We must continue to read the history of Ireland by the light of foreign affairs, and our chief light at this period is derived from Spain. The death of Don Sebastian concentrated the thoughts of Philip II. on Portugal, which he forcibly annexed to the Spanish crown. The progress of the insurrection in the Netherlands also occupied so large a place in his attention, that his projects against Elizabeth were postponed, year after year, to the bitter disappointment of the Irish leaders. It may seem far-fetched to assert, but it is not the less certainly true, that the fate of Catholic Munster was intimately involved in the change of masters in Portugal, and the fluctuations of war in the Netherlands,
The "Undertakers," who had set their hearts on having the Desmond estates, determined that the Earl and his brothers should not live long in peace, however peaceably they might be disposed. The old trick of forging letters, already alluded to, grew into a common and familiar practice during this and the following reign. Such a letter, purporting to be written by the Earl of Desmond --at that period only too anxious to be allowed to live in peace--was made public at Dublin and London. It was addressed to Sir William Pelham, the temporary Lord Justice, and among other passages contained this patent invention--that he (the Earl and his brethren) "had taken this matter in hand with great authority, both from the Pope's holiness and King Philip, who do undertake to further us in our affairs, as we shall need." It is utterly incredible that any man in Desmond's position could have written such a letter--could have placed in the hands of his enemies a document which must for ever debar him from entering into terms with Elizabeth or her representatives in Ireland. We have no hesitation, therefore, in classing this pretended letter to Pelham with those admitted forgeries which drove the unfortunate Lord Thomas Fitzgerald into premature revolt, in the reign of Henry VIII.
Sir John of Desmond had been nominated by the gallant Fitzmaurice in his last moments as the fittest person to rally the remaining defenders of religion and property in Munster. The Papal standard and benediction were almost all he could bequeath his successor, but the energy of John, aided by some favourable local occurrences, assembled a larger force for the campaign of 1579 than had lately taken the field. Without the open aid of the Earl, he contrived to get together at one time as many as 2,000 men, amongst whom not the least active officer was his younger brother, Sir James, hardly yet of man's age. Drs. Saunders and Allen, with several Spanish officers, accompanied this devoted but undisciplined multitude, sharing all the hardships of the men, and the counsels of the chiefs. Their first camp, and, so to speak, the nursery of their army, was among the inaccessible mountains of Slievelogher in Kerry, where the rudiments of discipline were daily inculcated. When they considered the time ripe for action, they removed their camp to the great wood of Kilmore, near Charleville, from which they might safely assail the line of communication between Cork and Limerick, the main depots of Elizabeth's southern army. Nearly half-way between these cities, and within a few miles of their new encampment, stood the strong town of Kilmallock on the little river Lubach. This famous old Geraldine borough, the focus of several roads, was the habitual stopping place of the Deputies in their progress, as well as of English soldiers on their march. The ancient fortifications, almost obliterated by Fitzmaurice eleven years before, had been replaced by strong walls, lined with earthworks, and crowned by towers. Here Sir William Drury fixed his head-quarters in the spring of 1579, summoning to his aid all the Queen's lieges in Munster. With a force of not less than 1,000 English regulars under his own command, and perhaps twice that number under the banner of the Munster "Undertakers" and others, who obeyed the summons, he made an unsuccessful attempt to beat up the Geraldine quarters at Kilmore. One division of his force, consisting of 300 men by the Irish, and 200 by the English account, was cut to pieces, with their captains, Herbert, Price, and Eustace. The remainder retreated in disorder to their camp at Athneasy, a ford on the Morning Star River, four miles east of Kilmallock. For nine weeks Drury continued in the field, without gaining any advantage, yet so harassed day and night by his assailants that his health gave way under his anxieties. Despairing of recovery, he was removed by slow stages to Waterford--which would seem to indicate that his communications both with Cork and Limerick were impracticable--but died before reaching the first mentioned city. The chief command in Munster now devolved upon Sir Nicholas Malby, an officer who had seen much foreign service, while the temporary vacancy in the government was filled by the Council at Dublin, whose choice fell on Sir William Pelham, another distinguished military man, lately arrived from England.
Throughout the summer and autumn months the war was maintained, with varying fortune on either side. In the combats of Gortnatibrid and Enagbeg, in Limerick, the final success, according to Irish accounts, was with the Geraldines, though they had the misfortune to lose Cardinal Allen, Sir Thomas Fitzgerald and Sir Thomas Browne. Retiring into winter quarters at Aharlow, they had a third engagement with the garrison of Kilmallock, which attempted, without success, to intercept their march. The campaign of 1580 was, however, destined to be decisive. Sir John of Desmond, being invited to an amicable conference by the Lord Barry, was entrapped by an English force under Captain Zouch, in the woods surrounding Castle Lyons, and put to death on the spot. The young Sir James had previously been captured on a foray into Muskerry, and executed at Cork, so that of the brothers there now remained but Earl Gerald, the next victim of the machinations which had already proved so fatal to his family. Perceiving at length the true designs cherished against him, the Earl took the field in the spring of 1580, and obtained two considerable advantages, one at Pea-field, against the English under Roberts, and a second at Knockgraffon against the Anglo-Irish, under the brothers of the Earl of Ormond, the recusant members of the original league. Both these actions were fought in Tipperary, and raised anew the hopes of the Munster Catholics. An unsuccessful attempt on Adare was the only other military event in which the Earl bore a part; he wintered in Aharlow, where his Christmas was rather that of an outlaw than of the Lord Palatine of Desmond. In Aharlow he had the misfortune to lose the gifted and heroic Nuncio, Dr. Saunders, whose great services, at that period, taken together with those of Cardinal Allen, long endeared the faithful English to the faithful Irish Catholics.
