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Nine Years War

Nine Years War (1594-1603) the defining moment in English attempts to conquer Ireland for the first time. And yet for much of the conflict such an outcome was far from apparent. Indeed the war is just as remarkable for being littered by a series of English military embarrassments such as the defeat at the eponymous battle of the Biscuits (1594) where an English supply column was routed. Rebel Irish forces led by Hugh O’Neill, earl of Tyrone and Red Hugh O’Donnell had further successes such as those at the battles of Clontibret (1595) and the Curlew Mountains (1599). The earl of Essex, despite commanding a massive army, never managed to engage the rebels in a major battle, leading to Essex’s downfall.

 
The Earl of Essex  

The most dramatic rebel victory occurred at the battle of the Yellow Ford 1598, when a royal army over 4000 strong was annihilated, being reduced to a complement of 1500 men. For a time, English control in Ireland, such as it was, teetered on the brink of extinction. Unable to press home his military advantage due to a lack of siege skills to reduce the walled towns, the prospects of an ultimate victory for the rebel forces led by O’Neill took a decided upturn with the arrival in 1601 of experienced Spanish troops at Kinsale. Previous rebel military victories had relied to a large extent, though not exclusively, on ambuscade, hit and run tactics. At Kinsale, O’Neill’s army was forced to attempt an entirely conventional military battle, with the decided disadvantage of having undergone a prolonged march along the entire length of Ireland in winter conditions. As it turned out, O’Neill’s disastrous defeat at Kinsale frustrated his aspirations of defeating the royal forces outright. Despite this, he managed to hold out against the determined onslaught of crown forces for a further sixteen months. During this time a series of royal garrisons were planted in Ulster whilst a lethal campaign of starvation and extermination was unleashed against the population in rebel held territories, leading to the reported deaths of tens of thousands. In the end, the English army was unable to defeat O’Neill outright either. The war had cost crown coffers a staggering £2 million while the imminent death of Elizabeth I in 1603 changed the political complexion of the war. Senior English military and official figures, fearing that the ascension of James I to the throne would offer O’Neill a window of opportunity to seek a rapprochement with the English crown, concluded the war by agreeing to the treaty of Mellifont in 1603.

   

An English naval flotilla in action on Lough Neagh (top right-hand corner). During the war, marines, under Sir Arthur Chichester, outflanked the natural defence of the river Blackwater, engaging in highly controversial depredations, including the mass slaughter of women and children.

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