster Plantation, the colonisation of the province with English settlers, was dealt a serious blow; the colonists, among them Edmund Spenser, fled for their lives.

Only a handful of native lords remained consistently loyal to the crown and even these found their kinsmen and followers defecting to the rebels. However all the fortified cities and towns of the country sided with the English colonial government. Hugh O'Neill, unable to take walled towns, made repeated overtures to inhabitants of the Pale to join his rebellion, appealing to their Catholicism and to their alienation from the Dublin government and the provincial administrations. For the most part, however, the Old English remained hostile to their hereditary Gaelic enemies. [12]

Earl of Essex's command

In 1599, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex arrived in Ireland with over 17,000 English troops. He took the advice of the Irish privy council, to settle the south of the country with garrisons before making an attempt on Ulster, but this dissipated his forces and he ended up suffering numerous setbacks on a desultory progress through south Leinster and Munster. He spent almost all of his time in Ireland awaiting transport that he had been promised before setting out, it being the only effective way of reaching his stated objective of Lough Foyle; however, a lack of administrative efficiency in England caused his plans to go awry and the requisite pack animals and ships were never sent. [13] Those expeditions he did organise were disastrous, especially an expedition crossing the Curlew mountains to Sligo, which was mauled by O'Donnell at the Battle of Curlew Pass. Thousands of his troops, shut up in unsanitary garrisons, died of diseases such as typhoid and dysentery.

When he did turn to Ulster, Essex entered a parley with O'Neill and agreed a truce that was heavily criticised by his enemies in London, despite Elizabeth's admission soon afterward that it was "so seasonably great good...has grown by it." [14] Anticipating a recall to England, he set out for London in 1599 without the Queen's permission, where he was executed after attempting a court putsch. He was succeeded in Ireland by Lord Mountjoy, who proved to be a far more able commander, though his greater success could just as well have been because he was provided with all of the administrative support Essex lacked. [15] In addition, two veterans of Irish warfare, George Carew and Arthur Chichester, were given commands in Munster and Ulster respectively.

In November 1599 O'Neill sent a 22-paragraph document to Queen Elizabeth, listing his terms for a peace agreement. These called for a self-governing Ireland with restitution of confiscated lands and churches, freedom of movement and a strong Roman Catholic identity. In respect of Irish sovereignty he now accepted English overlordship, but requested that the viceroy ".. be at least an earl, and of the privy council of England". Elizabeth's adviser Sir Robert Cecil wrote "Ewtopia" on the document. [16]

End of the Rebellion in Munster

George Carew, the English Lord President of Munster, managed more or less to quash the rebellion in Munster by mid-1601, using a mixture of conciliation and force. By the summer of 1601 he had retaken most of the principal castles in Munster and scattered the Irish forces. He did this by negotiating a pact with Florence MacCarthy, the principal Gaelic Irish leader in the province, which allowed MacCarthy to be neutral, while Carew concentrated on attacking the force of James Fitzthomas Fitzgerald, who commanded the main rebel force. As a result, while MacCarthy resisted English raiding parties into his territory, he did not come to Fitzthomas's aid, despite urgings from O'Neill and O'Donnell to do this. [17]

In the summer of 1600, Carew launched an offensive against Fitzthomas's forces. The English routed Fitzthomas’ forces at Aherlow and in November, Carew reported to London that he had, over the summer, killed 1,200 'rebels' and taken the surrenders of over 10,000. Carew also weakened Florence MacCarthy's position by recruiting a rival MacCarthy chieftain, Donal, to English service. [17]

In June 1601, James Fitzthomas was captured by the English forces. Shortly afterwards, Carew had Florence MacCarthy arrested after summoning him for negotiations. Both Fitzthomas and MacCarthy were held captive in the Tower of London, where both eventually died. Most of the rest of the local lords submitted, once the principal native leaders had been arrested. O'Neill's mercenaries had been expelled from the province. [17]

Battle of Kinsale and the collapse of the rebellion

Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy, c. 1594 Sir Charles Blount c 1594.jpg
Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy, c. 1594

Mountjoy managed to penetrate the interior of Ulster by seaborne landings at Derry (then belonging to County Coleraine) under Henry Docwra and Carrickfergus under Arthur Chichester. Dowcra and Chichester, helped by Niall Garve O'Donnell, a rival of Hugh Roe, devastated the countryside in an effort to provoke a famine and killed the civilian population at random.

Their military assumption was that without crops and people or cattle, the rebels could neither feed themselves nor raise new fighters. [18] [19] This attrition quickly began to bite, and it also meant that the Ulster chiefs were tied down in Ulster to defend their own territories.

Although O'Neill managed to repulse another land offensive by Mountjoy at the Battle of Moyry Pass near Newry in 1600, his position was becoming desperate.

