DUBLIN in 1641 contained about 20,000 inhabitants. The two Cathedrals and the Castle were the chief buildings within the precincts of the capital; immediately round them lay the ancient city, girdled about by mouldering walls four hundred years old, through which a few gates of great antiquity gave entrance. But outside the ramparts new private mansions were springing up. Chichester House was in the suburbs. Stately town houses were beginning to rise in Dame Street, where the Earl of Kildare lived, with other nobles and men of rank. Trinity College, founded out of the spoils of All-Hallows, lay conveniently “near Dublin,” and the meadows stretching down to the Liffey were the exercising play-ground of the students. Stephen’s Green was an open space, much resorted to by the citizens when they were not deterred by the O’Byrnes and O’Tooles, who sometimes pitched their camps too dangerously near the place, hiding themselves in the woods of Ranelagh from which they made swift and daring raids up to the city walls. Wooden bridges spanned the river, and few houses or streets had yet arisen on the northern side. Round Mary’s Abbey there were gentlemen’s houses, flanked by wine shops and taverns. The river was little used except for lugger boats which deposited goods at the quays. Ringsend was the chief landing; place, although Howth was of some commercial importance. The streets were scarcely paved, and orders were issued from time to time by Parliament for the carrying off of the noisome heaps of refuse which were allowed to collect in the open spaces opposite each door. No Catholic church was to be seen. But on inquiry one would be guided into a pestiferous bye way, where some poor priest was courageous enough to say Mass by stealth to a trembling congregation. The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Thomas Fleming, lived in a few rooms in Cook Street. The abortive Catholic University in Back Lane was now a mere lecture room in the hands of the Board of Trinity College. All places of note were in Protestant hands. Parliament before meeting in the Castle was usually marshalled to the cathedral, and when the Catholic Lords of the Pale declined to enter (as they did in 16 14) it was looked on as a mark of disloyalty to the State and the State Church.

The State had its headquarters in the Castle. Government was carried on by the Viceroy or his Deputy, assisted by the Lord-Chancellor, the Prime Sergeant, the Archbishop of Dublin, and sometimes the Lord Chief Justice. There being no Viceroy in October, 1641, the government was directed by Lords Justices Parsons and Borlace, nominated by the Puritan Committee of the English Parliament. Parsons was a greedy, grasping adventurer, who had grown great by fraud and spoliation. “His whole learning consisted of being able to write a scrawl, which was almost illegible;”[1] but he lived at this time in a splendid mansion on Merchants’ Quay. The new and stately house of the rigid Calvinist, Borlace, Master of the Ordnance, stood in College Green, at the very verge of the open space. Borlace had placed most of the arms and ammunition in his control in the Castle vaults, and not an ounce of powder could be obtained without his personal signature. But the Castle was poorly guarded. Old worn-out soldiers were on sentry, useless for watch or for protection. The gates were in bad repair. A sudden attack would most probably have succeeded in capturing the place. For the keepers dreamt of no danger, and it is a noteworthy fact that although the secret movement had been so long astir, no one had broken faith by giving information to the Government. The designs of Owen Roe and O’Moore were kept close, and the Castle rulers were in blank ignorance of any coming danger up to the very evening before the intended outbreak. Lord Justice Parsons was in his house at Merchants’ Quay when he was told that a strange man wished to see him. The Lord Justice had some visitors at the moment, and sent out an evasive answer; but the stranger was inflexible. He must see the Lord Justice, he said. Parsons came out and found a man of the fairly well-to-do class of servitor and tenant, “much in drink,” who stated that his name was O’Connolly, and that he was in the service of Sir John Clotworthy. He had over-heard plotting, and had been allowed into the counsels of the plotters. Dublin Castle was to be seized early next morning; his foster-brother. Colonel Hugh McMahon, in his cups had told him so, as they had been drinking in Winetavern Street. McMahon said that four or five hundred men were to come to town that very night, “and our design,” said he, “is to take the Castle of Dublin, which we can easily do, they being secure and off their guard. The warders are old silly men, and cannot resist. The castle once taken the kingdom is ours, for there is artillery, powder, and ammunition there which my Lord Strafford had brought over from Holland, enough for 30,000 men; and the greatest part of the town being Papists would join with them.”

