most valiant and celebrated commander
Richard Tyrrell is probably best remembered as the man who
engineered a famous victory over Crown Forces at Tyrrellspass
in 1597, during the Nine Years War but he was also an able
commander who served both sides during his long life.
He is also responsible for the construction of the great
castle in Tyrrellspass, close to the main Dublin-Galway
road which was bought and restored by Phillip Ginnell in
So feared was he that the Calendar of State Papers for Ireland
in 1603 noted "Tyrell who of all that were in rebellion,
next to Tyrone, was the most dangerous, being the most sufficient
soldier and of the greatest reputation throughout all Ireland."
He also merits a mention in the Annals of the Four Masters
as a gentleman of the Anglo-Norman family of the Tyrrells,
lords of Fartullagh in Westmeath. He was one of the most
valiant and celebrated commanders of the Irish in the war
against Elizabeth; and during a period of ten or twelve
years, had many conflicts with the English forces in various
parts of Ireland
This account suggests that following the failure of the
last prolonged rebellion against the British until the 1916
Rising and the subsequent War of Independence, Tyrrell fled
to Spain. Other sources dispute this.
Following the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 the rebellion led
by ONeill and ODonnell petered out and the Treaty
of Mellifont, signed in 1603 within days of the death of
Queen Elizabeth, marked a turning point in Anglo-Irish relations.
Unfortunately most of that life is not very well documented,
but his family background makes for interesting reading.
The Tyrrells held the title Lord of Fertullagh (Fartullagh
in some sources), a barony in south Westmeath that centred
on the village of Tyrrellspass, a position they held since
the time of Henry II.
Of Norman stock they were generally, loyal to the crown
and Richard would probably have followed suit but for an
incident that occurred when he was in his early twenties.
In 1565 Richard was apprehended by the Earl of Kildare and
wrongly accused of the murder of Garrot Nugent, one of the
Nugents of Delvin and this apparently had a huge bearing
on his decision to lend his support to the rebel side.
Despite the presence of Norman and English invaders since
the late 12th century, four centuries later the Tudors had
achieved limited control of the country. The English had
adopted a policy of supporting key candidates for the leadership
of Gaelic clans in an attempt to gain influence of these
Hugh ONeill (1550-1616), Third Baron Dungannon and
Second Earl of Tyrone, one of the key figures in the Nine
Years War was taken at the age of nine by Sir Henry Sidney
to his castle in Ludlow, Shropshire.
Following his return in 1568 he remained loyal to the crown
until suspicions of his commitment to the crown were aroused
by his decision to come to the aid of survivors of remnants
of the Spanish Armada who were shipwrecked near the Inishowen
Peninsula. In 1595, he succeeded Turlough ONeill as
head of the clan.
The other central figure in the Nine Years War was Red Hugh
ODonnell (c. 1571-1602). At the age of 17 he was kidnapped
by the Lord Deputy Sir John Perrott, who feared the power
of the ODonnells, and imprisoned in Dublin Castle,
from where he successfully escaped four years later, having
made a short-lived bolt for freedom the previous year.
At the age of 21 he was inaugurated as chief of the ODonnell
clan and joined forces with ONeill and in tandem they
instigated what became known as the Nine Years War.
Details of Tyrrells early life are sketchy. It appears
that he was born in Spain in 1545 the son of Phillip Tyrrell
and his Spanish wife who was also the foster mother of Don
Carlos, son of the Phillip II of Spain.
Regarding his own personal life there are two conflicting
versions. One suggests that he married Doryne, daughter
of Rory Og OMoore from Laois while other evidence
suggest that he married a woman called Maud and had two
children with her, Godfrey (Geoff) and Rita.
During the Nine Years War he was Commander of the rebel
forces in Leinster and took his orders from Hugh ONeill
of Tyrone and was regarded as one of the most valiant and
resourceful commanders in the Elizabethan Wars.
His background made his an ideal for the role of mediator
between the Old Irish families and the New English and he
was seen as a great manager of armed forces, and was trusted
Trained to fight for the English he seems to been embittered
against themafter being falsely accused of murdering Garrot
Nugent, son of the Baron of Delvin in 1565.
About this time the State Papers pick up on his association
with the OMoores of Laois but nothing else his
noted on him until the Battle of Tyrellspass, 32 year later
by which time Tyrrell is in his early fifties.
ONeill learned that the English forces were preparing
to advance on Ulster and requested that Tyrrell engage some
of the crown troops in a diversionary action.
In the summer of 1597, with help from OConnor of Offaly
they set an ambush for the Crown Forces led by Barnwall
the Baron of Trimbletown near Tyrellspass and routed them.
Such was the scale of the defeat that it is hardly mentioned
in the State Papers.
Some sources suggest only one English source survived the
carnage and Arthur G. Geoghegans poem the Battle
of Tyrrellspass claims that after the battle OConnors
hand was so swollen form the heat of battle that his handle
of his sword had to be filed off.
Shortly afterwards ONeill made Tyrrell Colonel General
of his forces in Munster. In 1600, Charles Blount, Lord
Mountjoy was dispatched to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth in
a bid to quell the rebellion.
Mountjoy set about breaking the rebel resistance by besieging
Tyrrell at his headquarters at Tyrrells Island,
the exact location of which is not verified, possibly on
a crannog in an area north of Tyrrellspass and south of
Later Tyrrell escaped north to join ONeill at his
Tyrone base. By this time both were on top of the most wanted
list with informers employed to gather intelligence on the
pair as rebellion became more unified and widespread.
There is a suggestion that Tyrrell married Doryne OMore
in the same year as the war continued. By 1601 fighting
was reported all over Leinster as the rebel forces headed
south to join up with the Spanish Forces at Kinsale.
At this pivotal battle in Irish history, ONeill led
the main attack with ODonnell at the rear and Tyrrell
in the vanguard as they engaged British forces at a number
of different sites close to that coastal town.
With defeat imminent the rebels fled to the nearby village
of Inishannon to assess the situation. ONeill decided
to return to Ulster, ODonnell headed for Spain and
Tyrrell remained in Munster.
After defeat at Kinsale the rebellion petered out. After
moving around various locations in Munster, Tyrrell offered
to submit to Carew, Lord President of Munster. ODonnell
died shortly after in Spain. OSullivan Beara was defeated
by Carew at Glengarriff.
In 1603, as news of Queen Elizabeths death was withheld
from him Hugh ONeill signed the Treaty of Mellifont.
She was succeeded by the Catholic James I, also James O
Seeing that the game was up, Tyrrells seems to have been
successful in cutting a deal with Carew in return for some
lands in the Cavan area. For the rest of his life he features
little in the State Papers.
Referred to as a Captain of his Nation, that
being the soldiers he led. Records suggest he spent most
of his latter years in county Cavan, living off his army
pension. There were murmurs to treason and no record of
his death but papers suggest he was caught while trying
to head to Flanders in 1632 when he would have been close
Those interested in finding out more about Richard Tyrrell
and his times should check out Richard Tyrrell
Elizabethan Captain by Jennifer A. Kelly published
in 1997 to mark the 400th anniversary of his greatest triumph,
the Battle of Tyrrellspass. Within 50 years of the Battle
of Kinsale most of the Tyrrells had disappeared from Westmeath.
Taken from Maroon & White 2004