A. D. 1567—1584. 

After the murder of Shane O’Neill, Queen Elizabeth and her Irish deputy believed that all danger from Ulster was at an end. Sidney held a parliament in that year in which the legislators of the Pale solemnly passed an act for what they called the “attainder” of Shane O’Neill, and the forfeiture of his “estate,” meaning all the lands inhabited by his sept. The act then proceeds, after abolishing the very name of O’Neill, and imposing the penalties of high treason upon any who should dare to assume it, to grant to the queen all the other lands of northern and eastern Ulster; O’Cahan’s country, now the county Derry; the Route, the Glynns, and North Clan-hugh-buidhe (or Claneboy,) now composing the county of Antrim, but then inhabited by the Mac Quillans, Mac Donnells, and O’Neills; Mac Gennis’ country in Down, called Iveagh; O’Hanlon’s and Mac Cann’s in Armagh, called Oir-thir (Orier) and Clan Bressail; and also the whole of the present county of Monaghan, comprising Farney, Uriel, Lochty, and Dartry, inhabited by the Mac Mahons, and Triuch of the Mac Kennas All these territories were gravely confiscated to the queen’s use, — upon the map, and after a documentary manner; but her majesty never derived any benefit from those new dominions, being, indeed, kept out of them by the right owners. 

The truth is, the northerns never heard of these acts of Elizabeth’s Parliament; and never dreamed that the murder of an Irish chieftain by a traitor Scot should give any foreign power authority in Ulster. Tirlough Lynnogh O’Neill, a grandson of Con More was invested with the chieftaincy of Ulster, by the permission, as the English historians say, of the queen’s government; which also permitted him to hold (but, they assure us, by “English tenure”) a portion of his estate; permitted indeed more than they could have wished, wanting the power to prevent it. 

Sir Henry Sidney however proceeded to the North, not on a hostile expedition, but attended only by six hundred men; and there he received from several chieftains what would now be called assurances of friendly relations, or “submissions” in the language of Camden and Cox; and as the latter author with much gravity assures us, “settled Ulster,” which, however, will appear not to have been finally settled at that time. 

When Shane O’Neill was murdered, the crafty councillors of Elizabeth seem to have fixed their eyes upon young Hugh, son to the ill-fated Baron Matthew, and destined him, according to the usual English policy, as an instrument to weaken and divide the power of Ulster; by degrees to destroy its independence; and so to reform it after their fashion,1 little knowing the stuff that was in him: for this Hugh was then “a young man little set by.”2 

Unhappily, we know but little of Hugh O’Neill’s early life; except that he lived sometimes in Ireland, but much frequented the English court; in his own country an Irish chief, in London a courtly nobleman; that he was high in favour with Elizabeth, being a youth of goodly presence and winning speech; that he was not very tall in stature, but powerfully made, able to endure much labour, watching, and hunger; that “his industry was great, his soul large, and fit for the weightiest businesses;” — that he “had much knowledge in military affairs, and a profound dissembling heart; so as many deemed him born either for the great good or ill of his country.”3 

This man was deemed a suitable instrument of English politicians to ruin his country’s liberty; and with that view was recognized by the queen as Baron of Dungannon “by his father’s right,” and was supported as a rival to Tirlough, then the O’Neill; for thus it was expected that the Irish chieftain and the Saxon baron would destroy each other, and that the great house of Tyrone, divided against itself, would fall. Hugh O’Neill knew well the purport and meaning of all these honours: he understood what the golden chain of an English noble symbolized, when worn round the neck of a Celtic chieftain: he felt that in those stars and ribbons there lurked danger to his country, ignominy to himself. But he had much to learn amongst the English: he had their mode of warfare to master, their policy to study, in the characters of Burleigh and Walsingham intending, apparently, to try conclusions with them in both those departments at a future day. So with that “profound dissembling heart” of his, he stomached their disgraceful dignities; nay, bore himself proudly under them, biding his time. 

Nearly twenty years passed away, from the death of Shane till 1584, when Perrot came to Ireland as lord deputy; during which Ulster was comparatively quiet, though as thoroughly unreformed, and anti-English as ever. The sacrilegious outrages by which the foreigners and their bishops prosecuted reformation in the south, (and which provoked the Geraldine war there) were still unknown in the O’Neill’s country. Abbey lands and monasteries were peaceably possessed by their religious inhabitants; and three northern bishoprics, those of Clogher, Derry, and Raphoe, seem to have been abandoned altogether to Catholic prelates;4 so that as Doctor Leland, lamenting the circumstance, observes, “they were still granted by the pope without control.” Not that the pope did not also appoint bishops, as usual, to the other sees; but for some of those there were also nominal bishops (without clergy or flocks), named by letters patent from the queen. 