In 1601, the long promised Spanish expedition finally arrived in the form of 3,500 soldiers at Kinsale, Cork, virtually the southern tip of Ireland. Mountjoy immediately besieged them with 7,000 men. O'Neill, O'Donnell and their allies marched their armies south to sandwich Mountjoy, whose men were starving and wracked by disease, between them and the Spaniards. During the march south, O'Neill devastated the lands of those who would not support him.

The English force might have been destroyed by hunger and sickness but the issue was decided in their favour at the Battle of Kinsale. On the 5/6 January 1602, O'Donnell, against the wishes and advice of O'Neill,[ citation needed ] [20] took the decision to attack the English. Forming up for a surprise attack, the Irish chiefs were themselves surprised by a cavalry charge, resulting in a rout of the Irish forces. The Spanish in Kinsale surrendered after their allies' defeat.

The Irish forces retreated north to Ulster to regroup and consolidate their position. The Ulstermen lost many more men in the retreat through freezing and flooded country than they had at the actual battle of Kinsale. The last rebel stronghold in the south was taken at the Siege of Dunboy by George Carew.

Hugh Roe O'Donnell left for Spain pleading in vain for another Spanish landing. He died in 1602 probably due to poisoning by an English agent. His brother assumed leadership of the O'Donnell clan. Both he and Hugh O'Neill were reduced to guerrilla tactics, fighting in small bands, as Mountjoy, Dowcra, Chichester and Niall Garbh O'Donnell swept the countryside. The English scorched earth tactics were especially harsh on the civilian population, who died in great numbers both from direct targeting and from famine. [21]

End of the War

In 1602 O'Neill destroyed his capital at Dungannon due to the approach of Mountjoy's forces, and withdrew to hide in the woods. In a symbolic gesture Mountjoy smashed the O'Neills' inauguration stone at Tullaghogue. Famine soon hit Ulster as a result of the English scorched earth strategy. O'Neill's uirithe or sub-lords (O'Hagan, O'Quinn, MacCann) began to surrender and Rory O'Donnell, Hugh Roe's brother and successor, surrendered on terms at the end of 1602. However, with a secure base in the large and dense forests of Tir Eoghain, O'Neill held out until 30 March 1603, when he surrendered on good terms to Mountjoy, signing the Treaty of Mellifont. Elizabeth I had died on 24 March.

Although the war had effectively ended with the signing of the Treaty of Mellifont, its final battles were fought during the English invasion of West Breifne in April 1603, which remained the sole holdout Irish kingdom following O'Neill's capitulation. The kingdom was ruled by Brian Óg O'Rourke, one of the alliance's chief lieutenants and leader of the Irish forces during the Battle of Curlew Pass. He failed to secure any concessions from the treaty as his half-brother Tadhg O'Rourke had fought with the English during the war and was granted lordship of West Breifne in return. Following a twelve-day siege, a force of 3,000 men led by Tadhg, Henry Folliott and Rory O'Donnell eventually brought the area, and thus all of Ireland, under English control on 25 April 1603.


The leaders of the rebellion received good terms from the new King of England, James I, in the hope of ensuring a final end of the draining war that had brought England close to bankruptcy. O'Neill, O'Donnell and the other surviving Ulster chiefs were granted full pardons and the return of their estates. The stipulations were that they abandon their Irish titles, their private armies, and their control over their dependents, and that they swear loyalty only to the Crown of England. In 1604, Mountjoy declared an amnesty for rebels all over the country. The reason for this apparent mildness was that the English could not afford to continue the war any longer. Elizabethan England did not have a standing army, nor could it force its Parliament to pass enough taxation to pay for long wars. Moreover, it was already involved in a war in the Spanish Netherlands. As it was, the war in Ireland (which cost over £2 million) came very close to bankrupting the English exchequer by its close in 1603.

Irish sources claimed that as many as 60,000 people had died in the Ulster famine of 1602–3 alone. This may be a major overestimate, as in 1600 the total adult population of Ulster has been estimated at only 25,000 to 40,000 people. [22] An Irish death toll of over 100,000 is possible. At least 30,000 English soldiers died in Ireland in the Nine Years' War, mainly from disease. So the total death toll for the war was certainly at least 100,000 people, and probably more.

Although O'Neill and his allies received good terms at the end of the war, they were never trusted by the English authorities and the distrust was mutual. O'Neill, O'Donnell and the other Gaelic lords from Ulster left Ireland in 1607 in what is known as the "Flight of the Earls". They intended to organise an expedition from a Catholic power in Europe, preferably Spain, to restart the war but were unable to find any military backers.

