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The History of Ulster
"Scotching" the Scot


Ulster at Rest - Hugh O'Donnell seeks Aid from Spain - A Succession of Viceroys - Sir John Perrot appointed Lord Deputy - Perrot's Popularity - Turlogh O'Neill's Friendliness - Sorley Boy and the Scots - Perrot marches against the Scots - A false Alarm - The Scots invade Ulster in force - Sorley Boy, defeated, flies to Scotland.

Ulster, which in Shane O'Neill's lifetime and in that of his father had occupied the stage and been in the full glare of the footlights, now retired for a season into humdrum respectability, suffering no doubt from "that dull stagnation of the soul content". As some may assert with Walter Savage Landor that Ireland never was contented, we may point out that Ulster is referred to, not Ireland.

But the serenity of Ulster reigned only on the surface, for below, the fierce desire for freedom, though pent up, simmered and occasionally boiled over. Stirred to the depths by the horrors of Rathlin and the betrayal of Sir Brian MacPhelim, Hugh O'Donnell ajid Turlogh Lynnagh wrote in 1575-6 imploring help from Spain, and might have received some but that Philip was no longer enthusiastic on the subject of Ireland. The first messenger sent by the Irish chiefs to the King of Spain was caught by the English and hanged. The second, a friar, managed to make his way to Madrid and presented their petition. Something might have come of this, but Philip II was ever slow-moving; and O'Neill, getting tired of waiting, wrote to the Council suggesting that if he could get help from them to destroy the Scots in Antrim he would suppress the enthusiasm of his wife (formerly Lady Agnes Campbell) for the cause of Mary Queen of Scots.

It must be remembered that during this period of comparative peace in Ulster the south and west were in a turmoil. Every ill that can result from feeble governing was flourishing, and massacres, murders, pillagings, burnings, and cattle- driving were the order of the day. Sidney himself, when paying his visitation, seemed to rejoice over the hangings and the drawing and quartering, the slaying by "pressing to death", as well as the more orthodox methods of execution. In executing at Kilkenny some thirty-six malefactors, he congratulated himself on the fact that some of them were "good ones"; and in hanging "a blackamoor and two witches" for treason, he remarks that he put them to death, "by natural law, for that he found no law to try them by in the realm". It is not strange that such severity encouraged rebellion. The yoke was too grievous to be borne. It is not necessary here to do more than mention the Desmond rebellion, and the picture arises before the eye of the student of Irish history of horrible and revolting and protracted conflicts.

From these we may turn to view events passing at the time in Ulster. As the most peaceful years that the province had known passed, the ruler of Ireland had been from time to time changed. Sidney, who departed in 1578, was succeeded by Sir William Drury as Lord Justice, who, dying in September, 1579, was succeeded by Sir William Pelham. In 1580 Lord Grey de Wilton was Lord Deputy, and in 1582 Adam Loftus, Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor, and Sir Henry Wallop were Lord Justices. Their "love of justice" is seen in their carrying out of it before leaving office. In September, 1583, a priest named Hurley appeared in Drogheda, bringing with him letters of induction from the Pope, as Archbishop of Cashel. He was making his way to Kilkenny when he was seized, and on being searched secret letters were found on him. They were undirected but appeared to be addressed to Catholics of the Pale. This was sufficient. The man must confess or be tortured into a confession; and tortured he was, the method adopted being "to toast his feet against the fire with hot boots" into which melted resin had been poured. Reflection on this deed, though painful, is somewhat, but not entirely, mitigated by recalling the fact that Hurley had been resident in Rome, and had been a member of the Inquisition. The hot boots searing the unfortunate young archbishop's conscience as well as his feet, he confessed, and it was decided to execute him. Therefore, on the iQth June, 1584, the Knight Marshal at Dublin received his warrant "to do execution upon him, which accordingly was performed, and thereby the realm rid of a pestilent member". Sir John Perrot, who arrived in time for the execution, had been appointed Lord Deputy in succession to Lord Grey de Wilton, and in taking office made a speech to the people in which he assured them that as "the natural-born subjects of her Majesty they were as dear to her as her own people".

Perrot, as President of Munster, was well known to be excessively harsh and unnecessarily cruel. His treatment of Donough O'Brien, a relative of the Earl of Thomond, may show the extent of his "tender mercies", as an exponent of the love of Elizabeth for the Irish. This O'Brien had been a disturber of the peace of Clare, and he was caught and imprisoned. "By Perrot's orders he was released, only to be hanged from a cart. He was then taken down alive, and, with all his bones broken by blows from the back of an axe, hauled at the end of a rope up the steeple of Quin church, and left to rot at the summit. This refinement of cruelty puts Sidney's milder methods in the shade. Perrot's first step was to summon, on 26th of April, 1585, the earliest Parliament since that called by Sidney in 1569. By this Parliament two Acts of attainder were passed, under which the real and personal estate of nearly 150 knights and gentlemen became vested in the Crown.

Perrot, in spite of his cruelty, appears to have been popular. It is said that Turlogh Lynnagh showed his attachment to him by consenting to appear at his court on several occasions in English attire, a dress which he usually strongly objected to as tending to make him ridiculous; and he is reported to have jestingly said to the Deputy: "Prythee at least, my lord let my chaplain attend me in his Irish mantle, that so your English rabble may be directed from my uncouth figure and laugh at him". Turlogh was now old and in bad health. It had been proposed to give him an earldom, but, though twice promised, the title had not been bestowed lest it should make fresh divisions after his death. For the reversion there were several competitors, of whom the most important was Henry MacShane, the eldest legitimate son of Shane O'Neill. Turlogh, to make the problem more perplexing, married one of his daughters to the Baron of Dungannon, and at the same time strengthened his own hands by giving another daughter in marriage to a son of Sorley Boy MacDonald, the friendship of the Scots being thus secured. The Scots, certain of a friendly reception, now commenced to arrive in great numbers. This, being reported to Perrot, caused him great alarm. He determined to diminish their numbers and subdue them; accordingly he made preparations to such an extent as would enable him "to look through his fingers at Ulster as a fit receptacle for all the savage beasts of the land".

