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The History of Ulster
The Last Efforts of Ulster


Depth of Religious Emotion displayed - The Presbytery of Belfast and the Covenant - John Milton replies to the Presbytery and attacks Ormonde - Ecclesiastical Meeting at Cloqmacnoise - The Bishops' Declaration answered by Cromwell - Hugh Duv O'Neill defends Clonmel - Cromwell leaves Ireland, and Ireton takes Command - Changed State of the Country - Ever MacMahon, Bishop of Clogher, succeeds to Command of Ulster - His "Confident Victorious Catholic Army of the North" - He takes Toome and Dungiven - Is defeated at Letterkenny and hanged - Henry O'Neill put to death by Coote.

To understand thoroughly the depth and intensity of the religious emotion which formed so striking a feature of the national life at this period, and which was indeed, not alone the mould of its thought, but the mainspring of its actions, it is necessary (in order to possess the intelligent sympathy, without which all study of history is useless) to endeavour to realize how thoroughly genuine was the general expression of belief. The very bitterness of the opposing parties is proof of their sincerity. No doubt blurred their mental vision, no element of uncertainty ever entered into their calculations regarding time or eternity. The exponents of each creed set forth its dogmas in stern array, to be accepted without demur. Each Church believed that it alone had ascertained and assimilated the "eternal verities", and that it alone had received the divine injunction to propagate the truth even at the point of the sword. The very idea of religious toleration was in itself intolerable.

The evidence of the spirit which animated all religious bodies at this time may be seen in the declaration made by the Presbytery of Belfast on the i5th of February, 1649, when they issued what they deemed A Necessary Representation of the Present Evils and Imminent Dangers to Religion, by means of which they hoped to overthrow those who "labour to establish by laws an universal toleration of ail religions", "lest our silence should involve us in the guilt of unfaithful- ness, and our people in security and neglect of duties". Universal toleration of all religions the Belfast Presbytery held to be "an innovation overturning of unity in religion, and so directly repugnant to the word of God, the two first articles of our solemn covenant, which is the greatest wickedness in them to violate, since many of the chiefest of themselves have, with their hands, testified to the most high God, sworn and sealed it". All who had departed from the Solemn League and Covenant were accused of having embraced "even Paganism and Judaism, in the arms of toleration", and they were solemnly advised to forsake their evil ways "lest God give them over to strong delusions (the plague of these times) that they may believe lies and be damned ". Finally the Presbytery warned those whom they addressed, to refrain from "combining themselves with papists and other notorious malignants".

The design of the Presbytery, advanced under guise of a homily to those in their care, did not deceive Milton, who was employed by the House of Commons to deal with the Ulster presbyters and also with the articles of the Ormonde Peace. Of the Presbytery of Belfast ("a place better known by the name of a late barony, than by the fame of these men's doctrine or ecclesiastical deeds",) the Latin Secretary made short work: "'Their duty', they say, 'to God and his people, over whom he hath made them overseers, and for whom they must give account.' What mean these men? Is the presbytery of Belfast, a small town in Ulster, of so large extent, that their voices cannot serve to teach duties in the congregation which they oversee, without spreading and divulging to all parts, far beyond the diocess of Patrick or Columba, their written representation, under the subtle pretence of feeding their own flock? Or do they think to oversee, or undertake to give an account for, all to whom their paper sends greeting?" And the poet proceeds to attack them with their own weapons: "St. Paul to the elders of Ephesus thinks it sufficient to give charge." That they take heed to themselves, and to the flock over which they were made overseers', beyond those bounds he enlarges not their commission. And surely when we put down bishops and put up presbyters, which the most of them have made use of to enrich and exalt themselves, and turn the first heel against their benefactors, we did not think, that one classic fraternity, so obscure and so remote, should involve us and all state affairs within the censure and jurisdiction of Belfast, upon pretence of overseeing their own charge." Finally the Presbyters are dismissed with contumely for having opened "their mouths, not 'in the spirit of meekness', as like dissemblers they pretend, but with as much devilish malice, impudence, and falsehood, as any Irish rebel could have uttered, and from a barbarous nook of Ireland brand us with the extirpation of laws and liberties; things which they seem as little to understand, as aught that belong to good letters or humanity".

But we must now return to the Lord General whom Ormonde had rashly compared to John of Leyden, thereby bringing down on himself the heavy wrath of Milton, who accuses him of having acted "contrary to what a gentleman should know of civility", in thus proceeding "to the contemptuous naming of a person, whose valour and high merit many enemies more noble than himself have both honoured and feared; to assert his good name and reputation, of whose service the commonwealth receives so ample satisfaction, . . . that Cromwell, whom he couples with a name of scorn, hath done in few years more eminent and remarkable deeds, whereon to found nobility in his house, though it were wanting, and perpetual renown to posterity, than Ormonde and all his ancestors put together can show from any record of their Irish exploits, the widest scene of their glory"; with which orotund utterance of the "great organ-voice of England " we may dismiss the subject.

