A. D. 1550—1567. 

The “Reformation” was meanwhile proceeding vigorously in the English colony; and the history of Ireland, from the period at which we have opened its page, is so deeply coloured by that event and its consequences, that frequent reference to its course and progress is essential to clearness of narrative. 

On the archiepiscopal chair of St. Laurence O’Toole,1 sat one George Browne, an apostate (or reformed) friar; raised to that eminence by the King of England, in the exercise of his pontifical supremacy; and to him, with four other persons, was directed in the thirtieth year of King Henry, a commission “to investigate, inquire, and search out where, within the said land of Ireland, there were any notable images or reliques, at which the simple people of the said Lord the King were wont superstitiously to meet together * * and that they should break in pieces, deform, and bear away the same, so that no fooleries of this kind might thenceforth for ever be in use in the said land:” a commission which was executed, wherever the English power extended, with all the zeal that religion and rapacity could both inspire. 

The Report of these commissioners is still extant, one of the most singular statements of account on record; in which they specify the property, “by virtue of the commission of the lord the king aforesaid, into the hands of the lord the king, taken and appraised, and by the before-recited title sold.” £326 2s. 11d. is stated to be “the price of divers pieces of gold and silver, in mass and bullion, and also of certain precious stones set in gold and silver, and of silver ornaments and other things upon divers images, pictures, and reliques.” Three cathedral churches, St. Patrick’s Dublin, Leighlin, and Ferns, with many monasteries, priories, parish churches and chapels, are stated to have been stripped. “The price of divers vases, jewels, and ornaments of gold and silver, and bells, and the utensils and household stuff of superstitious buildings,” is set down at £1710 2s. 0d. and “one thousand pounds of wax, manufactured into candles, tapers, images, and pictures,” produced £202

So far the material reform had been effected, but on the death of Henry the Eighth, the doctrinal revolution was to begin in good earnest. Somerset, the Protector, was a Zuinglian: and under the advice of Cranmer, (who was a Zuinglian also, from the moment of King Henry’s death,) it was resolved in his councils to make a more strenuous effort for establishing the Reformation in Ireland. In furtherance of that object, Sir Edward Bellingham was sent over, a very singular apostolic missionary, ”with 600 horse and 400 foot” An “order of council” was issued, enjoining the use of a new Liturgy. And shortly after one Bale was appointed by the king to the bishopric of Ossory, a bold and uncompromising reformer, who was not content, like the king’s bishops in general, to reside in Dublin, under the shelter of the castle, but proceeded at once to Kilkenny, and undertook his charge. A most remarkable “Vocacyon,” as he calls it, was this episcopal visit of Dr. Bale to his diocese, and may serve as an instance of the method in which the Church of Ireland was to be reformed. 

The new bishop being ignorant of Irish, and most of his clergy, with all their flocks, ignorant of English, his preaching though never so energetic, could have little effect upon such a diocese. Therefore he ordered his servants to invade the churches, to pull down the images and pictures, and to destroy the vestments and ornaments which savoured of popery. The people of Kilkenny bore the preaching very well, so long as they did not understand it; but there was no mistaking such conduct as this. They rose against him, killed five of his servants before his face, and he himself hardly escaped. As he relates the story himself: “I preached the gospel of the knowledge and right invocation of God. I maintained the political order by doctrine, and moved the commons to obey their magistrates. But when I once sought to destroy the idolatries, and dissolve the hypocrites’ yokes, then followed angers, slanders, conspiracies, and in the end the slaughter of men.”3 

Hitherto the religious innovations had been confined within very narrow limits; and in the North the alarm of them was not yet heard. Two clergymen, indeed, named Dowdall and Goodacre, had been successively appointed the nominal (or titular) archbishops of Armagh by Henry the Eighth and Edward the Sixth; but they scarcely appear to have visited their diocese, and certainly attempted no reformation there. The former of these, though not appointed by the provision of the pope, was a stanch Catholic, and upon the death of Henry, zealously resisted any change of doctrine or practice in the church. Though a king’s bishop, he did not shift and veer, as was expected, with the Court religion of the day; and for his contumacy in that respect, the new English pontiff, in October, 1551, issued a bull, (or, “letters patent,” as it was termed,) gravely depriving Dowdall, and the see of Armagh, of the Primacy of Ireland, and conferring that dignity upon the Archbishop of Dublin and his successors;4 in acknowledgment of the services of Browne, who better knew the duties of a court bishop. 

