O’NEILL AT COURT — BAGNAL’S SISTER — ESCAPE OF O’DONNELL — TRINITY COLLEGE.
Hugh na Gaveloch, son to Shane O’Neill by O’Donnell’s wife, appears now for a moment upon the stage. He bore a deadly hatred against Hugh of Dungannon as an usurper of the name and honours of O’Neill; and this year we find him denouncing his chieftain to the Deputy and council, as a traitor, informing them that certain noble Spaniards from the fleet of Medina Sidonia, had been entertained at Dungannon, had received presents from O’Neill, and also letters for the King of Spain, soliciting assistance against the Queen of England, and promising support; all which he, Hugh of the Fetters, would prove, either upon the body of the accused by way of combat, or by evidence on oath, as to the Deputy should seem meet. Fitzwilliam prohibited the combat, but set a day for the production of the evidence, and prepared with much dignity to hold solemn inquest upon so important a criminal.1 But before that day arrived, O’Neill had the prosecutor arrested as a foul conspirator against his lawful chieftain, had him tried in a most-summary manner and condemned to be strangled, a sentence which was forthwith executed, though not without difficulty; for no man in all Tyr-owen would be the executioner of one who bore the honoured name of O’Neill; and Hugh himself, it was said, had to end the difficulty, and his prisoner’s life together, with his own hand. It would seem that the Prince of Ulster was not a man to be given in charge to the juries of an English Deputy.
But to dissipate these clouds of suspicion and even direct accusation which began to blacken his name in the court of England, O’Neill proceeded to London, in his Saxon character of earl; and having left Ireland without leave asked of the Deputy, (which it seems was uncustomary for Irish peers,) he was on his arrival placed under a kind of nominal arrest, as matter of etiquette: but soon we find him high in favour as usual, mingling with the court “at the Honour of Greenwich,” says Camden, “as noblemen use to do,” deliberating weighty affairs of state with the chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton, and entering warmly, even eagerly, into all Elizabeth’s views for the civilizing of Ireland. As for the territory of Tyr-owen, he would have it formed into “a shire or two — with gaols for holding of sessions;”2 and for the name of O’Neill, if that displeased so fair a princess, he would never bear it more.
“My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself.
Because it is an enemy to thee.”
He protested that he had assumed that name, only to prevent some other of the tribe from usurping it — and would surely renounce it; “yet beseeching that he might not be urged to promise that upon oath.”3 Amongst other articles gravely agreed upon by O’Neill, as the basis of a final settlement, were, that he should not foster with any neighbouring chiefs; should give no aid to the Scots, and receive none from them, — should not harbour monks or friars, nor have intelligence with foreigners — nor levy black rent — nor suffer his people to wear glibbes, or other Irish apparel — and finally that he would live at peace with old Tirlough Lynnogh and other neighbouring chiefs; yet all this “upon condition that Tirlough and the other chiefs of Ulster should in like manner engage themselves to keep peace with him; lest when he was quiet and thought no harm, he should be exposed to the injuries of those turbulent persons.”4 Surely one of the fairest conditions, which he seems to have been well aware could not be complied with.
His old ally, the Earl of Ormond, and the Lord Chancellor Hatton having become sureties for O’Neill’s performance of all he had undertaken, he returned to Ireland, and was to enter into formal indentures with the deputy, binding himself to all these articles, by the first of August in the same year; but as he steadily required that all the other chiefs of Ulster should come in and take on them similar engagements, the indentures were never executed; the first of August came and passed; — and the settlement of Ulster was indefinitely deferred “by many subtile shifts, whereof,” says Moryson, “he had plenty.”
He returned to prosecute his grand project of northern confederation, and to perfect the organization of the Kinel-Eoghain. But matters were still unripe for an effectual effort against English power; one main limb of the enterprize was wanting while the present feeble chief of Tyr-connell ruled that potent sept, and young Beal-Dearg5 O’Donnell still pined in the dungeons of Fitzwilliam. For the present he could only bide his time; and for another year there is nothing to record, save an incident of a rather domestic and tender nature.
