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 West Cork > Towns > Kinsale - present

Kinsale - Past
Part 1 : Kinsale - Past

The name Kinsale conjures up two contrasting images: Historic Kinsale, scene of Ireland's most damaging defeat in battle and modern, glamorous Kinsale, of yachting and gourmet fame. We will briefly deal with the history bit first. On a stormy, wet Christmas Day 1601 Kinsale was the location of a battle that did more than anything to bring an end to the old Gaelic way of life. Two Ulster clan chieftains O'Neil and O'Donnell had rebelled against the Crown forces with outstanding success. In September help arrived from Spain, 4,800 men under the command of Don Juan del Aquita, but they landed in Kinsale, three hundred miles away from the rebellion.

  The Spaniards were then promptly surrounded and besieged by the forces of Lord Mountjoy. Eventually Don Juan got word to O'Neill and O'Donnell that, although he had come to help in the rebellion, he was now badly in need on some assistance himself. The rebels felt they had no choice but to go on a three hundred mile winter march to rescue the Spaniards. In football terms it
could be described as a "home banker" being turned into "an unwanted away fixture" in unfamiliar territory, with the added disadvantage that the substitutes were locked in the dressing-room and the opponents had the key. On arriving at Kinsale, the Ulstermen surrounded the English who had already encircled the Spaniards and were now packed in between the Spanish visitors and the natives, like jam in a swiss roll.

The plan agreed on was simple: crush the English in a joint action on a day when they would not expect an attack, namely Christmas Day. However on the Irish side, informers gave advance notice to the enemy who were ready when the assault began. To make matters worse, Don Juan, who by now had had a bellyful of Irish winter weather and had lost his macho appetite, decided to celebrate Christmas by quietly surrendering without striking a blow. Free to concentrate on the outer
circle, the English routed the Chieftains' army killing some 1,200 of them and pursued the remnants as far as Innishannon, some 15 miles (24km) away.
O'Neill and O'Donnell went into exile. Their clan territories were confiscated and handed over to settlers. The consequences of that action are still being grappled with by politicians. With the defeat and departure of O'Neill and O'Donnell, the old Gaelic system of rule by Clan Chieftains ended. As for Don Juan, he was allowed to go home with his men. I doubt if he became a good-will ambassador for "Holidays in Kinsale".

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