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The History of Ulster
The Religious Element


The Act of Uniformity - Is followed by "Hurley-hurleys" - Appointment of Dowdall as Primate - His Rival the "Blind Bishop" - Tyrone's Letter to King of France - Rebellion brewing in Ulster - Brereton's Independent Action - Tyrone complains - Brereton sacrificed - Introduction of the Liturgy - Conference in Dublin - Dowdall, Archbishop of Armagh, expostulates - The Primacy removed to Dublin - Sir James Cusack's Survey of Ireland - His Report on Ulster.

With the passing and enforcement of the Act of Supremacy it is not surprising that the religious element became a more significant feature in the life of the people, and gradually grew to be a fruitful source of trouble. The spirit of reform was in the air, and under its influence a breeze developed into a hurricane. The Protector was not satisfied to limit to England alone, his activities in regenerating the subjects of the King; he must needs extend the field of his operations to Ireland. In doing so he unwittingly stirred up a nest of hornets. Lord Deputy Sir James Crofts became impatient at the task allotted to him, and wrote to the Council deploring the action of the busy-bodies. "If the Lords of the Council", said he, "had letten all things alone in the order King Henry left them, and meddled not to alter religion, the hurley-burleys had not happened."

The "hurley-burleys" began with the death, in 1543, of Cromer, Archbishop of Armagh, the personal friend, it will be remembered, of the Geraldines. Henry appointed George Dowdall, an Irishman, to the primacy, he having surrendered the priory of Ardee and taken the oath of supremacy. The Pope, however, nominated a Scotsman named Robert Waucop, a very remarkable man, who was familiarly known as the blind bishop, he being so strangely afflicted with myosis as to give the impression that he was totally blind. Notwithstanding his defective vision he attained to such eminence that he was regarded as one of the most learned men of his age. The Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, were first intro- duced into Ireland, in 1541, by Waucop. At the Council of Trent, in 1545, Waucop assisted, bearing the while the title of Archbishop of Armagh, a diocese to which he paid his first and only visit in 1550. He was in Ulster when Monluc visited O'Dogherty at his castle of Innishowen, and endeavoured to sow the seeds of rebellion in the north; but the conspiracy proved abortive, although the oath of allegiance to the King of France was taken by O'Neill, O'Dogherty, and O'Donnell. "Tyrone", we are told, "desired the French King to come with his power, and, if he would so prepare to do, to help him to drive out the Jewish Englishmen out of Ireland, who were such as did nothing to the country but cumber the same and live upon the flesh that was in it, neither observing fast-days, nor regarding the solemn devotion of the blessed mass or other ceremony of the Church, the French King should find him, the Earl, ready to help him with his men and all the friends he could make".

In the meantime Dowdall was not idle. He kept an eye on his rival, Waucop, and reported to Dublin that the Scottish friar was "a very shrewd spy and a great brewer of war and sedition". His belief in the sinister intentions of Waucop was strengthened by the receipt of a letter from Tyrone in which the Earl acknowledged having received letters from the French Ambassador, and stated that he himself had had an interview with "the blind doctor who calls himself Primate". He denied that he had given him any encouragement, and asserted that he had given no reply to the letters received from the French King. Tyrone also declared that his loyalty was unshaken, and requested the Primate to forward his letter to Alen, the Lord Chancellor. O'Donnell, at the same time, wrote to Dublin, begging to be forgiven for having entertained the blind bishop, who had, he explained, been "in other places and countries in Ireland before he came into my country". O'Donnell also denied having recognized Waucop's claim to the primacy. He admitted having seen Monluc and also George Paris, FitzGerald's faithful follower, but stated that they had entrusted to him no letters, knowing well that on a previous occasion he had on receipt of such letters handed them to the Government.

In forwarding Tyrone's letter to Alen, Dowdall informed him that a combined Scottish and French armament was in active preparation for the invasion of Ulster in the summer. He asserted that the French had already "manned and stuffed with ordnance two castles in O'Dogherty's country". He pointed out that Waucop, who was with O'Donnell in Derry, was working in their interest. He expressed his firm belief in Tyrone's loyalty, and added that, so long as Tyrone was loyal, the hostility of the lesser chiefs might be ignored with safety.

