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The History of Ulster
Martial Law in Ulster


The Family of O'Neill - The O'Donnell Family - FitzWilliam's Cruel and Treacherous Methods - Hugh Gavlagh hanged by Tyrone - The Irish Chieftain's Complaints to the Crown - Edmund Hugh Maguire's Fate - His Head used as a Football - Tyrone repairs to England - His Submission the Prelude to a Storm.

Lest the reader may be puzzled by the number of O'Neills who now appear upon the scene of action, it may be well to define as clearly as possible the position of the various members of this great Ulster family. The first Earl, it will be remembered, was Con Bacagh (The Lame), who died in 1588. Con's illegitimate son Ferdoragh (called by the English Matthew) was, by a grave error of judgment, created, at his father's request, Baron of Dungannon. He was killed in 1557, leaving four sons, the eldest of whom, Brian, succeeded him. He was known in the correspondence of the period as "the young Baron", and, as we have seen, was murdered, when still a very young man, in 1561, by Turlough Lynnah. Brian was succeeded by his brother, Hugh, who, on petitioning the Irish House of Commons in 1585, was created Earl of Tyrone. Con Bacagh, the first Earl, was also the father of the famous Shane O'Neill, who claimed the title of Earl of Tyrone, but eventually affected to despise it. He was murdered by the Scots of Antrim in 1567. Shane's seven sons, known as the MacShanes, created at this time (1588) much trouble by claiming to be the leading members of the O'Neill family. Their names were Hugh Gavelagh, Con, Brian, Henry, Arthur, Edmund, and Turlough. Of these the first three were the most formidable. But there was still another claimant to the title of The O'Neill, and he was Turlough Brasselagh, a brother of Con, the first Earl of Tyrone. In addition to this somewhat bewildering number of "Richmonds in the field", we must include the now aged Turlough Lynnagh, the actual chief, who was the grandson of Art Oge O'Neill, also a brother of Con Bacagh.

It can easily be realized that Ulster, while all these turbulent chieftains of the O'Neill blood were struggling for supremacy, was no peaceful paradise.

Having, we hope, cleared up the ramifications of the O'Neill family, it may be well also to define those of the O'Donnells. It will be remembered that Calvagh O'Donnell, who was married to a half-sister of the Earl of Argyll (known to the Irish Annalists as "the Countess of Argyll"), was, with his wife, captured by Shane O'Neill and imprisoned for years, while "the Countess" became Shane's mistress. Calvagh fell from his horse and died on the field of battle in 1566. His son, Con, who was described by Sussex as "assuredly the likeliest plant that can grow in Ulster to graft a good subject on", died in 1583, leaving nine sons, of whom Nial Garv was the most formidable. The actual chief of Tirconnell at the time of the defeat of the Spanish Armada was Sir Hugh O'Donnell (a brother of Calvagh), who, ever since he had helped the English to crush Shane O'Neill, had been a persona grata with the Government at Dublin. He had the questionable pleasure of being known as "Ineen Duive's husband". Black Agnes (as her name signifies) was a MacDonald, and an Irish prototype of Lady Macbeth. By her orders, Hugh, son of Calvagh O'Donnell (her husband's nephew), was murdered, because he had the temerity to claim the succession in Tirconnell. Nor was this the only murder of which she was guilty, for one of the sept of O'Gallagher annoying her by his independent bearing, she promptly had him removed by a violent death. Ineen Duive had many sources of annoyance, but the chief source for many years was an illegitimate son of her husband, named Donnell. He appears to have been older than Ineen's son, and married a daughter of Turlough Lynnagh. In 1588 he was made sheriff by Fitz William.

FitzWilliam himself, by his iron rule and his treacherous methods of administration, had earned the hatred of all classes and creeds. When he notified Maguire of Fermanagh that he was sending a sheriff to his territory, the Irish chieftain, knowing the Deputy's ways, offered a big bribe, writing at the same time: "Your sheriff will be welcome, but let me know his eric, that, if my people cut off his head, I may levy it upon the country". The bribe was accepted, and Maguire was assured that no sheriff would be sent. Notwithstanding this promise a sheriff was sent, "who brought with him 300 of the scum of creation and who lived on the plunder of the people".