After the reconciliation of O'Neill and Ormonde, Ever MacMahon, titular Bishop of Clogher, who was devotedly attached to the Ulster chief, became a firm supporter of Ormonde. At a meeting of twenty bishops, who assembled at Clonmacnoise on the 4th of December, 1649, to consider the deplorable state to which the country had been reduced by war and pestilence, the prelates published Certain Acts' Declarations enjoining in the most earnest manner union and amity among both clergy and people, and stating that "we hereby manifest our detestation against all such divisions between either Provinces or families, or between old English and old Irish, or any of the English or Scotch adhering to His Majesty". They further let "the people know how vain it was for them to expect 'from the common enemy commanded by Cromwell, by authority from the rebels of England', any assurance of their religion, lives, or fortunes"; and finally besought "the gentry and inhabitants, for God's glory and their own safety, to the uttermost of their power to contribute, with patience, to the support of the war against that enemy".

To this declaration the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland replied in a counter-declaration, "Given at Youghal, January, 1649" (1650), in which he challenged "the Irish Popish Prelates and Clergy of the Conventicle at Clonmacnoise" to "give us an instance of one man since my coming into Ireland, not in arms, massacred, destroyed or banished, concerning the massacre or the destruction of whom justice hath not been done, or endeavoured to be done", and gives the reasons, that all men may know them, for the visitation of the English forces to Ireland: "We are come to ask an account of the innocent blood that hath been shed; and to endeavour to bring to an account, by the blessing and presence of the Almighty, in whom alone is our hope and strength, all who, by appearing in arms, seek to justify the same. We come to break the power of a company of lawless Rebels, who having cast off the authority of England, live as enemies to Human Society; whose principles, the world hath experience, are, to destroy and subjugate all men not complying with them. We come, by the assistance of God, to hold forth and maintain the lustre and glory of English Liberty in a Nation where we have an undoubted right to do it; wherein the People of Ireland (if they listen not to such seducers as you are) may equally participate in all benefits; to use 'their' liberty and fortune equally with Englishmen, if they keep out of arms. "Finally the Lord-General declares his belief that "if ever men were engaged in a righteous Cause in the world, this will be scarce a second to it".

Kilkenny, towards which Cromwell marched early in March, was garrisoned by Lord Dillon with 1000 foot and 200 horse; but the city being visited by the Plague, one-half Dillon's army, which consisted of Ulster men, deserted, saying they were willing to fight against men but not against God. Kilkenny capitulated on March the 27th, and Cromwell proceeded to Carrick. On the 27th of April the Lord- General presented himself before Clonmel, of which the governor was that "old surly Spanish soldier", Hugh Duv O'Neill, nephew of Owen Roe, who had with him "Two thousand foot, all Ulster men", and who relied on Ormonde's promise that he would "draw all the forces of the Kingdom into a body for the town's relief". The Royalist Lord-Lieutenant made a brave effort to keep his word, but was thwarted by the Commissioners of Trust, and, all other sources failing, Clonmel was left unaided notwithstanding the "humble suit" of O'Neill, "that the army, if in any reasonable condition, may march night and day to our succour".

The preservation of Clonmel was almost Ireland's last hope, and O'Neill's gallant northerners fought with the energy of despair. The assault was made at an early hour on the 9th of May, the storming-party entering with ease. Once inside the walls they were, by O'Neill's ingenuity, caught in a trap, those in front being compelled to enter by the onward rush of those behind until the place "was full and could hold no more". Then O'Neill's guns began to play on the invaders, raining chain-shot upon them, "so that in less than an hour's time about a thousand men were killed in that pound, being atop one another". But at length night put an end to the conflict, of which it was said by an eyewitness "that there was never seen so hot a storm of so long con- tinuance, and so gallantly defended, either in England or Ireland". His ammunition being exhausted, O'Neill, with the garrison, under cover of darkness, cleared out of the town and withdrew to Waterford. Here, finding that the Plague was in both camp and city, the surly old Spaniard bade his Ulster infantry to shift for themselves, while he and his cavalry proceeded to Limerick, of which city later he was made the governor.

Cromwell lost 2500 men at Clonmel, where he found "the stoutest Enemy this Army had ever met in Ireland". He had already received pressing dispatches from Parliament urging him to hasten his return, as his services would be required to brave the storm which was breaking in Scotland, He surrendered the command of the army in Ireland to his son-in-law, Major - General Ireton, who already held the appointment of Lord President of Munster, and who succeeded him as Lord-Lieutenant. He left Ireland on the 29th of May, and received, on the 4th of June, the hearty thanks of the House of Commons "for his great and faithful services unto the Parliament and commonwealth".

