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The Land-War In Ireland (1870) A History For The Times online

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[Footnote 1: Page 410.]

In the meantime Shane O'Neill, hard pressed on every side, earnestly
implored the cardinals of Lorraine and Guise, in the name of their
great brother the duke, to bring the _Fleur-de-lys_ to the rescue of
Ireland from the grasp of the ungodly English. 'Help us,' he cried,
blending _Irish-like_ flattery with entreaty: 'when I was in England,
I saw your noble brother, the Marquis d'Elboeuf, transfix two stags
with a single arrow. If the most Christian king will not help us,
move the pope to help us. I alone in this land sustain his cause.' To
propitiate his holiness, Primate Daniel was dismissed to the ranks
of the army, and Creagh received his crosier, and was taken into
O'Neill's household.

'All was done,' says the English historian, 'to deserve favour
in earth and heaven, but all was useless. The Pope sat silent or
muttering his anathemas with bated breath. The Guises had work enough
on hand at home to heed the _Irish wolf_, whom the English, having in
vain attempted to trap or poison, were driving to bay with more lawful
weapons.' His own people, divided and dispirited, began now to desert
the failing cause. In May, by a concerted movement, the deputy with
the light horse of the Pale overran Tyrone, and robbed the farmers
of 3,000 cattle, while the O'Donels mustered their forces for a great
contest with Shane, now struggling, almost hopelessly, to maintain
his supremacy. The O'Neills and O'Donels met on the banks of the Foyle
near Lifford. The former were superior in number, being about 3,000
men. After a brief fight 'the O'Neills broke and fled; the enemy was
behind them, the river was in front; and when the Irish battle cries
had died away over moor and mountain, but 200 survived of those fierce
troopers, who were to have cleared Ireland for ever from the presence
of the Saxons. For the rest, the wolves were snarling over their
bodies, and the seagulls whirling over them with scream and cry, as
they floated down to their last resting-place beneath the quiet waters
of Lough Foyle. Shane's foster-brethren, faithful to the last, were
all killed; he himself with half-a-dozen comrades rode for his life,
pursued by the avenging furies. His first desperate intention was to
throw himself at Sidney's feet, _with a slave's collar upon his neck_;
but his secretary, Neil M'Kevin, persuaded him that his cause was not
yet absolutely without hope. Sorleyboy was still a prisoner in the
castle at Lough Neagh, the Countess of Argyle had remained with her
ravisher through his shifting fortunes, had continued to bear him
children, and notwithstanding his many infidelities, was still
attached to him. M'Kevin told him that for their sakes, or at their
intercession, he might find shelter and perhaps help among the kindred
of the M'Connells.'

Acting on this advice, O'Neill took his prisoner, 'the countess, his
secretary, and fifty men to the camp of Allaster M'Connell, in the
far extremity of Antrim. He was received with dissembled gratulatory
words.' For two days all went on well, and an alliance was talked of.
But the vengeance of his hosts was with difficulty suppressed. The
great chief who was now in their power, had slain their leaders in the
field, had divorced James M'Connell's daughter, had kept a high-born
Scottish lady as his mistress, and had asked Argyle to give him for a
wife M'Connell's widow, who, to escape the dishonour, had remained in
concealment at Edinburgh. On the third evening, Monday June 2, when
the wine and the whiskey had gone freely round, and the blood in
Shane's veins had warmed, Gilespie M'Connell, who had watched him from
the first with an ill-boding eye, turned round upon M'Kevin, and asked
scornfully, 'whether it was he who had bruited abroad that the lady
his aunt did offer to come from Scotland to Ireland to marry with his

M'Kevin meeting scorn with scorn said, that if his aunt was Queen of
Scotland she might be proud to match with the O'Neill. 'It is false,'
the fierce Scot shouted; 'my aunt is too honest a woman to match with
her husband's murderer.'

'Shane, who was perhaps drunk, heard the words, and forgetting where
he was, flung back the lie in Gilespie's throat. Gilespie sprung to
his feet, ran out of the tent, and raised the slogan of the Isles. A
hundred dirks flashed into the moonlight, and the Irish, wherever they
could be found, were struck down and stabbed. Some two or three
found their horses and escaped, all the rest were murdered; and Shane
himself, gashed with fifty wounds, was wrapped in a kern's old shirt,
and flung into a pit, dug hastily among the ruined arches of Glenarm.
Even there, what was left of him was not allowed to rest. Four days
later, Piers, the captain of Knockfergus, hacked the head from the
body, and carried it on a spear's point through Drogheda to Dublin,
where, staked upon a pike, it bleached on the battlements of the
castle, a symbol to the Irish world of the fate of Celtic heroes.'[1]

[Footnote 1: Froude, p.418, &c.]