Parsons was inclined at first to treat the warning with derision; but having consulted Borlace, a resolution was come to that the city gates should be strongly guarded, all suspicious persons watched, and strong posts set at various points of the city. Both Parsons and Borlace had received many reports and discoveries from sheriffs and other officials of the strange and suspicious movements of Lord Maguire and Roger Moore during the summer, and still more during the months of September and October; how, under the guise of attending the funeral of Sir Phelim’s wife, many “oversea Irish” had come together and remained in secret consultation ; how Mr. Moore had made the house of his son-m-law in Monaghan the muster-place for all dangerous and rebellious persons in Ulster; how camp fires blazed on the hills, and priests, crucifix in hand, exhorted the people to die heroically rather than live as slaves and cravens. Many reports were known to be exaggerated, many false; still, that trouble was imminent seemed written in letters of fire. Willoughby, an able officer, was called into council, and the defence of the city was entrusted to him. He hurried up young and active soldiers to replace the poor, old, superannuated halberdiers, he strengthened the gates of the Castle, and he distributed arms among the Protestant “loyalists” of the city.

Roger O’Moore soon saw that the enterprise was frustrated, and he advised his friends to see to their safety. His warnings were, perhaps, too late, for Lord Maguire and Colonel Hugh McMahon were captured that same night. McMahon resisted but was overcome, and was brought before the Lords Justices. He told them it was true they had him in their power and might do what they pleased with him. He was not going to make any denials. He felt sure that things had gone so far nothing could now undo them.

”Wherefore he said that twenty out of every county were to have been there with them in Dublin; that all the lords and gentlemen in Ireland who were Catholics were also with them; and what is done is now so far advanced as it is impossible for the wit of man to prevent it.”

McMahon was not speaking words of idle menace; the rebellion broke out at the appointed hour, but how unlike the rebellion planned by O’Moore and Owen Roe! Instead of a military insurrection aided by a great popular revolt, and directed from the seat of government at the Castle itself, the rising now could only be the tumultuous outburst of an angry and undisciplined multitude. The great project arranged with such ability and care fell to the ground, wrecked not by treachery but by McMahon’s loose and babbling tongue. On such threads the fates of nations hang!

Stunned by the disaster, many were for the abandonment of further operations or attempts, but Sir Phelim O’Neill and the men of the north were in nowise disheartened, and they made ready for instant action. Accordingly on the night of Saturday, October 23rd, the wanderers in the creaghts and all the other discontented and disaffected Ulstermen burst upon the English colony, and drove the trembling planters flying to the great towns. Proclamation was made to the Scotch settlers that no war was waged against them but against the Saxon, the common enemy of Scots and Irish. Castles, towns, and forts were captured, and some arms were thus obtained by the insurgents. In a fortnight Sir Phelim made himself master of Tyrone and Armagh, and by the capture of Fort Mountjoy restored the control of Lough Neagh to the clansmen, whose fishing fleets swept once more that inland sea. All Ulster west of the line of the Bann was now, with the exception of the two strong places, Derry and Enniskillen, in the hands of Sir Phelim. He was bent on the capture of Derry, but events forced him eastward to guard the frontier from Chichester and Arthur Hill, who had raised the settlers of Antrim and Down and formed a great camp of observation on Blair’s Heath near Lisnegarvy: the Irish appeal to the Scots in fact had fallen flat, and both the old Scots of Antrim and the new Scots of the Plantation made common cause against the Ulstermen. In his march to the east Sir Phelim fixed his headquarters at Newry, and there he paused uncertain what next to do. Inflated with a brief success he issued orders in the royal style, called himself “O’Neill,” and showed too clearly that his weak head had been turned by his momentary elevation. To win over doubtful waverers he published a forged document which purported to be a royal proclamation from King Charles authorising the Irish rebellion. At Sir Phelim’s execution in 1653 however this poor weak-headed creature proved all his faithful loyalty and absence of personal regard by refusing to win a reprieve offered if he would consent to charge the king with having signed the proclamation or with any participation whatever by word or act in the northern rising.