The ten months of Cromwell's presence in Ireland had produced a great alteration in the position of affairs. Owen Roe's death had left not alone Ulster, but the whole country, without a leader. Ulster itself lay completely at the mercy of the English. Several attempts were made before Cromwell's departure, and immediately after, to embarrass the movements of the army which was engaged in the task of subduing Munster, by creating diversions in Ulster, but they were all nullified by the vigilance of Venables. In April reinforcements enabled Coote to take the field more actively, and to approach the borders of Westmeath; and when Castlehaven, with such troops as he could collect, marched north to arrest his progress, he was obliged to retire before the combined forces of Sir Charles and Venables, who had joined him. Castlejordan, Kinnegad, Ardmullin, Trim, and Doneraile fell successively into the hands of the English commanders. John Hewson, who succeeded to the governorship of Dublin on the death of Michael Jones, and Commissary-General John Reynolds, having laid siege to Enniskillen, Castlehaven made an attempt to relieve it, but was defeated, and the fort therefore surrendered. Charlemont was now the only strong place in Ulster left in the hands of the Irish.

Attempts were made to combine the Anglo-Irish Roman Catholic Royalists of Ulster with the purely Irish under the Marquis of Clanrickard, with the view of offering a more solid resistance to the Parliamentary forces, but through the jealousy of the two parties they failed, the Irish refusing to follow any leader save one of their own election, or to march in the same ranks with heretics. Ormonde, under his agreement with Owen Roe O'Neill, was now called upon to give the command in Ulster to the person nominated by the nobility and gentry of the province, and a meeting was held in March at Belturbet for the purpose of electing a leader. The candidates were Sir Phelim O'Neill, Henry O'Neill (Owen Roe's son), General Farrell, and Ever MacMahon, titular Bishop of Clogher, with the result that the bellicose Bishop, who, according to a military authority of the period, was "no more a soldier fit to be a general than one of Rome's cardinals", was elected, and his commission signed by Ormonde on the auspicious date, 1st of April. MacMahon's army, according to the Parliamentarian accounts, consisted of 5000 men, "all Irish or Papists, not a Protestant among them, having taken up an opinion that they should never prosper till they had cleared their army of all Protestants". Among their thirty officers were Sir Phelim and Henry O'Neill, and another prelate, the Bishop of Down, who served in the rank of Colonel. Thus led, "the confident victorious Catholic army of the North", as MacMahon styled his followers, commenced its career.

Early in May, Toome was taken by surprise and Dungiven by assault. The latter town was defended by Colonel Beresford and only sixty men. When the assault was carried, the victorious Bishop, despite his threat as conveyed in a letter to Beresford "If. you shed one drop of my soldiers' blood, I will not spare to put man, woman, and child to the sword" permitted Beresford, who was wounded, to be conveyed to Charlemont, while his wife and Lady Coote were sent to Limavady. The Bishop now attacked Ballycastle, which was taken without resistance and garrisoned, and the Catholic army, now increased to 4000 foot and 400 horse, returned to Lifford, where MacMahon gained admission by displaying the commission he had received from Ormonde.

On the return journey from Ballycastle to Lifford, MacMahon's forces encountered those of Coote, which were much inferior in numbers, and in the skirmish which ensued two of Coote's captains were killed and he himself was compelled to retire. Irish-like, the Bishop-General did not follow up this success, or he might have annihilated Sir Charles's small body of men, who had, in order to escape, to pass through a boggy defile; thus he enabled Coote to retire and collect forces from the surrounding district, 1000 men being sent to him by Venables from Belfast, a large contingent also being sent to his aid from Enniskillen.

MacMahon now made a fatal error by scattering his forces, sending a large detachment to take the distant castle of Doe on Sheephaven, and smaller ones to forage about the country; so when he took up a position on a hill near Letterkenny he had not with him more than 3000 foot and 400 horse, whereas Sir Charles Coote, who marched against him, had now about 2500 men. The Irish were posted on a mountain-side "inaccessible to either horse or man"; but on the enemy's appearance, on the 2ist of June, 1650, the Bishop, blindly confident in his superiority of numbers, and rejecting the advice of his most experienced officers, Henry O'Neill among them, descended to meet the foe on ground " which was extreme bad". There followed an hour's hard fighting, the Irish being defeated with great slaughter, chiefly through the great superiority of the English cavalry. Some 3000 were killed, the routed Irish being pursued for thirty miles, few escaping the swords of Coote's pursuing horse. The Bishop of Down, Lord Enniskillen, and a number of distinguished officers and heads of Ulster clans were slain on the field a sad but fitting "sequel of making the Bishop a general that was nothing experienced in that lesson", for thereby, "for want of conduct and prudency in martial affairs he lost himself and that army that never got a foil before he led them". Coote lost only one officer and about 100 men.

The Bishop, with some 200 horse, fled to Enniskillen; but, the noise of his coming preceding him, Major John King sallied out and attacked his small force with some fresh horse and took MacMahon prisoner. Sir Phelim O'Neill escaped to Charlemont, but Henry O'Neill was captured on the field. MacMahon was kept some time in prison, and finally was hanged, his head being fixed upon one of the gates of Londonderry. Henry O'Neill also was put to death by Coote.


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