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The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 4006

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The northern river Blackwater--there are at least three Blackwaters in Ireland--forms the southern boundary of the county Tyrone, which takes a succession of deep loops or elbows in order to follow its windings. At the end of the sixteenth century and for centuries previously it had marked the boundary of the territory of the chiefs or princes of Tyrone, and here, therefore, it was that the struggle between the earl and the queen's troops advancing from Dublin was necessarily fought out.

A good deal of desultory fighting took place at first, without any marked result upon either side. Tyrone got possession of the English fort which commanded the passage of the river, but it was in turn snatched from him by the lately arrived deputy, Lord Borough, who, however, was so severely wounded in the affray that he had to fall back upon Newry, where he not long afterwards died. Ireland was thus for the moment without a governor, and when after a temporary armistice, which Tyrone spun out as long as possible in hopes of his Spanish allies appearing, hostilities recommenced, the command devolved upon his brother-in-law and chief enemy, Sir Henry Bagnall.

Bagnall had between four and five thousand men under him, Tyrone having about the same number, or a little less. A few years previously a very small body of English troops had been able, as we have seen, to put to flight fully three times their own number of Irish. In the last dozen years circumstances however had in this respect very materially changed. The Desmond followers had been for the most part armed only with skeans and spears, much as their ancestors had been under Brian Boru. One English soldier armed with a gun could put to flight a dozen such assailants as easily as a sportsman a dozen wolves. Tyrone's men, on the other hand, were almost as well armed as their antagonists. Some of these arms had come from Spain, others had been purchased at high prices from the English soldiery, others again from dealers in Dubl

in and elsewhere. Man to man, and with equal arms, the Ulster men were fully equal to their assailants, as they were now about to prove.

In August, 1598, Bagnall advancing from the south found Tyrone engaged in a renewed attack upon the fort of Blackwater, which he had invested, and was endeavouring to reduce by famine. At the advance of Bagnall he withdrew however to a strong position a few miles from the fort, and there awaited attack.

The battle was not long delayed. The bitter personal hatred which animated the two leaders seems to have communicated itself to the men, and the struggle was unprecedentedly fierce and bloody. In the thick of the engagement Bagnall, lifting his beaver for a moment to get air, was shot through the forehead and fell. His fall was followed by the complete rout of his army. Fifteen hundred soldiers and thirteen officers were killed, thirty-four flags taken, and all the artillery, ammunition, and provisions fell into the victor's hands. The fort immediately surrendered, and the remains of the royal army fled in confusion to Armagh, which shortly abandoning, they again fled south, not attempting to reform until they took refuge at last in Dundalk.

Such an event as this could have but one result. All the waverers were decided, and all determined to throw in their lot with the victor. The talisman of success is of more vital importance to an Irish army than probably to any other, not because the courage of its soldiers is less, but because their imagination is greater, and more easily worked upon. A soldier is probably better without too much imagination. If the auguries are unfavourable he instinctively augments, and exaggerates them tenfold. Now, however, all the auguries were favourable. Hope stood high. The Catholic cause had never before showed so favourably. From Malin Head to Cape Clear all Ireland was in a wild buzz of excitement, and every fighting kern and galloglass clutched his pike with a sense of coming triumph.

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