BEGINNING OF THE ULSTER CONFEDERACY.
A. D. 1584—1590.
The Antrim Scots had grown numerous and powerful during the Geraldine war. New bands of Islesmen had arrived from the Hebrides; and Tirlough of Tyr-owen being old and weak, and Baron Hugh absent in the South, there seemed some danger that Ulster would fall under their power. This ill suited the views of Hugh O’Neill, who had designs of his own in that regard; and accordingly in this year, 1584, we find there was a powerful expedition to the North. Sir John Perrot, Hugh O’Neill, and his friend, the Earl of Ormond, with all the forces of the Pale, marched to Newry, separated their forces there, and prepared to attack the Scots both in Claneboy and Tyr-owen. Some English ships were sent round to Lough Foyle to intercept the communication with the isles; while Perrot and Ormond marched northward by the right shore of Lough Neagh and the Bann, and O’Neill and Norris on the left, driving the Scots before them and plundering their Irish allies. The O’Cahans of Arachty, (or, as it is now called, the “county of Londonderry,”) were in league with the Scots; and from them Norris drove a prey of two hundred head of cattle. Dunluce Castle was besieged by Perrot and taken; and at last the Scots were forced to fly to the woods of Glancomkeane;1 and their leader, Sorley buidhe Mac Donnelly surrendered and gave hostages to the deputy. The troops then marched to Newry, where Sir Henry Bagnal resided; and here the deputy received “submissions” from several chiefs of Down and Armagh.
Hitherto Hugh O’Neill seemed to have answered the expectations of the English court in promoting their designs against the liberty of Ireland. Ulster seemed about to yield its independence without even a struggle: and so well assured was Perrot of the submission of the North, that he forthwith divided the whole country west of the Bann into seven new counties, Armagh, Monaghan, Tyr-owen, Coleraine, Donegal, Fermanagh, and Cavan, for each of which the English historians assure us “he appointed sheriffs, commissioners of the peace, coroners, and other necessary officers;” an arrangement most satisfactory to the deputy and his employers, if, indeed, it existed anywhere else than in state papers, — a matter which needs some inquiry.
The truth then is, that in all these proceedings Hugh O’Neill, while he seemed to be an instrument in the hands of Perrot for reducing the North under foreign subjection, was, in fact, making use of the deputy and the forces of Elizabeth to establish his own power there. By the aid of Perrot he humbled the Scots of Antrim (who had begun to rival the house of O’Neill,) and, in return, permitted that officer to imagine that he was making “shire-ground” of Ulster, although for a long time after this no agent of the queen dared to enter the borders of those seven counties or challenge jurisdiction there. Those sheriffs and coroners, like the queen’s northern bishops, were merely titular; and Sir John Davies expressly informs us that in Perrot’s time “the law was never executed in these new counties by any sheriffs or justices of assize, but the people left to be ruled by their own barbarous lords and laws,”2 — pronouncing those laws “barbarous,” as for an attorney-general of the Pale it was altogether professional to do.
And so long as the queen and her deputies exercised no power in Ulster, O’Neill’s policy was (not like that wild Shane) to acquiesce most courtier-like in the nominal supremacy arrogated by the English monarch; — a crafty policy, which the present writer is called upon only to state, not to defend by logics and ethics; yet it is well to recollect, who were the men with whom he had to do, — for what base uses they had treacherously destined him, — what a cruel game they were playing with him and with his country.
For two years, we have little record of 0’Neill’s life; but he was silently strengthening himself in the North, and gaining the hearts of the clansmen of Tyr-owen. While the accomplished nobleman was growing in favour with Elizabeth and her court, the Irish chieftain was gradually getting recognized as the main hope and leader of the Kinel Eoghain. Nay, he took a manifest pleasure in sustaining those two characters; and one can hardly say whether he was most at home in the halls of Greenwich or Dungannon. In the year 1587 we find him in London, where he was ever a welcome visitor, soliciting the queen (Ah! that “profound dissembling heart,”) that he might be admitted to the honours and estates of Earl of Tyr-owen, under the “letters patent” granted to his grandfather, Con the Lame. To gain the favour of Elizabeth, it was always needful “to feign love and desire towards her, to address her in the style of passion;”3 and O’Neill, with a tongue that “dropt manna,” well knew the art of flattery. Much affectionate advice he gave the queen as to the good government of Ireland, and specially solicited that the law against assuming the name of O’Neill, a most pestilent and rebellious name, might be strictly enforced; 80 the letters patent were issued, and the queen solemnly invested him with both lands and title, (of which the former were not hers to grant, and the latter his soul abhorred,) reserving, however, a small piece of ground on the Blackwater, for a fortress which was to be built there; and with certain stipulations for the benefit of old Tirlough Lynnoghy who still held the nominal chieftaincy of the country.
