Tyrrell, Richard (c.1570–c.1648), confederate captain during the Nine Years' War, was born about 1570 into a cadet branch of the Gaelicised Old English Tyrrell family, who were lords of Fertullagh, a territory in the southeast of Co. Westmeath. The Annals of the Four Masters give his immediate genealogy as Richard, son of Thomas, son of Richard; they also record the death of Huggin Tyrrell, lord of Fertullagh, in 1366 and of James Tyrrell, lord of Fertullagh, in 1484. Little is known of his immediate family other than that he was foster-brother to Cathal O'Connor, one of the O'Connors of Offaly, who fled to Spain and became known as Don Carolo. This O'Connor drowned trying to sail back to Ireland during the Nine Years' War.
Richard Tyrrell is first mentioned in 1596, when he went into rebellion in Westmeath in support of Hugh O'Neill (qv). By 1597 the Four Masters record that, along with a Captain Nugent and the Kavanaghs, O'Connors, O'Mores, and O'Byrnes, he was ‘making great war . . . in Leinster’ (AFM, vi,, 2042–3). He was wounded in the fighting that year but soon became an important captain for O'Neill, and won an impressive victory over the son of the Baron Trimleston, a battle traditionally said to have occurred at Tyrrellspass. Trimleston's son ‘was wounded and taken prisoner’ in the engagement and subsequently handed over to O'Neill's brother Cormac MacBaron O'Neill, who held him as a hostage to be exchanged for his own son, whom the English administration held prisoner. In 1598 O'Neill at first ordered Tyrrell and his forces to observe a truce, but in August ‘requested’ him to ‘entrust the guarding of Leinster to some allies’ and invade Munster to aid the sons of Thomas Roe Fitzgerald. Tyrrell's allies on this expedition were Redmond Burke and his brother-in-law Uaithne O'More (qv), and they plundered first Ormond, capturing five castles, and then Co. Limerick. The Four Masters state that Tyrrell and his allies ‘conferred the title of earl of Desmond, by the authority of O'Neill, upon James fitz Thomas Fitzgerald (qv), the son of Thomas Roe’, who became known as the Súgán earl of Desmond. Tyrrell then spent seventeen days attacking the English planters in Desmond and remained with James, son of Thomas Roe Fitzgerald, even when Burke and O'More returned to Leinster. In 1599 the Súgán earl appointed Tyrrell ‘Sergeant-Major and Colonel General of Munster’ and sent him to Ulster to obtain reinforcements and gunpowder.
In June 1600 Tyrrell was back in Westmeath with a force of 400 foot-soldiers and eighteen horsemen. Along with his brother William he negotiated with an English emissary, seeking a pardon from the queen and safety of life. Although Tyrrell wanted the negotiations kept secret he remained loyal to Hugh O'Neill. He based himself in a bog-island in Westmeath, which became known as ‘Tyrrell's Island’, and English forces were unable to root him out. Having obtained a force of ‘retained kernes’ from O'Neill, he conducted extensive raiding operations in counties Carlow, Kildare, Offaly, and Tipperary. In December 1601 he captured Killurie Castle in O'Molloy's country and also Walter Castle in Upper Ossory, where he installed his wife and his prisoners. He then joined Red Hugh O'Donnell (qv) on his march south to Kinsale with a force of 400 footmen and forty horsemen. At the battle of Kinsale itself he commanded one of O'Neill's two infantry squadrons, comprised of 400 of his own men and 200 Spaniards commanded by Captain Alonso de Campo. In the battle, which took place on the morning of 3 January 1602, Tyrrell's troops were routed along with the rest of the confederate forces; his Spaniards tried to make a stand but were cut to pieces.
Following the defeat at Kinsale, O'Neill left Tyrrell in Munster to assist Domhnall O'Sullivan Beare (qv). Tyrrell was present in an engagement against Donough O'Brien (qv), earl of Thomond, in Goat's Pass, and one of his officers, Richard Mageoghegan, was killed defending Dunboy Castle against an English assault. However, in late 1602 Tyrrell left O'Sullivan and, evading Thomond, returned to Leinster. At some stage he submitted to the English administration, certainly before the surrender of his leader, O'Neill, in March 1603.
Tyrrell seems to have moved to Co. Cavan along with his brother William, where they bought land. In the plantation of Ulster he was granted a proportion of 2,000 acres but by 1613 he had ‘not yet done anything’. Tyrrell lived a quiet life in Co. Cavan. However, in 1632 he was detained by the Irish lords justices for raising a company of 100 men, to be commanded by his son, Richard, whom he intended to ship to Dunkirk in a vessel he attempted to charter in Dublin. It was stated that he had a contract with Thomas Preston (qv), then a captain in the Spanish service in Flanders, for the company to enter the archduchess's service in a new Irish regiment Preston was raising. Both he and his son were questioned by the English administration, and the men dismissed to their homes. By the end of his life, he had become known as ‘old Captain Tyrrell’.
Tyrrell married Doryne O'More, a sister of Uaithne O'More, in 1600 or 1601. Apart from their son, Richard, they had three daughters – Catherine, who married Dr Owen O'Shiel (qv), and Annabel and Elish, who became nuns. It is uncertain when Tyrrell died, but he was last recorded in 1648. He was one of Hugh O'Neill's most capable Leinster allies, a fact acknowledged by his English adversaries, and proved himself to be an accomplished soldier as well as a survivor.