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The History of Ulster
The Scots in Ulster


Earl of Sussex, Lord Deputy - Incursions of the Scots - Calvagh O'Donnell imprisons his Father - Shane O'Neill aids Sussex - O'Donnell defeats O'Neill - Dowdall's Strictures on Sussex - The Scots attacked by the Lord Deputy - Death of the Baron of Dungannon - And of Conn O'Neill, first Earl of Tyrone - State of the Irish - Death of Mary.

In the five years of Mary's reign, little of moment occurred in Ulster. In 1556 St. Leger finally left Ireland, his successor being Thomas Radclyffe, Lord FitzWalter, better known by his later title of Earl of Sussex. One of his first acts was to lead an army into Ulster against the Scots, then very powerful in the districts of the Route and Clanaboy. These Scots had long been a menace to the peace of Ulster. Descended from the Scots of Ireland, they had extended their sway over all modern Scotland; and in their new home, those who dwelt on the east coast were content with their lot. Those who lived on the western coast were of a more restless and adventurous disposition. These Scots, under their chiefs, the MacDonalds of the Isles, made many descents on the adjacent Irish coasts. Confined originally to the glens of Antrim, to which they could show some sort of title, the MacDonalds had gradually extended their sway over the whole of the eastern counties. It was calculated, in 1539, that at least 2000 of them were in Ulster. St. Leger reported, six years later, that he feared an invasion from them in force, and before the end of the year the Lord of the Isles did come, and was at Carrickfergus with 4000 men; and Bellingham was instructed to assist the Earl of Tyrone against them. Often, as we have seen, they hired themselves out to the Ulster chiefs as mercenaries. But they effected permanent settlements as well. They had expelled the MacQuillans from the Route; they had occupied Clanaboy, besieged Knockfergus, and levied Black Rent from the English colonists in Lecale; but whether in making war themselves, or in aiding the Irish chiefs to make war, they kept Ulster in constant unrest, and all attempts to reduce them were unsuccessful.

When Sussex landed, the Scots in Ulster numbered 7000, and the immigration continued. Their presence in Antrim was no less unwelcome to the O'Neills than it was to the English Government. The supremacy of Tyrone was threatened, and Shane O'Neill therefore gladly assisted the new Deputy in his attempt to subdue the Scots. A skirmish took place near Glenarm, when some seventy or eighty Scots were killed. But this was the sole victory gained; and at the end of six weeks, his provisions being exhausted, Sussex marched back to Dublin "without receiving submission or hostages". The old Earl of Tyrone did not despair, but was again unfortunate in an expedition against the same dangerous intruders in Clanaboy, being defeated by them, with the loss of 300 men.

In 1555 Calvagh O'Donnell employed some Scottish auxiliaries against his father, Manus, whom he made prisoner and detained in captivity until his death. In 1557 the Scots penetrated to Armagh, which was plundered twice in one month by the Earl of Sussex. His object on this occasion was to assist the Baron of Dungannon against Shane O'Neill. He pitched his camp near Armagh Cathedral and burnt a great part of the town. Having done this, he returned to Dublin. Shane, who had contrived to evade meeting Sussex, retaliated by burning several villages in the Pale. That these futile efforts on the part of Sussex did not pass without criticism is proved by a comment given in the State papers in which they are described. "And when in time of war with any Irishry of power, as of late with O'Neill, occasion moveth the governor to proclaim a main journey for thirty or forty days to invade the enemy's country, the governor goeth with the army and force of the English Pale, to their great charge, where they continue out their days while their victuals last, and then fain to return home again, as many times they do, without booty or other harms done, or yet can be done to a waste country, the inhabitants whereof, whilst the English host is in their country, shutteth all their cattle into woods and pastures, where they continue until the English army be gone; and then do they come into the plains of their country with their cattle again, where they are ready anew to invade and spoil the English Pale as before; as commonly they do bring with them great booties out of the borders of the same, whereof if recovery be not made by hot pursuit of some part of that they take away, very seldom or never can be found any of theirs worth the having to be taken from them for the same again. So as, by these appearances, wheresoever the service is done, the same is a charge to the Queen's Majesty, a burden to the liege people to the decay both of them and the English soldiers, fretting one another of themselves, with small defence to the Pale, nor yet can be any great scourge to the enemy, who always gaineth by our losses, and we never gain by them, although we win all we play for, the stakes being so unequal, not a penny against a pound, for that the English Pale is planted with towns and villages, inhabited with people resident, having goods and chattels, corn and household stuff, good booties for the Irish enemies to take from us, and their countries being kept of purpose waste, uninhabited, as where nothing is, nothing can be had."

