The March to Kinsale - The Northern Armies and Camross

Amidst the final throes of the Gaelic order in Laois, the armies of the Earls of Ulster were marching towards the culminating battle of the Nine Years’ War. On 2 October 1601 a Spanish army of over 4,000 men landed in Kinsale and Baltimore. They were immediately surrounded and besieged by English forces and this forced the hand of Hugh O’Neill in Tyrone. He embarked on an island long march in the depths of winter to assist the Spanish. Hugh O’Donnell of Donegal also led a separate march to Kinsale early the following year to aid his ally.

The Annals of the Four Masters explains how O’Neill, on his great march south, ‘passed over the upper part of Slieve Bloom westwards’. Whilst in the region O’Neill sent several troops into the territory of O’Carroll, chief of the Ely territory in Offaly. They proceeded to destroy everything in sight and they killed and maimed many in revenge for a massacre that O’Carroll had perpetrated against the Mac Mahons of Oriel (an area around modern day counties Monaghan and Louth). The Annals also mention that ‘some gentlemen of [O’Neill’s] own tribe and kindred were left in opposition to O'Carroll in the territory’.[1] This suggests that is was certainly not unusual for O’Neills to remain in the region through which the great march took place.

From the northern Slieve Blooms, O’Neill’s army passed through the region around Kinnitty towards Ballaghlyragh, which is the old Irish name for the Camross townland of Neilstown.[2] The pass through which O’Neill’s army travelled was an ancient pass through one of the most densely forested parts of the Slieve Blooms. Indeed the modern name for the townland is derived from the large number of Neills that lived in the area in the 19th Century. According to Paddy Clooney, of Stooagh, seven families of Neill lived in the townland in the mid to late 19th Century.[3] Indeed as late as 1901 nearly three quarters of the population of the townland were still Neills. The local assumption is that on the march back from their defeat at Kinsale several O’Neills remained in the area to live. On the basis of what the Annals of the Four Masters reveal it is also a possibility that the abundance of Neills were descendants of the O’Neills that remained in Ely in opposition to O’Carroll. The theory that many within Hugh O’Neill’s army went no further than the area is further supported by the abundance of other Ulster surnames from Neilstown all the way to Cadamstown including McGuinness, Heaney, Bradley, Downey and Corrigan.[4]

At the forked pass of Ballaglyragh, O’Neill’s army turned toward Bealach Mór Muighe-Dála (Ballagmore). They then moved on towards Roscrea southwards on their way to engaging English forces in Kinsale. Hugh O’Donnell’s forces passed by the same way through the Slieve Blooms shortly after O’Neill’s forces marched through. The resounding Irish defeat in Kinsale and the subsequent end of the Nine Years’ War in Ulster was followed by the plantation of Ulster whereby the lands vacated by O’Neill and O’Donnell were settled by the English. It was a symbolic and total reaffirmation of England’s control over the island of Ireland. 



[1] Taken from University College Cork’s online Annals of the Four Masters archive : http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/T100005F/text012.html

[2] Indeed the officially recognised name of the townland to this day is ‘Ballaghlyragh or Nealstown’.

[3] Interview between Peter Dooley and Paddy Dooley, December 6th 2014.

[4] Interview between Peter Dooley and Paddy Dooley, December 6th 2014.

The grave of Rory O'Donnell, Earl of Donegal. The Latin inscription reads; TO THE PRINCE, RORY O’DONNELL, EARL OF TYRCONNELL IN IRELAND: FOR THE SAKE OF THE CATHOLIC FAITH HE OVERCAME MANY DANGERS; IN PEACE AND IN WAR HE WAS A FAITHFUL DEFENDER OF THE APOSTOLIC ROMAN FAITH. TO PROTECT AND DEFEND THE FAITH HE LEFT HIS NATIVE COUNTRY AND VISITED THE SHRINES OF THE SAINTS IN BELGIUM, IN FRANCE AND IN ITALY, A PLACE WHERE HE WAS WELCOMED BY THE CHRISTIAN PRINCES WITH LOVE AND GREAT HONOUR AND BY THE HOLY FATHER, POPE PAUL V, WITH FATHERLY LOVE, AND WITH THE GOODWILL OF CATHOLICS THAT HE WOULD RETURN SAFELY, HIS RELATIVES WERE HEAVY-HEARTED AND THE PEOPLE OF THIS CITY WERE SADDENED BY HIS UNTIMELY DEATH. HE DIED ON THE 29TH JULY THE YEAR OF REDEMPTION, AT 33 YEARS OF AGE, 1608, ON THE SAME ROAD, SHORTLY AFTERWARDS, SO AS THAT HE COULD ENJOY THE PLEASURE OF HIS COMPANY, FOLLOWED BY HIS BROTHER, CAFARR, HIS COMPANION IN DANGER AND EXILE, WITH STRONG FAITH AND BELIEF IN THE HEREAFTER. DUE TO THE NOBILITY OF HIS SOUL, ADORNED WITH GOOD TRAITS AND VIRTUES, HE LEFT HIS FELLOW EMIGRANTS SAD AND GRIEVING ON THE FOLLOWING 14TH OF SEPTEMBER; IN THE 25TH YEAR OF HIS LIFE. PRECEDING THESE TWO IN AGE AND IN THE ORDER OF THEIR DEATHS WAS THEIR ELDEST BROTHER, PRINCE HUGH; WHEN HE WAS ON A HOLY CATHOLIC ASSIGNMENT FOR THE SAKE OF HIS COUNTRY AND HIS FAITH, HE WAS WARMLY WELCOMED IN LIFE BY PHILIP III, KING OF SPAIN, AND WHEN HE DIED IN THE FLOWER OF HIS YOUTH PHILIP TOOK IT UPON HIMSELF THAT HE WOULD BE BURIED WITH HONOUR IN VALLADOLID, IN SPAIN ON SEPTEMBER 10TH, IN THE YEAR OF REDEMPTION, 1602

Images from San Pietro in Montorio taken by Ger Dooley in August 2017. Latin translation of grave slabs taken from Dr. John McCavitt's excellent website on the Flight of the Earls - http://www.theflightoftheearls.net/tombstones.html