The marshal, Sir Henry Bagnal, and his English garrison in the castle and abbey of Newry, were a secret thorn in the side of O’Neill. They lay upon one of the main passes to the North, frowning over Iveagh and the O’Hanlon’s country; and he had deeply vowed that one day the ancient monastery, De viridi ligno, should be swept clear of this foreign soldiery. But in that castle of Newry the Saxon Marshal had a fair sister, a woman of rarest beauty, whom O’Neill thought it sin to leave for a spouse to some churl of an English undertaker.6 — Besides, ’twas pity so sweet a soul should sit in darkness of Protestant heresy; — rather than so, he would undertake her conversion himself, and make her the bride of an Irish chieftain. And, indeed, we next hear of him as a love-suitor (with that persuasive tongue of his) at the feet of the English beauty. How or where he met, and wooed and won this maiden, or by what legal or ecclesiastical process he divorced his lawful wife to make way for her, we have, unhappily, no record: but that he sped in his wooing, and also in his divorce suit, is plain; for the lady fled from her brother’s castle, and was borne in triumph to Dungannon, where she speedily became reconciled to the church, and was duly wedded to the Prince of Ulster. Sir Henry conceived his house dishonoured by this alliance, because O’Neill, as he said, had another wife alive, — putting little faith, as it seemed, in the divorce. He had been sufficiently unfriendly to the chief before; but from that hour there grew up the deadliest enmity between them; which afterwards bore fruit, as we shall see.
But the time had arrived when Red Hugh O’Donnell was to see his native mountains once more. A year before this, he had escaped from Dublin Castle with a noble Lagenian youth of the O’Cavanaghs. They fled southwards, and made for that “long extensive mountain, the boundary between the Gathelians of the Lagenian province and the English of Dublin,”7 traversed the hills all night, and before morning had passed the “red mountain,” hotly pursued. They took refuge with Felim O’Toole, who was unable to protect them, and gave them up to the English. For that time they had to return to their dungeon, where O’Donnell was loaded with “heavy iron fetters,” and languished there for another whole year, “until the feast of Christmas, 1592, when it seemed.” says the chronicle, “to the Son of the Virgin time for him to escape.” Again he found an opportunity to fly, accompanied by Henry and Art, two sons of Shane O’Neill, and made once more for the glens of Wicklow. The mountains were covered with snow and all that night the storm beat fiercely upon them. They did not however again trust themselves with the O’Tooles, but struggled still southwards to reach the pass of Glenmalur, (Gleann Maolughra,) where the gallant Fiach Mac Hugh, victor of Glendalough, would be sure to protect them against all the forces of the Pale. Three days and nights they wandered through the mountains, feeding upon leaves and grass,8 and famishing in the savage winter weather: and at last O’Byrne’s people found two of them (for poor Art had perished) stretched under the shelter of a cliff, benumbed, and nearly lifeless. The O’Byrne brought them to his house, and revived, and warmed, and clothed them, and instantly sent a messenger to Hugh O’Neill (with whom he was then in close alliance) with the joyful tidings of O’Donnell’s escape. O’Neill heard it with delight, and sent a faithful retainer, Tirlough Buidhe O’Hagan, who was well acquainted with the country, to guide the young chief into Ulster. After a few days of rest and refreshment, O’Donnell and his guide set forth, and the Irish chronicler minutely details that perilous journey; — how they crossed the Liffey far to the westward of Fitzwilliam’s hated towers, and rode cautiously through Fingal and Meath, avoiding the garrisons of the Pale, until they arrived at the Boyne, a short distance west of Inver Colpa, (Drogheda,) “where the Danes had built a noble city,” — how they sent round their horses through the town, and themselves passed over in a fisherman’s boat; how they passed by Mellifont, a great monastery ”which belonged to a noted young Englishman attached to Hugh O’Neill,” and, therefore, met no interruption there, — rode right through Dundalk, and entered the friendly Irish country where they had nothing more to fear. One night they rested at Feadh Mor (the Fews,) where O’Neill’s brother had a house, and the next day crossed the Blackwater at Moy, and so to Dungannon, where O’Neill received them right joyfully. And here ”the two Hughs” entered into a strict and cordial friendship, and told each other of their wrongs and of their hopes. O’Neill listened, with such feelings as one can imagine, to the story of the youth’s base kidnapping and cruel imprisonment in darkness and chains; and the impetuous Beal Dearg heard, with scornful rage, of the English deputy’s atrocity towards Mac Mahon, and attempts to bring his accursed sheriffs and juries amongst the ancient Irish of Ulster. And they deeply swore to bury for ever the unhappy feuds of their families, and to stand by each other, with all the powers of the North against their treacherous and relentless foes. The chiefs parted, and O’Donnell, with an escort of the Tyr-owen cavalry, passed into Mac Gwire’s country. The chief of Fermanagh received him with honour, eagerly joined in the confederacy, and gave him “a black polished boat,” in which the prince and his attendants rowed through Lough Erne and glided down that ”pleasant salmon-breeding river”9 which leads to Ballyshannon and the ancient seats of the Clan-Conal.