The Archbishop of Armagh was naturally wroth with the new Lord Deputy, for had he not pitched his camp in the cathedral! The vice-regal army had pillaged the cathedral and burnt several churches. Ireland, wrote Dowdall to the Archbishop of York, was in a worse state than ever it had been "except the time only that O'Neill and O'Donnell invaded the English Pale and burnt a great piece of it". The north, he said, was "as far out of frame as ever it was", and the Scots were "not only in such lands as they did lately usurp, but also in Clanaboy".

In this same year (1557) Shane O'Neill, observing the weak condition to which Calvagh's rebellion had reduced Tirconnell, thought the opportunity a favourable one to recover the power of which his ancestors had been deprived by the O'Donnells. He accordingly mustered a large army and pitched his camp at Carrigliath, between the Rivers Finn and Mourne, where he was joined by Hugh, the brother of Calvagh O'Donnell, and several of the men of Tirconnell who were disaffected towards their chief for his rebellion to his father. Calvagh in this emergency consulted Manus, and by his advice resolved to avoid a pitched battle, and to have recourse to stratagem. He caused his cattle to be driven to a distance, and when O'Neill entered his territory, and marched 'as far as the place now called Balleeghan, near Raphoe, he sent two spies into the Tyrone camp, while he himself hovered not far off with his small force. The spies mixed with Shane's soldiers, received rations which they carried back. as evidence of their success, and undertook to guide O'Donnell's army that night to O'Neill's tent, which is described as being distinguished by a great watch-fire, a huge torch burning outside, guarded by sixty grim gallowglasses on one side of the entrance, armed with sharp axes, ready for action, and on the other side by as many wild and awe-inspiring Scots with their broadswords in their hands.

Overweening confidence had rendered O'Neill careless. He boasted that no one should be king in Ulster save himself, and despised the power of his crafty foe; but O'Donnell penetrated under cover of the darkness into the heart of O'Neill's camp, and proceeded without resistance to slaughter the men of Tyrone, and the whole were routed or cut to pieces, while Shane himself, escaping through the back of his tent, fled unattended save by two of O'Donnell's men, and by swimming across three rivers made his way, covered with confusion, to his own territory.

Dowdall's strictures on Sussex naturally irritated the Lord Deputy, and he complained of the Archbishop's accusations to the Queen, who immediately commanded the Archbishop "to be ordered as appertaineth for slandering unjustly of a minister in so great a charge". Dowdall defended himself vigorously in a speech which gives incidentally a picture of Ulster as it then was. He advocated the abandonment of all hostility to the native Irish. If this were done, he said, the Scots would be driven out of the country, and it would be an easy matter to induce all the Irishmen of Ulster, "whom you call 'the wild Irish"', to make war upon the MacDonalds; Tyrone, O'Donnell, and O'Neill of Clanaboy, and O'Cahan might be trusted to do their parts, and the expulsion of the Scots would be effected without expense to the Crown ; and if the Scots were expelled a great reduction could be made in the army.

The Scots, however, continued to give trouble, and the Lord Deputy prepared to attack them on their own ground. A fleet was equipped in August, 1558, and on the 14th day of September Sussex sailed from Dublin, "trusting to accomplish your Highness' commandment if wind and weather serve". He arrived on the 19th at Lough Gylkeran, in Kintyre, and, landing, burned the country around, "and therewith James MacDonald's chief house, called Sandell, a fair pile and a strong". On the day following he crossed over by land and burned twelve miles on the other side of the lough, "wherein were burned a fair house of his called Mawher Imore, and a strong castle called Donalvere". From Kintyre he proceeded to Arran, "and did the like there", and thence to the Great and Little Cumbraes, which he also burned. "And riding at anchor between Cumbrays and Bute," he told Queen Mary, "where I also thought to have landed, there arose suddenly a terrible tempest, in which I sustained some loss."

The prosecution of the Scots absorbed the attention of the Irish Government during the last months of Mary's reign. In October Sussex again invaded the Route, and might possibly have effected some lasting good, but a mysterious disease attacked the army, and out of a force of 1100 men only 400 were fit to take the field. Under these circumstances he reluctantly retired to Dublin.

In the autumn of 1558, Ferdoragh, Baron of Dungannon, in attempting to invade Tyrone, was killed. His death was followed in the beginning of 1559 by that of Conn O'Neill, the Earl of Tyrone, and thereby "Shane the Proud", as he was called by his followers, became in name what he had long been in fact, the chief of the O'Neills. Only one life lay between him and the earldom: Ferdoragh had left a young son to succeed to the title of Tyrone. Shane professed to hold all such titles in disdain. He appealed to his people, and was unanimously elected chief of Tyrone as The O'Neill, and at once became the idol of every fighting man from Lough Foyle to the banks of the Blackwater.

Queen Mary died in November, 1558, and Elizabeth, her successor, was too preoccupied to give Ireland the attention which she deserved. Ulster was preparing for war, and "the Lords and Gentiles of the Irish Pale that were not governed under the Queen's laws were compelled to keep and maintain a great number of idle men of war to rule their people at home, and exact from their neighbours abroad working everyone his own wilful will for a law to the spoil of his country and decay and waste of the commonweal of the same". "The idle men of war ate up altogether"; the lord and his men took what they pleased, "destroying their tenants and themselves never the better"; "the common people, having nothing left to lose", became "as idle and careless in their behaviour as the rest", "stealing by day and robbing by night". But though thus occupied all "were always ready to bury their own quarrels to join against the Queen and the English ".

A sad picture is drawn of the people at the time when the crown passed to Elizabeth. "The appearance and outward behaviour of the Irish", we are told, "sheweth them to be fruits of no good tree, for they exercise no virtue, and refrain and forbear from no vice, but think it lawful to do every man what him listeth. . . . They neither love nor dread God nor yet hate the devil. They are worshippers of images and open idolaters. Their common oath they swear is by books, bells, and other ornaments which they do use as holy religion. Their chief and solemnest oath is by their lord's or master's hand, which whoso forsweareth is sure to pay a fine or sustain a worse turn. The Sabbath day they rest from all honest exercises, and the week days they are not idle, but worse occupied. They do not honour their father or mother so much as they do reverence strangers. For every murder they commit they do not so soon repent; for whose blood they once shed, they lightly never cease killing all that name. They do not so commonly commit adultery; not for that they profess or keep chastity, but for that they seldom or never marry, and therefore few of them are lawful heirs, by the laws of the realm, to the lands they possess. They steal but from the strong, and take by violence from the poor and weak. They know not so well who is their neighbour as whom they favour; with him they will witness in right and wrong. They covet not their neighbour's goods, but command all that is their neighbour's as their own. Thus they live and die, and there is none to teach them better. There are no ministers. Ministers will not take pains where there is no living to be had, neither church nor parish, but all decayed.

People will not come to inhabit where there is no defence of law."

Such was Ireland in the first year of Elizabeth's reign. The report of 1559 concluded with an earnest prayer to the Queen "to bring the poor ignorant people to better things, and to recover so many thousand lost souls that were going headlong to the devil ".


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