Mr. Froude might have added: Celtic heroes struck down by Celtic
hands. No lord deputy could boast of a victory over Shane O'Neill
in the field. Irish traitors in English pay, Irish clans moved by
vengeance, did the work of England in the destruction of the great
principality of the O'Neills, and it was by _their_ swords, not
by English valour, that Sidney 'recovered Ireland for the crown of
Elizabeth.' Whatever may have been the faults of Shane O'Neill, and no
doubt they were very great, though not to be judged of by the morality
of the nineteenth century, his talents, his force of character, his
courage and capacity as a general, deserved more favourable notice
from Mr. Froude, who, in almost every sentence of his graphic and
splendid descriptions, betrays an animosity to the Celtic race,
very strange in an author so enlightened, and evincing, with this
exception, such generous sympathies. After so often reviling the
great Irish champion by comparing him to all sorts of wild beasts, the
historian thus concludes: -

'So died Shane O'Neill, one of those champions of Irish nationality,
who under varying features have repeated themselves in the history of
that country with periodic regularity. At once a _drunken ruffian_,
and a keen and fiery patriot, the representative in his birth of the
line of the ancient kings, the ideal in his character of all which
Irishmen most admired, regardless in his actions of the laws of God
and man, yet the devoted subject in his creed of the holy Catholic
Church; with an eye which could see far beyond the limits of his own
island, and a tongue which could touch the most passionate chords
of the Irish heart; the like of him has been seen many times in that
island, and the like of him may be seen many times again till the
Ethiopian has changed his skin, and the leopard his spots. Numbers of
his letters remain, to the Queen, to Sussex, to Sidney, to Cecil,
and to foreign princes; far-reaching, full of pleasant flattery and
promises which cost him nothing, but showing true ability and insight.
Sinner though he was, he too in his turn was sinned against; in the
stained page of Irish misrule there is no second instance in which
an English ruler stooped to treachery, or to the infamy of attempted
assassination; and it is not to be forgotten that Lord Sussex, who has
left under his own hand the evidence of his own baseness, continued a
trusted and favoured councillor of Elizabeth, while Sidney, who fought
Shane and conquered him in the open field, found only suspicion and
hard words.'



Mr. Froude's magnificent chapter on Ireland, in the eleventh volume
of his history, just published, ought to be studied by every member of
the legislature before parliament meets. If a nation has a conscience,
England must feel remorse for the deeds done in her name in Ireland;
and ought to make amends for them, if possible. The historian has well
described the policy of Queen Elizabeth. She was at times disposed to
forbearance, but 'she made impossible the obedience she enjoined. Her
deputies and her presidents, too short-sighted to rule with justice,
were driven to cruelty in spite of themselves. It was easier to kill
than to restrain. Death was the only gaoler which their finances could
support, while the Irish in turn lay in wait to retaliate upon their
oppressors, and atrocity begat atrocity in hopeless continuity.'

Whenever there was a failing in any enterprise, the queen conceived 'a
great misliking of the whole matter;' but success covered a multitude
of sins. When the Irish were powerful, and the colony was in danger,
she thought it 'a hard matter to subvert the customs of the people
which they had enjoyed, to be ruled by the captains of their own
nation. Let the chiefs sue for pardon, and submit to her authority,
and she would let them have their seignories, their captaincies, their
body-guards, and all the rest of their dignities, with power of life
and death over their people. But,' says Mr. Froude, 'it was the curse
of the English rule that it never could adhere consistently to any
definite principle. It threatened, and failed to execute its threats.
It fell back on conciliation, and yet immediately, by some injustice
or cruelty, made reliance on its good faith impossible.'