But all these arrangements were unheard of or disregarded in Ulster. The Coarha of St. Patrick still sat upon the archiepiscopal throne of Armagh; and the sees of the North, protected by the O’Neills and O’Donnells, and ruled by the primates Cromer and Waucop, long continued free from invasion by the barbarian missionaries of England. In the words of Dr. Leland, “the people, removed beyond the sphere of English law, had not known or not regarded the ordinances lately made with respect to religion, nor considered themselves as interested or concerned in any regulations hereafter to be made.”5 

Shane O’Neill troubled himself little about the “Reformation” so long as it kept far from his borders. There was work enough for him to do at home. O’Rielly of Cavan dared to question the supremacy of O’Neill, and had to be brought to reason by a fierce inroad and a bloody defeat. The chief of Tyrconnell was a more formidable antagonist. The O’Donnells had long rivalled in power their kindred tribe of Tyr-owen; had reduced some of the tributary chieftains, former Uriaghts of the O’Neill, under their own sway; had wrested from the Kinel-owen their ancient territory of Innishowen for which O’Donnell paid tribute to O’Neill, though always with reluctance; and sometimes he set the prince of Ulster at defiance and denied the tribute altogether: which had in former days produced furious wars, and that famous diplomatic correspondence — emphatic protocols, breaking off with significant aposiopesis, — “Send me my tribute, or else —” “I owe thee no tribute, and if —” 

Shane was not the man to suffer the rights of O’Neill to be questioned. With a large army he burst into Tyrconnell, and too recklessly pursued his enemies into the recesses of their mountainous country. In a night attack upon his camp, his troops were entirely dispersed: Shane himself narrowly escaped being surprised in his tent, amongst the galloglasses of his guard: and for that time was obliged to retreat, or even to fly; swimming the rivers, say the chroniclers of Donegal, and traversing the mountains by unknown ways. But he vowed a dire revenge, and fearfully fulfilled that vow another day. 

The plunder of O’Neill’s camp fell to the victorious O’Donnells: and the scene upon that battle-field might remind us of Chlodowig and his Franks, dividing their spoil upon the plains of Soissons. “A vast plenty of arms, clothing, and horses fell to the share of the victors, the prodigious quantity of which booty may be judged by this, that when they came to divide the spoil by lots, eighty horses, besides O’Neill’s own horse, fell to the share of Con the son of Calvagh.6 

The O’Donnells did not long boast of their victory, till a fresh army from Tyr-owen crossed the Foyle and carried havoc and ruin to the heart of their country. Calvagh O’Donnell was defeated in battle, his lands were wasted and plundered, and the chieftain and his wife carried off in chains by the triumphant Shane. Calvagh indeed was afterwards set free; but his wife remained as part of the spoils of war, in the halls of Benburb; became the concubine of the haughty conqueror, and bore him sons and daughters: in especial one son, whom they christened Hugh, and surnamed na Gaveloch, “Of the fetters,” or the Fettered — for whom it had been better if he had never been born. 

A wild and turbulent career had this Shane, and few days of rest since he took the leading of that warlike sept: quelling Mac Guire of Fermanagh; bridling the marauding Scots; on all sides strengthening the friends and crushing the foes of Tyr-owen: crushing them indeed too fiercely; whereby he treasured up for himself wrath, which was to burst at a future day upon his head. 