Hugh returned to Ireland with his letters patent, a belted earl: and here, as a favoured courtier of the queen, the deputy was obliged to treat him with deference and honour; while his increasing influence in Ulster gradually stripped Tirlough, the legitimate prince, of his power and numerous following; and it became manifest that the grandson of the Dundalk blacksmith would soon predominate in the North. Those six companies of troops also that he kept on foot (in the queen’s name, but for his own behoof) began to be suspicious in the eyes of the state: for it is much feared that he changes the men so soon as they thoroughly learn the use of arms, replacing them by others, all of his own clansmen, whom he diligently drills and reviews tor some unknown service. — And the lead he imports, — surely the roofing of that house of Dungannon will not need all these ship-loads of lead; — lead enough to sheet Glenshane, or clothe the sides of Cairntocher. And, indeed, a rumour does reach the deputy in Dublin, that there goes on at Dungannon an incredible casting of bullets. No wonder that the eyes of the English governor began to turn anxiously to the north.
Now it happened that O’Donnell, on the far north-west, was just then in high rage against “the foreigners of Dublin” by reason of some intimidation conveyed to him by Perrot, that the ancient patrimony of the Kinel Conell was now “shire ground,” and ought to admit a sheriff. And the chieftain’s youthful son, the gallant Red Hugh, then a fiery stripling of fifteen, was already known throughout the five provinces of Ireland, not only “by the report of his beauty, his agility, and noble deeds,” but as a sworn foe to the Saxons of the Pale. Moreover, “the English knew,” says the chronicler of Hugh Roe, “that it was Judith, the daughter of O’Donnell, and sister of the before-mentioned Hugh, that was the spouse and best-beloved of the Earl O’Neill.”4 And if this princely Red Hugh should live to take the leading of his sept, — and if the two potent chieftains of the North should forget their ancient feud and unite for the cause of Ireland; — then, indeed, not only this settlement of the Ulster “counties” must be adjourned, one knows not how long; but the Pale itself or the very Castle of Dublin might hardly protect her majesty’s officers. These were contingencies which any prudent agent of the Queen of England must speedily take order to prevent; and we are now to see Perrot’s device for that end.
Near Rathmullan, on the western shore of Lough Swilly, looking towards the mountains of Inishowen, stood a monastery of Carmelites, and a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, the most famous place of devotion in Tyrconnell, whither all the Clan-Conell, both chiefs and people, made resort at certain seasons to pay their devotions. Here the young Red Hugh, with Mac Swyne of the battle-axes, O’Gallagher of Ballyshannon, and some other chiefs, were, in the summer of 1587, sojourning a short time, in part to pay their vows of religion; but not without staghounds and implements of chase, having views upon the red-deer of Fanad and Inishowen. One day, while the prince was here, a swift-sailing merchant ship doubled the promontory of Dunaff, stood up the lough, and cast anchor opposite Rathmullan; a “bark, black-hatched, deceptive,” bearing the flag of England, and offering for sale, as a peaceful trader, her cargo of Spanish wine. And surely no more courteous merchant than the master of that ship had visited the North for many a year. He invited the people most hospitably on board, solicited them, whether purchasers or not, to partake of his good cheer, entertained them with music and wine, and so gained very speedily the good will of all Fanad.