We may conceive with what stormy joy the tribes of Tyrconnell welcomed their prince; with what mingled pity and wrath, thanksgivings and curses, they heard of his chains, and wanderings, and sufferings, and beheld the feet that used to bound so lightly on the hills, swollen and crippled by that cruel frost, by the crueller fetters of the Saxon. But little time was now for festal rejoicing, or the unprofitable luxury of cursing; for just then Sir Richard Bingham, the English leader in Connaught, relying on the irresolute nature of old O’Donnell, and not aware of Red Hugh’s return, had sent two hundred men by sea to Donegal, where they took by surprise the Franciscan monastery, drove away the monks, (making small account of their historic studies and learned annals)9 and garrisoned the buildings for the queen. Issuing out from thence, the soldiers made raids into the country round about, spoiling the people, driving away their sheep and oxen, and burning their houses on the march. The fiery Hugh could ill endure to hear of these outrages, or brook an English garrison upon the soil of Tyr-connell. He collected the people in hot haste, led them instantly to Donegal; and commanded the English by a certain day and hour, to betake themselves with all speed back to Connaught and leave behind them the rich spoils they had taken; all which they thought it prudent, without further parley, to do. And so the monks of St. Francis returned to their home and their books, gave thanks to God, and prayed, as well they might, for Hugh O’Donnell.10
In the following spring, on the third day of May, there was a solemn meeting of the warriors, clergy, and bards of Tyrconnell, at the rock of Doune in Kilmacrenan, “the nursing-place of Columkille.” And here the father of Red Hugh renounced the chieftaincy of the sept, and his impetuous son, at nineteen years of age, was duly inaugurated by the Erenach O’Firghil, and made the O’Donnell, with the ancient ceremonies of his race. And surely it was time that the powers of Tyrconnell should be wielded by a resolute hand.
Upon the eastern border of O’Donnell’s country, “where the two old rivers Finn and Mourne, which the Deluge left behind, mingle their waters,”11 dwelt Tirlough Lynnogh O’Neill, in the town and castle of Strabane, holding such poor state as the Dungannon chief still permitted him. This foolish old Tirlough kept certain English troops in his country under the command of one Captain Willis; perilous auxiliaries for an Irish chief. And “it was a-heart break,” says the chronicler, ”to Hugh O’Donnell, that the English of Dublin should thus obtain a knowledge of the country.” He fiercely attacked Strabane, drove back Tirlough and his Englishmen as far as Glengiven (Dungiven) and besieged them in O’Cahan’s castle on the banks of Roa river. O’Cahan came forth to treat with O’Donnell, reminded him that he had been his foster-son, and that the fugitives were his guests, and so persuaded the young chief to refrain from violating the hospitality of a friendly roof. For that time O’Donnell retired; but he never rested, nor suffered Tirlough to rest, while those detested English were on his borders. The old chief was soon obliged to banish his outlandish allies, and accept the powerful friendship of O’Donnell in their place; and this is the last we hear of Tirlough. He died the next year.
Shortly after, we find this Captain Willis on the scene again; Maguire, it seems, had made some kind of compact with Fitzwilliam that no English marauder, in name of a sheriff, should be sent into Fermanagh; and in consideration of this promise had given the corrupt Deputy a herd of three hundred cows. Yet in the year 1593, Willis having been driven out of Tyr-owen, is found in Maguire’s country, purporting to be a sheriff there, and “having with him three hundred of the very rascals and scum of the kingdom;”12 and all living, says Moryson, “upon the spoil of the country,” until Fermanagh could endure the banditti no longer. Mac Guire and his people set upon Willis who had fortified himself, after the usual manner of the English, in a church, reduced him to extremity, and were on the point of destroying both sheriff and posse comitatus, when Hugh O’Neill interfered to save their lives, on condition of their instantly quitting the country.13
But Mac Guire did not lay down his arms. The English of Connaught were growing too strong to be endured as near neighbours; and the forces of Fermanagh being in the field, he led them southwards by the eastern shore of Lough Allen, and the base of the Iron mountain, through the south of Breffni O’Ruarc, through Corran, and over the bridge of Boyle abbey to the plains of Magh-ai. Bingham was then in camp upon a hill near Tulsk; and a body of his cavalry meeting with a party of Mac Guire’s while patrolling at night, fled to the main body and were pursued by the Irish with daughter into their trenches. William Clifford, who commanded the party, was slain;14 and the primate Mac Gauran,15 who resided with Mac Guire, and had accompanied him on the expedition, was among the slain on the side of the Irish.
