Ireland and Her Story by Justin McCarthy - 1903

Table of Contents | Chapter I | Chapter II | Chapter III | Chapter IV | Chapter V | Chapter VI | Chapter VII | Chapter VIII | Chapter IX | Chapter X | Chapter XI | Chapter XII | Index




THIS prolonged period of incessant war brought about the almost complete devastation of wide tracts of country in Ire­land. Historians and poets tell the same sad story. Holinshed says that except in the cities or towns the traveller might journey for miles without meeting man, woman, child, or even beast. Edmund Spenser declared that the story of many among the inhabitants, and the picture one could see of their miser­able state, was such that " any stony heart would rue the same." Mr. Froude affirms that in Munster alone there had been so much devastation that " the lowing of a cow or the sound of a ploughboy's whistle was not to be heard from Valentia to the rock of Cashel." It was made a boast by at least


one of those engaged in ruling Ireland on behalf of the Queen that he had reduced some of the populations so deeply down that they preferred slaughter in the field to death by starvation. When this supposed pacification of Munster was accomplished the Province was divided into separate settlements, to be held under the Crown, at hardly more than a nominal quit-rent, by any loyal settlers who were willing to hold the land as vassals of the Sovereign and fight for their lives. All these lands were obtained by the confiscation of the estates of the rebellious Chieftains. A new Deputy, Sir John Perrot, convened a Parliament in Ireland. There was something farcical as well as grim in calling together a Parliament under such conditions, when the delegates were supposed to be convened that they might give frank and sincere advice to the representative of the Sovereign. Some of the Irish Chieftains who had given their allegiance to the English Sovereign not only accepted the Deputy's invitation, but actually presented themselves in full English costume. In former Parliaments, when Irish Chieftains were loyal enough to take part in the sittings, they still wore the costume of their septs ; but now, after so many struggles, some of the Irish nobles thought they would do better by making a complete submission to the conqueror, and inaugurating the new season of peace and prosperity by adopting the


costume of their rulers. This Parliament naturally proved most obedient. Whatever the Deputy wished, it promptly adopted. More estates were confiscated to the Crown, and the land thus obtained was parcelled out on the cheapest terms of holding to English nobles, and also to mere English adventurers, who undertook to colonize it with workmen and traders from England. But it was soon found that English traders and labourers were not easily to be persuaded into the risks of a settlement under these conditions, and the new owners were compelled in most cases either to put up with such labour as the country afforded or to allow the soil to He barren for the time. The scheme which the rulers had in mind-a scheme which meant nothing less than the substitution of an English for an Irish population-proved a failure. An English nobleman endowed with the spirit of adventure might be tempted to accept an estate in Ireland on the chance of making a brilliant career there, winning the favour of his Sovereign, and becoming a great figure in the eyes of his own Court and his own country. A mere adventurer might be as ready to try his fortunes in Ireland as in some unexplored part of the new world beyond the Atlantic. But the ordinary trader or working man of English birth and ways did not at that time feel inclined to give up his business and his home to venture


on a settlement in that wild western island, where all reports told him that every man's hand was against every other man, and that the loyal subjects of the Queen were hunted like wild game by the uncivilized Irish.

Sir John Perrot was not a man qualified to make the situation any better than he had found it. A man of quick and violent temper, he succeeded in making enemies of some of the Irish Chieftains who had lately been coming over to the service of the Crown, and converted some of his friends in office into his most bitter enemies. Sir John Perrot had to be withdrawn, and a new Deputy appointed in his place. Such a representative of English government was not likely to encourage many of the Irish Chieftains to accept the advances of an English Deputy or to believe that they could secure safety for themselves and their lands by submitting to his rule. The new Deputy, Sir William Russell, had a hard task before him.

One of the most important and famous struggles made during these years against English dominion was led by Hugh O'Neil. This celebrated Irish leader was the grandson of that Shane O'Neil whom Henry VIII. had created Earl of Tyrone. He had led thus far a very different life from that usually led by an Irish Chieftain. The ruling powers were at first inclined to make a favourite of


him, and confirmed him in his earldom and estates. He was brought over when very young to England, and we learn that even in the brilliant Court of Queen Elizabeth he was distinguished for gifts and graces of body and mind. For a long time Tyrone seemed a loyal supporter of English rule. He com­manded a troop in the Queen's service, and even took part in the suppression of risings in his own country, co-operating with the Earl of Essex in the Ulster wars and the settlement of Antrim. One romantic incident of his life brought him into personal an­tagonism with Sir Henry Bagnal, the Lord Marshal of Ireland. Hugh O'Neil had been left a widower, and he fell in love with Bagnal's beautiful sister. Bagnal highly disapproved of the match, but as the lady was heart and soul in love with the Irish Chieftain, her brother's opposition was vain. She eloped with her lover and married him. Bagnal became O'Neil's determined enemy. It may be that Sir Henry Bagnal did his best to prejudice the ruling authorities against O'Neil, and at that time no very substantial evidence was needed to set up a charge of treason against an Irish Chieftain. Perhaps when O'Neil returned to his own country he was recalled to national senti­ments by the sight of oppression there, and it is certain that he was roused to indignation by the arbitrary imprisonment of one of his


