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The History of Ulster
The Mutterings of the Approaching Storm


Execution of Strafford - The Danger of arming Irishmen - Strafford's Opinions thereon, and Sir Benjamin Rudyard's - Lord Castlehaven on the Grievances which resulted in Rebellion - Intolerant Attitude of the Puritans - The Irish under Arms on the Continent - Some of the Irish Leaders - Rory O'Moore - Sir Phelim O'Neill - Owen Roe O'Neill.

The trial and death of Strafford belong rather to English than to Irish history, but so commanding a personality cannot be permitted to disappear from these pages without any reference to the fate that awaited the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland on his arrival in London. The Long Parliament was opened on the 3rd of November, 1640, and one of its first acts was the impeachment of Strafford. Many of the charges against him related to his Irish administration, but the most serious of them, in the eyes of the Puritans, were his attempts to establish the arbitrary power of the Crown and his enrolment of an army of Irish Papists, which he was accused of intending to bring over to support the King against his subjects in England. A deputation from the Irish Parliament, which had so recently lauded him, arrived with a remonstrance of grievances against him; and he was convicted of offences amounting in the aggregate to constructive treason. The King made a faint attempt in the House of Lords to save his faithful servant, but the Bill of Attainder was passed on the 8th of May, 1641; on the loth, Charles signed the Bill by commission, and on the 1 2th, Strafford was beheaded on Tower Hill.

It must be admitted that Strafford's rule in Ireland, though vigorous and able, was far from just; and while Ulster benefited thereby to the extent of the establishment of one of her most staple industries, the linen trade, it was accompanied, in the southern districts especially, by wholesale spoliation, galling oppression, terrorism, religious proscription, and even national degradation. The sowing of such dragons' teeth as these must of necessity produce a plentiful crop of armed men, and such proved to be the case.

Of the armed Irishman Strafford himself had a wholesome dread. Even in the early days of his viceroyalty he wrote on this subject a warning letter to the King when Charles contemplated raising an army in Ireland. It had been the safer for your Majesty to have given liberty for the raising five times as many here in England; because these could not have been debauched in their faith, where those were not free of suspicion, especially being put under command of O'Neill and O'Donnell, the sons of two infamous and arch-traitors, and so likely not only to be trained up in the discipline of war, but in the art of rebellion also. Secondly, as your Majesty's Deputy I must tell him, if the state of this kingdom were the same as in Queen Elizabeth's time, I should more apprehend the travel and disturbance which two hundred of these men might give us here, being natives, and experienced in their own faculty as soldiers, being sent to mutiny and discipline their own countrymen against the Crown, than of as many more Spaniards, as they sent in those days to Kinsale for relief of the rebels.

That this was no passing phase in Strafford's mind, but a deeply rooted conviction, is proved by his writing, many years later, under the stress of the threatened Scottish invasion of Ulster, giving expression to his fears of dire possibilities likely to arise from this arming and drilling the Irish. What sudden outrage, he said, referring to Antrim's proposal, may be apprehended from so great a number of the native Irish, children of habituated rebels, brought together without pay or victual, armed with our own weapons, ourselves left naked the whilst? What scandal of His Majesty's service it might be in a time thus conditioned to employ a general and a whole army in a manner Roman Catholics? What affright or pretence this might give for the Scottish, who are at least four score thousand in those parts, to arm also, under colour of their own defence? It is not safe, he said, to train the Irish up more than needs must in the military way, which . . . might arm their old affections to do us more mischief, and put new and dangerous thoughts into them after they are returned home. ...

Sir Benjamin Rudyard expressed the same opinion. It was never fit, he said, to suffer the Irish to be promiscuously made soldiers abroad, because it may make them abler to trouble the State when they come home. Their intelligence and practice with the princes whom they shall serve may prove dangerous to that Kingdom of Ireland.

