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The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 12978

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Two great risings against Elizabeth's power in Ireland had thus been met and suppressed. A third and a still more formidable one was yet to come. The interval was filled with renewed efforts at colonization upon a yet larger scale than before. Munster, which at the beginning of the Desmond rising had been accounted the most fertile province in Ireland, was now little better than a desert. Not once or twice, but many times the harvest had been burnt and destroyed, and great as had been the slaughter, numerous as were the executions, they had been far eclipsed by the multitude of those who had died of sheer famine.

Spenser's evidence upon this point has been often quoted, but no other words will bring the picture before us in the same simple, awful vividness; nor must it be forgotten that the man who tells it was under no temptation to exaggerate having himself been a sharer in the deeds which had produced so sickening a calamity.

"They were brought to such wretchedness," he says, "that any stony heart would rue the same. Out of every corner of the woods and glens, they came, creeping forth upon their hands, for their legs could not bear them. They looked like anatomies of death; they spoke like ghosts crying out of their graves. They did eat the dead carrions, where they did find them, yea and one another soon after, in as much as the very carcases they spared not to scrape out of their graves; and if they found a plot of watercresses or shamrocks, there they thronged as to a feast."

To replace this older population, thus starved, slaughtered, made away with by sword and pestilence with new colonists was the scheme of the hour. Desmond's vast estate, covering nearly six hundred thousand Irish acres, not counting waste land, had all been declared forfeit to the Crown. This and a considerable portion of territory also forfeit in Leinster was now offered to English colonists upon the most advantageous terms. No rent was to be paid at first, and for ten years the undertakers were to be allowed to send their exports duty free.

Many eminent names figure in the long list of these "undertakers"; amongst them Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Christopher Hatton, Sir Wareham St. Leger, Edmund Spenser himself, Sir Thomas Norris, and others, all of whom received grants of different portions. But "the greater," says Leland, "their rank and consequence, the more were they emboldened to neglect the terms of their grant." Instead of completing their stipulated number of tenantry, the same persons often were admitted as tenants to different undertakers, and in the same seniory sometimes served at once as freeholder, leaseholder, and copyholder, so as to fill up the necessary number of each denomination.

The whole scheme of colonization proved, in short, a miserable failure. English farmers and labourers declined to come over in sufficient numbers. Those that did come left again in despair after a time. The dispossessed owners hung about, and raided the goods of the settlers whenever opportunity offered. The exasperation on both sides increased as years went on; the intruders becoming fewer and more tyrannical, the natives rapidly growing more numerous and more desperate. It was plain that the struggle would break out again at the first chance which offered itself.

That occasion arose not in Munster itself, but at the opposite end of the island. In Ulster the great southern rising had produced singularly little excitement. The chiefs for the most part had remained aloof, and to a great degree, loyal. The O'Donnells, who had been reinstated it will be remembered in their own territory by Sidney, kept the peace. Sir John Perrot, who after the departure of Grey became Lord-deputy, seems in spite of his severity to have won confidence. Old Tyrlough Luinagh who had been elected O'Neill at the death of Shane, seems even to have felt a personal attachment for him, which is humorously shown by his consenting on several occasions to appear at his court in English attire, habiliments which the Irish, like the the Scotch chiefs, objected to strongly as tending to make them ridiculous. "Prythee at least, my lord," he is reported to have said on one of these occasions, "let my chaplain attend me in his Irish

Sr. John Perrot


mantle, that so your English rabble may be directed from my uncouth figure and laugh at him."

Perrot, however, had now fallen under the royal displeasure; had been recalled and sent to the Tower, a common enough climax in those days to years spent in the arduous Irish service. His place was taken in 1588 by Sir William Fitzwilliam, who had held it nearly thirty years earlier. Fitzwilliam was a man of very inferior calibre to Perrot. Avaricious by nature he had been highly dissatisfied with the poor rewards which his former services had obtained. Upon making some remonstrance to that effect he had been told that the "position of an Irish Lord-deputy was an honourable one and should challenge no reward." Upon this hint he seems now to have acted. Since the Lord-deputy was not to be better rewarded, the Lord-deputy, he apparently concluded, had better help himself. The Spanish Armada had been destroyed a few years back, and ships belonging to it had been strewed in dismal wreck all along the North, South, and West coasts of Ireland. It was believed that much gold had been hidden away by the wretched survivors, and fired with the hope of laying his own hands upon this treasure, Sir William first issued a permission for searching, and then started himself upon the search. He marched into Ulster in the dead of winter, at considerable cost to the State, and with absolutely no result. Either, as was most likely, there was no treasure, or the treasure had been well hidden. Furious at this disappointment he arrested two upon his own showing of the most loyal and law-abiding landowners in Ulster, Sir Owen McToole and Sir John O'Dogherty; dragged them back to Dublin with him, flung them into the castle, and demanded a large sum for their liberation.