One of the able commanders appointed by Bellingham was Sir Andrew Brereton, who was appointed to guard and direct a colony of settlers in the district of Lecale, a portion of the County Down which had long formed an outlying portion of the Pale, and adjoined the territory of an Irish sept called MacArtan, who were tributary to O'Neill. Brereton was a watch-dog in the English interest. No French emissary could leave Tyrone's castle without Brereton's making an effort to waylay him and relieve him of his despatches. On one occasion he succeeded in intercepting a letter in which the Earl invited a French invasion, and undertook especially to destroy the Lecale colony by betraying Brereton. Brereton therefore had no love for Tyrone. About this time (1551) the Earl of Tyrone became anxious on the score of rents due to him by the MacArtans, and, seizing the only possible means to recover the money in a district in which the King's writ did not run, he sent a body of kerne to distrain for the amount due. This distraining party was accompanied by two brothers of Lady Tyrone. This, however, did not shut Brereton's eyes to the fact that the proceeding was flagrantly illegal, and he accordingly attacked O'Neill's representatives and put them to flight, the Countess's brothers being included in the number of the slain. That Brereton was not actuated by any personal animosity to the Earl of Tyrone is proved by the fact that although immediately after this melee, one of the sept of MacArtan became somewhat obstreperous, thinking doubtless that the English commander favoured his people, and he might be as unruly as he liked with impunity, Brereton nevertheless resorted to martial law and forthwith had the offender executed. In earlier years Tyrone would have had recourse to arms; but, having grown wiser, he abstained from taking the law into his own hands, and contented himself by repairing to Dublin and laying his complaints before the Council. Like many a representative of the Crown who has acted on the spur of the moment in the best interests of the Government, and thereby saved the situation, Brereton was made a scapegoat. He was called upon to give an explanation of his conduct, and his only response was to draw up a statement of the Earl's recent misdeeds. Thereupon Brereton was summoned to Dublin, and, at a meeting of the Council, was told that he was accused by Tyrone of murder; whereupon "he said he would make answer to no traitor, threw his book [in which his list of Tyrone's misdeeds was written], and desired that the same might be openly read". The Council, "considering the same Earl to be a frail man, and not yet all of the perfectest subject, and thinking, should he know the talk of the same Mr. Brereton, having of his friends and servants standing by for it was in the open council-house it might be a means to cause him and others of his sort and small knowledge to revolt from their duties and refuse to come to councils", endeavoured to pour oil on the troubled waters, and having come to the conclusion that "such handling of wild men had done much harm in Ireland", they reluctantly consented to " read the book, and do therein as should stand with their duties".

The accusations of Brereton put Tyrone in a towering rage. He again repaired to Dublin, and, appearing before the Council, declared that he "took the name of 'traitor' very unkindly ", and demanded justice; whereupon the Council apologized for Brereton's conduct, reprimanded him and deprived him of his command, and by so doing humoured an Irish chief at the expense of an honest servant of the State. Brereton's vacated post was conferred on Robert St. Leger, a son of the Lord Deputy.

With the exception of the commotion caused by Brereton's action, Ulster was remarkably peaceful. The Ulster chiefs MacGennis(who had been knighted by Henry VIII), O'Hanlon, and MacMahon willingly paid an annual tribute to the Government. In Clanaboy and in the Ardes, where English law hitherto had been flouted, English Sheriffs were appointed. O'Neill, of Clanaboy, craved pardon in the humblest manner for his misdeeds, and agreed to forfeit his captaincy and all his lands "if ever he should depart from his faith of obedience", or from such orders as he received from Dublin for the government of his territory. He also, with the other chiefs named, undertook to cease to employ Scots as mercenary soldiers.

The religious element became more and more obtrusive. The reckless energy of the reformers, which had brought England to the verge of chaos, was now bringing Ireland to the brink of ruin. The religious changes which Cromwell had been forcing on an unwilling dependency had, with his death, been allowed a brief respite; with the accession of Edward the system of change was renewed with great zeal. In 1551 the bishops were summoned before the Deputy, Sir Anthony St. Leger, who had been instructed to hand them the new English liturgy, which, though it professed to be written in a tongue "easily understanded of the people", was compiled in a language as strange to the native Irish as was Latin. Stringent orders were issued that the liturgy should supersede the Latin service book in every diocese. The result was an uproar of protest. St. Leger, whose sole object was to ensure, if not peace, the semblance of peace, did what he could to pacify the people. He not only permitted high mass to be said at Christ's Church, in Dublin, but he also attended the service himself. "To make a face of conformity he put out proclamations" for the use of the Prayer Book; stating that an English version should be used where English was spoken, and an Irish one where otherwise; but the Irish one was not used. When Browne, Archbishop of Dublin, expostulated, St. Leger, tired of controversy, tried to silence him, and irritably said: "Go to, go to, your matters of religion will mar all ", and handed him "a little book to read", which the horrified ecclesiastic found to be "so poisoned as he had never seen to maintain the mass, with transubstantiation and other naughtiness". The "hurley-burley" was acquiring volume!

The new liturgy was publicly read in Christ's Church, Dublin, in 1551, and in the same year the Primate consented to hold a conference with the Protestant authorities at St. Mary's Abbey. The conference was held in the great hall of the abbey, rendered historic by having been the scene of Lord Offaly's resignation in 1534. The Primate, who was attended by a large number of his suffragans, appeared as the Defender of the Faith, while Staples, Bishop of Meath, acted as the Protestant champion. Browne, Archbishop of Dublin, was not present, no doubt being notified that his controversial methods were more likely to irritate than to convince his opponents. Sir James Crofts, at whose instigation the meeting was held, followed the proceedings with much interest and was occasionally appealed to on various points. The discussion, as might be expected, led to no modification of views on either side. Dowdall, when Staples asserted that the Church of Rome had erred, indignantly exclaimed: "Erred! the Church erred? Take heed lest you be excommunicated." "I have excommunicated myself from thence already," replied Staples. A conference conducted on such lines served no good end. As Dowdall himself admitted, it wasted time 4 'when two parties so contrary met", and the conference broke up much in the same manner as when Dowdall flung out of the Council chamber on a previous occasion when asked to accept the liturgy, shouting as he went: "Now shall every illiterate fellow read mass". Browne was so much enraged at the opposition given by Dowdall to the introduction of the new liturgy, that he obtained a royal charter transferring to himself the primacy of all Ireland; and Dowdall, feeling that the cause was hopeless, and that he might possibly lose his liberty or his life, fled to the Continent. "I never", said Walter Savage Landor, "heard a discussion on religion, but religion was a sufferer by it." Alas! not religion alone is a sufferer, but all the amenities of life suffe^; and the discussion at St. Mary's Abbey was followed by a senseless destruction of property saddening to contemplate. The Irish Annalists recorded that the venerable churches of Clonmacnoise were plundered by the English garrison of Athlone, and that "there was not left a bell small or large, an image, an altar, a book, a gem, or even glass in the window, which was not carried off"; and they added: "lamentable was this deed, the plundering of the City of Kieran!"

In November, 1551, Sir James Crofts wrote to the Duke of Northumberland begging him to name a successor to Dowdall, and stating that at Armagh he wished to have "a discreet man of war, to take charge as a commissioner in those parts". After much diligent search, and many refusals to go to Ireland, a certain Hugh Goodacre accepted the vacant post. He, however, only survived his consecration a few weeks, being, it is stated, poisoned by a Roman Catholic priest. Of this, however, there is no evidence.

In the last year of King Edward's reign Sir James Cusack, who had been appointed Lord Chancellor on the fall of Alen, became Lord Justice. He performed a work of inestimable value in making a complete survey of Ireland. It is interesting to learn that Ireland on the whole at this period was pronounced to be loyal, prosperous, and improving, but it is matter for regret that the writer declared that Ulster was the least satisfactory of the four provinces. The O'Neills and O'Donnells had by their hostilities reduced the County Tyrone from being the most prosperous part of Ireland to a barren wilderness. Tirconnell was in much the same condition, while the Scottish settlements on the east coast were spreading with alarming rapidity; Lecale, however, was "for English freeholders and good inhabitance so civil as few places in the English Pale ".

All these improvements Cusack attributed to the liberal policy of the last two deputies. "The policy that was devised for the sending of the Earls of Desmonde, Thomond, Clanrickard, and Tyrone, and the Baron of Upper Ossory, O 'Carroll, MacGehnis, and others into England, was a great help towards bringing those countries to good order; for none of those who went into England committed harm upon the King's Majesty's subjects."


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