kinsmen known as Red Hugh. When Red Hugh succeeded in escaping from prison he inspired Tyrone with a keen sense of his wrongs, and brought him into the temper of insurrection. O'Neil threw himself com­pletely into the new movement for indepen­dence. A confederation of Irish Chieftains was organized, and O'Neil took the com­mand. He proved himself possessed of the most genuine military talents, and he could play the part of the statesman as well as of the soldier. The confederation of Irish Chief­tains soon became an embattled army, and the brothers-in-law met in arms as hostile com­manders on the shores of the northern Black-water. As one historian has well remarked, there was something positively Homeric about this struggle, in which the two men connected by marriage encountered each other as com­manders of opposing armies. Events had been moving on since the marriage between Tyrone and Bagnal's sister. O'Neil's young wife had found her early grave before this last engagement between her husband and her brother. The army of Bagnal was com­pletely defeated, and Bagnal himself was killed upon the field.

For a time victory seemed to follow Tyrone. Before long the greater part of Ireland was in the hands of the Irish forces. The Earl of Essex was sent to Ireland at the head of the largest army ever despatched from Eng-


land for the conquest of the island. But Essex does not seem to have made any serious effort. He appears to have had some idea of coming to terms with Tyrone. The two had a meeting, over which many pages of historical description and conjecture have been spent, but it is certain that so far as Essex was concerned, neither peace nor war came of his intervention. He was recalled to London, His failure in Ireland, and the trouble it brought upon him in England, only drove him into the wild movements which led to his condemnation as a traitor and to his death on the scaffold.

The place which Essex had so unsuccess­fully endeavoured to hold was given to Lord Mountjoy, who proved himself a more fitting man for the work Mountjoy was a strong man, who made up his mind from the first that he was sent to Ireland to fight the Irish. He had a great encounter with Tyrone, and Tyrone was defeated, From that moment the fortunes of the struggle seem to have turned. The resources of the Irish were very limited, and it was almost certain that if the English Government carried on the war long enough the Irish must sooner or later be defeated. It was a question of numbers and weapons and money, and in all these the English had an immense superiority. Tyrone had great hopes that a Spanish army would come to the aid of the Irish. A large


Spanish force was actually despatched for the purpose, but the news of Tyrone's defeat reached the Spaniards on their arrival, and they promptly re-embarked, and gave up what they considered a lost cause. Some of the Irish Chiefs were compelled to surren­der ; others fled to Spain, in the hope of stirring up some movement there against England, or at least of finding a place of shelter. Ireland was suffering almost every­where from famine, and in many districts famine of the most ghastly order. Tyrone found it impossible to carry on the struggle for in­dependence under such terrible conditions. There was nothing for it but to surrender and come to terms as best he could with his conquering enemy.

The times just then might have been re­garded as peculiarly favourable for Tyrone. Queen Elizabeth was dead, and the son of Mary Stuart sat on the English throne. Tyrone made a complete surrender of his estates, pledged himself to enter into alliance with no foreign power against England, and even undertook to promote the introduction of English laws and customs into any part of Ireland over which he had influence. In return Tyrone received from the King the restoration of his lands and his title by letters patent, and a free pardon for his campaigns against England. He was brought to London to be presented to King James, and was treated


with great courtesy and hospitality. This aroused much anger among some of the older soldiers and courtiers in London, who did not understand why an Irish rebel should be treated as if he were a respectable member of society. Sir John Harrington expressed his opinions very freely in letters which are still preserved. " I have lived," he wrote, "to see that damnable rebel Tyrone brought to England, honoured, and well liked. Oh ! what is there that does not prove the incon­stancy of worldly matters ? I adventured perils by sea and land, was near starving, ate horseflesh in Munster, and all to quell that man, who now smileth in peace at those who did harass their lives to destroy him ; and now doth Tyrone dare us, old com­manders, with his presence and protection."

When Tyrone returned to his own country he found that the reign of peace and recon­ciliation between England and Ireland was as far off as ever. Tyrone had believed it was fortunate for him to have made terms of peace in King James's reign and not in Elizabeth's. But he soon found that his hopes of a better time coming were prema-,ture. James no doubt thought it good policy to secure the allegiance of a man like Tyrone by apparently generous concessions. But he had no idea of adopting any policy towards Ireland other than the old familiar policy of striving to reduce her to the condition of an


English province, with English laws, customs, costumes, and religion. The King appears to have set his mind on the complete suppres­sion of the national religion by the enforce­ment of the sternest penal laws against Catholics. He was determined also to blot out whatever remained of the old Brehon laws, still dear to the memories of the people, and still cherished among the sacred traditions of the country. When King James succeeded to the throne he promised the Irish that they should have the right of practising their religion, at least in private; but he soon re­called his promise, and made it clear that those who would retain the protection of the new ruling system must abjure the faith of their fathers. Those who were put into the actual Government of the country saw that this policy could not be carried out without much resistance, and therefore decreed the complete disarmament of all Irish retainers who still acknowledged the leadership of the Chieftains. One of the greatest of these Chieftains, O'Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnel, was called upon to conform openly to the English Church, under pain of being pro­ceeded against as a traitor.