The Lord Deputy immediately dispatched a “hosting” into Mac Guire’s territory. A large army of the Meath and Leinster forces under command of Marshal Bagnall and Hugh O’Neill, marched into Fermanagh from the east, and Bingham’s troops invaded it from Connaught. Mac Guire boldly met them at the “ford of the Lamb’s corner,” where the river issues from Lough Erne and contested that passage stoutly; but O’Neill having crossed at the head of the cavalry and charged the Irish in flank, Mac Guire was obliged to retreat. In this charge the zealous O’Neill was wounded in the thigh; and as the Irish chronicler relates, “he thought this well for him, because he was not suspected by the English.” The army proceeded through Mac Guire’s country wasting and plundering in their march, and then departed, leaving a body of troops with Conor Roe Mac Guire whom the English set up as a rival to the lawful chieftain. This was the first Queen’s Mac Guire: and it was confidently hoped that civil war would soon desolate the lands of Fermanagh and leave it ready for English sheriffs in a year or two.
Young O’Donnell could ill endure this Saxon settlement on Lough Erne. To keep the English out of Ulster was the grand passion of his life: and his fiery spirit chafed at the strange policy of O’Neill, which we can well believe he did not understand. Yet hitherto he had acted by the advice of his cautious confederate, and refrained from joining Mac Guire; but when Fitzwilliam, in the beginning of 1594, led another army to the North, took Enniskillen by surprise, and left an English garrison there, Hugh Roe could look on in silence no longer. He led the Clan-Conal into Fermanagh and laid close siege to Enniskillen, which he cut off from all communication with the country. The northern Irish were not skilled in the attack or defence of fortified places, and this siege seems to have been carried on entirely by way of blockade. All summer O’Donnell lay before it, and his troops scoured the country to the southward, burning and wasting the lands in possession of the English: until at last by the month of August the garrison had consumed all their provisions, and it was hoped must soon surrender from mere famine.
While Hugh Roe was here, a messenger came him from the North, announcing that a force of Scottish auxiliaries whom he expected had arrived in the Foyle, under command of Donald Gorm Mac Donald, and Mac Leod of Ara. He hastened to Derry to meet them, found there an efficient and well-armed body of troops, and incorporated them (as the Irish historian asserts16) with the Irish forces: but this is improbable, as in dress, arms, and manner of fighting the Scots differed considerably from the Irish. Their principal weapon was the huge two-handled broad sword, and they wore the tartan of their clans: while the Irish infantry bore sharp battle-axes and short swords, and were enveloped in long woollen cloaks which in action they often wound round the left arm.17 But whatever may have been the organization of these Scots, or their place in battle, they were a welcome aid to their brother Celts of Ireland, and did good service in these wars against the enemy.
While Red Hugh was absent from the camp, the Clan-Conal and Mac Gwire, lying before Enniskillen, received news of a large army coming upon them from Connaught, commanded by Sir Edward Herbert and Sir Henry Duke, to raise the siege and victual the garrison. Mac Gwire prepared to meet them, and looked anxiously northward for O’Donnell and the Scots. And now the English: had passed the mountains of Leitrim, and he could see the smoke of their devastating progress as they burned the country in their march; when most opportunely a body of three hundred galloglasses and one hundred cavalry, of the well-trained troops of Tyr-owen, with Cormac O’Neill the chief’s brother at their head, arrived in the Irish camp. With this reinforcement, and the troops of Fermanagh and Tyr-connell, Mac Gwire and Cormac waited for the enemy at a ford near Enniskillen and encountered them in a pitched battle. From morning till night the English pressed on gallantly, and were as fiercely met, but at last their whole army was utterly routed and pursued over the river with such slaughter and havoc that the baggage was left behind. All the stores of bread intended to relieve Enniskillen were lost in the liver; and that battle-ground is called the Ford of Biscuits unto this day.18 Enniskillen was immediately surrendered to Mac Gwire. The English fled to Sligo through the mountains of Breffni O’Ruarc, and Fermanagh was once more cleared of foreign soldiery. O’Donnell was returning rapidly from Derry, when messengers met him with the news of the victory: “and he was sorry,” says the chronicle, “that he had not been in that battle as he would have prevented the escape of so many of the English.”