The Lord Deputy had in this expedition the assistance of the Earls of Ormonde and Thomond; Clanrickard also took a part, as did also Lord President Norris. He had with him 2000 trained men, besides Irish allies. The Scots were said to have double the number. Whatever may have been the cause of their arrival, whether to spy out the land or "their customary fetching of meat", they disappeared as suddenly as they came, taking with them 3000 cows from Tirconnell. And thus all the preparation for war proved needless.

The peacefulness of Ulster at this time is proved by the fact that Turlogh Lynnagh travelled to see Perrot at Newry without pardon or safe-conduct. The old chieftain came to beg the Deputy's aid against his own unruly family. Perrot, however, had other matters than family disputes to settle; his time was fully occupied in investing Dunluce Castle, which surrendered after a three days' siege. The Deputy now came to the conclusion that, if the Scottish incursion was for cattle, the removal of all cattle would be to remove a cause of temptation, and accordingly a cattle-raiding expedition was undertaken in which 50,000 cattle were collected. "He left no herds around Lough Neagh, this seer so provident."

But the cattle did not appease those who looked for greater results of this otherwise fruitless expedition, the cost of which was very heavy. The Queen was, in particular, very wroth, and wrote to Perrot saying: "Let us have no more such rash, unadvised journeys without good ground as your last journey in the North. We marvel that you hanged not such saucy an advertiser as he that made you believe so great a company was coming. I know you do nothing but with a good intention for my service, but yet take better heed ere you use us so again." The Deputy, whose ships had just failed to intercept the Scots at Lough Foyle, could only speak from report, but he still maintained that "they were in number little fewer, their training and furniture no worse, and their purpose no better" than that of which he still suspected them.

Perrot, having composed the private differences of the chieftains, now returned to Dublin, attended by Sorley Boy, leaving the government of the northern province in the hands of Turlogh O'Neill, Hugh, Baron of Dungannon, and Sir Henry Bagenal, whose family had obtained a considerable settlement in Ulster. Leland tells us that Sorley Boy, on entering Dublin, discovered that his son had been executed and his head displayed on a pike. The brave old man, on being taunted by a dweller in the Pale on the situation of his son's head, is said to have replied: "My son hath many heads". Sorrows seem to have fallen thickly on Sorley Boy during his later years. He had lost in the massacre of Rathlin "all he had", and now, his son being dead, he had the additional pang of learning that the Lord Deputy had sent to Walsingham "Holy Collumkill's cross", "a God of great veneration", as the donor wrote, "with Sorley Boy and all Ulster;" the writer jestingly adding: "When you have made some sacrifice to him, according to the disposition you bear to idolatry, you may, if you please, bestow him upon my good Lady Walsingham or my Lady Sidney, to wear as a jewel of weight and bigness, and not of price and goodness, upon some solemn feast or triumph day at the Court."

The chiefs in Ulster were now loyal, and both trusted and respected Perrot, who, though sternly severe with those whom he considered traitors, was animated by a strong spirit of justice. He persuaded the chiefs to agree to pay an annual tax for the support of 1100 men in Ulster. An agreement was signed on 7th October, 1584, by which Turlogh offered to maintain 300 English foot soldiers at a stipulated rate, and to send Her Majesty yearly one good chief horse and one cast of hawks.

The extent of the lands once held by the Bissets, on which extinct family's possessions the MacDdnalds based their claims in Ireland, was always uncertain, but it was now to be tested. After the fall of Dunluce, Perrot had agreed that Donnell Gorme MacDonald should have the lands in recognition of services done and in prospective. On the other hand, Donnell agreed to countenance none but Irish-born Scots; to register them and be responsible for their conduct. Sorley Boy, however, had not been satisfied; and when in September, 1584, the Earl of Argyll died, leaving his heir a minor, Sorley Boy immediately called a meeting of chiefs in Bute to support his Irish claims. Angus MacDonald at once prepared to meet him, and landed with 1300 Scots on Rathlin, he having promises that more would follow. Sir Henry Bagenal in haste moved from Carrickfergus to oppose them. Some fighting took place, in which the Scots did not suffer much, and, additional men being required, Sir William Stanley arrived from Munster. He joined Bagenal at Ballycastle, which the Scots had threatened to burn, but an engagement in which the Scots were worsted led them to retreat northwards.

The Scots having evidently determined to invade Ulster in force, they made an attack on Ballycastle on 1st January, 1585, setting fire, as they had threatened to do, to the church in which the horses had been stabled, and after some sharp fighting, in which Stanley was wounded, they again withdrew. Reinforcements were sent for, although the outlook as to how they should be fed when they arrived was serious. The weather was bad and the coast line dangerous to vessels, "where the sea raiseth such a billow as can hardly be endured by the greatest ships. And scarce once in fourteen days those winter seas will suffer any small vessel to lay the ships aboard to unlade the victuals."

But the permanent garrisons which Norris had advised, and Perrot had established, won the day for the English; and Sorley Boy bethought himself, and, as he was growing old, submitted, and asked the same terms which ten years before Sidney had been willing to give. Perrot, however, was growing sick of Ireland, and he refused to consider the proposition. He gave peremptory orders which resulted in Sorley Boy's being hunted in such a fashion as made him flee to Scotland.


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