Events, to use a bold if somewhat mixed metaphor employed by Mr. Tim Healy, M.P., were now crystallizing, destined in the near future to return with a boomerang influence. The four provinces of Ireland were seething with discontent. The royalist Earl of Castlehaven, who was not prejudiced in favour of the native Irish, and wrote as an eyewitness, enumerates in his Memoirs the chief causes of the spirit of unrest which pervaded the country. First, he wrote, they are generally looked upon as a conquered nation, seldom or never treated like natural or free-born subjects; secondly, that six whole counties in Ulster were escheated to the Crown, and little or nothing restored to the natives, but a great part bestowed by King James on his countrymen; thirdly, that in Strafford's time the Crown laid claim also to the counties of Roscommon, Mayo, Galway, and Cork, with some parts of Tipperary, Limerick, Wicklow, and others; fourthly, that great severities were used against the Roman Catholics in England, and that both Houses (of the Irish Parliament) solicited by several petitions out of Ireland to have those of that kingdom treated with the like rigor, which, Castlehaven adds, to a people so fond of their religion as the Irish, was no small inducement to make them, while there was an opportunity offered, to stand upon their guard; fifthly, that they saw how the Scots, by pretending grievances, and taking up arms to get them redressed, had not only gained divers privileges and immunities, but got 300,000 for their visit (to England), besides 850 a day for several months together; and lastly, that they saw a storm draw on, and such misunderstandings daily arise between the King and Parliament as portended no less than a sudden rupture between them, and therefore they believed that the King thus engaged, partly at home and partly with the Scotch, could not be able to suppress them so far off, but would grant them anything they could in reason demand, at least more than otherwise they could expect.

Lord Castlehaven was not alone in holding the views thus expressed. A large number of writers on the subject expressed opinions almost identical to those given above; among them James Howell, who says that the Irish had sundry grievances and grounds of complaint, both touching their estates and consciences, which they pretend to be far greater than those of the Scotch. For they fell to think that if the Scotch were suffered to introduce a new religion, it was reason they should not be punished in the exercise of their old, which they glory never to have altered.

Great hostility undoubtedly was shown to the Roman Catholics at this time. Petitions which tended to nothing less than the destruction of their religion, and of the lives and estates of recusants, were privately circulated among the Protestants, and were countenanced by the very men who had the government of Ireland then in their hands the Lords Justices, Sir William Parsons and Sir John Borlase, displaying extraordinary fanaticism, the former declaring, at a public entertainment in Dublin, that in twelve months no more Catholics should be seen in Ireland. In addition, it was reported with much confidence that the Scottish army had threatened never to lay down their arms until the Catholic religion had been suppressed, and uniformity of worship established in the three kingdoms. Sir John Clotworthy publicly declared that the conversion of the Papists in Ireland was only to be effected with the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other, while Pym avowed that the policy of his party was not to leave a priest alive in the land.

Such threats as these were calculated to make men think, and as the Irish are as susceptible to heat as iron, an ardent desire for liberty of speech and freedom of conscience sprang up and burned fiercely under the current of opposition which was directed against both. As we ourselves looked for, and have benefited by, timely aid sent to the Mother Country in her need by that Greater Britain beyond the seas, so Ireland, at that time, naturally sought, in her extremity, assistance from her exiled sons scattered over the face of Europe, many of whom in Spain, France, Germany, Poland, and the Low Countries had acquired great military eminence, and were able and willing of themselves to place both men and money at her disposal.

As early as 1611 Sir George Carew had foretold that the dispossessed natives of Ulster would some day rebel, that there would be a war of religion, and that the Protestant settlers would be surprised. Unlike many others, no lying tongue had been put into the mouth of this prophet, though thirty years elapsed before his prophecy was fulfilled.

The army collected at Carrickfergus by Strafford, before his fateful journey to England, was, by the King's command, disarmed and disbanded, and by a very short-sighted policy a licence was granted to certain officers from Spain to trans- port 8000 foot for the service of any prince or state at amity with us. These officers, who, though from Spain, were Irish, were Colonels John Barry, Garret Barry, John Bermingham, John Butler, Hugh Byrne, James Dillon, Richard Plunket, George Porter, and Theobald Taaffe; and they naturally seized the opportunity thus afforded them to communicate with the Irish on the Continent, offering them their own services and those of Charles's disbanded Irish forces to regain their lost inheritance.

The Irish chiefs were soon busy intriguing in Rome, Madrid, Paris, and other Continental capitals, clamouring for an invasion of Ireland, to restore Catholicity and expel the English planters from the forfeited lands. Philip III of Spain encouraged these aspirations. He had had an Irish legion under the command of Henry O'Neill, son of the fugitive Earl of Tyrone, and John, a brother of Henry's, was Colonel of an Irish regiment in the service of the Arch- duke in the Low Countries. From a list of Irishmen Abroad, compiled by that great Franciscan, Father Luke Wadding, we learn that amongst other sons of Erin in exile were Don Richardo Burke, a man much experienced in martial affairs, and a good inginiere. He served many years under the Spaniards in Naples and the West Indies, and was the governor of Leghorn for the Duke of Florence. There was also Phellomy O'Neill, nephew unto old Tyrone, liveth in great respect (in Milan), and is a captaine of a troop of horse; and James Rothe, an alfaros, or standard-bearer in the Spanish army, and his brother, Captain John Rothe, a pensioner in Naples, who carried Tyrone out of Ireland. In the Low Countries, under the Archduke: Young O'Donnel, sonne of the late traitorous earl of Tirconnel. Others are: Owen O'Neill (Owen Roe), sergeant-major (equivalent to the present lieutenant-colonel) of the Irish regiment. Captain Art O'Neill, Captain Cormack O'Neill, Captain Donel O'Donel, Captain Preston.

