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The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 6306

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

In spite of his feeble health and feebler energies, Sir William Skeffington was continued Lord-deputy until his death, which took place not many months after the fall of Maynooth--"A good man of war, but not quick enough for Ireland"--seems to have been the verdict of his contemporaries upon him. He was succeeded by Lord Leonard Grey, against whom no such charge could be made. His energy seems to have been immense. He loved, we are told, to be "ever in the saddle." Such was the rapidity of his movements, and such the terror they inspired that for a while a sort of awe-struck tranquillity prevailed. He overran Cork; broke down the castles of the Barrys and Munster Geraldines; destroyed the famous bridge over the Shannon across which the O'Briens of Clare had been in the habit of descending from time immemorial upon the Pale, and after these various achievements returned triumphantly to Dublin.

His Geraldine connection proved however his ruin. He was accused of favouring the adherents of their fallen house, and even of conniving at the escape of its last legitimate heir; of playing "Bo Peep" with him, as Stanihurst, the historian puts it. Ormond and the deputy were never friends, and Ormond had won--not undeservedly--great weight in the councils of Henry. "My Lord-deputy," Lord Butler, Ormond's son had declared, "is the Earl of Kildare born over again." Luttrell, on the other hand, declared that "Ormond hated Grey worse than he had hated Kildare." All agreed that Lord Leonard was difficult to work with. He seems to have been a well-intentioned man, a hard worker, and a keen soldier, but neither subtle enough nor conciliatory enough for his place. He was accused of treasonable practices, and a list of formidable charges made against him. At his own request he was summoned to court to answer these. To a good many he pleaded guilty--half in contempt as it would seem--and threw himself upon the mercy of the king. No mercy however followed. Like many another "well-meaning English official" of the period, his life ended upon the scaffold.

A more astute and cautious man, Sir Anthony St. Leger, next took the helm in Ireland. His task was chiefly one of diplomacy, and he carried it out with much address. In 1537 a parliament had been summoned in Dublin for the purpose of carrying out the Act of Supremacy. To this proposal the lay members seem to have been perfectly indifferent, but, as was to be expected, the clergy stood firmer. So resolute were they in their opposition that the parliament had to be prorogued, and upon its re-assembling, a Bill was hastily forced through by the Privy Council, declaring that the proctors, who had long represented the clergy in the Lower House, had henceforward no place in the Legislature. The Act of Supremacy was then passed: thirteen abbeys were immediately suppressed, and the firstfruits made over to the king in place of the Pope. The foundation of the new edifice was felt to have been securely laid.

This was followed five years later by another Act, by which the property of over four hundred religious houses was confiscated. That the arguments which applied forc

ibly enough in many cases for the confiscations of religious houses in England had no application in Ireland, was a circumstance which was not allowed to count. In England, the monasteries were rich; in Ireland, they were, for the most part, very poor: in England, they absorbed the revenues of the parishes; in Ireland, the monks as a rule served the parishes themselves: in England, popular condemnation had to a great degree already forestalled the legal enactment; in Ireland, nothing of the sort had ever been thought of: in England, the monks were as a rule distinctly behind the higher orders of laity in education; in Ireland, they were practically the only educators. These however were details. Uniformity was desirable. The monasteries were doomed, and before long means were found to enlist most of the Irish landowners, Celts no less than Normans, in favour of the despoliation.

At a great parliament summoned in Dublin in 1540, all the Irish lords of English descent, and a large muster of native chieftains were for the first time in history assembled together under one roof. O'Tooles and O'Byrnes from their wild Wicklow mountains; the McMurroughs from Carlow, the O'Connor, the O'Dunn, the O'Moore; the terrible McGillapatrick from his forests of Upper Ossory--all the great O's and Macs in fact of Ireland were called together to meet the Butlers, the Desmonds, the Barrys, the Fitzmaurices--their hereditary enemies now for four long centuries. One house alone was not represented, and that the greatest of them all. The sun of the Kildares had set for a while, and the only surviving member of it was a boy, hiding in holes and corners, and trusting for the bare life to the fealty of his clansmen.

Nothing that could reconcile the chiefs to the new religious departure was omitted upon this occasion. Their new-found loyalty was to be handsomely rewarded with a share of the Church spoil. Nor did they show the smallest reluctance, it must be said, to meet the king's good dispositions half way. The principal Church lands in Galway were made over to McWilliam, the head of the Burkes; O'Brien received the abbey lands in Thomond; other chiefs received similar benefices according to their degree, while a plentiful shower of less substantial, but still appreciated favours followed. The turbulent McGillapatrick of Ossory was to be converted into the decorous-sounding Lord Upper Ossory. For Con O'Neill as soon as he chose to come in, the Earldom of Tyrone was waiting. McWilliam Burke of Galway was to become Earl of Clanricarde; O'Brien of Clare, Earl of Thomond and Baron of Inchiquin. Parliamentary robes, and golden chains; a house in Dublin for each chief during the sitting of Parliament--these were only a portion of the good things offered by the deputy on the part of his master. Could man or monarch do more? In a general interchange of civilities the "King's Irish enemies" combined with their hereditary foes to proclaim him no longer Lord, but King of Ireland--"Defender of the Faith, and of the Church of England and Ireland on earth the Supreme Head."


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