The Tale of Maurice-go fetch (contd.)
(This is the third of three numbers telling the story of the successful defence of the
Castle of Ballyshannon by Red Hugh O'Donnell against an army led by Sir Conyers Clifford,
English-appointed Governor of Connacht, in 1597, the 400th anniversary of which occurs next
Mullaghnashee. Daybreak, August 15, 1597. So this is how it ends. Or does it? Where are the
high spirits of a short two weeks ago?
"We'll hang Hugh O'Donnell from a cross-ribbed tree; we'll hang Hugh O'Donnell from a
cross-ribbed tree!" Don't hear that any more. Or, "Crawford, we'll smash him, we'll bash
him; Crawford, the scut of a Scot!"
Damn, damn, and triple damn!
Last night was the worst of the lot. "Get the lot," he says. "Get them on the spot," he
says. "A strategy session," he says.
That should have twigged me to it. The old strategy hadn't worked. That was clear to
everyone, from the rawest recruit to Sir Conyers himself.
Our siege of the castle had been thwarted. The gunners on the battlements had wrecked our
best laid plans, and our dead lay all agley. Instead of being the besiegers, we ourselves
were now besieged.
Cut off from our supplies, we could only stand and stare at Saimer. The horses started to
starve. Then the men. Then the camp women.
Day by day O'Donnell harried us. Cut off our food. Cut off our hay. Our bellies cried out,
and the answer came back, "Fight on, bold men, fight on." Brave words. Empty bellies.
Hunger gained the upper hand.
"Maurice, write a requisition!"
"My Lord, there's no paper left to write on."
"No paper! You fool! You oaf! You clod!"
"We're out of ink, too, my Lord."
"No ink! No paper! You jackass! You imbecile! You, you complete omadhaun!"
Even if we were out of food, out of hay, out of paper, and out of ink, Sir Conyer's grasp
of Irish was growing day by day. Sleep with a dog, you'll rise up with fleas. Sleep with a
native, you'll rise up with a brogue. A well-known fact, and has happened many times.
Last night lasted all night. They were all there. Every man-jack of them.
Talk about unity? Don't make me laugh. Talk about anger? Of that we had no lack. Talk about
arguments, disagreements, recrimination, insults--it was Boyle all over again, only ten
It's the same in every army. Success has many parents; defeat's a lonely orphan.
"Defeat! Don't mention that word. It's a retreat--a strategic withdrawal."
"Withdrawal is defeat!"
"No, it's not! No, it's not!"
"I didn't march to the Erne to march back again!"
"Don't be a clift! Do you want to be a dead man for the rest of your life?"
"Better dead than dishonoured. Retreat is dishonour!"
And so it went. And on it went. From dusk to dawn.
Finally, at break of day, the consultation ended. The decision was made, the die cast.
A re-crossing of the Rubicon for our once boastful host. This time the wrong way round.
And the Erne ran red with redundance of blood the day we ran away.
"When, therefore, the Governor, the Earls, and the chiefs in general, had perceived the
great danger in which they were, they held a consultation from the beginning of night on
Tuesday, to morning twilight of Wednesday, the 15th day of August; and the resolution they
finally came to at the day-break was to advance forward at once from the place where they
were at Sith-Aedha to the rough, turbulent, cold-streamed, rocky ford over the brink of
Assaroe, called Casan-na-gCuradh, and they advanced to that (to them) unknown and seldom
crossed trajectus, in troops and squadrons, without being noticed or heard by O'Donnell.
In consequence of the strength of the current, and the debility of some of the army and
horses, from having been deprived of food, a countless number of their women, and men of
their inferior, unwarlike people, of their steeds and horses, and of other things they had
with them, were swept outwards into the sea by the current of Assaroe.
"They left their ordnance and their vessels of meat and drink in the power of the
Kinel-Connell on this occasion. The chiefs and gentlemen of the army, however, and such of
them as were strong, crossed the Erne after great danger and peril. The warders of the
castle continued firing on them as rapidly as they were able, and pursued them to the brink
of the river, in order to exterminate their enemies; and intelligence (of their movements)
reached O'Donnell and his army."
(Annals of the Four Masters).
The Hawk of the Erne Navigation
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