The royal proclamation had little effect in Ulster; but in the Pale, where the loyalists wished to put the best face on the alliance which they soon saw to be inevitable, it was of some moment that even the claim of royal patronage should be advanced, as that argued: Sir Phelim’s desire, at least, of bearing arms under his; Majesty’s orders. But lies do not thrive, and the j turning point of Sir Phelim’s career is to be found at j this time. Flushed with glory he swept on to Uriel, captured Dundalk which made no resistance, and then, without guns or siege materials of any kind, he with his half-armed multitude sat down before Drogheda. Months were wasted in this ill-judged enterprise; opportunities were thrown away, now through incompetence, and again through undisciplined license, and the great outspread, sprawling camp of the Irish was a sad spectacle to all men. One gleam of success relieved the dark record — the brilliant achievement of Roger O’Moore at Julianstown where he almost completely destroyed a large contingent sent from Dublin to the relief of the garrison. But the success of O’Moore had no substantial effect on the main operations; and at last worn, weary, and disgusted, the Irish army raised the siege and marched back to their homes, or rather melted away on the line of homeward march.

Few men have been able to hold Celtic clans together, and Sir Phelim was quite incompetent for such a task. He soon found himself with only the semblance of an army, and when he reached Tyrone he was practically deserted. But Roger O’Moore had by his statesmanship won allies over to the Ulstermen, and their value was all the greater in this hour of need. In a masterly manifesto O’Moore had set out the grievances which had driven the Irish into insurrection, disclaiming any intent to make war upon the king, but announcing their desire to liberate his Majesty from the trammels imposed upon him by insolent and disloyal subjects. This manifesto came opportunely at the very time when the Lords Justices and Sir Charles Coote, by their inhuman cruelties, were goading Leinster into revolt. By skill and patience O’Moore brought about an alliance between the Lords of the Pale and the Ancient Irish; already a Leinster army had taken the field under the command of Lord Mountgarrett, and North and South were joined under the title of Confederates. But other and nearer help came to Sir Phelim at this time. Urged by Owen Roe, Randal McDonnell, Earl of Antrim, the “Lord of Dunluce,” commanded his cousin, Alexander Colkitto McDonnell, to join his forces to those of the Confederates of Ulster, and Colkitto came from the western isles of Scotland with kernes and galloglasses 1,500 strong, marched to Tyrone and formed a junction with the forces of Sir Phelim. Alexander and Phelim were both the bravest of soldiers, but they were both alike destitute of military skill; and mere daring was of slight avail against trained and well-armed troops such as they had now to meet in the Scotch veterans who, under Leslie, Munroe, and Stewart, had already landed. The Scotch Covenanters had offered to the English Puritan Parliament the services of ten thousand men, and in pursuance of agreement made four thousand veterans, the heroes of Continental battle fields, were landed at Carrickfergus. The Stewarts at Derry commanded what were known as the “Laggan army ” and against this army Sir Phelim and McDonnell madly marched.

They were driven from the bloody field of Glenmaquin, near Raphoe, hopelessly beaten, and defeat following defeat, the whole of the lowlands were soon in the hands of the Scotch forces, and Fort Mountjoy was again garrisoned by the enemy. Sir Phelim no longer dared to hope. Evil news had come from Leinster. The Earl of Ormond, who had been appointed by the Lords Justices to the command of all the forces under their orders, had beaten the Leinster Confederates at Kilrush, and over the whole movement disaster hung like a black cloud. Broken-hearted, Sir Phelim summoned his chief followers to a conference at Glasslough in the county of Monaghan, and the resolution was come to that everyone should seek his own safety as best he could, and that the rebellion should end then and there.

“Sorrowful, and downcast of countenance,“ we are told, “all then were;” when suddenly a messenger appeared among them to announce tidings that in the very moment of their extremity the true captain of the Irish people had landed on the shores of Donegal. “Then all indeed rejoiced;” at the coming of Owen Roe O’Neill every thought of submission was cast aside; and the remnant of a shattered army, despairing, discomfited, and ruined, went out with light hearts to meet the great leader.

The national rising of 1641 has stirred bitter and violent controversies. Zealous advocates on both sides have put forward impossible statements. The received account on one side was that the Papists rose in obedience to the directions of their priests, and murdered every Protestant that fell into their hands; that at Multifarnham Abbey a great occult meeting of Irish friars had been held, and there after long and patient debate it was determined that, on the whole, the best policy would be to leave no Protestant alive; that they issued orders accordingly and this was the origin of the bloody business. We may laugh at this tale now, but it was gravely repeated for many years as an indisputable fact. We are not indeed to think that it was repeated out of mere stupidity. It was done of deliberate design and that design was plunder. The words of Boyle — “Great Earl of Cork” — had not fallen on dull ears. Confiscations might at any time be brought about by a little judicious perjury; you hanged your troublesome neighbour, and you got his lands, prospering doubly by God’s great blessing. The London markets of 1641 showed that Boyle had opened a rich mine to the Castle adventurers; lands to be confiscated were quoted on the exchanges, and capital was freely invested. The king might perhaps forgive charges of treason in a rebellion fomented by his implacable and cruel Puritan ministers; but charges of murder were much less likely to be forgiven. Besides the Puritans were now accusing Charles of direct complicity in the Irish rising, and the more the Irish were blackened the more unpopular would Charles become. To aid in this good work charges against Irish Papists were invited, with promise of pecuniary redress for injuries; and the demand brought a ready supply. But the samples are not very convincing. The testimony of Protestant ghosts at Portadown, opinions, impressions, misgivings, hearsays, “which I verily believe” (as each poor deponent says), are treated as scientific and demonstrative proof by persons far too acute to be really led astray.[2]

It would indeed be absurd to say or to think that in such a rising terrible and revolting things did not happen. But a prearranged massacre is disproved by these precious documents themselves. When we find faithworthy men bearing witness to what happened not in an hour or in a day but during a long sojourn in captivity, where they saw with their own eyes what their captors were doing, then we are enabled to estimate the value of the charges of indiscriminate bloodshed. Taking then one adverse witness, the Rev. George Crichton, who is to be absolutely believed as his words and conduct show him to have been a pious but rather dull man, we may from his accusations infer the value of what the Protestant ghosts revealed. Mr. Crichton was many months in the custody of the Cavan O’Reillys. He tells us how he testified in their presence against all the abominations of Rome, to which they apparently listened with the most amused serenity. During all the months he was there he did not see one act of violence committed by “the rebels.” But he heard a great deal. Big hulking fellows crowded round him, relating their daily exploits.

“I am tired,” said one; I have been working very hard all day, killing Protestants.”

The others (ogres that they were!) laughed loudly at this, while poor good opaque Mr. Crichton wrestled with them in spirit and warned them of the wrath to come. In March, 1642, Mr. Crichton tells of a meeting of the Popish clergy in Kells. It was really a most important meeting, but Mr. Crichton did not know that.

The “Popish Bishop of Kilmore” was there, and after the meeting he saw Mr. Crichton, and said to him: — “We have made a law to-day, Mr. Crichton, that all who do not go to Mass must quit the country and go away.”

“Where to, my lord,” asked the poor man.

“Away, out of the country,” said the bishop.

“Now, Mr. Crichton,” said he, “you are a scholar; you know the tongues; be convinced and come to Mass.”

“Never, my lord!” said Mr. Crichton.

“Well, you are a very obstinate man,” said the bishop, and turning to a soldier he said, “Phelim, you must take Mr. Crichton to Cavan gaol.”

And the bishop laughed and was exceeding merry, and so were the officers and soldiers round him; and as he mounted his horse to ride away a fierce dog flew at the horse, and the bishop turned round and said: “Mr. Crichton, the very dogs here are not converted.”

