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The History of Ulster
Ulster Independent


Sufferings of Ulster Colonists - Death of the Red Earl of Ulster - Succeeded by the Brown Earl - The O'Neills of Clanaboy - Amalgamation of "Englishry" and "Irishry" - Ulster lost to the English - Murder of the Brown Earl of Ulster - Sir Ralph Ufford, Lord Justice - Lionel, Duke of Clarence, Earl of Ulster and Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland.

No portion of Ireland suffered more during the invasion of Edward Bruce than did Ulster, for it was chiefly over the northern province that the war raged, and in consequence Ulster presented a pitiable spectacle in 1318. The district was wasted, churches, castles, and cottages were burned, crops ruined, and famine stalked through the land. "There reigned scarcity of victuals . . . insomuch that men did commonly eat one another for want of sustenance. ..."

In all this turmoil and misery the English colonists were the greatest sufferers, for while the mote castles were left standing some protection was afforded them; but when these were razed, and the Earl of Ulster was defeated, they had to protect themselves as best they could although fighting against great odds. The condition of these people was pitiable; their farms were devastated, their homesteads a mass of ruins, their servants killed or pressed into the service of the Scots, and such live stock as they possessed slaughtered for food for the enemy. Many were utterly ruined by the Scottish raid. Many suffered from the military requisitions of their own lords, who had adopted the Irish practice, for the support of their troops, of "coyne and livery", or free quartering of the soldiery for food and fodder. Many, gathering together all the raid had left to them, fled from the country. Those who remained sank into the condition of the Irish around them, and the desolated and derelict lands were reoccupied by the native septs. The Red Earl of Ulster, whose proud boast it had been that he could unaided protect his possessions, was no longer able to take sword or lance on behalf of his people. He had, during Robert Bruce's march on Dublin, suffered a great indignity at the hands of the Mayor of Dublin, Robert of Nottingham, who, knowing that the Red Earl's daughter was married to the Bruce, suspected De Burgh of being in sympathy with his son-in-law, and, wishing to render him harmless, he laid violent hands on the Earl and cast him into prison. This indignity preyed on the proud spirit of the hitherto autocratic Earl, and he retired to a monastery, in which, in 1326, he ended his days. He was succeeded by his grandson, William, whose father, John de Burgh, had died in 1313. William de Burgh, to distinguish him from his grandfather, was known as the Brown Earl.

Whatever semblance of law and order the Red Earl may have maintained in Ulster was speedily dispelled during the sway of Edward Bruce, and totally disappeared with his death and the departure of his followers to Scotland. Donald O'Neill, if he was disappointed at the result of Bruce's invasion, quickly perceived that he could himself benefit by the unprotected state of the country. The representatives of the Crown, he clearly saw, were powerless to oppose him, for the forces at their command " were weakly supplied and ill-governed, . . . weakly supplied with men and money, and governed with the worst discipline that ever was seen among men of war." Swallowing his chagrin at Bruce's defeat, he made active preparations to clear the English out of Ulster. But O'Neill reckoned without taking into consideration the tactics of the O'Donnells. These hereditary enemies of the O'Neills had also cast longing eyes on the fair lands in Ulster, which, by a little exertion, might be theirs, and thus the rival septs, being both desirous to secure the same object, fell upon each other, and endless wars ensued.

But, fight as they might amongst themselves and with each other, the O'Neills and O'Donnells kept their hearts fixed on the acquisition of Ulster, and little by little the chiefs of Tirowen and Tirconnell made their way eastwards, driving out and exterminating all who opposed them. The O'Neills of Clanaboy, descendants of Hugh Boy O'Neill, crossed into Antrim and expelled the English from the " barony of Fuscard, now called the Route", and pursued them beyond the borders, destroying as they went their
mote-castles and dwellings, making it impossible for them to return.

It was the hopelessness of their outlook that induced the English, as a last resort, to adopt Irish names as well as Irish habits and customs. The Crown was powerless to help them, for the war on the Continent now occupied Edward's whole attention and also helped to drain Ireland of soldiers, who fought well on the fields of France though in the service of the King of England. The great Earl of Ulster was dead, and his grandson did not possess a tithe of his ability or power. The English colonists had therefore to rely on their own resources, which, as we have seen, left them the choice of being annihilated or of sinking their pride and nationality and becoming to all intents and purposes Irish in language, dress, and customs. Thus it was that even the great English lords, with the exception of Ormonde and Kildare, took Irish names. The De Burghs became McWilliam Eighter and McWilliam Oughter, or the Nether and the Further Burkes; FitzMaurice of Lixnaw became McMorice; FitzUrse of Louth, MacMahon ; and even De Bermingham, the conqueror of Edward Bruce, in spite of that famous victory, adopted the Irish name of MacYoris.

With the adoption of Irish names there sprang up a seminational feeling which temporarily united the English and Irish in a bond of self-defence. Seeing that England could no longer help them, they shook off all allegiance to England, and forgot they were English or Irish, as the case may be, and became one people, known only as "the King's enemies". They established kingdoms and principalities for themselves, recognizing no higher authority, and lived a lawless, turbulent life, becoming in time a greater menace to England than "the mere Irish" had ever been. These independent chieftains of native or Norman descent occupied and held sway over territories which have been described as "some regions as big as a shire, some more, some less, unto a little; some as big as half a shire, and some a little less; where reigneth more than sixty chief captains, whereof some calleth themselves kings, some kings' peers, in their language, some princes, some dukes, some archdukes, that liveth only by the sword, and hath imperial jurisdiction within his room, and obeyeth to no other person, English or Irish, except only to such persons as may subdue him by the sword".

