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Page 20 of 32
The Tale of Manuel

The Castle of Ballyshannon. August 5, 1597. I must have a guardian angel. How else to explain I'm still alive?

"Take a drink, Manuel. Drink it down, Manuel."

A coughing, and a splutter. Liquid fire.

"Mother of Mercy, preserve me!" Water of life they call it. Uisce beatha. These Celts are crazy. Drinking crazy. Fighting crazy.

Don't even have their own commander. A Scot! Crawford his name. Hard man. Good soldier. Knows his guns. Big guns.

My head is sore. My eyes still smart. Hearing gone in three days of firing. Three nights without sleep. Stirabout to eat. Liquid fire to drink. Oh, for a flagon of wine! Spanish wine.

Only thing keeping me going. The hope of returning to Spain. Francesca. My children. Young Seve and Mario. Maria the pride of my eye.

Sailing from Lisboa in the year of '88, we hoped to conquer England by the spring. But the winds grew up and a gale did blow. And Tirconnell's rocky shore was where I landed.

My guardian angel saved me then. And a few compatriots too. But our vast armada perished in the storm.

Brought before O'Donnell I was questioned closely, and with him a bargain did make. Teach my skills as a gunner to his new cannoneers, for three years. Then safe passage to Cadiz. That was nine long years ago. And I'm still here.

We knew what was coming. We had ample warning. We built up our stack of cannon balls. Rocks of granite, slabs of limestone, baulks of timber we piled behind the battlements, ready for use when the fighting began.

Crawford, a grand man, a great man! As a Spaniard I say it without any reserve. Knows where to station guns, how to infillade. Knowledgeable in fields of fire, elevation, depression, trajectory and timing. Makes every fusillade count.

Wish I were a man of words. Wish I could write it down. This battle deserves remembrance in the annals of all men.

"On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, they continued to fire on the castle with heavy balls, emitted with loud report and flashing flames from the loud-sounding, red, shot-vomitting guns of that heavy and immense ordnance which they had planted opposite the fortress, so that their reports and loud thunderings in the regions of the air were heard far and distant from them. They sent large parties of their choicest soldiers to the base of the castle with wall-razing machines, and with thick and strong armour about their bodies, and bright-shining helmets on their heads, and with a bright testudo of round, broad, hard iron shields around them, to protect them from the shots of their enemies. The resolute attack they made upon the fortress, however, was of no avail to them; and it had been better for them had they not come upon this journey against it; for from the castle were poured down upon them showers of brilliant fire from well-planted, straight (aimed) guns, and from costly muskets, and some rough-headed rocks and massive solid stones, and beams and blocks of timber, which were (kept) on the battlements of the fortress, in readiness to be hurled down (when occasion required); so that the coverings of the razing party were of no shelter or protection to them, and great numbers of them were destroyed, and others who were so severely wounded became so exhausted that they delayed not to be further slaughtered, and, turning their backs on their enemies, they were routed to the camp. The people of the fortress kept up a constant fire on them, and killed an unascertained number of them."
     (Annals of the Four Masters).

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