During this period also the civil policy of the North remained unchanged; there was not a sheriff north of Dundalk. No “lord president” had yet ventured into these regions to govern with his “course of discretion,” as Sir John Davies terms their method of administering justice. Hugh O’Neill, when in Ireland, seems to have resided quietly at his house of Dungannon, and to have acquiesced, contrary to all expectation, in the chieftaincy of old Tirlough, who held his state principally in Strabane or Benburb. And so long as the frontiers of the Pale were not advanced northwards, neither chiefs nor people concerned themselves about the affairs of other parts of the island: for, alas! there was still no Irish nation. 

Several transactions, however, occurred in Ulster, during this period, which deserve some notice. In Queen Elizabeth’s reign foreign plantations began to be a favourite project with the English. Large tracts of North America were by those all-powerful “letters patent” taken from the red men and deliberately given and granted to such of her discontented and adventurous subjects as would undertake to form settlements there and establish true religion: and Ulster, which had been so solemnly declared forfeit to the queen seemed a very suitable theatre for similar plantations. Accordingly one Thomas Smith, a secretary to Elizabeth, having a natural son to provide for, whose illegitimacy was a bar to his attaining distinction in his own country, desired to make him the founder of a noble family in Ireland. He moved the queen, therefore, to grant this young adventurer a territory in the Ards, on the east coast of Down, for the purpose, as Camden assures us, of civilizing and converting the barbarous inhabitants. And as it had always been found that the Irish could not be civilized or converted, until they had first been largely plundered, every foot soldier who should accompany Smith, was to take for his own share, one hundred and twenty acres of land, every horseman two hundred and forty acres, and all other persons according to their rank, paying Smith, as Lord of Ards, one penny per acre. But Brian Mac Art O’Neill, and his clansmen, to whom all that land belonged, had not been consulted in these arrangements, and apparently were not desirous of such civilization as this foreign pirate had to offer: for when Smith landed, (1571,) and was proceeding to establish himself in the Ards, O’Neill and his people fell upon them by surprise, (by treachery, some historians say, as if the O’Neills were his natural and sworn allies,) and killed Smith and many of his troops; the rest fled to their ships and speedily weighed anchor, carrying their letters patent and their civilization to some more hospitable shore. 

Shortly after, in the year 1573, Walter Devereux, earl of Essex, projected a more extensive plantation in the same district. Twelve hundred troops were to be maintained and fortifications built at the joint expense of the queen and of Essex; and, this time, each horseman was to have four hundred acres, and each footman two hundred. A few scores of acres, more or less, of the Irish enemies’ land seemed to have been reckoned of small account. Essex raised £10,000 (equal to £100,000 of the present money) by mortgaging his English estate to the queen; made vast preparations in men, arms, and stores; and so hopeful was the expedition held, that Lord Rich, Lord Dacre, Sir Henry Knowles, three sons of Lord Norris, and several other Englishmen of distinction, accompanied him to have a share of the glory and the profit. The armament set sail and arrived in the bay of Carrickfergus. 

So formidable an invasion seems to have caused for the time a close union amongst the several chieftains of the name of O’NeilL Brien, lord of Clan-hugh-buidhe, whose territories were the immediate objects of this marauding expedition, was speedily joined both by Tirlough Lynnogh, and Hugh of Dungannon, who was then in this country, and seems, notwithstanding his English peerage and high favour with the queen, to have been strongly of opinion that Ireland was for the Irish. Several skirmishes occurred between the O’Neills and the troops of Essex. The new colony began to promise more hard fighting than either profit or Protestantism; and the English noblemen who shared the adventure, one by one, withdrew to England. At last the earl petitioned the queen for liberty to abandon the plantation and return home, which was not however granted him for more than a year: and the only further proceeding we hear of in connexion with the affair is that, in 1574, “a solemn peace and concord was made between the earl of Essex and Felim O’Neill. However, at a feast wherein the earl entertained that chieftain, and at the end of their good cheer, O’Neill and his wife were seized; their friends who attended were put to the sword before their faces, and Felim, together with his wife and brother, was conveyed to Dublin, where they were cut up in quarters.”5 

Even this expedient, however, did not secure Essex in his settlement. The Irish of that country would not be civilized notwithstanding all his exertions, and never could see the justice or expediency of allotting their lands to English soldiers. The troops were slain or scattered; the money was lost; and at length the earl got permission to return to England. 

But the Geraldine war had now broken out in Munster, and Hugh of Dungannon must be followed to the South. 

1 For a candid explanation of this scheme see ”Spenser’s View,” p. 180. 

2 Camden, Queen Eliz.

3 lb.

4 Davies.

5 Irish M S. Annals, quoted by Leland and Curry.