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About 140 Irish rebels were drowned as they tried to cross the Blackwater, and another 200 Irish were "lost in the river Moy and at Owen Abbey" (McGurk, 20). The defeat of the Irish rebels took just two hours, according to McGurk's reckoning, and clearly the English had prevailed which made Mountjoy a hero because so many previous English attacks had failed. Notwithstanding their victory, the English lost a reported 8,000 men (some by sword, others because of hunger, disease and the bitter cold winter in Ireland) (McGurk, 20).
In addition to the bloodshed and the embarrassment of the beating the Irish took, there were unanswered questions left behind, McGurk notes. Was that battle at Kinsale the official end "…of the Gaelic order in Ireland?" And was the Spanish effort so half-hearted that it really amounted to a fraud -- too little, too late? (McGurk, 21). The question regarding del Aquila seems the most pertinent in the aftermath of the routing the Irish took: "Was not Don Juan del Aquila a cowardly and incompetent commander?" Another good question in hindsight is, was O'Neill forced into an "unequal and inevitably fatal struggle" due in part to the failure of the Spanish commander to hold up his end of the bargain? (McGurk, 21).
The answers to these questions depends on which historian is providing the narrative, but it does seem that two things happened that tipped the scales toward Mountjoy's forces. One, del Aquila did indeed fail to provide the support he was sent there to provide, albeit the facts show that his men were not fed properly nor were they clothed comfortably in the brutal cold Irish winter. And two, the decisions O'Neill made at dawn on Christmas Eve -- having his forces, along with O'Donnell's forces, attack Mountjoy at the same time -- were not, in hindsight, the strategically wisest.
Back in Spain following the defeat at Kinsale, del Aquila offered "three causes" as to why things turned out as they did. One, he assured Philip that is was indeed possible to "take any port in Ireland" but it was "not possible to defend it with an undermanned expeditionary force" like he had in Kinsale (McGurk, 21). Secondly, del Aquila claimed his second in command, Zubiaur, did not obey orders to "join O'Neill"; and thirdly, del Aquila asserted that when Admiral Brochero (the Spanish commander at sea) returned to Spain from Kinsale with the transport ships, he had plenty of time to come back "…with reinforcements" for the del Aquila part of the strategy, but he did not come back (McGurk, 21).
What later happened to Hugh O'Neill?
Thomas Bartlett reviews an 1986 book by M. Kerney Walsh (Destruction by Peace) in which Kerney attempts to piece together the last years of O'Neill's life -- a piecing together that Barlett challenges in no small way. For example, Bartlett notes that Ms. Kerney found and translated 240 (Spanish) documents that she used for her narrative, but based on Kerney's 140-page introduction, Barlett explains, "…in this reviewer's estimation the published documents do not at all bear out the extravagant claims she makes for them" (Bartlett, 1986, p. 37).
That having been noted, Bartlett asserts that contrary to Ms. Kerney's narrative to the contrary, O'Neill was not "a politically astute" man who had a "clear grasp of contemporary international affairs" -- as Kerney claimed -- when he relocated to Spain. Bartlett's view is that O'Neill did indeed panic when he learned that he might have his loyalty to the rebel Irish cause questioned, and hence he "fled" to Spain. And moreover, O'Neill was "an embarrassment from the day he arrived on the continent until the day of his death" (Bartlett, 37), which is contrary to Kerney's view that O'Neill negotiated with Philip in order that Philip might consider making Ireland a colony of Spain. His once-glorified presence in Ireland was but a distant memory, and he must have known this, Bartlett explained.
O'Neill was sent from Spain to Rome where he languished in "house arrest" and was given a token pension but in fact he became "disconsolate and fell into despair" so that when he died, in 1616, his death may well have been "a relief" (Bartlett, 37).
In conclusion, this chapter in the relations between Spain and Ireland shows that the English army ultimately had too many resources on its side, O'Neil and O'Donnell did not have ample forces -- or creative enough strategies -- to beat the English, and the Spaniards either did not sent enough resources to augment those of the Gaelic rebel Irish forces, or did not have the courage to attack when it was most fortuitous to do so. The bottom line for this chapter in Irish…[continue]
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