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The History of Ulster
Sir Henry Sidney and Shane O'Neill


Shane allies himself to Argyll - Stukeley and Dowdall visit O'Neill - His defiant Attitude - Sidney applies to England for Men and Money - Shane appeals to France for help - Troops from England land at Lough Foyle and fortify Derry - Sidney marches North and sweeps the Country.

The undisputed Lord of Ulster now proceeded to further strengthen himself by espousing the cause of Mary Queen of Scots, whose successes won his ardent admiration and applause. He had offered to assist her against Argyll, and was much surprised to find that Argyll was willing to allow the Western Islanders to assist him in driving the English out of Ireland. This Argyll did to punish Elizabeth for her treachery to Murray. Shane, on the other hand, consented to permit the Scots to resettle in Antrim, and on Argyll's visiting him it was agreed to marry a son and daughter of James MacDonald (who had died in consequence of wounds received at Glenesk) to a daughter and son borne to Shane by his "Countess". Amenities were carried further, in that Argyll, in the Queen of Scots' interests, swore a pact with Shane O'Neill, thereby cementing a friendship for which the Ulster chieftain had hitherto long sued in vain.

In February, 1566, Sir Nicholas Bagenall reports that Clanrickard was spoiled by O'Neill, who now held all the countries from Sligo to Carrickfergus, and from thence to Carlingford, and from Carlingford to Drogheda; he had made a sure bond with Scotland. The Deputy had done all he could to bring Shane to quietness; had sent Stukeley and Dowdall twice; but Shane would never come to any governor, as might be seen by his answer to Stukeley, which the Lord Deputy had sent by bearer.

The Commissioners found O'Neill, at first, "very flexible, but timorous to come to the Deputy, apprehending traitorous practices". But when the wine was in him, he spoke out. "I care not", he said, "to be made an earl, unless I may be better and higher than an earl; for I am in blood and power better than the best of them; and I will give place to none but my cousin of Kildare, for that he is of my house. You have made a wise earl of M'Carty More. I keep as good a man as he. For the Queen I confess she is my sovereign; but I never made peace with her but at her own seeking. Whom am I to trust? When I came unto the Earl of Sussex upon safe-conduct, he offered me the courtesy of a handlock. When I was with the Queen she said to me herself that I had, it was true, safe-conduct to come and go; but it was not said when I might go; and they kept me there until I had agreed to things so far against my honour and profit, that I would never perform them while I live. That made me make war; and if it were to do again, I would do it. My ancestors were kings of Ulster, and Ulster is mine, and shall be mine. O'Donnell shall never come into his country, nor Bagenall into Newry, nor Kildare into Dundrum or Lecale. They are now mine. With the sword I won them; with this sword I will keep them."

These be brave words, clearly proving that further negotiations were useless, and Sidney immediately resolved on war. "My Lord," he wrote to Leicester, "no Attila nor Totila, no Vandal or Goth that ever was, was more to be doubted for overrunning any part of Christendom than this man is for overrunning and spoiling of Ireland. If it be an angel of Heaven that will say that ever O'Neill will be a good subject till he be thoroughly chastised, believe him not, but think him a spirit of error. Surely if the Queen do not chastise him in Ulster, he will chase all hers out of Ireland. Her Majesty must make up her mind to the expense, and chastise this cannibal. She must send money in such sort as I may pay the garrison throughout. The present soldiers, who are idle, treacherous, and incorrigible, must be changed. Better have no soldiers than those that are here now and the wages must be paid. It must be done at last, and to do it at once will be a saving in the end. My dear Lord, press these things on the Queen. If I have not money, and O'Neill make war, I will not promise to encounter with him until he come to Dublin. Give me money, and though I have but 500 to his 4000, I will chase him out of the Pale in forty-eight hours. If I may not have it, for the love you bear me have me home again. I have great confidence in Lord Kildare. As to Sussex and Arnold, it is true that all things are in disorder and decay; but the fault was not with them impute it to the iniquity of the times. These malicious people so hated Sussex as to ruin him, they
would have ruined all." To Cecil, Sidney wrote: "Ireland would be no small loss to the English Crown, and it was never so like to be lost as now. O'Neill has already all Ulster, and if the French were eager about Calais, think what the Irish are to recover their whole island. I love no wars; but I had rather die than Ireland should be lost in my government."