Red Hugh and his companions soon heard of the obliging merchant and his rare wines. They visited the ship where they were received with all respect, and indeed with unfeigned joy; descended into the cabin, and with connoisseur discrimination tried and tasted, and finally drank too deeply: and at last when they would come on deck and return to the shore they found themselves secured under hatches; their weapons had been removed; night had fallen; they were prisoners to those traitor Saxons. Morning dawned, and they looked anxiously towards the shore; but, ah! where is Rathmullan and the Carmelite church? And what wild coast is this? Past Malin and the cliffs of Inishowen; past Benmore, and southwards by the shores of Antrim and the mountains of Mourne flew that ill-omened bark, and never dropped anchor till she lay under the towers of Dublin. The treacherous Perrot joyfully received his prize, and “exulted,” says an historian, “in the easiness and success with which he had procured hostages for the peaceable submission of O’Donnell.”5 And the prince of Tyrconnell was thrown into ”a strong stone castle,” and kept in heavy irons three years and three months, ”meditating,“ says the chronicle, “on the feeble and impotent condition of his friends and relations, of his princes and supreme chiefs, of his nobles and clergy, his poets and professors.”6 Where we leave him for the present, to mingle vows of deepest vengeance with those of many other noble youths, “both Gadelians and Fingallians,” fellow captives with him in those accursed towers.
Meanwhile, in Ulster, Hugh O’Neill was busy in the task he had now resolutely imposed on himself, striving to heal the feuds of rival chiefs, and out of those discordant elements to create and bind together an Irish nation — a noble design, for which perhaps the time was still unripe; yet somewhat he did accomplish in that direction. With O’Cahan, whose territories he had wasted with fire and sword three years before, he now reconciled himself, and sent his infant son to be fostered by that chieftain, and to learn speed and strength among the hills of Glen-given, by the banks of the crystal Roe, to back a-horse, and to chase the deer of Arachty. With the Mac Donnells of Antrim he renewed his friendship, and lent them on some of their expeditions a body of his well-trained galloglasses; not without promise of like help from them, if need should be. Other chieftains he encouraged to resist the intrusion of sheriffs or garrisons for the Queen of England. It was even said that he harboured “seminaries” and foreign priests, than which nothing was then accounted more suspicious to a Protestant state. Yet O’Neill was apparently no strict Catholic; and, while in Dublin, scrupled not “to accompany the Lord Deputy to the church and home again, and to stay and hear service, though the very nobles of the Pale,” as Captain Lee declares, “as soon as they have brought him to the church door, depart as if they were wild cats.”7 Indeed honest Lee has no doubt that, ”with good conference,” he would even be reformed, “for he hath only, one little cub of an English priest, by whom he is seduced for want of his friends’ access to him, who might otherwise uphold him.” On the whole a most complying conciliatory, and courteous man, ”a special good member,” as one might hope, “of that commonwealth;” but still, no sheriffs, no bishops,8 no judges. North of Slieve Gullion, the venerable Brehons still arbitrate undisturbed the causes of the people; the ancient laws, civilization and religion stand untouched. Nay it is credibly rumoured to the Dublin deputy that this noble earl, forgetful apparently of his coronet, and golden chain, and of his high favour with so potent a princess, does about this time get recognized and solemnly inaugurated as chieftain of his sept, by the proscribed name of The O’Neill; and at the rath of Tulloghoge, on the Stone of Royalty, amidst the circling warriors, amidst the bards and Ollamhs of Tyr-eoghain, “receives an oath to preserve all the auncient former customs of the countrey inviolable, and to deliver up the succession peaceably to his Tanist; and then hath a wand delivered unto him by one whose proper office that is; after which, descending from the stone, he turneth himself round, thrice forward and thrice backward,” — even as the O’Neills had done for a thousand years: altogether in the most un-English manner, and with the strangest ceremonies, which no garter king-at-arms could endure.
