Mary, Queen of England, died about this time, and Elizabeth was Queen in her stead This unwomanly woman with the heart of stone and the bowels of brass was the cleverest woman of her time. She and her Government began at once to interfere with Shane. Sydney was the name of her Deputy in Ireland. He proceeded northwards to Dundalk, and sent notice to Shane to come to him. Shane did not pretend to have heard the notice, but he sent an invitation to Sydney to come to his house and be godfather to his infant son. The Deputy did not refuse him, and he stood for the son.

“I am O’Neill of Ulster by the will of this clan,” said Shane. “I do not want any fighting with England if I am let alone, but if they provoke me let them take the consequences.”

Sydney was satisfied with that, and there was peace in Ulster for a while, until Sussex came as Deputy to Ireland.

“I shall have no peace,” said he, “till O’Neill is overthrown,” and he prepared and fitted out an army for the purpose.

This Sussex was a false, cruel, cunning man, but he was not so clear-headed as Sydney. Calvach O’Donnell assisted him, and also the Scottish O’Donnells in Antrim. Shane the Proud complained that they were annoying him without cause. His province was prospering in wealth and well-doing. Let a messenger come from Elizabeth and he would see. Elizabeth took no notice of what he said, but she allowed her Deputy to go north to Armagh in the year 1561.

Shane rushed suddenly into Tir-Conaill before they expected him, and he carried off old Calvach O’Donnell and his young wife — that woman who left the stain on his name. This sudden feat of arms dismayed the Tir-Conaill men, and Sussex scratched his head with vexation. Shane turned southward, as if he were about to make an attack on Dublin. The “Son of the Eagle” was under him, and Shane was not to be trusted on the back of that horse at the head of an active body of Ulstermen. Sussex did not know how great was the energetic force of Shane. At last he thought he had Shane in his grip, and he laid a trap for him. He sent a thousand men into Tir-Eoghain to plunder and ravage, and he himself remained near Armagh waiting for Shane. The thousand men collected hundreds of black cows, of white sheep, and horses, and they were returning, much elated. “See the ‘Son of the Eagle’!” said one of them; “Shane the Proud is upon us!” Shane had only a hundred and twenty horsemen and two hundred foot in the place, but they were warriors who dealt loud-resounding blows. Heads and feet were in heaps upon that field at the end of an hour, and the little remnant, wounded and torn, were flying to Armagh, the keen-edged axes cutting and slaughtering them, and that terrifying war-cry, “Lámh Dearg Abú!” in their ears. Sussex himself tells with sorrow of heart the utter rout that was inflicted on him[1]: —

“No Irishman ever before had the courage to stand against me; but see this O’Neill to-day, and he having only half as many men as I, bursting in upon my fine army on a smooth, wide plain. I would pray to God to get a chance at him in such a place, without a wood within three miles of him to give shelter to his men. My shame! He was like not to have left a creature of my army alive in one hour, and it wanted little but he would have dragged me and the rest out of the fortress of Armagh.”

Sussex would not attempt to plunder Tir-Eoghain again for a while. That defeat terrified them in London, and Elizabeth asked the Earl of Kildare, a relative of Shane the Proud, to make peace. She sent a message of pardon to Shane, and an invitation to come to London to speak with her.

“I will not stir a foot,” said Shane, “till the English army takes the road out of Ulster.”

“Be it so,” said Elizabeth.

When Sussex had failed he thought he would put his cunning in treachery to account. His own letter to Elizabeth exists as a witness to the treachery. In the month of August, 1561, he writes to that Queen that he had offered land, to the value of a hundred marks a year, to Grey Niall, O’Neill’s house-steward, on condition that he should kill that prince. “I shewed him how he should escape after the act,” said he. We do not know whether Grey Niall was in earnest, but in any case we do not hear that he made any attempt to murder Shane.


[1] In all cases where quotations from English writers have been translated into Irish by Conán Maol, such quotations have been re-translated into English, and therefore differ slightly in form, though not in sense, from the English originals. – ED.