Essex seemed to understand well the nature and motive of the queen's
professions, and he resolved to make some bold attempts to win back
her favour. He had made a sudden attack on Sir Brian O'Neill of
Clandeboye, with troops trained in the wars of the Low Countries, and
in a week he brought him to abject submission, which he expressed by
saying that 'he had gone wickedly astray, wandering in the wilderness
like a blind beast.' But it was the misfortune of Sir Brian, or
M'Phelim, that he still held his own territory, which had been
granted by the queen to Essex. 'The attempt to deprive him had been
relinquished. He had surrendered his lands, and the queen, at Essex's
own intercession, had reinstated him as tenant under the crown. It
seems, however, as if Essex had his eye still upon the property.'
Under such circumstances, it was easy to assume that O'Neill was still
playing false. So he resolved that he should not be able to do so any
longer. 'He determined to make sure work with so fickle a people.' He
returned to Clandeboye, as if on a friendly visit. Sir Brian and Lady
O'Neill received him with all hospitality. The Irish Annalists say
that they gave him a banquet. They not only let him off safe, but they
accompanied him to his castle at Belfast. There he was very gracious.
A high feast was held in the hall; and it was late in the night when
the noble guest and his wife retired to their lodging outside the
walls. When they were supposed to be asleep, a company of soldiers
surrounded the house and prepared to break the door. 'The O'Neills
flew to arms. The cry rang through the village, and the people swarmed
out to defend their chief; but surprised, half-armed, and outnumbered,
they were overpowered and cut to pieces. Two hundred men were killed.
The Four Masters add that the women were slain. The chieftain's wife
had female attendants with her, and no one was knowingly spared. The
tide being out, a squadron of horse was sent at daybreak over the
water into the "Ardes," from which, in a few hours, they returned with
3,000 of Sir Brian's cattle, and with a drove of stud mares, of which
the choicest were sent to Fitzwilliam. Sir Brian himself, his brother,
and Lady O'Neill, were carried as prisoners to Dublin, where they were
soon after executed.'[1]

[Footnote 1: Froude, vol. xi. p.179.]

Essex did not miscalculate the probable effect of this exploit. It
raised him high in the estimation of the Anglo-Irish of the Pale. 'The
taint of the country was upon him; he had made himself no better than
themselves, and was the hero of the hour.' The effect of such conduct
and such a spirit in the rulers, may be imagined. A few weeks later,
Sir Edward Fitton wrote: 'I may say of Ireland, that it is quiet;
but if universal oppression of the mean sort by the great; if murder,
robberies, burnings make an ill commonwealth, then I cannot say we are
in a good case ... Public sentiment in Dublin, however, was unanimous
in its approbation. Essex was the man who would cauterize the
long-standing sores. There was a soldier in Ireland at last who
understood the work that was to be done, and the way to set about it.
Beloved by the soldiers, admirable alike for religion, nobility, and
courtesy, altogether the queen's, and not bewitched by the factions
of the realm, the governor of Ulster had but to be armed with supreme
power, and the long-wished-for conquest of Ireland would be easily and
instantly achieved.'

These feelings were not unnatural to the party in Dublin, now
represented by the men who recently declared that they rejoiced in
the election of a Fenian convict in Tipperary, and declared that they
would vote for such a candidate in preference to a loyal man. But how
did Queen Elizabeth receive the news of the treacherous and atrocious
massacre at Belfast? She was not displeased. 'Her occasional
disapprobation of severities of this kind,' says Mr. Froude, 'was
confined to cases to which the attention of Europe happened to be
especially directed. She told Essex that he was a great ornament of
her nobility, she wished she had many as ready as he to spend their
lives for the benefit of their country.'

Thus encouraged by his sovereign, and smarting under the reproach of
cowardice cast on him by Leicester, Essex determined to render his
name illustrious by a still more signal deed of heroism. After an
unprovoked raid on the territories of O'Neill in Tyrone, carrying
off cattle and slaughtering great numbers of innocent people whom
his soldiers hunted down, he perpetrated another massacre, which is
certainly one of the most infamous recorded in history. A great
number of women and children, aged and sick persons, had fled from the
horrors that reigned on the mainland, and taken refuge in the island
of Rathlin. The story of their tragic fate is admirably told by Mr.
Froude: - 'The situation and the difficulty of access had thus long
marked Rathlin as a place of refuge for Scotch or Irish fugitives,
and, besides its natural strength, it was respected as a sanctuary,
having been the abode at one time of St. Columba. A mass of broken
masonry, on a cliff overhanging the sea, is a remnant of the castle in
which Robert Bruce watched the leap of the legendary spider. To this
island, when Essex entered Antrim, M'Connell and other Scots had sent
their wives and children, their aged and their sick, for safety. On
his way through Carrickfergus, when returning to Dublin, the earl
ascertained that they had not yet been brought back to their homes.
The officer in command of the English garrison (it is painful to
mention the name either of him, or of any man concerned in what
ensued) was John Norris, Lord Norris's second son, so famous
afterwards in the Low Countries, grandson of Sir Henry Norris,
executed for adultery with Anne Boleyn. Three small frigates were in
the harbour. The summer had been hot and windless; the sea was smooth,
there was a light and favourable air from the east; and Essex directed
Norris to take a company of soldiers with him, cross over, and - '

