The Tale of Maurice-go fetch
(In this, and the succeeding two numbers, is told the story of Red Hugh O'Donnell's
successful defence of the Castle of Ballyshannon, the 400th anniversary of which occurs
next year, 1997.)
Enniskillen. July 12, 1597. "Take a letter. To Clifford, Governor of Connaught, etc., etc.,
etc. Pursuant to authority vested in me by her Sovereign Majesty, etc., etc., etc., of
England, Wales, Scotland, etc., etc., etc., I do hereby command that you muster all forces
loyal to our Sovereign Queen, etc., etc., etc., and proceed with all haste to Tirconnell,
there to engage the O'Donnell, renegade and rebel, and, having subdued that country, to
join me at Enniskillen, at which place I am laying siege to the garrison of that other arch
traitor, the O'Neill. Issued this day under my seal, Burgh, Lord Chief Justice, etc., etc.,
I can see the old bastard dictating it to his amanuensis. Laying siege, is it? Laying
another clanger more like it. And I'm to rescue him? Nothing to it! Raise an army. March
into Tirconnell. Cut more than his toes off O'Donnell. Then march into Tyrone and help the
old bastard who's all bogged down at Enniskillen. A walk in the deer park! The sooner he's
recalled to dear old England, the better for us all.
Bad thoughts. Not a soldier's thoughts. Banish them. Follow orders. Into the wilds of
Ballina. July 16, 1597. "Maurice, take a letter. To the earls and the barons, Thomond,
Inchiquin, Clanrickard, Dunkellin. Copies to all gentry in Roscommon and Mayo.
"Pursuant to command of His Excellency the Lord Chief Justice, etc., etc., etc., and
pursuant to authority vested in me as Governor of Connaught, owing fealty to Her Sovereign
Majesty, etc., etc., etc., you are hereby ordered to assemble with your followers, fully
armed, at--where the hell--let's make it Boyle--the monastery at Boyle, on July 24, where
you shall receive my further orders."
Don't tell them yet where we're going. Some of them might reply sick.
"Bring provisions sufficient for a three week--no, make that four weeks--no, make that a
Eight days to launch a summer campaign! I can hear them squealing now.
"Maurice, get those off right away. Then go get me my commanders. Fetch me my maps.
"Maurice, get me this." "Maurice, get me that." Seven years I've been with him, with the
wrong master. From he wakes up in the morning till he falls asleep at night it's a
constant cry of "Maurice!" "Maurice-go fetch." A nick-name I hate. Wherever we go it's
always the same. "Here comes 'Maurice-go fetch'". Then a laugh.
Now it's "Maurice, go get me an army." What does he think I am, a Merlin? Or one of the
Irish sidhe? I wield my goose quill, and, presto, an army!
The bloody et ceteras. Easy to say, but it's Maurice has to fill in all the bloody blanks.
Does he think of that? Does he care? Not bloody likely! Oh, but if there's one blob of ink
splattered on the paper, then there's a tantrum!
How many copies is this latest missive going to take? Four for the titled, twenty for the
quality. My fingers will be sorely cramped.
"Maurice, have you got it finished yet?"
I've hardly started and he wants to know if I've finished!
"I've got to reply to the Lord Chief Justice. Send him a copy of my orders. Just a note to
let him know I'm moving fast. Dress it up. Dress it up. Lots of salutation. And a flowery
ending. You know that best, Maurice. Hurry up now, like a good man. As these blasted Irish
say, 'Brostuig,' Maurice, 'Brostuig!'"
I'd like to brostuig him.
And that's how it all began. I was in on the start of it, in on the end of it. Scribing,
and scribing, and scribing, and scribing. My fingers worn to the bone. Orders and
dispatches. Letters. Proclamations. Requisitions. "Maurice, get me this." "Maurice, get me
"The Age of Christ, 1597. At the time that the Lord Chief Justice was engaged in the
foregoing expedition (against O'Neill) he sent a written dispatch to the Governor of
Connaught, ordering him to proceed, with all the forces he could possibly muster, to the
western extremity of Ulster, against O'Donnell, while he himself should remain in Tyrone.
This order was promptly responded to by the Governor; for he sent for the Earl of Thomond
(Donough, the son of Conor), for the Baron of Inchiquin (Murrough, the son of Murrough),
for the Earl of Clanrickard (Ulick, the son of Rickard Saxonagh), and his son, Richard,
Baron of Dunkellin; and also dispatched orders to the gentlemen of the counties of Mayo and
Roscommon, requiring them to collect and muster their forces. He ordered all the chieftains
to meet him at the monastery of Boyle, on the twenty-fourth day of the month of July
precisely, when he himself, with all his bands (of soldiers) would be at that place."
Boyle. July 24, 1597. What a sight! Boys, oh boys, oh boys, oh boys!
(Annals of the Four Masters)
What a sight. Marching men. Mounted men. From Leinster. From Connaught. Some made it from
Munster. Accoutered in armour, and banners held high. Knights with their mail suits, foot
soldiers with shields. Sun glinting on helmets. Long lances and pikes. Short swords,
daggers, scians. One lump of a man with an old-fashioned hammer. A descendant of Thor, a
He should be happy. His call has been answered. But it's "Maurice this," and "Maurice
that." "Go fetch me Inchiquin," "Go fetch me Thomond".
Dispatches to Galway. Dispatches to Cavan. "Total the horses." "Count the creaghts."
"Camp followers, cut in half." "Surplus women. Useless baggage. Send most of them packing,
keep only the best."
Make a travelling brothel keeper of 'Maurice-go fetch'! That I won't do. They can stay, and
they can screw.
"No tarrying, Maurice. No tarrying! A council of war, this afternoon. My headquarters." His
headquarters! In the monastery garden!
There they came, the earls and the barons. My master at the head of the table, the quality
"Ballyshannon! Are you mad? The ford of Seanach is certain death."
"Cross the river in front of the castle? Not me!"
"Gentlemen, gentlemen! There is more than one way to skin a deer, and more than one ford
to cross the Erne.
"Maurice, go fetch me the map from my case over there!"
All stood up to examine the map. The arguments waxed and waned. For an hour, and for two,
it was shove against pull.
"I prefer this way."
"I prefer that way."
And me with reports still to write.
A compromise was reached, and the grumbling died down.
Then another flare-up, on the order of march. Who would lead? Who would follow? And time
Another compromise. They would all lead, my master, the earls, and the barons! The
gentlemen of quality would each head his own company.
It was bicker, bicker, bicker over every little detail, until hunger stopped them cold.
Off to the monastery's refectory to fill their bellies, after which it was, "Maurice, take
a letter." "Maurice, code this to Galway." "Maurice, fetch me a posset."
"Wake me up first thing in the morning, Maurice. I must review the troops."
Next day what a sight to behold! What a sight to remember for years! Four thousand men in
their squadrons and platoons. Twenty-two standards of foot and ten of cavalry. Musketeers
and archers. Javelin throwers and pikemen. Martial music. Trumpet and tabor. The horses,
the creaghts, the women in the rear. My master's finest hour!
"They all came on that day to the aforesaid place (the monastery of Boyle).
When assembled, they amounted to twenty-two standards of foot, and ten standards of
cavalry. They marched from there to Sligo, and from thence to the Erne, and pitched their
extensive camp on the banks of the limpid Samhaoir [Erne]. The high spirit of the army was
such that they thought all Ulster would be incapable of coping with them in battle."
(Annals of the Four Masters).
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