CHAPTER VI. SEQUEL OF THE SECOND GERALDINE LEAGUE - PLANTATION OF MUNSTER - EARLY CAREER OF HUGH O'NEIL, EARL OF TYRONE - PARLIAMENT OF 1585.
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.