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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of James FitzMaurice

James FitzMaurice, a member of the 16th century ruling Geraldine dynasty in the province of Munster, dies on August 18, 1579. He rebels against the crown authority of Queen Elizabeth I of England in response to the onset of the Tudor conquest of Ireland. He leads the first of the Desmond Rebellions in 1569, spends a period in exile in continental Europe, but returns with an invasion force in 1579. He dies shortly after landing.

FitzMaurice is the son of Maurice Fitzjohn of Totane, a brother of John FitzGerald, de facto 12th Earl of Desmond, and Julia O’Mulryan of County Tipperary, cousin of Gerald FitzGerald, 14th Earl of Desmond. Totane had been granted the barony of Kerricurrihy in County Cork, but Gerald fell out with Totane and wars are fought between the families.

After the Desmond defeat at Battle of Affane in 1565, the 14th Earl and his brother, John of Desmond, are detained in England. During their absence, FitzMaurice becomes captain general of County Desmond with the warrant of the Earl. This means he has authority over the soldiers retained in the service of the Desmond Fitzgeralds. In July 1568, he enters Clanmaurice, the territory of the lord of Lixnaw, to distrain for rent and assert the Desmond authority. Having seized 200 head of cattle and wasted the country, he is confronted by Lixnaw on the way home and utterly defeated.

At the end of 1568, the absent Earl of Desmond grants Sir Warham St. Leger a lease of the barony of Kerricurrihy, which cast FitzMaurice’s inheritance into confusion. In 1569 the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney, is informed by FitzMaurice that he has assembled the people of Desmond to tell them that the Lord Deputy was unable to procure the release of the captive earl, who would be executed or perpetually imprisoned, and that the people should proclaim a new earl or captain. With one voice, the people cry out for FitzMaurice to be captain. The earl’s wife, Eleanor Butler, writes to her husband in November that FitzMaurice is seeking to bring the earl into further disrepute and to usurp his inheritance, “by the example of his father.”

To reassert Geraldine authority, FitzMaurice then launches what becomes known as the first of the Desmond Rebellions. The southern part of Ireland erupts into a general rebellion, owing in part to attempts at establishing plantations. In June 1569, FitzMaurice and the Earl of Clancarty (MacCarthy Mor) invade Kerrycurrihy, spoil the inhabitants, take the castle-abbey of Tracton, hang the garrison, and refuse to depart without the surrender to them of the custody of Lady St. Leger and Lady Grenville, the wives of the principal English colonists. FitzMaurice then joins in league with the turbulent brothers of the Earl of Ormond, and enters a bond with the Earl of Thomond and John Burke, son of the Earl of Clanricard. He writes to the mayor and corporation of Cork in July ordering the abolition of the new heresy of Protestantism, at a time when he appears to have been taking instruction from Irish Jesuits.

By September 1569, Sidney has broken the back of the rebellion and leaves Sir Humphrey Gilbert behind to suppress FitzMaurice, who seeks refuge in the woods of Aherlow, and after Gilbert’s departure FitzMaurice raises a new force in February 1570 and by a surprise night attack, takes Kilmallock and after hanging the chief townsmen at the market cross, plunders its wealth and burns the town. In February 1571, Sir John Perrot lands at Waterford as Lord President of Munster and challenges FitzMaurice to a duel, which FitzMaurice declines with the remark, “For if I should kill Sir John Perrot the Queen of England can send another president into this province; but if he do kill me there is none other to succeed me or to command as I do.”

FitzMaurice attacks Perrot, but retires on mistaking a small cavalry company for the advance party of a larger force. After a second and successful siege by Perrot of the Geraldine stronghold of Castlemaine, FitzMaurice sues for pardon, which is granted in February 1573, after he prostrates himself in Kilmallock church with the president’s sword point next to his heart. He swears fealty to the crown, and gives up his son as hostage.

On the return to Ireland of the Earl of Desmond in 1573, FitzMaurice leaves for the continent, offering his reasons variously as a desire to gain pardon from the Queen through the French court, and the unkindness of the earl. In March 1575 he and his family, along with the Geraldine Seneschal of Imokilly, James Fitzedmund Fitzgerald, and the White Knight, Edmund FitzGibbon, sail on the La Arganys for Saint-Malo, Brittany where they are received by the governor. He has several interviews with Catherine de’ Medici in Paris, offering to help make Henry III of France king of Ireland, and is granted a pension of 5,000 crowns in 1576.

Early in the following year FitzMaurice leaves for the Spanish court, where he offers the crown to the brother of King Philip II, Don John. The king is cautious, however. FitzMaurice leaves his sons Maurice and Gerald with Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, and travels to Italy to meet Pope Gregory XIII.

At the papal court FitzMaurice meets adventurer Captain Thomas Stukley, and together they persuade the pope to underwrite the cost of 1,000 troops to invade Ireland, most of whom, according to Philip O’Sullivan Beare, are desperadoes the pope wishes to get out of Italy. Fitzmaurice and Stukley are to rendezvous in Lisbon and proceed to Ireland, however, Stukley decides to throw his troops and support to King Sebastian‘s expedition to Morocco, where he dies.

Following the diversion of Stukley to Morocco, FitzMaurice sets out with the nuncio Nicholas Sanders, and Matthew de Oviedo from Ferrol in Galicia, Spain on June 17, 1579 with a few troops on his vessel and three Spanish shallops. They capture two English vessels in the channel and arrive at Dingle on July 16, 1579, launching the Second Desmond Rebellion.

On July 18 they cast anchor in Ard na Caithne, where they garrison at Dún an Óir (Fort of Gold), and are joined on July 25 by two galleys with 100 troops. Four days later their ships are captured by the English fleet under the command of Sir William Wynter. Having exhorted the Earl of Desmond and the Earl of Kildare, as Geraldine leaders, to fight the heretics, FitzMaurice leaves the fort to await the arrival of Stukley who, unknown to him, had been killed at the Battle of Alcácer Quibir in the previous year, during a campaign by King Sebastian of Portugal.

FitzMaurice goes to make a vow at the monastery of the Holy Cross in County Tipperary but becomes caught in a skirmish with the forces of his cousin, Theobald Burke, during which he is shot with a ball in the hollow of the chest, but cuts his way through to Burke and his brother William, both of whom he kills with single strokes of his sword.

The battle is won, but close to the scene his injuries overcome him. He makes his will and orders his friends to cut off his head after death in order that his enemies might not mutilate his body. He begs his attendants to attest that he had not turned tail on the enemy. They assure him, and wish him to be quiet because hostile soldiers are closing in, but he insists, “My wounds are clear, my wounds are clear.” Upon his death, a kinsman orders the decapitation and then wraps the head in cloth. An attempt is made to conceal his trunk under a tree, but it is discovered by a hunter and brought to the town of Kilmallock. For weeks, the trunk is nailed to the gallows, until it is shattered by musket fire and collapses.


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Murder of Shane “the Proud” O’Neill

Shane O’Neill, Irish patriot known by the nickname “Shane the Proud,” is murdered in what is now Cushendum, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on June 2, 1567. He is among the most famous of all the O’Neills.

O’Neill, the eldest legitimate son of Conn O’Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone, is a chieftain whose support the English consider worth gaining. However, he rejects overtures from Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, and refuses to help the English against the Scottish settlers on the coast of Antrim. He allies himself instead with the MacDonnells, the most powerful of these immigrants. Nevertheless, Queen Elizabeth I of England is disposed to come to terms with O’Neill who, after his father’s death, is de facto chief of the O’Neill clan. She recognizes his claims to the chieftainship, thus throwing over a kinsman, Brian O’Neill. O’Neill, however, refuses to put himself in the power of Sussex without a guarantee for his safety and his claims are so exacting that Elizabeth determines to restore Brian. An attempt to incite the O’Donnells against him, however, is frustrated.

Elizabeth, who is not prepared to undertake the subjugation of the Irish chieftain, urgently desires peace with O’Neill, especially when the devastation of his territory by Sussex brings him no nearer to submission. Sussex is not supported by the queen, who sends Gerald FitzGerald,  11th Earl of Kildare to arrange terms with O’Neill. The latter agrees to present himself before Elizabeth. Accompanied by Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde and Kildare, he reaches London on January 4, 1562. Elizabeth temporizes but, finding that O’Neill is in danger of becoming a tool in the hands of Spanish intriguers, permits him to return to Ireland, recognizing him as “the O’Neill,” and chieftain of Tyrone.

