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   Chapter 35 'FORTY-ONE.

The Story of Ireland By Emily Lawless Characters: 8581

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Stafford's fall and death would alone have rendered this year, 1641, a memorable one in Irish history. Unhappily it was destined to be made yet more so; few years, indeed, in that long, dark bead-roll are perhaps as memorable, both from what it brought forth at the time, and, still more, from what was afterwards to follow from it.

The whole country, it must be remembered, was in a state of the wildest and most irrepressible excitement. The fall of such a ruler as Strafford--one under whose iron will it had for years lain as in a vice--would alone have produced a considerable amount of upheaval and confusion. The army collected by him, and mainly recruited by Catholics, was regarded with strong disfavour both by Irish Protestants and by the English Parliament, and Charles, much against his will, had been forced to disband it, and the arms had been stored in Dublin Castle. The men, however, remained, and among the leading Irish as well as English royalists there was a strong desire that they should be kept together, so as to serve if required in the fast nearing struggle.

Nor was this all. Stafford's persecution of the Presbyterians had done its work, and the feeling between them and the Irish Church party had been greatly embittered. Amongst the Catholics, too, the most loyal even of the gentry had been terror-stricken by his confiscations. No one knew how long his property would remain his own, or upon what pretence it might not next be taken from him. Add to these the long-gathering passion of the dispossessed clans in the north, and that floating element of disaffection always ready to stir, and it will be seen that the materials for a rebellion were ready laid, and needed only a spark to ignite them.

As usually happens in rebellions the plans of the more prudent were thwarted by the impetuosity of the more violent spirits. While Ormond, Antrim, and the barons of the Pale were communicating with the king, and considering what were the best steps to take, a plot had been formed without them, and was now upon the point of exploding.

Two men, Rory or Roger O'Moore, one of the O'Moores of Leix, and Sir Phelim O'Neill, a connection of the Tyrones, were its main movers, and were joined by Lord Maguire, a youth of about twenty-two, Hugh McMahon, the Bishop of Clogher, and a few other gentlemen, belonging chiefly to the septs of the north. The plan was a very comprehensive one. They were to seize Dublin Castle, which was known to be weakly defended; get out the arms and powder, and redistribute them to the disbanded troops; at the same time, seize all the forts and garrison towns in the north; turn all the Protestant settlers adrift--though it was at first stipulated without killing or otherwise injuring them--take possession of all the country houses, and make all who declined to join in the rising prisoners.

Never, too, was plot more nearly successful. October the 23rd was the day fixed, and up to the very evening before no hint of what was intended had reached the Lords Justices. By the merest chance, and by an almost inconceivable piece of carelessness on the part of the conspirators, it was divulged to a man called Conolly, a Presbyterian convert, who went straight and reported it to Sir William Parsons. The latter at first declined to believe in it, but, Conolly persisting in his story, steps were taken to strengthen the defences. The guard was doubled; Lord Maguire and Hugh McMahon were arrested at daybreak next morning; the rest, finding that their stroke had missed, fled with their followers.

If this part of the rising failed, the other portions, unhappily, were only too successful. The same day the Protestant settlers in Armagh and Tyrone, unsuspicious of any danger, were suddenly set upon by a horde of armed or half-armed men, dragged out of their houses, stripped to the skin, and driven, naked and defenceless, into the cold. No one dared to take them in, every door was shut in their faces, and though at first no actual massacre seems to have been intended, hundreds perished within the first few days of exposure, or fell dead by the roadside of famine and exhaustion.

Sir Phelim O'Neill--a drunken ruffian for whom even the most patriotic historian finds it hard to say a redeeming word--

was here the ringleader. On the same day--the 23rd of October--he got possession of the fort of Charlemont, the strongest position in the new plantation, by inviting himself to dinner with Lord Caulfield, the governor, and suddenly seizing him prisoner. Dungannon, Mountjoy, and several of the other forts, were also surprised and taken. Enniskillen, however, was saved by its governor, Sir William Cole, and Derry, Coleraine, and Carrickfergus, had also time fortunately to shut their gates, and into these as many of the terrified settlers as could reach them crowded.

These were few, however, compared to those who could find no such haven of refuge. Sir Phelim O'Neill, mad with excitement, and intoxicated with the sudden sense of power, hounded on his excited and undisciplined followers to commit every conceivable act of cruelty and atrocity. Disappointed by the failure of the more important part of the rising, and furious at the unsuccess of his attempts to capture the defended towns, he turned like a bloodhound upon those unfortunates who were within his grasp. Old Lord Caulfield was murdered in Sir Phelim's house by Sir Phelim's own foster-brother; Mr. Blaney, the member for Monaghan, was hanged; and some hundreds of the inhabitants of Armagh, who had surrendered on promise of their lives, were massacred in cold blood. As for the more irregular murders committed in the open field upon helpless, terrified creatures, powerless to defend themselves, they are too numerous to relate, and there is happily no purpose to be gained in repeating the harrowing details. The effect produced by the condition of the survivors upon those who saw them arrive in Dublin and elsewhere--spent, worn out, frozen with cold, creeping along on hands and knees, and all but at the point of death--was evidently ineffaceable, and communicates itself vividly to us as we read their descriptions.

The effect of cruelty, too, is to produce more cruelty; of horrors like these to breed more horrors; till the very earth seems covered with the hideous brood, and the most elementary instincts of humanity die away under their poisonous breath. So it was now in Ireland. The atrocities committed upon one side were almost equalled, though not upon so large a scale by the other. One of the first actions performed by a Scotch force, sent over to Carrickfergus by the king, was to sally out like demons and mercilessly slaughter some thirty Irish families living in Island Magee, who had nothing whatever to say to the rising. In Wicklow, too, Sir Charles Coote, sent to suppress a disturbance amongst the O'Byrnes and O'Tooles, perpetrated atrocities the memory of which still survives in the region, and which, for cold-blooded, deliberate horror almost surpass those committed in the north. The spearing by his soldiery of infants which had hardly left the breast he himself openly avowed, and excused upon the plea that if allowed to survive they would grow up to be men and women, and that his object was to extirpate the entire brood.

Here and there a faint gleam falls upon the blackened page. Bedell, the Bishop of Kilmore, who had won the reverence even of his fiercest opponents, was allowed to remain free and undisturbed in the midst of the worst scenes of carnage and outrage; and when a few months later he died, was followed weeping to the grave by many who had been foremost in the work of horror. As to the number of those who actually perished, either from exposure, or by the hands of assassins, it has been so variously estimated that it seems to be all but impossible to arrive at anything like exact statistics. The tale was black enough as it really stood, but it was made blacker still by rumour and exaggeration. The real number of the victims grew to tenfold in the telling. Four thousand murdered swelled to forty thousand; and eight thousand who died of exposure, to eighty thousand. Even now every fresh historian sets the sum total down at a different figure. Take it, however, at the very lowest, it is still a horrible one. Let us shut our eyes and pass on. The history of those days remains in Carlyle's words, "Not a picture, but a huge blot: an indiscriminate blackness, one which the human memory cannot willingly charge itself with!"

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