Spain had signed the Treaty of London in August 1604 with the new Stuart dynasty and did not wish to reopen hostilities. Further, a Spanish fleet had just been destroyed by a Dutch fleet in the Battle of Gibraltar in April 1607. In 1608 Sir Cahir O'Doherty, who had previously fought on the Crown's side against Tyrone, launched O'Doherty's Rebellion when he attacked and burnt Derry. O'Doherty was defeated and killed at the Battle of Kilmacrennan and the rebellion quickly collapsed.

In 1608 the absent earls' lands were confiscated for trying to start another war, and were soon colonised in the Plantation of Ulster. The Nine Years' War was therefore an important step in the English and Scottish colonisation of Ulster.

See also

Related Research Articles

Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy English statesman

Charles Blount, 1st Earl of Devonshire, KG was an English nobleman and soldier who served as Lord Deputy of Ireland under Queen Elizabeth I, then as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland under King James I.

Flight of the Earls Historical event

The Flight of the Earls took place on 4 September 1607, when Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone and Rory O'Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, and about ninety followers left Ulster in Ireland for mainland Europe.

Siege of Kinsale battle in Englands conquest of Gaelic Ireland

The Siege or Battle of Kinsale was the ultimate battle in England's conquest of Gaelic Ireland, commencing in October 1601, near the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and at the climax of the Nine Years' War—a campaign by Hugh O'Neill, Hugh Roe O'Donnell and other Irish lords against English rule.

Battle of the Yellow Ford

The Battle of the Yellow Ford was fought in western County Armagh, Ulster, in Ireland, near the River Blackwater on 14 August 1598, during the Nine Years War (Ireland).

Fínghin mac Donncha Mac Carthaig, 1560–1640, was an Irish prince of the late 16th century and the last credible claimant to the Mac Carthaig Mór title before its suppression by English authority. Mac Carthaig's involvement in the Nine Years' War (1595–1603) led to his arrest by the Crown, and he spent the last 40 years of his life in custody in London. His lands were distributed among his relatives and English colonists.

Aodh Mag Uidhir, anglicised as Hugh Maguire was the Lord of Fermanagh in Ireland during the reign of Elizabeth I and leader of the ancient Maguire clan; he died fighting crown authority during the Nine Years War.

The Battle of Clontibret was fought in County Monaghan in May 1595 during the Nine Years War between the Crown forces of England's Queen Elizabeth I and the Irish army of Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone. The battle ended in victory for Tyrone, and was the first severe setback suffered by the English during the war.

Hugh McShane O'Neill was an early modern Irish nobleman and rebel. Genealogies list Hugh as either the son of Con MacShane O'Neill, 3rd son of Shane O'Neill, or as the 10th son of Shane O'Neill himself. In either case he was a grandson of Conn O'Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone, and Gearoid Mór Fitzgerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, and of the primary line of the O'Neill of Tyrone clan. Shane was the Prince of Ulster and Chief of all the O'Neill septs until his death in 1567. Hugh gained his patrimony, like his father, from the O'Neill sept clan he'd been fostered by; the McShanes of Killetragh and the Glenconkeyne forest. This group was also called the "Wild Clan Shanes of Killetragh" or the "McShane-O'Neills".

MacShane Surname list

MacShane is a patronymic surname originating in Ireland. The surname evolved from the given name Shane, a derivative of John, of Hebrew origin. Early records spelled the name Mac Seáin or Mac Seagháin. Historically, the MacShanes from Ulster are a branch of the O'Neills, while in County Kerry, the surname was adopted by the Fitzmaurices. MacShane is uncommon as a given name.

Con(n) MacShane O'Neill (1565–1630) was an Irish flaith or Prince of Ulster, the Lord of Clabbye, nobleman, rebel, and political leader in the late 16th century and early 17th century.

The Treaty of Mellifont, also known as the Articles of Mellifont, was signed in 1603 and ended the Nine Years' War which took place in the Kingdom of Ireland from 1594 to 1603.

Siege of Enniskillen (1594)

The Siege of Enniskillen took place at Enniskillen in Fermanagh, Ireland, in 1594 and 1595, during the Nine Years' War. In February 1594, the English had captured Enniskillen Castle from the Irish after a waterborne assault and massacred the defenders after they surrendered. From May 1594, an Irish army under Hugh Maguire and Cormac MacBaron O'Neill besieged the English garrison in the castle, and in August they defeated an English relief force. A second relief force was allowed to resupply the garrison, but the castle remained cut off. Eventually, in May 1595, the English garrison surrendered to the Irish and were then executed.

Captain Humphrey Willis was an English soldier in Ireland in the sixteenth century, his parents are unknown. Captain Willis was appointed Sheriff of County Donegal and County Fermanagh by the Lord Deputy of Ireland William FitzWilliam. Captain Willis was a fluent speaker of Irish, and enforced his authority with a detachment of the Irish Army.

Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits

The Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits took place in Fermanagh, Ireland on 7 August 1594, during the Nine Years' War. A column of almost 650 English troops led by Sir Henry Duke was ambushed and defeated by a Gaelic Irish force under Hugh Maguire and Cormac MacBaron O'Neill at the Arney River. The English column had been sent to relieve and resupply Enniskillen Castle, which had been under siege by the Irish since May. The English suffered at least 56 killed and 69 wounded, and were forced to make a hasty retreat.

On 16 February 1595, a Gaelic Irish force assaulted and captured the English-held Blackwater Fort at Blackwatertown in County Armagh. The Irish were led by Art MacBaron O'Neill, brother of Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and marked Tyrone's break with the English Crown as he openly waged war against the English forces in Ireland.

The Battle of Belleek, also known as the Battle of the Erne Fords, was fought on the River Erne near Belleek in Fermanagh, Ireland, on 10 October 1593. It was part of the buildup to the Nine Years' War. The battle was fought between a Gaelic Irish army under Hugh Maguire, lord of Fermanagh—who had begun a revolt against the English—and an English Crown expeditionary force under Sir Henry Bagenal, supported by Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone. Maguire's force was defeated, but the bulk of his army was unscathed. Hugh O'Neill would later join Maguire in war against the English.


  1. Tyrone's Rebellion: The Outbreak of the Nine Years War in Tudor Ireland. Hiram Morgan. Boydell Press (1993).
  2. The Nine Years War, 1593-1603: O'Neill, Mountjoy and the military revolution, . James O'Neill. Four Courts Press (2017).
  3. 1 2 Falls, Elizabeth's Irish Wars, pg 49
  4. Thomas Mac Nevin, James Duffy, The Confiscation of Ulster, in the Reign of James the First, Commonly Called The Ulster Plantation (Dublin: 1840), p. 14
  5. Nicholas Canny, Hugh O'Neill and the Changing Face of Gaelic Ulster
  6. Hiram Morgan, Tyrone's Rebellion, Suffolk 1993, p19.
  7. James O'Neill, Maguire's revolt but Tyrone's war: proxy war in Fermanagh 1593-4, Seanchas Ard Mhacha, vol. 26, no. 1 (2016), pp 44-5
  8. O'Neill, The Nine Years War, p. 29
  9. Certificate given by Captain Alonso Cobos to the Irish Catholics, 15 May 1596 (Cal. S. P. Spain, 1587–1603, p.169); O'Neill and O'Donnell to Philip II, 16 May 1596 (ibid, p. 620)
  10. Morgan H., "FAITH AND FATHERLAND OR QUEEN AND COUNTRY"; Dúiche Néill: Journal of the O¹Neill country historical society, 1994
  11. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 February 2011. Retrieved 6 February 2011.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  12. Colm Lennon, Sixteenth Century Ireland, The Incomplete Conquest, p322, "Despite the proclamations of O'Neill... there is little evidence that the townsfolk and Pale gentry were in sympathy with the Ulster chieftain's war, and in this they had the backing of leading Jesuits such as Father Richard Field SJ. Whatever about their common Catholicism, the links with the Spanish monarchy were strongly eschewed by the vast majority of those of Old English origin in Ireland."
  13. Henry, L. W. (1959). "The Earl of Essex and Ireland, 1599". Historical Research. 32: 1–23 [21]. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2281.1959.tb01621.x.
  14. [Secretary Cecil to the lords justices of Ireland, 6 November 1599 (Cal. S.P.Ire., 1599-1600, p. 235).]
  15. Henry, L. W. (1959). "The Earl of Essex and Ireland, 1599". Historical Research. 32: 1–23 [22]. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2281.1959.tb01621.x.
  16. Calendar of State Papers relating to Ireland, 1599–1600 (London 1899) 279–281.
  17. 1 2 3
  18. S.J.Connolly, Contested Island, Ireland 146-1630, p253 "Part of Mountjoy's strategy for wearing down Tyrone and the other rebel lords was a relentless assault on the peasantry who gave their power its economic base. As his men moved into Tyrone's territory, they systematically cut down standing corn, seized or burnt harvested crops and butchered or carried off livestock. They also killed anyone they came across".
  19. Lennon, 16th Century Ireland, p299,"His attritional methods included the establishment of provocative garrisons, campaigning in winter, and the winning over disaffected followers of the confederates"
  20. "Beatha Aodha Ruaidh Uí Dhomhnaill". Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  21. Lennon, p301, "Mountjoy aimed at the abject submission of O'Neill in the field. Tyrone itself was constricted by the spoiling tactics of the Lord Deputy...with famine conditions resulting in the winter of 1602–1603
  22. M. Perceval-Maxwell: The Scottish Migration to Ulster in the Reign of James 1. Belfast, Ulster Historical Foundation. 1999. Page 17.



Sources for Gaelic Ireland: