The destruction of the Munster Plantation came swiftly. The Nine Years’ War, led by the “Arch-Rebel” Hugh O’Neill, earl of Tyrone, was fought mainly in the north of Ireland until 1598, when the floodgates burst and O’Neill’s armies came to the southwest. Troops led by Aodh Mag Uidhir (Hugh Maguire), one of O’Neill’s vassal chieftains in Ulster, rampaged through the plantation in October of that year, looting and burning indiscriminately and killing any settlers unwise enough to stay in their isolated homesteads.
“What was a disaster for the planters was a boon for the people they threatened and replaced. The following verses are excerpted from a bardic poem by Eochaidh Ó hEodhasa that celebrates Maguire’s Munster campaign. The bard refers to himself in the first person as a loving admirer of Maguire:
Naráb aithreach leis ná lean
A thursu timcheall Éireann;
Go ndeach tharaim —ná tí m’ol—
An ní fá ngabhaim gúasacht.
Gidh eadh, is adhbhar téighthe
Dhá ghnúis shúaithnigh shoiléirthe
Slios gach múir ghormsháoththraigh gil
‘na dhlúimh thonngháothmhair theintigh.
I hope that neither he nor I
Will regret this circuit of Ireland
I sense danger in it:
May it pass—let my fear not come
And what ever the possible losses,
And yet—there is something to warm
His honest and noble face:
All the castle walls blue-burning
In a pall of wind-tossed fire!
To ward off the cold, Maguire warms himself with burning castles.
Some New Englishmen did resist the tide, most notably the Norris family at their great fortified house at Mallow, where Sir John Norris resided as President of Munster. The inhabitants of the south-central Limerick town of Kilmallock also withstood the storm, as did the town of Cork.
Most refugees, including Spenser, made their way to the safety of coastal towns like Cork. Spenser and presumably his family left from there for London in December, where Spenser died on January 13, 1599.
Spenser wrote or co-wrote a few short pieces at this time of crisis (the so-called “Brief Discourse of Ireland”) and carried them and other documents with him as a messenger to London. The documents attest to New English alarm at the situation, give administrative details on the Munster settlement, suggest a remedy to the crisis, and appeal to the queen for help.
Andrew Hadfield, Edmund Spenser: A Life (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012): 382-93.
Eochaidh Ó hEodhasa, “Mag Uidhir’s Winter Campaign.” The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse. Ed. and trans. Thomas Kinsella (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986): 159-64.