Mr. Crichton, unharmed save by the laughter to which his own dull mind lent all its malignant terror, was left at large, and went on freely testifying as before; and even his testimony disproves the possibility of a fore-planned massacre. Bedell’s beautiful story is well known. Bright and pure among the corrupt and worldly Anglican bishops, Bedell shines out with holy radiance. He was loved as an honoured father by the Catholics of Cavan and of Leitrim, where he laboured truly in the Lord’s vineyard. Dispossessed of his church and of his house by the insurgents, who handed both over to Bishop McSwiney, Bishop Bedell nevertheless addressed his Catholic successor as “Christian brother.” With his son and his son-in-law, he was detained in Cloughoghter Castle. There the bishop died, and when his body was being borne to the grave the little family group wondered to see an Irish detachment of soldiers drawn up to await the funeral. At first (as they tell us) they feared some interference. But they were much mistaken. The commander, who was also sheriff of the county, requested that he and his soldiers might be permitted to show their deep sorrow for the beloved illustrious one that lay dead, and, being allowed, they followed the corpse in mournful silence until the grave was reached. Then O’Reilly the sheriff came forward bare-headed, and said that they might say what prayers they most desired to say in what way they chose, and he and his men should stay there and do them reverence. And it was so done; and then in one thing they were obstinate. They wished in their own manner to show their respect and grief. So the men were drawn up and a volley of honour was fired, and a deep chant went up to the sky, “Requiescat in pace ultimus Anglorum.” And a Catholic priest was heard to say, “sit anima mea cum Bedello.

This scene, honourable to the illustrious prelate and to his poor outlawed foemen, is a fit commentary on Mr. Froude’s readiness to accept every story of alleged atrocity and to discard the least word of praise or of exculpation. Outrages were committed, of course. When the wild tatterdemalion hordes of homeless clansmen rose maddened, we may be quite sure they did not weigh their every act and word. They poured into the little towns, seized the churches and public buildings, rang the bells, and captured all the arms on which they could lay hands. Unless resisted they stopped in most cases at that; but resistance led to violence and bloodshed. These were the acts of an infuriated multitude ground down for a generation under the heel of tyranny; and even were there many real charges substantiated, the wonder would not surely be very great.[3] Different indeed is the responsibility of regular troops, regularly paid, under regular commanders. The original Dugald Dalgetty— Sir James Turner — was not chicken-hearted. He had seen war in its most terrible form in Germany. But he has left on record his condemnation of the excesses of the Scotch and English armies all through these Irish wars, while the barbarities of Coote, by order of Parsons and Borlace, were horrifying even to men of that awful time. Over and over again, men, women and children alike were put to the sword, and the events are recorded as mere ordinary occurrences. Whether the atrocities of Coote in Wicklow and Dublin, and the barbarities for which the unlettered boor Parsons is personally responsible, were as Carte suggests done of deep design to drive rich Catholics into revolt, and so to seize their lands, or whether butcheries and cruelties were committed in the mere wantonness of bigotry and hate, matters not at all. Children impaled on bayonets; venerable gentlemen like Read and Barnewell tortured on the rack; all Catholics in Dublin disarmed, threatened, persecuted, driven out; Father Higgins, the gentle friar and scholar, hanged without a trial; all Catholic members of both Houses first expelled, and then proceeded against as rebels; Poynings’ Law suspended so that a gigantic bill of attainder, impossible under any semblance of constitutional law, might be passed; the Pale laid desolate by Parsons’ orders “burn everything;” the prerogative of pardon wrested from the king, and the lands to be confiscated vested in parliament; these and more than these are the proud memorials of the Puritan democratic parliament in Dublin, during the year 1642.[4]


[1] Carte, Life of Ormond.

[2] Edmund Burke declared these depositions in Trinity College rascally and worthless; and the late Commissioners, Dr. Russell and Mr. Prendergast, concurred. But Mr. Froude was still there, “like Teneriffe or Atlas unremoved.” It only needed that any zealous person should string together some or these heterogeneous absurdities, assert that they established the guilt of Irish Papists, and Mr. Froude was ready to declare that from what he knew of Papists the proofs must be overwhelming. Hickson, Ireland in the Seventeenth Century, Preface.

[3] The attitude of the Catholic clergy of Ulster is clearly shewn in the second proposition laid down at the Synod of Kells in March, 1642: –

“Homicidae, mutilatores, graves percussores, fures, injusti spoliatores, raptores et extortores bonorum quorumcumque eorumque fautores, receptores et quoquo assistentes, excommunicati sint et excummunicatos esse declaramus.“

[4] Macauley, who waxed indignant over the imaginary excesses of King James’s Parliament in 1689, had no word of censure for the undoubted wrong-doing of the Puritans. Did he think there were no tyrants except Kings and Priests and Tories?