Elizabeth and Ireland

c. 1580 English view of Irish feasting chieftain, listening to the music of a harp


bulletThe policy of Henry VIII's government towards Ireland had been guided by Sir Antony St. Leger and his advisor. Thomas Cusack. These men aimed to conciliate the local Irish leaders. Their subjection to English government was bought with money and patronage.
bulletSt Leger continued as Lord Deputy intermittently until 1556, but then Mary I sent Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex as her Lord Lieutenant.

Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex
(1526? - 1583)

Radcliffe soon came into conflict with the MacDonnells (O'Donnells) clan - settlers of Scottish descent in Ulster.
Radcliffe during 1557 defeated rebels in Leix and Offaly. Territory there and other land west of the Pale was confiscated and given to English settlers.
Radcliffe also fought a number of unsuccessful engagements against the Ulster chieftain, Shane O'Neill. Radcliffe's uncompromising approach to the locals created resentment in the Pale, and he was removed in 1564.

bullet In 1565 Elizabeth I replaced Radcliffe as Lord Deputy with Sir Henry Sidney (1529-86). Sidney's policies were still more assertive of English authority: he aimed to destroy Gaelic power in Leinster and Scottish power in Ulster.

Elizabeth had agreed to an uneasy peace with Shane O'Neill, who dominated Ulster. In the rest of Ireland, the rivalry between the Fitzgerald earls of Desmond and the Butler earls of Ormond erupted into feuds between the minor chieftains.

bullet Sidney's aggressive display of English military power produced some initial success against the rebellious Shane O'Neill, provoking the MacDonnells to defeat and murder him.
bullet However, the long-term consequence of Sidney's scheme to colonize Munster with English settlers was a major rebellion led by Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Desmond. When a small force of Italian and Spanish troops landed in Ireland (July 1579), Fitzgerald joined the rebellion. The new Lord Deputy (Arthur Lord Grey) acted firmly, but it still required four years fighting to suppress the revolts in Munster and the Pale.


The Tyrone Rebellion (The Nine Years War)


bullet On the death of Shane O'Neill, Turlough O'Neill (1531-95) became Lord of Tyrone. Turlough attempted to establish an independent power-base in Ulster. The English government responded by backing Hugh O'Neill (1550-1616) as a rival leader.
bullet Hugh O'Neill was given an English education and modern military training and experience. The English helped him assert control over part of the Tyrone territory and in 1585 Elizabeth made him Earl of Tyrone. However, Hugh O'Neill was ambitious to be far more than Elizabeth's favorite vassal. During the late 1580s he began to make contacts with Rome, Spain and his Irish rivals.

In April 1593, Tyrone directed his brother (Cormac) to revolt, but himself pretended continued loyalty to the crown. Only in February 1595 did Tyrone openly join the rebellion and move against the English garrison at Blackwater Fort. He equipped a modern army and proclaimed himself the champion of native Irish Catholics against English Protestant interlopers.

Tyrone continued to try and negotiate alliance with traditional enemies amongst the Gaelic Lords. In 1596, he persuaded the chieftains of Munster to rebel. He was also able to obtain some money and munitions from Spain.

The English were preoccupied with the continued threat of Spanish invasion and sent only limited forces to Ireland. The mounted uncoordinated expeditions that were defeated at the Battle of Clontibert (1595) and the Battle of Yellow Ford (1598). Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, who was then created Lord Deputy, had no success in winning back Irish hearts and minds.


bulletTyrone's victories provoked uprisings all over Ireland, and English settlers were driven from their dwellings.
bulletIn 1599 the Spanish tried to send troops by sea, but bad weather stopped their fleet from reaching Ireland.


Sixteenth Century Ireland

bullet Charles Blount, Baron Mountjoy (1563-1606) replaced Essex as Lord Deputy in 1600. Blount had no interest in compromising with the Irish rebels; he set about defeating them militarily. An able soldier, he established a reliable supply chain, and then set about the systematic destruction of resistance.


The siege of Kinsale

Mountjoy first secured the Pale. He then defeated all resistance in Munster -  just before the arrival In late summer 1601 of about 4,000 Spanish troops at Kinsale. Mountjoy moved promptly to assemble about 9,000 troops and besiege the Spaniards. In November the English gained control of the entrance to the harbor, cutting off the possibility of retreat.
Tyrone's army marched south to try and join forces, and in December the Spanish tried to break out of the town.

bulletMountjoy defeated both the Irish and the Spanish with very few casualties, forcing Tyrone to retreat north and the Spanish to conclude a truce and withdraw.
bullet Mountjoy pursued Tyrone and his army to the north, and eventually forced him to surrender unconditionally (March 1603).


The English in Ireland

bulletElizabeth's victory over the Irish cost a great deal of money. It cost about 2 million to suppress the revolt; 1.25 million of it over the period 1599-1603.
bulletThe military victory did nothing to reconcile the Irish to English rule, and the success of Catholic missionary priests reinforced the religious dimension of the struggle.
bulletThe English succeeded in denying her Catholic enemies a strongpoint off her Western Coast, but only military force would maintain Ireland's subjection for many centuries to come.

     Next section