To this urgent appeal, alas! "there lives no record of reply ". A deaf ear was turned to the Lord Deputy's cry for money wherewith to carry on the great work he had in hand. Daily he was faced with the insolence of troops whom he was unable to pay, and whom he could not dismiss. Months passed in misery, without the desired relief being forthcoming. Driven to desperation by the silence and the unconcern manifested in London by those to whom he appealed, he again wrote to his brother-in-law, Leicester, saying: "My Lord, if I be not speedier advertised of her Highness's pleasure than hitherto I have been, all will come to naught here, and before God and the world I will lay the fault on England, for there is none here. By force or by fair means the Queen may have anything that she will in this country if she will minister means accordingly, and with no great charge. If she will resolve of nothing, for her Majesty's advantage and for the benefit of this miserable country, persuade her Highness to withdraw me, and pay and discharge this garrison. As I am, and as this garrison is paid, I undo myself; the country is spoiled by the soldiers, and in no point defended. Help it, my Lord, for the honour of God one way or the other."

Letters from the Council came to hand two days later. In these they pleaded their innocence and laid the blame on the Queen. They had, themselves, they said, unanimously voted him money and supplies, "so much was every man's mind inclined to the extirpation of that proud rebel, Shane", but "the charge was the hindrance". The Queen agreed that "Shane should be extirpated", but "considering the great sums of money demanded and required of her in Ireland and elsewhere, she would be most glad that for reformation of the rebel any other way might be devised ". Anxious that the cost of the war should be as small as possible, Elizabeth, at the risk of cruelly affronting a loyal and zealous servant, sent Sir Francis Knowles to control Sidney's expenditure, giving as her reason for so doing that "the cost of levying troops in England was four times as great as it used to be".

The delay in providing Sidney with men and money proved a boon to Shane, who had spent the last few months in preparation for war. He had come to the conclusion that nothing more could be obtained from Elizabeth by protestations of loyalty, his deeds in actively allying himself with her enemies, the partisans of Mary Queen of Scots, being, he felt, more potent than his words could be. He now posed as the only protector of Catholicism in Ireland, and concluded that he must make an effort to impress the neighbouring chiefs by some act in evidence of his power and ability. He fortified Dundrum Castle with brass "artillery" and also his castle in Lifford, at the head of Lough Foyle. He proposed a new marriage scheme to Argyll, with whom his friendship became warmer. His unfortunate "Countess" was to be dispensed with, and he would marry the widow of James MacDonald. Desiring help from every quarter from which it was likely to come, he wrote in his regal style to Charles of France: "Your Majesty's father, King Henry, in times past required the Lords of Ireland to join with him against the heretic Saxon, the enemies of Almighty God, the enemies of the Holy Church of Rome, your Majesty's enemies and mine. God would not permit that alliance to be completed, notwithstanding the hatred borne to England by all of Irish blood, until your Majesty had become King in France, and I was Lord of Ireland. The time is come however when we all are confederates in a common bond to drive the invader from our shores; and we now beseech your Majesty to send us six thousand well-armed men. If you will grant our request there will soon be no Englishman left alive among us, and we will be your Majesty's subjects evermore. Help us, we implore you, to expel the heretics and schismatics and to bring back our country to the Holy Roman see."

This letter never reached the monarch to whom it was addressed. It fell into English hands. Elizabeth was perturbed by its contents, and, being impressed by Sussex, who was envious that a Deputy had been found who could rule Ireland better than had he, became suspicious of Sidney, and spoke to his disparagement. The word used being repeated to the Deputy, he wrote to the Queen, "declaring his special grief at hearing that he was fallen from her favour", and "that she had given credit to that improbable slander raised upon him by the Earl of Sussex". Sick of the turn events were taking, and of a country he desired rather to live out of than to reside in, he urgently demanded his immediate recall, "that he might preserve the small remnant of his patrimony, already much diminished by his coming to Ireland ".

The delays caused by the Queen's uncertainty, and the perilous outlook, caused Sidney much uneasiness. On the 3rd June, 1566, he wrote to Cecil saying: u I testify to God, to her Highness, and to you, that all the charge is lost that she is at with this manner of proceeding. O'Neill will be tyrant of all Ireland if he be not speedily withstood. He hath, as I hear, won the rest of O'Donnell's castles; he hath confederated with the Scots; he is now in Maguire's country. All this summer he will spend in Connaught; next winter in the English Pale. ... I will give you all my land in Rutlandshire to get me leave to go into Hungary, and think myself bound to you while I live. I trust there to do my country some honour: here I do neither good to the Queen, to the country, nor myself."

At last things were set in motion. Troops from England, under the command of Colonel Randolph, sailed from Bristol for Lough Foyle, where they were landed at the head of the lake and moved up to Derry, where they entrenched themselves "in a very warlike manner". At Derry Randolph was joined by the Lord Deputy, who was accompanied by Kildare, the aged Calvagh O'Donnell, Shane Maguire, and O'Dogherty. On seeing the site chosen by Randolph, O'Donnell, O'Dogherty, and Kildare "agreed all of them that it was the very best spot in the northern counties to build a city". Leaving Randolph at Derry with 650 men, 350 pioneers, and provisions for two months, Sidney marched to Donegal, which he found a pile of ruins, in the midst of which arose "the largest and strongest castle which he had seen in Ireland". It was in the possession of one of O'Donnell's kinsmen, who had been seduced to Shane's side by marriage with his sister. On the appearance of the old chief the castle was immediately surrendered. Sidney recommenced his triumphal march, and passed from Donegal, through Ballyshannon and Sligo, and across bogs and mountains from Mayo into Roscommon, taking castles as he went until he reached the Pale, and at the end of his journey was able to say that "there had not died of sickness but three persons", and also had the gratification of being in a position to state that "her Majesty's honour was re-established among the Irishry and grown to no small veneration". On his return the Lord Deputy was informed that during his absence Shane had invaded the Pale, but had been successfully resisted by the garrison which had been left in Dundalk under Sir Warham St. Leger, with a loss of 200 men.

The garrison of Derry was not only an obstacle to Shane's enterprises, but mortifying to his pride; and as it was a proof that his actions were being closely watched, and that his foes were on the alert, he determined to reconnoitre. Leading his forces to the walls of Derry, and without directly attacking the town, he insolently braved the garrison. Randolph, more spirited than cautious, issued from the town, and fell upon O'Neill's men, defeating them with great slaughter, nearly four hundred of the Irish being killed. Randolph, however, was himself slain, and the English at Derry were thus left without their commander.

Shane, unaccustomed to defeat, felt this reverse of fortune very keenly. He was, as a result of this, attacked on all sides, the Viceroy following up the dead Randolph's victory by invading the country north of Dundalk, burning farms and capturing castles as he went; and the Scots, freed from the controlling hand of Shane, crossed the River Bann and wasted all the adjoining countryside. Allaster MacDonald, a brother of the dead James and of the imprisoned Sorley Boy, wreaked his vengeance on innocent women and children, and achieved a more tangible triumph in appropriating innumerable cattle. In December, 1566, Calvagh O'Donnell, filled with a fierce desire to requite Shane for all the sufferings he had endured in having his wife stolen from him, his country pillaged and devastated, and himself for years imprisoned, swept into Tyrone and laid waste all before him. But the fierce old man, who from a modern point of view was no aged saint, but a hoary-headed sinner who had himself imprisoned his father, was now a wreck, being accounted by Cusack as "but a poor creature without activity or manhood". Overcome by the sudden influx of good fortune after years of suffering, he succumbed, falling from his horse while leading his followers against his arch-enemy. He did not die, however, until he had implored his people to be loyal to Queen Elizabeth and to his son, Hugh, his successor. Hugh proved his own loyalty by immediately repairing to Derry and swearing allegiance to the Crown.

Finding that "when sorrows come they come not single spies but in battalions", Shane sought relief in letter-writing. He penned an eloquent and piteous appeal to Sidney for pardon and peace; but the Viceroy, sick of "words, words, words", did not even acknowledge his letter; Shane had gone too far,, and "nothing was talked of but his extirpation by war only".

The days of Shane O'Neill the Great and Proud were numbered.


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