What? Bring those women and children, those sick and aged folk, back
to their homes? Essex had made peace by treaty with the O'Neill. He
had killed or chased away every man that could disturb the peace;
and an act of humanity like this would have had a most conciliatory
effect, and ought to recommend the hero to the queen, who should be
supposed to have the heart as well as the form of a woman.

No; the order was, to go over '_and kill whatever he could find!_' Mr.
Froude resumes: 'The run of the Antrim coast was rapidly and quietly
accomplished. Before an alarm could be given, the English had landed,
close to the ruins of the church which bears St. Columba's name.
Bruce's castle was then standing, and was occupied by a score or two
of Scots, who were in charge of the women. But Norris had brought
cannon with him. The weak defences were speedily destroyed, and after
a severe assault, in which several of the garrison were killed, the
chief who was in command offered to surrender, if he and his people
were allowed to return to Scotland. The conditions were rejected. The
Scots yielded at discretion, and every living creature in the place,
except the chief and his family (who were probably reserved for
ransom), was immediately put to the sword. Two hundred were killed in
the castle. It was then discovered that several hundred more, chiefly
mothers and their little ones, were hidden in the caves about
the shore. There was no remorse, nor even the faintest shadow of
perception that the occasion called for it. They were hunted out as if
they had been seals or otters, and all destroyed. Sorleyboy and other
chiefs, Essex coolly wrote, had sent their wives and children into the
island, "which be all taken and executed to the number of six hundred.
Sorleyboy himself," he continued, "stood upon the mainland of the
Glynnes and saw the taking of the island, and was likely to have run
mad for sorrow, tearing and tormenting himself, and saying that he
there lost all that he ever had!" The impression left upon the mind by
this horrible story, is increased by the composure with which even the
news of it was received. "Yellow-haired Charley," wrote Essex to
the queen, "might tear himself for his pretty little ones and
their _dam_," but in Ireland itself the massacre was not specially
distinguished in the general system of atrocity. Essex described it
himself as one of the exploits with which he was most satisfied; and
Elizabeth, in answer to his letters, bade him tell John Norris, "the
executioner of his well-designed enterprise, that she would not be
unmindful of his services."'

I have transcribed this narrative partly for the sake of the
reflection with which Mr. Froude concludes. He says: 'But though
passed over and unheeded at the time, and lying buried for three
hundred years, the bloody stain comes back to the light again, not in
myth or legend, but in the original account of the nobleman by whose
command the deed was done; and when the history of England's dealings
with Ireland settles at last into its final shape, that hunt among the
caves at Rathlin will not be forgotten.'[1] It was for services like
these that Essex got the barony of Farney, in the county Monaghan. He
had mortgaged his English estates to the queen for 10,000 l.,and after
his plundering expeditions in Ireland he went home to pay his debts.

[Footnote 1: History of England, vol. xi. p.184.]

Further on Mr. Froude has another reflection connected with the death
of Essex, supposed to have been poisoned, as his widow immediately
after married Leicester. He says: 'Notwithstanding Rathlin, Essex was
one of the noblest of living Englishmen, and that such a man could
have ordered such a deed, being totally unconscious of the horror of
it, is not the least instructive feature in the dreadful story.' It
is certainly a strange fact that nearly all the official murderers who
ruled in Ireland in those times were intensely religious, setting
to their own class a most edifying example of piety. Thus, from the
first, Protestantism was presented to the Irish in close connexion
with brutal inhumanity and remorseless cruelty. Essex, when dying, was
described by the bystanders as acting 'more like a divine preacher or
heavenly prophet than a man.' His opinion of the religious character
of his countrymen was most unfavourable. 'The Gospel had been preached
to them,' he said, 'but they were neither Papists nor Protestants - of
no religion, but full of pride and iniquity. There was nothing but
infidelity, infidelity, infidelity! - atheism, atheism! - no religion,
no religion!' What such tiger-like slaughterers of women and children,
such ruthless destroyers, could have meant by religion is a puzzle for