There are at this time three powerful contemporary members of the O’Neill family in Ireland — O’Neill, Turlough Luineach O’Neill, and Matthew Ó Néill, 1st Baron Dungannon. Turlough had schemed to supplant O’Neill during his absence in London. The feud does not long survive O’Neill’s return to Ireland, where he reestablishes his authority and renews his turbulent tribal warfare. Elizabeth at last authorizes Sussex to take the field against O’Neill, but two expeditions fail. O’Neill then lays the entire blame for his lawless conduct on the lord deputy’s repeated alleged attempts on his life. Elizabeth consents to negotiate, and practically all of O’Neill’s demands are conceded.

O’Neill then turns his hand against the MacDonnells, claiming that he is serving the Queen of England in harrying the Scots. He fights an indecisive battle with Sorley Boy MacDonnell near Coleraine in 1564, and in 1565 he routs the MacDonnells and takes Sorley Boy prisoner near Ballycastle. This victory strengthens O’Neill’s position, but the English make preparations for his subjugation.

Failing in an attempt to arrange terms, and also in obtaining the help which he solicited from France, O’Neill is utterly routed by the O’Donnells at the Battle of Farsetmore near Letterkenny and, seeking safety in flight, throws himself on the mercy of his enemies, the MacDonnells. Attended by a small body of gallowglass, and taking his prisoner Sorley Boy with him, he presents himself among the MacDonnells near Cushendun, on the Antrim coast, hoping to propose an alliance. Here, on June 2, 1567, he is killed by the MacDonnells and his headless body is buried at Crosskern Church at Ballyterrim above Cushendun. His body is possibly later moved to Glenarm Abbey. Unbeknownst to O’Neill, The Scots had already come to an agreement with Henry Sidney and William Piers, Seneschal of Clandeboye, commander of the English garrison at Carrickfergus. The English Government tries to pass this off as a “drunken brawl” turned savage. Piers travels to Cushendun to take O’Neill’s head and send it to Dublin Castle.


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The Rathlin Island Massacre

bruces-castle-ruinsThe Rathlin Island massacre takes place on Rathlin Island, off the coast of what is now Northern Ireland, on July 26, 1575. More than 600 Scots and Irish are killed.

Rathlin Island is used as a sanctuary because of its natural defences and rocky shores. In earlier times, when the wind blows from the west it is almost impossible to land a boat. It is also respected as a hiding place, as it is the one-time abode of Saint Columba. Installing themselves in Rathlin Castle (also known as Bruce’s Castle), the MacDonnells of Antrim make Rathlin their base for resistance to the Enterprise of Ulster. Their military leader, Sorley Boy MacDonnell (Scottish Gaelic: Somhairle Buidhe Mac Domhnaill) and other Scots have thought it prudent to send their wives, children, elderly, and sick to Rathlin Island for safety.

Acting on the instructions of Sir Henry Sidney and the Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norreys take the castle by storm. Drake uses two cannons to batter the castle and when the walls give in, Norreys orders direct attack on July 25, and the Garrison surrenders. Norreys sets the terms of surrender, whereupon the constable, his family, and one of the hostages are given safe passage and all other defending soldiers are killed. On July 26, 1575, Norreys’ forces hunt the old, sick, very young and women who are hiding in the caves. Despite the surrender, they kill all the 200 defenders and more than 400 civilian men, women and children. Sir Francis Drake is also charged with the task of preventing any Scottish reinforcement vessels from reaching the island.

The entire family of Sorley Boy MacDonnell perishes in the massacre. Essex, who orders the killings, boasts in a letter to Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s secretary and spymaster, that Sorley Boy MacDonnell watched the massacre from the mainland helplessly and was “like to run mad from sorrow.”

Norreys stays on the island and tries to rebuild the walls of the castle so that the English might use the structure as a fortress. As Drake is not paid to defend the island, he departs with his ships. Norreys realises that it is not possible to defend the island without intercepting Scottish galleys and he returns to Carrickfergus in September 1575.

(Pictured: the ruins of Rathlin Castle)