As the Anglo-Irish gradually ceased to recognize the power or authority of the English, so in their turn the representatives of the Crown in Dublin slowly confined the operations of English laws to the English settlements. The purely Irish and Anglo-Irish districts were left outside the law. In fact, the law did not recognize them. No Irishman could plead in the English courts unless he belonged to one of the "five obedient shires", which came to be known as the English Pale, or was connected with one of "the five bloods", the O'Neills, O'Briens, O'Conors, O'Melaghlins, and McMurroughs, who enjoyed by royal grant the privilege of being the king's freemen. Being thus outside the law the Irish were not protected by the law, and to kill an Irishman was not murder. Outside the Pale "the King's writ no longer ran".

Under these conditions the northern province, which had never really been subdued, was a perfect pandemonium, wherein O'Donnells, O'Neills, O'Reillys, and O'Kanes strove ceaselessly for supremacy. William de Burgh, brother of the Red Earl, died in 1324. He had assumed the name of Burke and adopted Irish customs, spoke the Irish language, and, though a grandson of the Norman Hugh de Lacy, was as quick in quarrel and as pugnacious as the most bellicose of Irish chiefs could possibly be. William's son, Walter Burke, inherited a double portion of his father's spirit, and aspired to the kingship of Connaught. As the reigning king, Turlogh O'Conor, naturally objected, Walter made war on him (1330); but Turlogh, with the assistance of Burke's nephew, the Earl of Ulster, defeated him. He then turned his attention to other parts of Connaught, but renewed the war on Turlogh later, and became such a firebrand that the Earl of Ulster, finding his own authority threatened, had him imprisoned at Greencastle (1331), near the mouth of Lough Foyle, and starved to death. This unkinsmanlike action was followed by the murder of the Earl two years later. Walter Burke's sister felt so keenly on the subject of her brother's death that she determined that her nephew, the Earl, should suffer for the deed, and urged her husband, Robert de Mandeville of Ulster, to take revenge. This he did, aided by his servants, in a treacherous manner, by attacking the Earl from behind and splitting open his skull. The murderers were caught and put to death.

The sole issue of the Brown Earl of Ulster's marriage was an infant daughter, and as the Earl held his lands by the sword her pretensions were ignored by two brothers, members of a collateral branch of the De Burghs or Burkes; although by the provisions of feudal tenure the King of England had the right to possess and manage the late Earl's lands during the minority of his child. These Connaught Burkes renounced their allegiance to the English King, and with the assent of their tenants and the support of their Celtic neighbours proceeded to partition the estates between them, the elder seizing Galway, while the younger took possession of Mayo. In Ulster the O'Neills crossed the Bann and seized Clandeboy, and by degrees the entire province, like that of Connaught, passed wholly into the hands of the Irish; and it could be said of the northern province, as was said at this time of the western, when asked to furnish supplies to England, that no money could be got, as the whole province had fallen into Irish hands.

The Crown now recognized the seriousness of the situation, and took steps to strengthen its authority. The policy now pursued was to weaken the great lords and to play them off one against another, as the great lords themselves had, heretofore, played off the Irish chieftains. It was also decided to prevent, as far as possible, any more English becoming naturalized Irishmen, with all the consequences which followed such a change. With these ends in view, Sir Ralph Ufford was appointed Lord Justice in 1344. Sir Ralph had married the widow of the murdered Earl of Ulster, and had no cause to love the Irish. The Earl of Desmond, having convened a great gathering at Kilkenny, of "prelates, earls, barons, and community of Ireland" to protest against the King's injustice in proposing to resume all royal grants in lieu of certain alleged arrears of debt due to the Crown, the Lord Justice seized his estates, getting possession of the castles of Castle-island and Iniskisty in Kerry, and executed Sir Eustace de la Poer, Sir William Grant, and Sir John Cottrell, Desmond's principal followers. Ten years later we find Desmond appointed Lord Justice.

It now became a ruling principle to fill high offices of State with imported English, to the exclusion of the native Anglo-Irish; a proclamation in 1356 announced that no one born in Ireland should henceforth hold a command in any of the King's towns or castles. The Anglo-Irish had no part or lot in the government of their own country, and the nominees of the English Court absorbed every place of honour or emolument.

With the view of still further advancing these principles, Edward, in 1361, sent over his third son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, to fill the office of Lord-Lieutenant, granting him at the same time unlimited powers. Furthermore, for the better government of Ireland, all absentee landowners, already amounting to no less than sixty-three, were summoned to Westminster and ordered to provide an army to accompany the newly appointed Viceroy to Ireland.

The Duke of Clarence had married the only daughter and heiress of the Brown Earl of Ulster, and thus became himself, through his wife, titular Earl of Ulster, and the nominal lord of an enormous tract of country stretching from the Bay of Galway nearly up to the coast of Donegal. Most of this land had, however, been seized, as we have seen, by the Burkes. Ulster had been so completely lost that the new Earl of Ulster did not even refer to the province as part of the country which he was to govern, in fact the King himself had declared that Ireland was almost lost.

Lionel landed at Dublin in 1361 with an army of 1500 men. One of his objects in coming was to recover his wife's estates in Ulster, but though his army was large and well equipped, and the whole revenue of the country had been placed at his disposal, he was able to effect but little, and captured only some places of minor importance along the east coast of the province. The Burkes frequently fought amongst themselves, but they were ever united against Lionel, and he remained unable to recover the lands which by right belonged to the Duchess of Clarence; a striking example of how the Anglo-Irish of Ulster were strong enough to bid defiance to even the son of the King of England.


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