Sidney reluctantly resumed the office of viceroy in 1575. Tirlogh
O'Neill congratulated the Government on his appointment, 'wretched
Ireland needing not the sword, but sober, temperate, and humane
administration.' Though it was winter, the new deputy immediately
commenced a progress through the provinces. Going first to Ulster, he
saw Sorleyboy, and gave him back Rathlin. He paid a friendly visit
to the O'Neill, who gave him an assurance of his loyalty. Leinster he
found for the most part 'waste, burnt up and destroyed.' He proceeded
by Waterford to Cork. He was received everywhere with acclamation.
'The wretched people,' says Mr. Froude, how truly! - 'sanguine then, as
ever, in the midst of sorrow, looked on his coming as the inauguration
of a new and happier era.' So, in later times, they looked on the
coming of Chesterfield, and Fitzwilliam, and Anglesey. But the good
angel was quickly chased away by the evil demon - invoked under the
name of the 'Protestant Interest.' The Munster and the Connaught
chiefs all thronged to Sidney's levées, weary of disaffection, and
willing to be loyal, if their religion were not interfered with,
'detesting their barbarous lives,' - promising rent and service for
their lands. 'The past was wiped out. Confiscation on the one hand,
and rebellion on the other, were to be heard of no more. A clean page
was turned.' Even the Catholic bishops were tractable, and the viceroy
got 'good and honest juries in Cork, and with their help twenty-four
malefactors were honourably condemned and hanged.' Enjoying an ovation
as he passed on to Limerick and Galway, he found many grievances to be
redressed - 'plenty of burnings, rapes, murders, besides such spoil
in goods and cattle as in number might be counted infinite, and in
quantity innumerable.'

Sir William Drury was appointed president of Munster; and he was
determined that in his case the magistrate should not bear the sword
in vain. Going round the counties as an itinerant judge, he gleaned
the malefactors Sidney had left, and hanged forty-three of them
in Cork. One he pressed to death for declining to plead to his
indictment. Two M'Sweenys, from Kerry, were drawn and quartered. At
Limerick he hanged forty-two, and at Kilkenny thirty-six, among which
he said were 'some good ones,' as a sportsman might say, bagging his
game. He had a difficulty with 'a blackamoor and two witches,' against
whom he found no statute of the realm, so he dispatched them 'by
natural law.' Although Jeffreys, at the Bloody Assizes, did not come
near Drury, the latter found it necessary to apologise to the English
Government for the paucity of his victims, saying, 'I have chosen
rather with the snail tenderly to creep, than with the hare swiftly to
run.' With the Government in Ireland, as Mr. Froude has well remarked,
'the gallows is the only preacher of righteousness.'

But the gallows was far too slow, as an instrument of reform and
civilisation, for Malby, president of Connaught; and as modern
evictors in that province and elsewhere have chosen Christmas as the
most appropriate season for pulling down dwellings, extinguishing
domestic fires, and unhousing women and children, so Malby chose the
same blessed season for his 'improvements' in 1576. It is such a model
for dealing with the Fenians and tenants on the Tory plan, that I
transcribe his own report, which Mr. Froude has found among the Irish
MSS. 'At Christmas,' he wrote, 'I marched into their territory, and
finding courteous dealing with them had like to have cut my throat,
I thought good to take another course; and so with determination _to
consume them with fire and sword, sparing neither old nor young_,
I entered their mountains. I burnt all their corn and houses, and
committed to the sword all that could be found, where were slain
at that time above sixty of their best men, and among them the best
leaders they had. This was Shan Burke's country. Then I burnt Ulick
Burke's country. In like manner I assaulted a castle where the
garrison surrendered. I put them to the misericordia of my soldiers.
They were all slain. Thence I went on, sparing none which came in my
way, which cruelty did so amaze their followers, that they could not
tell where to bestow themselves. Shan Burke made means to me to pardon
him and forbear killing of his people. I would not hearken, but went
on my way. The gentlemen of Clanrickard came to me. I found it was but
dallying to win time, so I left Ulick as little corn and as few houses
standing as I left his brother; and what people was found had as

Online LibraryJames GodkinThe Land-War In Ireland (1870) A History For The Times → online text (page 7 of 37)