Nine Year War

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Account for the defeat of the Gaelic Lords of Ulster in the Nine Year War.

The Nine Years War took place between 1594 and 1603 and was essentially a clash between the English forces of Queen Elizabeth and the established Gaelic Lords of Ireland. The Gaelic Lords saw the English as a threat to their own power particularly since the English had been expanding their control over the Island and were attempting to achieve dominance in Ireland. The main protagonists in the war were Hugh O’Neill the 2nd Earl of Tyrone and Hugh Roe O’Donnell who was the Earl of Tyrconnell, they led an alliance of other Gaelic Lords who were opposed to English rule. The Gaelic Lords faced a large English Army in Ireland which numbered 17,000 by the end of the war and was led by the Earl of Essex and subsequently Lord Mountjoy. There was an added religious dimension to the conflict with many supporting O’Neill on the basis of opposition to the Protestantism which the English were trying to bring to Ireland. Indeed the Gaelic Lords lobbied the Catholic monarchs of Europe for support in their war against the Protestant English. Some backing was given from the Spanish who sent soldiers to support O’Neill’s forces. Despite this Spanish backing the war eventually ended in defeat for Gaelic Ireland but during the war it had inflicted some heavy defeats on the English forces. The war was also very costly for the English both in terms of lives and in capital, indeed financing the war almost bankrupted the English Treasury.

Before looking at why the Gaelic Lords were defeated in the Nine Year’s War it is necessary to look at the examine the course of the war in greater detail and also to give some background to the reasons why war broke out. In the years prior to the outbreak of war O’Neill had been seen as a reliable and loyal Proxy ruler by the English and there were hopes that he could be the man to consolidate their rule in Ulster. These hopes were somewhat understandable as O’Neill had been given an English style upbringing and Education and the English had high hopes for him[1]. He became the Baron of Dungannon at a young age as a result of his older brother Brian had been murdered by Shane O’Neill in 1562. He returned to Ulster upon the death of Shane in 1567 however he would have to usurp his cousin Turlough Luineach O’Neill if he wanted to become the Chief of the O’Neill’s. Eventually the ageing Turlough Luineach abdicated in 1593 and Hugh became the new Earl of Tyrone. Hugh O’Neill appears to have been hoping that Elizabeth the first would grant him authority to rule Ulster on his behalf as a reward for his loyalty and help in putting down risings. However the Presidency of Ulster was granted to an English servitor named Henry Bagenal, who had had a poor relationship with Hugh O’Neill. This appointment left O’Neill believing that an English attempt to remove him was inevitable and he dropped his allegiance to the Crown and joined his fellow Ulster Lords in Tyrconnell and Fermanagh who had already rebelled against the English after they had attempted to introduce a Sheriff to the Maguire territory of Fermanagh. The Nine Years War had begun in 1594 when Hugh Roe O’Donnell of Tyrconnell and Hugh Maguire of Fermanagh attacked an English fort in Enniskillen[2]. O’Neill did not enter the war until 1595 when he engaged an English army led by Henry Bagenal which was marching from Newry to Monaghan. The Battle took place at Clontibret on the Armagh-Monaghan border and was a Victory for O’Neill and his men[3]. After this there was a lull in the fighting until 1598 when O’Neill and his fellow Ulster Lords O’Donnell and Maguire engaged an English Army led by Henry Bagenal in the Battle of The Yellow Ford. The Battle took place near the Blackwater River in South Armagh. Bagenal’s force of circa 4,300 men was marching out to relieve an English fort near the River which O’Neill’s forces had been besieging. Once again O’Neill was victorious and...
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