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The History of Ulster
Tyrone proclaimed Traitor


Contrasted Attitudes of Shane O'Neill and Tyrone - Numerical Strength of Royal and Irish Forces - Tyrone declares his Independence - Sir John Norris, Commander of the Forces, arrives - War in Ulster commences - Tyrone proclaimed a Traitor - O'Donnell makes Incursions into Connaught - Battle of Clontibert - Turlough Lynnagh dies, and leaves Tyrone Chief of Ulster.

The attitude of Tyrone towards the other Irish chiefs contrasts very favourably with that adopted by Shane O'Neill. While Shane attempted to enforce the feudal pretensions of his family, and endeavoured to reduce the power of the rival house of O'Donnell, Tyrone, on the contrary, made himself the head of a confederacy of those who had suffered wrongs at the hands of the English Government. A strong personal friendship existed between Tyrone and O'Donnell, and, while not assuming to be Ardri or Supreme Chief of Ulster, Tyrone contrived to exercise a complete command over the Ulster lords and a directing influence over the chiefs, who, by his assistance, rose in rebellion in the other provinces.

In November, 1594, he had with him 1140 foot, "the chiefest force of his footmen, trained after the English manner, having many pecks among them, so as all of them were not shot", and 540 horse, besides the forces of O'Donnell, MacMahon, and those of Clandeboy. The entire force of men which the Ulster chiefs could put in the field was estimated at 15,130 foot and 2238 horse; but the vast proportion of these were irregular troops, and no large force could be kept together for any length of time.

The entire English regular force in Ireland in 1595, as appears by the muster-master's return of that year, was 657 horse and 4040 foot, which must be reduced by the deficiencies in the companies occasioned by the captains systematically omitting to report losses, and drawing pay for the nominal strength under their command. The levies of the Pale make no figure in the war, and were useful only for defensive purposes; but, on the other hand, the Earl of Ormonde and many of the Munster chiefs afforded the Government considerable support.

Disaffection now became so general, especially in Ulster and Connaught, that there could be no longer any doubt that a great civil war was imminent. The Lord Deputy asked for reinforcements from England, and it was resolved that Sir John Norris, an officer of great experience (who was, it will be remembered, Lord President of Connaught, and son of Lord Norris of Rycot), and whose brother, Sir Thomas, was President of Munster, should be sent over as Lord General, with 2000 veteran troops, who had distinguished themselves in Brittany, together with 1000 men of a fresh levy.

Tyrone now thought it high time to declare himself. He found he was already treated as an enemy by the Government on the one side, while on the other he sympathized with the Irish of his own province. Accordingly he seized the fort of the Blackwater, commanding entrance into his own territory, while O'Donnell, who had never relaxed in his hostility to England, and burned to avenge his own and his country's wrongs, made incursions in March and April into Connaught and Annally O'Farrell, to plunder the recent English settlements there, and to burn and destroy their castles. These movements Hugh Roe executed with such rapidity that he escaped any serious collision with the English forces.

Norris landed at Waterford on 4th May, 1595. He was a sufferer from ague, and a bad sea-passage brought on an attack. He was unable to reach Dublin for some weeks, and as he was about to enter the city his horse fell, an accident which brought on another attack. As soon as Sir John Norris and his troops arrived, an expedition to the north was prepared, and Tyrone relinquished the Blackwater fort after destroying the works and burning the town of Dungannon, including his own house. He had intended to make a great stronghold, fortified "by the device of a Spaniard that he had with him, but in the end employed those masons that were entertained for builders up, for pullers down of that his house, and that in so great a haste, as the same overnight mustering very stately and high in the state of all our army, the very next day by noon it was so low that it could scarcely be discerned". The English army marched beyond Armagh, until they came in view of the entrenched camp of the Irish, when they returned to Armagh, where they placed a strong garrison in the cathedral, and strengthened the fortifications; the Lord Deputy then announced that he had fulfilled Her Majesty's order, and would now leave Ulster matters to Sir John Norris, according to his commission, and returned to Dublin, where, on the 28th of June, he proclaimed Tyrone a traitor by the name of Hugh O'Neill, son of Matthew Ferdoragh, or the blacksmith.

There are some important circumstances connected with these first movements in the north. The Four Masters state that Tyrone had invited O'Donnell to join him, and that they marched to Faughard, near Dundalk, to have a parley with the Deputy, who, however, did not come; while from the English accounts it would appear that Tyrone had written letters both to Russell and to Norris proposing to meet and confer with them on the occasion, but that the letters were intercepted by Bagenal. Thus the Lord Deputy proclaimed Tyrone a traitor in ignorance of the overtures which the latter had made.

The army returned to Dundalk without having effected anything, and on the i8th of July a Council was held at that town, when the Lord Deputy, "from that time forward, rendered the prosecution of the war absolutely to Sir John Norris according to Her Majesty's commission, with the determination wholly to attend to the defence of the Pale, while Sir Richard Bingham should attend to Connaught, 1000 foot and 100 horse being daily expected out of England. Wherewith the Council ended, the army dissolved, and every man returned well wearied towards his own dwelling, that had any."