The MacShanes now commenced to give trouble. Con MacShane, who had been imprisoned by Turlough Lynnagh, was after a while set at liberty by the old chieftain and taken into his confidence. Hugh Gavelagh (or the fettered, from the fact that he was born during his mother's imprisonment), who had been two years in Scotland, now returned to Ulster, and was supposed to have incurred the enmity of the Earl of Tyrone by giving information to the Government. He is said to have communicated to the Lord Deputy charges of treason against the Earl, alleging, amongst other things, that he had plotted with shipwrecked Spaniards to obtain help from the King of Spain to levy war against the Queen.

The Earl denied the charges. Hugh Gavelagh was seized by some of the Maguires, sold to Tyrone, and by him hanged on a thorn-tree, the legend being that, owing to the universal veneration of the name of Shane O'Neill, no man could be found in Tyrone willing to be executioner of his son, and consequently, it is said, the Earl himself acted as hangman. This Tyrone denied, giving the names of the actual executioners, and defending his conduct strenuously. Hugh Gavelagh, he said, had murdered many men, women, and children, and there was no regular law in Ulster, "but certain customs . . . and I hope Her Majesty will consider that, as her Highness's lieutenant under the Deputy (as I take myself within my own territory), I am bound to do justice upon thieves and murderers; otherwise, if I be restrained from such-like executions, and liberty left to O'Neill, O'Donnell, and others to use their ancient customs, then should I not be able to defend my country from their violence and wrongs". "In this sentence", writes Mr. Bagwell, "we have the whole difficulty of Tudor rule in Ireland briefly expressed. The Government was not strong enough to enforce equal justice, and practically confessed its impotence by allowing authority to lapse into the hands of Tyrone and such as he. From FitzWilliam downwards, nearly all the officials seemed to think that they could keep things quiet by strengthening a man who aimed at being O'Neill in the fullest sense of the word, but who was quite ready to play at being an earl when it suited him, and to remember his English education."

There were many complaints from Ulster of the tyranny and injustice of the agents of the Government. Fermanagh was raided on the one side by Sir Richard Bingham, President of Connaught, and on the other by Henslowe, the new seneschal of Monaghan, who drove Maguire's cattle, killed the women and children, and exacted illegal ransoms. Edmund Maguire's head was struck from his shoulders and was insolently kicked about as a football by the soldiers. Shane M 'Brian complained that after his father's death Island Magee, time out of mind his proper inheritance, was taken from him by Lord Essex, and had ever since been kept from him, and that afterwards Sir Henry Bagenal, Marshal of Ireland, took from him the lands of Mawghryre More, and, rinding him in Newry, imprisoned him, and would not deliver him "until he had passed unto him what assurance he would have upon the said barony".

Maguire stated that the late Lord Deputy and Council had given him special letters of favour that neither the Binghams nor his other borderings should molest him; "yet Sir R. Bingham, and the rest of his name in Connaught, came with force and arms into his country, burned it, killed divers women and children, and took from him 3000 cows, besides 500 garrons and mares, and certain women and prisoners, whom he was fain to ransom, that, although letters were sent by the Lord Deputy and Council to Sir R. Bingham for causing amends to be made, he (Sir R. Bingham) came forthwith again into Fermanagh, at two several times, and preyed Maguire of 6000 cows, besides much murder; that Captain Henshaw [Henslowe], Seneschal of Monaghan, came several times with his forces to places in Fermanagh, captured 3000 cows, and killed men, women, and children; but Sir William FitzWilliam caused no redress thereof; that in the several sheriffships of Sir Henry Duke and Sir E. Harbert, in the County Cavan, they killed and preyed Maguire's tenants to his and their damages of 3000. Afterwards, the said Lord Deputy being in Monaghan, Maguire obtained faithful oath and promise that he should not be charged with Sheriffs or other offices, in regard of his coming to do obedience for one whole year; for which grant he paid, as a bribe to his Lordship and others, 300 beeves, besides 150 beeves to the Marshal (Sir H. Bagenal); but Captain Willis, having Captain Fuller's band and other companies with him, was sent with commission to be sheriff there, and preyed the country. They cut off the head of Edmund Hugh M'Guire, and hurled it from place to place as a football. These hard courses compelled him to expulse the said Willis and his companions; whereupon ensued the proclaiming of himself and his followers, and their banishment out of the country."