The sequel of the second Geraldine League may be rapidly narrated. In September, 1580, the fort at Smerwick, where Fitzmaurice had landed from Galicia, received a garrison of 800 men, chiefly Spaniards and Italians, under Don Stephen San Joseph. The place was instantly invested by sea and land, under the joint command of the new Lieutenant, Lord Grey de Wilton, and the Earl of Ormond. Among the officers of the besieging force were three especially notable men--Sir Walter Raleigh, the poet Spenser, and Hugh O'Neil, afterwards Earl of Tyrone, but at this time commanding a squadron of cavalry for her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. San Joseph surrendered the place on conditions; that savage outrage ensued, which is known in Irish history as "the massacre of Smerwick." Raleigh and Wingfield appear to have directed the operations by which 800 prisoners of war were cruelly butchered and flung over the rocks. The sea upon that coast is deep and the tides swift; but it has not proved deep enough to hide that horrid crime, or to wash the stains of such wanton bloodshed from the memory of its authors!
For four years longer the Geraldine League flickered in the South. Proclamations offering pardon to all concerned, except Earl Gerald and a few of his most devoted adherents, had their effect. Deserted at home, and cut off from foreign assistance, the condition of Desmond grew more and more intolerable. On one occasion he narrowly escaped capture by rushing with his Countess into a river, and remaining concealed up to the chin in water. His dangers can hardly be paralleled by those of Bruce after the battle of Falkirk, or by the more familiar adventures of Charles Edward. At length, on the night of the 11th of November, 1584, he was surprised with only two followers in a lonesome valley about five miles distant from Tralee, among the mountains of Kerry. The spot is still remembered, and the name of "the Earl's road" transports the fancy of the traveller to that tragical scene. Cowering over the embers of a half-extinct fire in a miserable hovel, the lord of a country, which in time of peace had yielded an annual rental of "40,000 golden pieces," was despatched by the hands of common soldiers, without pity, or time, or hesitation. A few followers watching their creaghts or herds, farther up the valley, found his bleeding trunk flung out upon the highway; the head was transported over seas, to rot upon the spikes of London Tower.
The extirpation of the Munster Geraldines, in the right line, according to the theory of the "Undertakers" and the Court of England in general, vested in the Queen the 570,000 acres belonging to the late Earl. Proclamation was accordingly made throughout England, inviting "younger brothers of good families" to undertake the plantation of Desmond--each planter to obtain a certain scope of land, on condition of settling thereupon so many families--"none of the native Irish to be admitted." Under these conditions, Sir Christopher Hatton took up 10,000 acres in Waterford; Sir Walter Raleigh 12,000 acres, partly in Waterford and partly in Cork; Sir William Harbart, or Herbert, 13,000 acres in Kerry; Sir Edward Denny 6,000 in the same county; Sir Warham, St. Leger, and Sir Thomas Norris, 6,000 acres each in Cork; Sir William Courtney 10,000 acres in Limerick; Sir Edward Fitton 11,500 acres in Tipperary and Waterford, and Edmund Spenser a modest 3,000 acres in Cork, on the beautiful Blackwater. The other notable Undertakers were the Hides, Butchers, Wirths, Berklys, Trenchards, Thorntons, Bourchers, Billingsleys, &c., &c. Some of these grants, especially Raleigh's, fell in the next reign into the ravening maw of Richard Boyle, the so-called "_great_ Earl of Cork"--probably the most pious hypocrite to be found in the long roll of the "Munster Undertakers."
Before closing the present chapter, we must present to the reader, in a formal manner, the personage whose career is to occupy the chief remaining part of the present Book--Hugh O'Neil, best known by the title of Earl of Tyrone. We have seen him in the camp of the enemies of his country, learning the art of war on the shores of Dingle Bay--a witness to the horrors perpetrated at Smerwick. We may find him later in the same war--in 1584--serving under Perrott and Norris, along the Foyle and the Bann, for the expulsion of the Antrim Scots. The following year, for these and other good services, he received the patent of the Earldom originally conferred on his grandfather, Con O'Neil, but suffered to sink into abeyance by the less politic "John the Proud," in the days when he made his peace with the Queen. The next year he obtained from his clansmen the still higher title of O'Neil, and thus he contrived to combine, in his own person, every principle of authority likely to ensure him following and obedience, whether among the clansmen of Tyrone, or the townsmen upon its borders.
O'Neil's last official act of co-operation with the Dublin government may be considered his participation in the Parliament convoked by Sir John Perrott in 1585, and prorogued till the following year. It is remarkable of this Parliament, the third and last of Elizabeth's long reign, that it was utterly barren of ecclesiastical legislation, if we except "an act against sorcery and witchcraft" from that category. The attainder of the late Earl of Desmond, and the living Viscount of Baltinglass, in arms with the O'Byrnes in Glenmalure, are the only measures of consequence to be found among the Irish statutes of the 27th and 28th of Elizabeth. But though not remarkable for its legislation, the Parliament of 1585 is conspicuously so for its composition. Within its walls with the peers, knights, and burgesses of the anglicized counties, sat almost all the native chiefs of Ulster, Connaught, and Munster. The Leinster chiefs recently in arms, in alliance with the Earl of Desmond, generally absented themselves, with the exception of Feagh, son of Hugh, the senior of the O'Byrnes, and one of the noblest spirits of his race and age. He appears not to have had a seat in either House; but attended, on his own business, under the protection of his powerful friends and sureties.