At last the impetuous energy of this chief prevailed, and carried the sway of O’Neill higher than it had reached under any of his predecessors since the race had given monarchs to Ireland. From Fanad to Dundalk, from Ballyshannon to Dundrum, was no chief able to resist his power. So that, in 1558, when Elizabeth ascended the throne of England, the O’Neill, as reason was, predominated in Ulster. 

The English government seems to have determined that either by force or otherwise,7 the Northern prince must be destroyed. Sir Henry Sidney (who was administering the government of the Pale, in the absence of Sussex) marched northward as far as Dundalk and invited the chief to a conference. Shane O’Neill was then at his house of the Fews, between Dundalk and Armagh; and he seems to have entertained some fears that Sidney meant him foul play in this proposed interview. He therefore declined the invitation; but sent a message that if Sir Henry, of his courtesy, would visit his poor house, and attend a christening there, and be gossip to his child, it would please him well. Sir Henry attended him, was treated with all princely hospitality; and Shane took the trouble to explain to him, so far as his English ideas would admit the information, how the Queen of England had no jurisdiction in Ulster; how the “surrender” and re-investment of Con Baccagh were void by the Irish laws, as he was only chieftain for his life, “nor could have more by the law of Tanistry; nor could surrender but by consent of the ”laws of his country;” how he, Shane, being the lawful son of Con, and also elected by his sept, and moreover able to defend his rights by the sword, was now the true prince and chieftain of Ulster, and that as he meddled not with the Queen of England’s territories, so he would take care she should not interfere with his.8 

When the Earl of Sussex returned to his government several unsuccessful expeditions were made to the North in order, either by war or diplomacy to reduce this “Arch-Traitor,” as the English chroniclers dare to term him; and at length “the queen resolved,” says Camden, “to disannul the patent of King Henry the Eighth, wherein he declared Matthew (falsely supposed to be the son of Con) to be the successor of his father, and to bestow upon this Shane, as his undoubted son and heir, the honourable title of Earl of Tyr-owen and Baron of Dungannon.”9 Yes; they would now shower their tinsel honours upon him; set his foot upon the necks of all his enemies; enrich him with the spoil of numerous abbeys; — let him only consent to kneel at the footstool of a foreign throne, and place his country under the iron heel of English power. 

But Shane the Proud despised those paltry coronets. “Letters patent,” could not strengthen him Tyr-owen; and for the abbeys, if he had been reformer enough he could have robbed them for himself. In the language of the English chronicler: “When he saw that he was able to levy of his own followers one thousand horse and four thousand foot, and had already a guard of seven hundred men, he disdained, in barbarous pride, all such honourable titles in comparison of the name of O’Neill, and vaunted himself among his own people to be king of Ulster.”10 

Yet Shane was willing to live at peace with England and the Pale: he appeared in Dublin and announced his intention of visiting the court of London: then hearing from some of his retainers that Sussex meditated seizing him by treachery, and sending him to England a prisoner, he proudly resolved to attend the Queen as became an independent sovereign. He proceeded to London with a gallant train of guards, bare-headed, with curled hair (as if the statute of Kilkenny had never been passed) hanging down their shoulders, armed with battle-axes, and arrayed in their saffron doublets; an astonishment to the worthy burghers of London and Westminster. Elizabeth received him graciously and they conversed upon Irish affairs; but when the queen inquired by what right he had excluded young Hugh from Matthew’s inheritance, “he answered fiercely, by very good right,”11 and explained to Elizabeth the laws and usages which prevailed in his country; showed her that Con’s surrender was unavailing; that Matthew was a bastard, and he the true O’Neill; and that the authority he exercised over his tributaries of Ulster was no more than his fathers had done before him: — ”Which matters forasmuch as the queen gave credit unto, he was sent home again with honour.” 

Yet that treacherous court had resolved on his ruin; and Elizabeth while she loaded him with honours, vowed revenge in secret, and swore “by God’s death” that such a rascaille kern should not long despise her peerages and defy her power. 