One more sample may be given of these statements made by Irish chiefs of injuries which they had suffered. The complaint of the M'Mahons was: "The said Brian M'Hugh Oge saith that Hugh Roe M'Mahowne, named M'Mahowne by Sir William FitzWilliam, and so confirmed and allowed to succeed by virtue of his brother's letters patent, and coming into the state upon the word of a nobleman, and the word of Henry More, of Mellifont, deed., was afterwards most unjustly and treacherously executed by the said Sir William at his own house at Monaghan. Which allowance of succession, as this M'Mahowne doth imagine, was granted him, the said Hugh, purposely to draw an interest unto him and his heirs, contrary to the custom of the country, and then by his execution to draw the county into her Majesty's hands, as by the sequel showeth. After whose execution a garrison was placed in Monaghan, the name of M'Mahowne extinguished, and the substance of the county divided by the said Sir W. FitzWilliam between Sir H. Bagnall, Baron Elliott, Mr. Solicitor (Wilbraham), Captain Henshawe, Captain Willis, the Parson O'Connellan, Hugh Strewbridge, Thomas Asshe, Charles Fleminge, and divers strangers, and so the native country people for the most part disinherited; and some of those that had portions allotted to them were afterwards slain and murdered namely, Patk. M'Collo M'Bryen, coming upon safe-conduct to the Parson O'Connellan, then Justice of the Peace, and chief man in authority for her Majesty in that county, was intercepted by an ambush, appointed by the said Parson and Captain Willis, and there slain."

In the majority of cases no notice was taken by the Government of the chieftains' remonstrances, and the complaints were not reported to the Queen. In cases where such complaints were laid before her, Elizabeth, in replying, does not deny the facts stated, but asserts that the acts complained of were done without her authority, or that, if they had been reported to her, she would have seen speedy redress.

The Earl of Tyrone, having no confidence in the officials of the Pale, set out in 1590 for England to lay his grievances before the Queen. This step, however, was in itself illegal, as he left Ireland without the licence of the Viceroy, and he was accordingly imprisoned in the Tower of London. His incarceration was neither long nor rigorous, and a month later his submission was graciously received, and articles by which he bound himself anew to his former engagements were signed by him. He renounced the title of O'Neill, consented that Tyrone should be made shire-ground; that jails should be erected there; that a composition for seven years' purveyance, payable by instalments, should be paid within ten months; that he should levy no armed force, or make any incursion into a neighbouring territory except to follow a prey within five days after the capture of such prey from his own lands, or to prevent depredations from without. He undertook to execute no man without a commission from the Lord Deputy, except in cases of martial law, and to keep his troop of horsemen in the Queen's pay ready for service. In addition, he promised not to admit monks or friars into his territory; nor to correspond with foreign traitors; to promote the use of English apparel; to sell provisions to the fort of the Blackwater, &c.

For the fulfilment of these conditions he pledged his honour, and promised to send unexceptionable sureties, who were, however, not to be detained as prisoners in Dublin Castle, but to be committed to the care of merchants in the city, or of gentlemen of the Pale. The sureties might also be changed every three months. The Government, on the other hand, undertook to protect the Earl from all molestation, by requiring similar conditions from the neighbouring chieftains; and Tyrone, on returning to Ireland, confirmed these articles before the Lord Deputy and Council; but very prudently excused himself from the execution of them until the neighbouring Irish noblemen had given securities to fulfil the conditions on their part, as it was stipulated they should be obliged to do. Camden asserts that for some time Tyrone omitted nothing that could be expected from a most dutiful subject.

This attitude, however, did not last long. The troubles in Ulster were only commencing!


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