The foreign policy also of the Northern chiefs received some strength at this period. In the year 1588, the mighty remnants of King Philip’s vast armada, storm-tost and sorely buffeted by the wild sea of the Orkneys and Hebrides, came sweeping past the northern coast of Ireland; and the Clan-Conal beheld with wonder those portentous floating fortresses, such as the Fomorian and Phoenician navigators of the northern seas had never sailed. But as the Spaniards made the headlands of Antrim, a storm came upon them from the north-west; and with the iron coast of Inishowen and Horn-head upon their lee, with grievous toil and danger, the poor mariners had to struggle westward and double those terrible cliffs. Many were dashed to pieces and utterly lost, both ships and men; but some were driven into the harbours, and received from the neighbouring chieftains relief and hospitality,9 until they found means to return into their own country. The O’Donnell, indeed, father to our imprisoned Hugh Roe, who seems to have been a weak old man, and much under the influence of two Englishmen, named Hovenden, whom he permitted to reside in his country, was led to regard the unfortunate Spaniards as enemies and invaders (forgetful that the enemies of England must needs be his friends), and when a large ship was driven into Lough Foyle and staved to pieces on the Inishowen rocks, O’Donnell and the Hovendens attacked the shipwrecked crew at Elagh near Derry, killed some of them and sent the rest as prisoners to the Deputy. (Oh! that Red Hugh had but been there!) But the Mac Swynes and other chiefs of Tyr-connell were more humane, or better knew their natural allies. A ship under the command of Don Antonio de Leyva was driven upon the coast between Sligo and Ballyshannon, and O’Ruarc, Prince of Breffni, afforded them not only an asylum, but protection against Bingham, an English officer who held some places in Connaught, and who presumed to demand from O’Ruarc his shipwrecked guests as the queen’s prisoners.10
But, above all, the O’Neill, who foresaw advantages to be derived from a Spanish alliance, was most distinguished for the kindness shown to those fugitives. He received them with honour at Dungannon, treated them with high consideration, conversed with them on the policy of King Philip and the Catholic powers; and doubtless explained to them, for the information of their master, the situation of the North; — how the old Irish hated the Queen of England and hoped in King Philip — how the Spanish landing at Smerwick had proved unavailing by reason of the powerful English faction in Munster; and how differently a band of auxiliary Spaniards would be received amongst the aboriginal septs of the North.
And now the new Deputy, Fitzwilliam, assisted the views of O’Neill by his treatment of a northern chief who was weak enough to trust an English governor. Hugh Mac Mahon, on the death of his brother the chieftain of that sept, found himself opposed by several other branches of the family who also aspired to the chieftaincy. These were Patrick, son of Art, Ebhir, or Ever chief of Farney, and Brien of Dartry. Singly he could not cope with his powerful rivals, and applied, in an evil hour, to Fitzwilliam, requesting his alliance, and the assistance of the Pale to establish him in his inheritance, as he called it: for the deceased Mac Mahon had been one of those who surrendered his country to the queen and took a “regrant” of it, by English tenure, to him and his heirs, with remainder, in default of heirs male, to his brother Hugh,11 which was the reason of the threatened war; for Monaghan like Tyr-owen and Thomond, could not abide regrants, estates tail, or ”English tenures.” Mac Mahon’s application was right welcome to the English who desired nothing so much as an opportunity of interfering between the Irish chiefs, and so of strengthening foreign influence at the expense of all the contending parties.
Fitzwilliam in the first place demanded a present of six hundred cows (“for such and no other,” says Moryson, “are the Irish bribes,”) and then the Deputy marched northwards pretending to consider the whole matter referred to his decision, and, that he might adjudicate with dignity, took possession of Monaghan which he garrisoned for the queen; and then awarded to his ally Mac Mahon the nominal chieftaincy over a small part of his territory, and to his rivals the exclusive rule over certain other portions: thus dividing, according to an immemorial English maxim, the following of a potent chieftain amongst several hostile claimants, and so breaking, as he hoped, the power of their resistance to foreign encroachment. Then poor Mac Mahon having failed in some part of the stipulated payment, (as feeling, perhaps, that he had not received value,) was arrested by order of Fitzwilliam, who immediately proceeded once more to Monaghan with considerable forces to “settle” that country finally. A charge was soon found against the prisoner. He had lately raised his tribute in the usual manner from his refractory tributary of Farney, by leading thither a military expedition and driving away the spoil; which if it were not a levying of war against the queen, the Deputy could not tell what it was. Yet, not to condemn without hearing, or refuse a subject the benefits of English law — and perhaps with a view of shewing the northerns what was that happy system of polity which they contumeliously rejected — a jury was to be empanelled to try Mac Mahon — the first jury in Ulster — the composition and arrangement of which deserve study as affording a model in that kind.