An alliance, however, was for the present concluded between the Queen of England and the prince of Tyr-owen. Shane, as a proof of his good faith was to exterminate the Scots of Dalriada who were declared enemies of England — a duty which he readily undertook, as the Scots were also enemies of his own; or at least had grown too numerous and powerful to be tolerated as neighbours by so imperious a chief. Yet these Scots of the Western Isles, Mac Neills and Mac Donnells, were his kinsmen and natural allies; were, in fact, an Irish sept, of Irish speech and usages, and a branch of the great Clan-Colla, from which had descended the O’Hanlons and Mac Gwires of Ulster.12 For ages they had possessed the “glynns” or mountainous country of Antrim, and were the mercenary soldiers of every chief in the island who required and could reward their services. Their swords were frequent in our wars; their names in the songs of all our bards: and they founded upon Irish soil the monasteries of Bona Margy and Limbeg, to make their peace with God: and there, in Irish earth, their bones lie buried.13 

Now, instead of making common cause with the Scots against their common enemy, Shane, at the instance of his faithless ally of England, levied a cruel war upon them. On his return from London he gathered his clansmen of Tyr-owen, crossed the Bann, and sought the Mac Donnells in their strongholds of the glynns. Here he defeated them in two battles, slew James the son of Conal, their leader, wasted the country, and carried off Sorley Buidhe (the yellow-haired), brother of their chief, in chains to Tyrone. 

The English government had in the meantime been steadily pursuing its views of reforming Ireland, to which Shane O’Neill had hitherto paid no attention whatever. Sussex, in the second year of the queen, held a parliament in Dublin which re-enacted the spiritual supremacy of the English monarch, and imposed on all the Catholic clergy (or, as the act expressed it, all who should maintain or defend foreign authority) penalties of deprivation of benefices, for the first offence; for the second, the penalties of præmunire; for the third, penalty of high-treason; — that is to say, that all Catholic clergymen who would not renounce their faith must die. 

Another act passed in that parliament, and called the “Act of Uniformity,” commanded the use of King Edward’s liturgy (yet not the liturgy which had been prescribed before; not his “First Book,” but his “Second Book”); under penalty of imprisonment for life in the case of all such clergymen as should a third time refuse to use it, or even speak disrespectfully of it. All persons, whether lay or clerical, who should “despise or deprave” the book, or cause any other form to be said or sung (that is to say, all Catholics) were to be visited with like punishments according to the number of their offences in that kind. All persons whatever, “not having reasonable excuse,” were to resort to their parish churches on all Sundays and holydays, and to abide there orderly during service, on pain of the censures of the church and twelve pence fine: — and the being a Catholic was not to be admitted as such “reasonable excuse,” but was rather a serious aggravation. Finally, all archbishops and bishops were solemnly enjoined, in God ‘s name, to put this act in strict execution. 

Although the government of the Pale had no power to enforce their laws in the Irish country, the intention was that those laws should have a general operation wherever, and so soon as, either negotiation or the sword might open a way for them. And as the queen had not for some years had an archbishop of Armagh it was resolved (in order to assert a continual claim against the pope) to supply that metropolitan see with an active reformer. Adam Loftus, a young Englishman who had made a favourable impression on the queen at a public act in Cambridge by “the elegance of his oratory, the comeliness of his person, and his graceful address,”14 was raised at the age of twenty-eight to the nominal dignity of Archbishop of Armagh; “the youngest archbishop,” says Ware, “that we meet with in this see, except Celsus.” And the North, not being yet ripe for foreign bishops, the queen declares in the letters patent that as ”his archbishopric is a place of great charge, in name and title only to be esteemed, without any worldly endowment,” she permits him to hold the deanery of St. Patrick’s in the meantime. It was clear that while Shane O’Neill held such sway in the North, Loftus could be only a bishop, as it were, in partibtis infidelium. And that his province must be first reduced by the sword before it would peaceably submit to the sway of his crozier. 