This was a high-handed proceeding in all conscience, but there was worse to come; it seemed as if the new deputy had laid himself out for the task of inflaming Ulster to the highest possible pitch of exasperation, and so of once more awakening the scarce extinguished flames of civil war. McMahon, the chief of Monaghan, had surrendered his lands, held previously by tanistry, and had received a

new grant of them under the broad seal of England, to himself and his heirs male, and failing such heirs to his brother Hugh. At his death Hugh went to Dublin and requested to be put into possession of his inheritance. This Fitzwilliam agreed to, and returned with him to Monaghan, apparently for the purpose. Hardly had he arrived there, however, before he trumped up an accusation to the effect that Hugh McMahon had collected rents two years previously by force--the only method, it may be said in passing, by which in those unsettled parts of the country rents ever were collected at all. It was not an offence by law being committed outside the shire, and he was therefore tried for it by court-martial. He was brought before a jury of private soldiers, condemned, and executed in two days. His estate was thereupon broken up, the greater part of it being divided between Sir Henry Bagnall, three or four English officers, and some Dublin lawyers, the Crown reserving for itself a quit rent. Little wonder if the other Ulster landowners felt that their turn would come next, and that no loyalty could assure a man's safety so long as he had anything to lose that was worth the taking.

At this time the natural leader of the province was not Tyrlough Luinagh, who though called the O'Neill was an old man and failing fast. The real leader was Hugh O'Neill, son of Matthew the first Baron of Dungannon, who had been killed, it will be remembered, by Shane O'Neill, by whose connivance Hugh's elder brother had also, it was believed, been made away with. Hugh had been educated in England, had been much at Court, and had found favour with Elizabeth, who had confirmed him in the title of Earl of Tyrone which had been originally granted to his grandfather.

Tyrone was the very antipodes of Shane, the last great O'Neill leader. He was much more, in fact, of an English politician and courtier than an Irish chieftain. He had served in the English army; had fought with credit under Grey in Munster, and was intimately acquainted with all the leading Englishmen of the day. Even his religion, unlike that of most Irish Catholics of the day, seems to have sat but lightly upon him. Captain Lee, an English officer, quartered in Ulster, in a very interesting letter to the queen written about this time, assures her confidentially that, although a Roman Catholic, he "is less dangerously or hurtfully so than some of the greatest in the English Pale," for that when he accompanied the Lord-deputy to church "he will stay and hear a sermon;" whereas they "when they have reached the church door depart as if they were wild cats." He adds, as a further recommendation, that by way of domestic chaplain he has at present but "one little cub of an English priest." Lord Essex in still plainer terms told Tyrone himself when he was posing as the champion of Catholicism: "Dost thou talk of a free exercise of religion! Why thou carest as little for religion as my horse."

Such a man was little likely to rush blindly into a rebellion in which he had much to lose and little to gain. He knew, as few Irishmen knew, the strength of England. He knew something also of Spain, and of what had come of trusting for help in that direction. Hitherto, therefore, his influence had been steadily thrown upon the side of order. He had more than once assisted the deputy to put down risings in the north, and, on the whole, had borne his part loyally as a dutiful subject of the queen.

Now, however, he had come to a point where the ways branched. He had to choose his future course, and there were many causes pushing him all but irresistibly into an attitude of rebellion. One of these was the arbitrary arrest of his brother-in-law Hugh O'Donnell, called Red Hugh, who had been induced to come on board a Government vessel by means of a friendly invitation, and had been then and there seized, flung under hatches, and carried off as a hostage to Dublin Castle, from which, after years of imprisonment, he had managed to escape by stealth in the dead of winter, and arrived half dead of cold and exposure in his own country, where his treatment had aroused the bitterest and most implacable hostility in the breast of all the clan. A more directly personal affair, and the one that probably more than any other single cause pushed Tyrone over the frontiers of rebellion, was the following. Upon the death of his wife he had fallen in love with Bagnall, the Lord-Marshall's, sister, and had asked for her hand. This Bagnall, for some reason, refused, whereupon Tyrone, having already won the lady's heart, carried her off, and they were married, an act which the marshall never forgave.

From that moment he became his implacable enemy, made use of his position to ply the queen and Council with accusations against his brother-in-law, and when Tyrone replied to those charges the answers were intercepted. It took some time to undermine Elizabeth's confidence in the earl, having previously had many proofs of his loyalty. It took some time, too, to induce Tyrone himself to go in the direction in which every event seemed now to be pushing him. Once, however, his mind was made up and his retreat cut off, he set to work at his preparations upon a scale which soon showed the Government that they had this time no fiery half-savage Shane, no incapable vacillating Desmond to deal with.

An alliance with the O'Donnells and the other chiefs of the north was his first step. He was by no means to be contented however with a merely provincial rising. He despatched messages to Connaught, and enlisted the Burkes in the affair; also the O'Connor of Sligo, the McDermot and other western chiefs. In Wicklow the O'Byrnes, always ready for a fray, agreed to join the revolt, with all that was left of the tribes of Leix and Offaly. These, with the Kavanaghs and others, united to form a solemn union, binding themselves to stand or fall together. To Spain Tyrone sent letters urging the necessity of an immediate despatch of troops. With the Pope he also put himself into communication, and the rising was openly and avowedly declared to be a Catholic one. Just at this juncture old Tyrlough Luinagh died, and Tyrone forthwith assumed the soul-stirring name of "The O'Neill" for himself. Let the Spanish allies only arrive in time and the rule of England it was confidently declared would shortly in Ireland be a thing of the past.


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