Spenser has informed us of the difficulties which attended trial by jury in Ireland at that time; for “most of the freeholders,” says Irenaeus, “are Irish, which when the cause shall fall betwixt an Englishman and an Irish, or between the queen and any freeholder of that country, they make no more scruple to pass against an Englishman and the queen, though it bee to strayn their oathes, than to drinke milke unstrayned,”12 the inconvenience of which he thus laments: — “I dare undertake that at this day there are more attainted lands concealed from her majestic than she hath now possession of in all Ireland; and it is no small inconvenience; for besides that she looseth so much lande as should turne to her great profite, she besides looseth so many good subjects which might be assured unto her as those lands would yeelde inhabitants and living unto.” And when Eudoxus suggests that all this “might be much helped in the judges and cheefe magistrates which have the choosing and nomination of those jurors, if they would have dared to appoint either most Englishmen or such Irishmen as were of the soundest judgment and disposition,” Irenaeus immediately objects — “Then would the Irish partie crie out of partiality and complaine, he hath no justice — he is not used as a subject.”
Now, in arranging this jury to try Mac Mahon, it is too clear that the Deputy was not so well acquainted with the delicate theory of juries as subsequent officers became; yet in his own rude way he attained the end very well. Twelve soldiers were empanelled on the shortest notice, of whom four, being Englishmen, were suffered to go and come at pleasure, and the other eight, being of Irish birth, by close confinement and the simple process of starvation, were compelled to find the prisoner guilty.13 And so within two days after Fitzwilliam’s arrival in the country this unfortunate chief was indicted, arraigned, convicted, and executed at his own door. The deputy forthwith divided his country amongst some English officers, of whom the principal were Marshal Sir Henry Bagnal and one Captain Hensflower. “And the Irish,” says Moryson, ”spared not to say that these men were all the contrivers of his death, and that every one was paid something for his share.”14 Those English officers did not indeed at that time enter upon the enjoyment of their Monaghan estates: for Mac Mahon’s rival Brien, Lord of Dartry, a more active and resolute character, was elected by his sept the Mac Mahon and chieftain of Monaghan; and held his country against the stranger for a time.
Space would fail us to recount all the villanies which both English and Irish historians tell of this greedy Deputy Sir William Fitzwilliam; how he made strict search, through such parts of the North as he dared to enter, for Spanish treasure, left there, it was said, by the shipwrecked Armada; and how, finding no gold, he took means to seize upon two chiefs, Mac Toole and O’Doherty, and imprisoned them in Dublin castle, till O’Doherty bribed him, with many herds of cows, to release him. On the whole, his transactions with the North had little tendency to make Ulster in love with English laws or governors; “rather, indeed, a loathing of English government,” says Moryson, “began to grow in the northern lords, and they shunned as much as they could to admit any sheriffs or any English among them.” So when the Deputy informed the Mac Guire of Fermanagh that his country, being now “shire ground,” must prepare to admit a sheriff, to execute the writs of the Queen of England, to empanel juries and do other sheriff-duty there. “Your sheriff,” said Mac Guire, “shall be welcome, but let me know his ericky, (how much his life is worth,) that if my people should cut off his head, I may levy it upon the country.”
O’Neill, from his house in Dungannon, calmly regarded all these things; but his heart swelled secretly with hope and joy: for he knew that the time was not far off, when the banners of Tyr-owen should wave in the van of the banded septs of Ulster, and the haughty battle shout of Lamh dearg affright those traitor deputies in Dublin castle.
1 This was an extensive forest on the north-west corner of Lough Neagh, in Arachty O’Cahan. Moryson with his usual inaccuracy, says it was a fastness near Lough Erne. It is correctly laid down in the map accompanying the Pacata Hibernia
2 “Discovery of the True Cause,” &c., p. 191.
3 See Hume — note in chap. 44.
4 MS. Life of Red Hugh O’Donnell in library of R.I.A., translated from the Irish by O’Reilly, p. 3.
6 MS. Life of O’Donnell, p. 8.
7 Lee’s Memorial.
8 There was however at this period, and for some time before, a clerical person with the English garrison in Lecale, really chaplain to that garrison, (the only Protestants in his diocess,) but purporting to be Bishop of Down, and even of Connor.
12 Spenser’s View, p. 38.
13 Moryson. This writer does not give these facts on his own authority, which might have been construed as bringing the English tribunals into contempt, but in such cases always prefixes the words ”The Irish say.” He does not contradict the statements, which besides are incontrovertible on the authority of other historians.