Deputy Fitzwilliam was about this time recalled to England. All historians19 of both nations concur in representing him as one of the most flagitious, greedy, cruel, and corrupt governors that an English monarch ever sent to Ireland. To the nobles and people of the Pale he was as odious as to the Irish enemy — for ”he never respected any man’s necessity,” says Lee, “in comparison of his own commodity;“ and then, ”he kept so miserable a Christmas,” as Dublin had never seen before.20 But his viceroyalty is famous for the founding of Dublin University. Perrot had some years before proposed to convert St Patrick’s cathedral into a college; and the project was bitterly opposed by Archbishop Loftus, who had other uses for the revenues of his two cathedrals; and “was particularly interested in the livings of this church,”, says Leland, ”by leases and estates which he had procured for himself and his kinsmen” — being, in fact one of those rapacious bishops censured by Dr. Mant, who alienated the lands of the church, and seduced many bishoprics “as low as sacrilege could make them.”21 Nothing, therefore, was done for that time: but, after Loftus had procured the recal, disgrace, and death of Perrot (for he never could forgive that sacrilegious attempt in a layman) he determined to signalize his own zeal for education, and heartily co-operated with the queen in her renewed plan of a college. And instead of despoiling his churches for the purpose; he pointed out, as a convenient site, that “suppressed” monastery of All Hallows, then in the hands of the Dublin corporation. He convened a meeting, preyailed on the mayor and aldermen to give the ground and buildings for so meritorious an object; and to collect funds, circulars were addressed to the principal gentry of the Pale, entreating assistance by way of private contribution: but Dr. Mant gives the reply of one person to that application, and seems to infer from it that the proceeds thus obtained were very small: — “He had applied to all the gentlemen of the barony of Louth, whose answer was, that they were poor, and not able to give anything.”
There were forfeited lands, however, in the south; and some abbeys which had lately fallen into the hands of English rapacity; — O’Dorney in Kerry, Cong in Mayo. Besides innumerable monasteries in Ulster, long since “suppressed,” as we saw; but where the monks still contumaciously did their alms-deeds; and prayed for the souls of many an Irish chieftain who had endowed their houses to that end. Some of these a generous queen could bestow (in a certain anticipatory manner) upon her new Protestant college. The college, indeed, was long kept out of its northern property — “was frustrated,” as Dr. Leland has it, “of the benefit of its grants by the wars in Ulster:” but being a true undertaking college, it took the “letters patent” in the meantime, and was content to wait, like other undertakers, and realize the queen’s bounty by degrees, as the sword of her generals and the plots of her statesmen should extend English power in Ireland.
Thus was founded and endowed, by a Protestant princess, this great Protestant university, for strictly Protestant purposes — with Catholic funds, and upon the lands of a Catholic abbey.
1 O’Sullivan. This author says, Fitzwilliam summoned O’Neill to Stradbally.
4 Camden. Queen Eliz.
5 Red mouth.
6 O’Sullivan is the only writer who tells of this lady’s beauty. “Tironus Bagnalis sororem fœminam formâ conspicuam, speciei pulchritudine captus, rapuerat, matrimonio sibi conjunxerat, et a Protestante convertí ad fidem Catholicam fecerat.” — 4to. 132. There is a novel founded on this story, and entitled ”The Adventurers,“ lively with incident, but wanting the colouring and character of the period.
7 MS. Translation of Life of O’Donnell, p. 10.
9 MS. Life of O’Donnell
10 It was in Donegal Abbey the “Annals of the Four Masters” were compiled.
11 MS. Life of O’Donnell.
12 MS. Life of O’Donnell.
13 Lee’s Memorial.
15 M.S. Life of O’Donnell O’Sullivan calls the leader who fell Guelford; and Camden tells us that the English gained a considerable victory here.
16 ”One Gauranus, a priest, whom the pope (forsooth) had made primate of all Ireland.” — Moryson.
17 MS. Life of O’Donnell.
18 Spenser. See also for dress of Irish and Scotch, MS. Life of O’Donnell, and Ware.
19 Beal-atha-na riscoid. See MS. Life of O’Donnell, and O’Sullivan. The latter calls the place vadum-panum biscoctorum.
20 See Camden, Moryson, Cox, Lee, O’Sullivan, Mac Geoghegan.
21 Lee’s Memorial.