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Assault on the Blackwater

February 1595. Aodh Mor O'Neill through his Gaelic allies has been engaged in a proxy war with the Tudor English in Ireland as they continued their encroachment onto Gaelic Irish lands. Now on the 16th of that month he openly commits an act of aggression against the English in Ulster. A group of Irish soldiers led by his half brother Art MacBaron O'Neill approach the fort, apparently with prisoners in tow. At this stage O'Neill and many local septs and families were nominally "loyal" to the Tudor crown in England. 

One veteran of  O'Neills army tells his story of the events on his deathbed many years later. No doubt copious amounts of Poitín and the drying of time had shaped the story, but is that not which makes legends.

For the full experience, click on the two youtube links at the bottom of the page and play these songs by the Chieftains while reading. I promise you will enjoy. Kicks in something fierce midway through.  

Nice and slow, no hurry. Caliver butt shoved into his back, keep him moving forward. Same to the left, and quick glance, same on the right too. They were all of the same purpose, keeping moving, urging their trojan horse prisoners on. Warm air exhaled in plumes on a chilly morning, sloshing of the boots of grissled men on a muddy path. White tight grips on guns, the tension of the approach invisible to the sentrys away and above on the tower. The group trudged toward the log bridge, nearly there with their quarry. Hooded captives and their captors, weapons under arms. Hold the nerves now, they cant see anything out of place from up there. Savage kick into his shin, make it look convincing. Throat so tight its hard to swallow. Warden at the bridge stood up now, he sees you. He sees that the matches of your groups calivers are lit. They should only be lit when.... He knows. He cant believe. Panic, delay, he is frozen for an agonising dirty second, but  eventually the shout goes up sure enough. Up with his adrenaline. Up comes his polearm but so does your Caliver. The lit match on your firearm that gave away your true intent now makes up for it. Hand straight up to the lever, lever squeezed, the match drops into the powder pan. The powder ignites with a white blinding flash, which in turn ignites the powder in the breach. A loud boom erupts, pushing out of the barrel a plume of smoke, a lance of red flame and finally a lead ball. The projectile cuts through the air toward him. Behind, the others are fairly quick on the uptake and those knuckles turned white with potential turn ruby red as pent up dexterity explodes forth. Calivers release shot, from all around, return fire from the tower pocking the ground like lead hale. The polearm warden is struck in the jaw as your shot crashes into his face. Jaw shattered, the lead like a falling droplet of water deforms and streams as it tumbles through his face and bounces down into his clavicle. He crumples as his Bill teeters on its axis before following the man to the dirty wet earth. He still lives, evidenced by the raspy steamy breath he deeply exhales, cut through by hacking coughs of blood. Not worth another thought. We step over him and break into a huddled run, quickly adhering to any usable solid cover. Barrels, wooden posts, a cart, anything. Our prisoners already have shed their false bindings and hoods and collect weapons from the rest of us. Cold stillness penetrated by crack thuds of caliver and pistol fire. Now and again screams, not of pain but of raw rage and damnation. A man shot wishes it a clean death, not a punctuated end with a dirty lump of lead. Reset the match, powder flask open, a bit into the pan, more down the barrel, ball down the barrel, ram it down, tap the barrel off of your steel Morion helmet. Up off those sore muddy knees. Take aim. Squeeze the lever. Dropping down again onto those ragged knees, saffron leine now a coriander brown as it trails loosely into the muck and repeat the process dispassionately as your party move toward the bridge over the Blackwater. Arrows and shot continue. The narrow log bridge is slick with muck, and the first bare foot to land on it slips forward. The Kerne unbalanced goes down. His others tumble over, some recovering, others retreating. Those few keep moving but the gates into the fort are being closed. Up again, aim, fire. A figure on the tower slumps, tumbles and smashes into the ground, then rolls into the river Blackwater.

Aimed shots sporadically lash back and forth. You route around with a finger in your shotte bag and feel that you have seven shottes left. More Ulster men come from the other side of the river. Art McBaron O'Neill had sent them around. They had calivers, swords and some had clutches of javelins held under their arms and shields in hand or suspended by a thong around the neck, bouncing against their sides as they came on quickly. They moved swiftly, firing then moving. The group, over one hundred in number hit the earthen rampart and then spilled over the top in a squall of momentous fury. I remember the sight. How could a man forget. The vision of young men thrown with their consent onto murder, their own and that of others. Both sides set on each other with gun butt, sword and bill. O'Neills men were yet again repulsed, driven by nought but the animal savagery of men fighting for their souls. We gave back and forth all morning with the men on the tower, the rampart and the earthwork. Again we attacked the foreigners at the earthen wall, again hacked and driven away. Inhumanity has its limits as a tool and The O'Neills dearthair( brother) made discussions with the English. They delayed and prevaricated for hours, hoping I can only assume for relief from Newry. It was not coming.  Art O'Neill became tired of the foreigners refusal to surrender and set about installing the necessary elements of a fire to burn them out. Their leader, Cornwall eventually acquiesced, although more thoroughly said, he submitted. The Gaels as much as the English were capable of atrocity but that day I remember Art McBaron O'Neill let the English leave unmolested.


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