MARY ANGLAND continues her series on famous battles that helped shape the country


Two hundred years after arriving in Ireland and claiming the country as a lordship, the Crown controlled no further than the Pale while the rest of the country was under the control of the powerful Gaelic lords. Henry Vlll, of the house of Tudor, was determined to break the power of the Gaelic lords and bring the entire country under control.

This policy was anathema to Gaelic chieftains and eventually open warfare broke out between the Earl of Tyrone, Hugh O’Neill and English forces. Now in open rebellion Hugh O’Neill was joined by Red Hugh O’Donnell and Hugh Maguire in a campaign lasting nine years.

After a spectacular series of battlefield victories from 1593 to 1599, many Gaelic lords throughout the countryside threw in their lot with O’Neill’s Irish Alliance. This meant that the war was no longer confined to Ulster, conflict extended through the midlands and well into Munster.

By 1599, the Irish Alliance was in control of most of the island with the English controlling little beyond the walled towns and regional garrisons.

Catholic Spain and Protestant England had long been enemies. In 1588 however, after the failure of the Spanish Armada, Philip ll decided to exploit the grievances of the Irish lords for his own advantage by offering them help against the English Crown.

Philip’s expectation was that by offering arms and men to Ireland, Spain would create another front in the war against England. He believed this would weaken England because it would surely lead to their forces being recalled from military campaigns with English allies in the Netherlands.

Philip had sent armadas to support the Irish Alliance in 1596 and again in 1597, but both failed in their mission due to bad luck, bad weather and bad planning. Though Philip died in 1598, his successor, Philip lll, continued his policy of sending direct support to the Irish chieftains.

In 1601, Don Juan del Águila left Spain with 6,000 men and a significant amount of arms and ammunition to support the Irish Alliance but bad luck and bad weather struck again.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own