To make a beginning of that conquest a powerful body of English troops was sent to Derry under Colonel Randolph, ostensibly as auxiliaries against the Scots, but, in truth, to form a settlement there which might be a key to Ulster, and a bit between the teeth of O’Neill. These English, being true reformers, made small account of the sanctity of that ancient seat of piety. They turned the church into an arsenal and fortified themselves upon the hill of Derry. 

Now Shane began to perceive that his new allies were his deadliest enemies, and that nothing less was contemplated by them than the subjugation of his people and the ruin of the ancient religion: and he resolved that Randolph and his troops should no longer hold the Teampol-More, nor profane the sacred oaks of Columkille. He led his forces to the Foyle, yet, for the present, neither besieged the place nor declared hostility: but a party of his men advanced to the hill, and by their insolence, as Cox relates, provoked Randolph to sally out upon them. A skirmish ensued in which Randolph was killed: and Derry became a hazardous post to hold — with the banners of O’Neill floating over O’Cahan’s country to the south; O’Dogherty and Inishowen glooming on the north; and angry Mac Swynes and O’Donnells hemming it round on all sides. The garrison, however, maintained its ground: till at length — behold a miracle! a wolf from the neighbouring woods ran to the hill of Derry, huge and hirsute, having in his mouth a burning torch,15 rushed straight to the church and flung his brand amongst the powder barrels of the Saxons. Church and fortress, with horrible explosion, were shattered to pieces; hundreds of the soldiery were blown to the elements: and so St. Columkille avenged the desecration of his sacred groves. 

Thus relate the Irish annalists: but whether by the miracles of the saint, or otherwise, certainly the fortifications of Derry were dismantled, and the remnant of Randolph’s men betook themselves to their ships. 

On the south of O’Neill’s territory also the English had begun to encroach; and the venerable cathedral of Armagh was occupied by their troops — unfailing harbingers of the Reformation in Ireland. But now Shane threw off all reserve with these insidious allies. He could not endure this new garrison of Armagh. His blood was up: his standard was unfurled; and he swore by St. Malachy, and by the crozier of blessed Patrick, that the holy fanes of Drumsailech hill should be no shelter for the reforming bishop and his troops. He burst upon Armagh like a thunderbolt, and laid both church and city in ashes. 

For this Loftus solemnly cursed him, and in Dublin pronounced sentence of excommunication against him;16 not with bell, or book, or candle, (which might savour of superstition,) yet with sufficient unction and heartiness notwithstanding. But Shane was little affected by his cursing. With the troops of Tyr-owen he swept southward like a hail-storm ravaging the settlements of the English and razing the castles of the Pale. He laid siege to Dundalk where he met a stout resistance; and Sarsfield, mayor of Dublin, having marched to its relief with a large body of citizens, he raised the siege, and retired northwards, after laying waste half a province. 

The whole powers of the English government were now concentrated against O’Neill. Even the Earl of Desmond, on whom he had relied for support, joined with the Deputy in defence of the Pale. Sidney, with the usual English policy, laboured to raise an Irish party against him in Ulster, and for that purpose supported O’Donnell his bitter enemy with troops and arms. The North was laid desolate by a furious war; and although O’Neill was generally victorious in the field, and especially in the battle of the “Redcoats” (na Gassogues dearg), where four hundred of O’Donnell’s English auxiliaries were cut to pieces;17 yet his power gradually declined. Mac Gwire and some Connaught chieftains whom his pride and ferocity had made his enemies, joined O’Donnell against him. His territories were wasted by incessant attacks: his troops, who rather feared than loved him, fled in large bodies from his standard: and at last, abandoned by all his allies, and reduced nearly to extremity, he resolved to betake himself to his former enemies, the Scots of Antrim, who were then encamped in north Clan-hugh-buidhe, under Alaster Oge Mac Donnell. As a propitiatory offering he sent home in freedom the Yellow-haired Sorley, whom he had taken prisoner two years before; and shortly after Shane himself, with his concubine, (the wife of O’Donnell), his secretary, and a poor train of but fifty horsemen, proceeded to the encampment of Mac Donnell. 