The Queen, being disgusted with the course the war was taking, was now anxious to open negotiations, and Tyrone was desirous to arrange matters on reasonable terms, or, if that could not be done, to waste as much time as possible. The object of the Government was to induce the various chiefs to negotiate separately, and thus, if possible, to break up the confederacy; but, on the other hand, Tyrone was resolved that the confederates should be represented by himself alone, and all should be included in the one arrangement. Formally the English succeeded, for different demands were sent in by the several chiefs, but practically Tyrone carried his point, for all the demands were evidently drawn up by preconcerted arrangement, and all the communications appear to have been made through him.

The Queen's directions plainly prove that she was beginning to realize how formidable a task lay before her. On the i2th September the English Privy Council had written "that the Earl had presumed to make himself the advocate for the rest, especially O'Donnell, &c., but Her Majesty would have him simply implore mercy for himself, divided from all show of greatness in dominion over her subjects. Direct Sir John Norris to let the traitor find that what he will do most quickly, must be offered by him apart, in which kind Her Majesty will not refuse to hear the others severally by themselves, upon free and absolute submission. That vile and base traitor was raised out of the dust by Herself. If he will singly and simply receive pardon of his life, Her Majesty is content that you should pardon him with the conditions enclosed." These conditions were, Tyrone should be assured of pardon for his life on submission, he was to reveal all past and abjure future foreign practices, he was not to make suit for pardon of the other rebels, Her Majesty was to treat with the rebels singly and simply without any combination; as to his future living he was to trust to Her Majesty's grace.

O'Donnell this year (1595) had obtained several successes in the West. These raised the hopes and confidence of the Irish. The castle of Sligo was given up to him by Ulick Burke, who had held it for the English, and who took this step after slaying George Bingham, who had twice saved him from being hanged. Bingham, it appears, manned and armed a ship with which he pillaged the coast of Tirconnell, plundering the Carmelite monastery at Rathmullen, and the church of St. Columb-cille, on Tory Island, and on his return from this expedition an altercation took place between Bingham and Burke, as to the share of the spoils to which the Irish section of the crew were entitled, and Burke stabbed Bingham to the heart.

Six hundred Scots now arrived in Lough Foyle, under MacLeod of Ara, and entered O'Donnell's service, and with these he scoured Connaught as far as Tuam and Dunmore, returning into Donegal through Costello and Sligo, thus avoiding Sir Richard Bingham, who hoped to intercept him in the Curlieu mountains. Sir Richard, who was accompanied by the Earls of Thomond and Clanrickard, with their contingents, followed Red Hugh as far as Sligo, and laid siege to the castle, which was bravely defended by O'Donnell's garrison. He attempted to sap the walls under cover of a testudo or penthouse, constructed from timber taken from the neighbouring monastery, but the warders hurled down rocks and fired at the sappers from the battlements, destroying their appliances and compelling them to raise the siege and depart. O'Donnell then demolished the castle, that it might not fall in the future into the hands of the English, dismissed his Scottish mercenaries, and returned home.

An attempt made by Sir John Norris and his brother to re-victual Armagh was defeated by the Earl of Tyrone. Both Norrises were wounded and obliged to retreat to Newry, but they succeeded soon after in throwing relief into Monaghan, where an English garrison had fortified themselves in the monastery. In the return march from Monaghan the royal troops were attacked at Clontibert, and a desperate fight took place, in which several of the English were slain and the remainder escaped with difficulty to Newry, from which town a rescue party was sent to succour them. There were Scots with Tyrone whose arrows proved very effective, and the Irish horse were much more active than the English. Norris himself was shot in the arm and side, and his horse was severely wounded. "I have a lady's hurt," he said, and added: "I pray, brother, make the place good if you love me, and I will new horse myself and return presently; and I pray charge home."

In this battle a body of English cavalry, gallantly led by an Anglo-Irishman named James Segrave, spurred fiercely across the little river which runs by Clontibert. Segrave was a man of great size and strength, and, espying Tyrone, he charged him at full speed. Tyrone met him in full career, and the lances of both were shivered in the shock of impact. Segrave, trusting to his enormous physical power, then grasped Tyrone round the neck and pulled him from his horse. Both fell to the ground, and, struggling fiercely, rolled over each other; but Tyrone contrived to seize his dagger, and, plunging it into Segrave's groin, killed his antagonist. Thus ended a combat "of which", O'Sullivan Beare says, "both armies stood spectators".

While Tyrone was crossing swords with the Lord Deputy in his new character of proclaimed traitor, the aged Turlough Lynnagh died. He had some years before resigned the position of Chieftain, but in order to attract public attention to the fact, Tyrone, when the news reached him, went to Tullahogue without delay to be invested as the O'Neill. The Annalists state that he had been appointed heir "ten years before at the Parliament held in Dublin in the name of Queen Elizabeth". "But it is", says Mr. Bagwell, "quite untrue that Tyrone was made tanist by Act of Parliament, and the Four Masters themselves record that Tirlogh had resigned in his favour more than two years before." In 1587 it had been proposed to make Turlough Earl of Omagh, and thus make a divided Tyrone permanent. The effect of Turlough's death was to leave Tyrone chief of Ulster.


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