The compiler of this very curious document proceeds to state: There are diverse other captaines and officers of the Irish under the Archduchess (Isabella), some of whose companies are cast, and they made pensioners. Of these serving under the Archduchess there are about 100 able to command companies, and 20 fitt to be colonels. Many of them are descended of gentlemen's families and some of noblemen. These Irish soldiers and pensioners doe stay their resolutions until they see whether England makes peace or war with Spain. If peace, they have practised already with other soveraine princes, from whom they have received hopes of assistance: if war doe ensue they are confident of greater ayde. They have been long providing of arms for any attempt against Ireland, and had in readiness five or six thousand arms laid up in Antwerp for that purpose, bought out of deduction of their monthly pay, as will be proved, and it is thought they have now doubled that proportion by these means.

Early in 1641 the smouldering fires of discontent began to blaze into rebellion. The first movement is traced to Rory O' Moore, a member of the ancient family of the chiefs of Leix. He married a daughter of Sir Patrick Barnwell; and Colonel Richard Plunket, one of the nine to whom the King had given a licence to transport troops, was married to his first cousin. With O'Moore we find associated Lord Maguire, who, overwhelmed in debt, retained but a small portion of his ancient patrimony in Fermanagh; his brother, Roger Maguire; Sir Phelim O'Neill of Kinnard, fourth in descent from John of Kinnard, or Caledon, youngest brother of Con Bacagh O'Neill, first Earl of Tyrone; Turlogh O'Neill, his brother; Sir Con Magennis; Philip MacHugh O'Reilly; Colonel Hugh Oge MacMahon; Collo MacBrian MacMahon and Ever MacMahon, Vicar-general of Clogher.

The meeting of Parliament gave O'Moore an opportunity to speak to Lord Maguire, an extravagant young man of twenty-five, who, having married a Fleming, had influence in the Pale as well as in Ulster, and whose embarrassments disposed him to desperate courses. He began, said Maguire afterwards, to lay down the case that I was in, overwhelmed in debt, the smallness of my estate, and the greatness of the estate my ancestors had, and how I should be sure to get it again or at least a good part thereof; and, moreover, how the welfare and maintaining of the Catholic religion, which, he said, the Parliament now in England will suppress, doth depend on it.

O'Moore, who possessed a handsome person and fascinating manners, and who was well known to be both brave and honourable, brought the Ulster men together in Dublin and visited the northern province himself. He had already, he said, ascertained that the principal Irish gentry of Leinster and Connaught were favourable to the design of taking up arms; and urged that they never would have a better opportunity of bettering their condition and recovering at least a portion of their ancient estates than during the present Scottish troubles.

In July, 1640, a cipher code had been established between Sir Phelim O'Neill, in Ulster, and Owen Roe O'Neill, in Flanders. Owen Roe was visited by Hugh MacPhelim, afterwards one of the leaders in Ireland. Sir Phelim O'Neill was one of those Irish gentlemen who by royal favour had been permitted to retain some portion of their ancient patrimonies. At this time he was in possession of thirty-eight town lands in the Barony of Dungannon, county Tyrone, containing 23,000 acres, then estimated to be worth ,1600 a year, equal to some ,10,000 of our money. Sir Phelim might, therefore, have been content, so far as property was concerned. But, setting aside patriotism, religion, and ambition, it is most probable that he distrusted the Government and the King, and feared the doom pronounced in Dublin Castle against all of his race and creed.

About May, 1641, Nial O'Neill arrived in Ireland from Spain, bearing a message from John O'Neill to the effect that he had obtained from Cardinal Richelieu a promise of arms, ammunition, and money for Ireland when required, and bidding his friends in Ulster to hold themselves in readiness. The confederates replied that they would be prepared to rise a few days before or after 3ist of October, as the opportunity offered. Scarcely had the messenger departed when tidings came that Colonel John O'Neill, titular Earl of Tyrone, had been killed in Catalonia, and Owen Roe O'Neill was immediately communicated with and adopted as leader, with Sir Phelim as chief of the sept until Owen Roe arrived.

Such were the  first beginnings of the Rebellion of 1641.


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