Here again he was met by the treachery of the English. An officer named Piers, an agent of the deputy, had been negotiating with the Scots; and on the news of Shane’s approach, took care to remind them of that pitiless raid upon the glynns, of the slaughter of their chief and all their ancient enmity to the haughty prince of Ulster. O’Neill arrived, and was entertained with seeming hospitality; until some dispute, as previously concerted, arose between the followers of the two chiefs, which ended in the Mac Donnells falling upon Shane and all his company and hewing them to pieces. The chieftain’s head was appropriated by Piers, the contriver of this base slaughter, who sent it, as an acceptable offering to the loid deputy, “pickled in a pipkin,”18 and received for the price of it, one thousand marks. 

That ghastly head was gibbetted high upon a pole, and long grinned upon the towers of Dublin Castle; a new muniment and visible sign of that inalienable legacy of hatred to the stranger bequeathed by an O’Neill two hundred years before; — “Hatred produced by lengthened recollections of injustice, by the murder of our fathers, brothers, and kindred; and which will not be extinguished in our time nor in that of our sons.”19 The headless trunk of Shane the Proud was buried where it fell: and they still show his grave, about three miles from the little village of Cushendun, upon the coast of Antrim. 

English writers have painted this Shane as a hideous monster of sensual brutality: and strange tales are current of his wine cellars at Dundrum castle, on the coast of Down; of his two hundred tuns of Spanish wine and hogsheads of usquebaugh stored in the vaults of that fortress; of his deep carouses and loathsome drunkenness; and that unheard-of course of earth-bathing, burying himself to the ears in cold clay, to cool the raging fever of his blood. But it is the painting of an enemy. He was no stupid drunkard, who for so many years defied the armies and defeated the policy of Elizabeth: and his countrymen have only to lament that, by his indomitable pride and cruelty, he armed so many Irish chiefs against him, and against their native land; and farther to regret that he did not import from Spain (instead of wines of Malaga) some thousand blades of the Toledo tempering, and Spanish soldiers, then the best troops in Europe, to wield them against the deadly enemies of his race.

1 Properly Lorcan O’Tuathail.

2 Original account in the Record-Office, Custom-House, Dublin, cited in Dr. Mant’s “History of the Church of Ireland,” p. 163.

3 “Vocacyon of John Bale to the bishopric of Ossory.”

4 Waræi, An. 193, folio.  

5 Leland, “Hist. of Ireland,” vol. 2, p. 194.

6 Ware, “Antiq. of Ireland;” citing the “Annals of Donegal.” (Four Masters.)

7 “By all manner of means, as well by force as otherswise.” — Instructions to Sussex. Desid. Cur. Hibernica, p. 3. 

8 This visit of Sidney was received by the Irish as a ‘submission,’ and “although the insolence of this overture,” says Leland, “was fully conceived, yet it was deemed expedient to comply with it.”

9 Camden, Q. Eliz.

10 Camden, Q. Eliz.

11 Camden, Q. Eliz. 

12 Four Masters, by Connellan, note in page 3.

13 Dr. Reid takes care to distinguish them from his Scots. He says, (Hist. of the Presbyterian Church, vol. l, p. 77,) “The Scots here spoken of were piratical marauders and Roman Catholics from the western isles.”

14 Mant, “Hist, of the Church of Ireland,” p. 268. 

15 Or sparks of fire. — O’Sullivan. There is an obscurity about the cause of the English troops evacuating Derry. The story of the skirmish in which Randolph was killed is given by Camden and Cox; but O’Sullivan does not mention it at all. And, on the other hand, the miracle of the wolf is an unsatisfactory account of the matter. O’Sullivan, however, does not state it as a fact, but as the popular belief in his day. 

16 Ware.

17 Mac Geoghegan. 

18 Cox. 

19 Letter of Donald O’Neill to the pope.