The state of things he found existing on his return to Ireland would naturally have driven Tyrone into rebellion, and the rulers of the country appear to have made up their minds that he must be planning some such


rising. Tyrconnel was naturally regarded as an enemy of the same order, and the policy of the ruling powers was to antici­pate their designs and condemn them in advance. Tyrone and Tyrconnel were accord­ingly proclaimed traitors to the King. The two Earls determined that as immediate insurrection had no chance of success, there was no safety for them but in prompt escape from the country. Then followed " the flight of the Earls." Tyrone and Tyrconnel, with their families and many of their friends and retainers, nearly a hundred persons in all, made their escape in one vessel from the Irish shore, and for twenty-one days were at the mercy of the sea and of the equinoctial winds, for they sailed about the middle of September. A story characteristic of the faith which then filled the hearts of Irish Chieftains is told. Tyrone fastened his golden crucifix to a string and drew it through the sea at the stern of the vessel, in the hope that the waves might thus be stilled. In the first week of October they landed on the shore of France, and travelled on to Rouen, receiving nothing but kindness from the French. When King James heard of their flight he at once demanded from France the surrender of the Earls, but Henry IV. refused to surrender them. Henry received the exiles with gracious and friendly greeting, but it was not thought prudent by the Earls any more than


by the French King that they should remain in France at the risk of involving the two countries in war. The Earls, with their families and followers, went into Flanders, and then on to Rome. Pope Paul V. gave them a cordial welcome, and made liberal arrangements for their maintenance, while the King of Spain showed his traditional sympathy with Ireland by settling pensions on them. Tyrconnel died soon after, in the Franciscan Church of St. Pietro di Montorio, and was laid in his grave wrapped in the robe of a Franciscan Friar. Tyrone lived for several years. He was filled in this later time by a passionate longing to see once more the loved country of his birth, and he appealed to the English Government for permission to return to Ireland and live quietly there until the end came. His re­quest was not granted. The English authori­ties, no doubt, felt good reason to believe that his return to Ireland would be the cause of profound and dangerous emotion among the people who loved him and whom he loved so well. His later years in Rome were literally darkened, because his sight, which had been for some time failing, soon left him to absolute blindness. He died on July 20, 1616, having lived a life of seventy-six years. Tyrone's body was laid to rest in the same church which held the body of his comrade Tyrconnel. Their graves are side by side.


A modern writer tells us that the church which has become the tomb of the two exiled Earls stands " where the Janiculum overlooks the glory of Rome, the yellow Tiber and the Alban Hills, the deathless Coliseum, and the stretching Campagna." " Raphael had painted his Transfiguration for the grand altar; the hand of Sebastiano del Piombo had coloured the walls with the scourging of the Redeemer." The present writer has seen the graves, and even the merest stranger to the spirit of Irish history must feel impressed by the story of the two exiles who found their last resting-place enclosed by such a scene.

Yet another of the O'Neils gave serious trouble to the English. This was Sir Phelin O'Neil, who in 1641 headed a rising of the natives in Ulster against the Scotch settlers, who had been planted on the soil of which the native Chieftains were dispossessed. Phelin O'Neil's rising has often been de­scribed by English historians as "the mas­sacre of 1641." There is no reason to describe this rebellion as a massacre, unless we regard any rebellion against constituted authority, no matter how the authority may have been constituted, as a wanton massacre. The spirit of Ireland was always, at that time and for long after, in revolt against the consti­tuted authority. The rising of 1641 was an attempt which for a brief season carried


success along with it, and was maintained with terrible loss of life on both sides. Victory on either side was followed by a reckless and wholesale slaughter of the defeated enemies; but this was the common characteristic of all wars, more especially of civil wars, during those days, and there is no reason to believe that the followers of Sir Phelin O'Neil were any worse than their rivals and contem­poraries. Mr. Goldwin Smith gives it as his opinion that during the struggle "theEnglish and Scotch settlers perhaps exceeded the Irish in atrocity, especially when we consider their comparative civilization." He says that " the Irish population of Island Magee, though innocent of the rebellion, were massacred, man, woman, and child, by the Scotch gar­rison of Carrickfergus."

O'Neil was successful in the beginning, but in the meantime a great change was taking place in England. The movement had set in which led to the great Civil War, the overthrow of the monarchy for a time, the execution of Charles I., and the estab­lishment of the Commonwealth of Cromwell. Cromwell entered Ireland at the head of what was then regarded as a great army, arid his military genius soon carried all before him. Phelin O'Neil was defeated, and was afterwards tried and executed. Owen Roe O'Neil, one of the most energetic, brilliant, and devoted champions of the Irish, died


suddenly during the war, and for a long time it was the belief of the Irish, although there seems no evidence to support it, that some of his enemies had contrived his death by poison. His death was a heavy blow to the Irish cause. Cromwell was everywhere triumphant, and a new chapter was opened in the story of Ireland.

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