The Tale of Cormac (contd.)
The Moy. Noon. August 15, 1597. He got away! I can't believe it. Clifford himself!
Didn't I know him well! For ten days I saw him before the castle walls. Had him lined up
once before, but his horse stumbled and my ball flew over his head.
That's what it's like in the sharp-shooting game. One chance. A hit or a miss. And the
chance might never come again. Now this!
Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn!
The day began helter-skelter. "They're trying the Champions' Ford! They're running away.
Follow me, men, follow me!"
Red Hugh himself roused us up. "Get going, men, get going! Don't let them get away!"
Musket and balls and powder I grabbed, and raced like a hare for the ford.
What a sight to behold! Sheer desperation must have driven them. No easy crossing that.
With the tide out and the falls high, a slip and a splash, not even a shout, and a life
swept away in a flash. Men. Women. Even horses.
And all the time the castle's cannon belching. My comrades' guns were blazing away, and I
quickly joined the fray.
We were late. Just a bit. For only the stragglers were left.
"After them, men," cried O'Donnell, and he led us across the self-same ford.
Our muskets held high, and our powder bags too, we followed our dauntless Red Hugh.
Up the escarpment and on to the Moy, we chased them and raced them, all between Erne and
Then over the bay clouds started to gather. A cold wind blew up, and I wished I had taken my
brat. First a dribble of rain, and then a downpour. Wet rain. Irish rain. Cold rain.
Seeping rain. Down our necks. Up our sleeves.
'Twas then I saw Clifford way off to my right, alone with only a servant. My musket I
raised. I steadied my aim. But, no flash in the pan! What a stupid performance all round!
In our hurry and rush, we'd neglected to think of the weather. Our powder was soaked. Not a
spark would ignite. Soon Clifford was gone from our sight.
I can't believe it. I feel such a fool! Twice I had him, and twice he got away. No wonder
Red Hugh's in a rage.
"When O'Donnell heard the report of the firing, he immediately rose up with his forces, and
having quickly accoutred themselves in their fighting habiliments, they advanced to the river as speedily as they could. When the Governor's army had cleared the opposite bank of the river they went into order and battle array. They placed their women, their calones, their unarmed people, their wounded men, and such of their horses of burden as they had, between them and the sea. They placed their warriors and fighting men behind them, and on the other side towards the country, for they were certain of receiving an attack by those forces who had pursued them. O'Donnell's people went in pursuit of them across the river without delay; and they were so eager to wreak their vengeance on the army that fled from them that they did not wait to put on their armour or outer garments. They began to surround them and sharpen the conflict against them, and both parties continued shooting and attacking each other from the Erne to Magh-gCedne in Carbury-Drumcliff. At this time there fell a shower of rain in such torrents that the forces on either side could not use or wield their arms, so drenched with wet were their powder pouches and the apparatus of their fine guns. These showers of rain did more injury to O'Donnell's people than to the Governor's army, for they (the former) had left their outer garments behind, as we have said before; but not so the others. They wore coverings over their battle dresses.
"The Governor proceeded with his forces to Sligo that night; from thence on the next day
to the abbey of Boyle, and on the third day to the district of Athleague. The chiefs of Connaught then dispersed to their territories and houses, and the Governor went to Athlone...
"O'Donnell was greatly chagrined that the Earls should have escaped as they did."
(Annals of the Four Masters).
Later he learned that Clifford and all his army could well have made a clean escape across
the Erne, above the Falls of Assaroe, had not the shrieking of a hawk alerted the castle's
defenders. But on this the Annals are silent, unlike Livy, who generously pays tribute to
Juno's sacred geese for the warning they gave in 386 B.C. to the defenders of Rome's
Citadel when besieging Gauls attempted to scale its walls by stealth.
Five years later, following defeat at Kinsale and the flight of Red Hugh into Spain, the
castle of Ballyshannon (March 25, 1602) finally fell to English forces who were supported
by Irish traitors.
Postscript: "What the hell have we here? What sort of soldier is this?"
I had fallen on my face. In the rush to get away. Blasted tree stump. Twisted ankle.
"No soldier I. Man servant to my master."
"Did he stop to pick you up?"
"Don't make me laugh! Foot's throbbing with pain."
"What will we do with him?"
"Run him through!"
"No. Kick him in the arse and let him go!"
Merciful Lord in High Heaven! Merciful God on his Throne! Somehow I limped away. Somehow
I made it home. There I lay low. For two long years. Till my master breathed his last.
That tale it is simple to tell.
"The Age of Christ, 1599. The Governor, Sir Conyers Clifford, was slain, together with a
countless number of English and Irish about him. He was left feebly stretched on the
mountain (Corrishliabh in the Curlieu Mountains) mortally wounded in the commencement of
the conflict. It was not known to the soldiers who first wounded him...and the soldiers
did not recognize him, until O'Rourke at last came up to the place where he was, and
recognized that it was the Governor that was there. He ordered him to be beheaded, which,
being done, his body was left in a mutilated trunk." (Annals of the Four Masters).
No more "Maurice, take a letter." No more, "Maurice, send this here, send this there." No
more, "Maurice, go fetch me this," "Maurice, go fetch me that."
Time to seek a new master. Time to better myself. This time an Earl for me. And Essex, they
say, is again a rising star.
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