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The History of Ulster
The Bursting of the Storm-cloud


The King warns the Lords Justices of Impending Danger - Sir William Parsons and Sir John Borlase remain Indifferent - Sir William Cole of Enniskillen communicates his suspicions - Their lethargy continues - Hugh Oge MacMahon, grandson of Tyrone, incites Owen O'Connolly to rebel - O'Connolly apathetic - He visits MacMahon in Dublin, and is presented to Lord Maguire - The details of Plot to seize Dublin Castle are revealed to him - He informs Sir William Parsons - Steps taken to defend Dublin Castle - Proceedings in Ulster - Sir Phelim O'Neill's Proclamation - Towns and Forts seized by the Insurgents - Sufferings caused by the Rebellion.

"Kings have long ears," said King James, and his son King Charles proved the truth of the dictum, for he appears to have had information from his Minister in Spain of approaching rebellion amongst his subjects in Ireland, and as early as the i6th of March, 1641, His Majesty ordered the Secretary of State, Sir Henry Vane, to send notice to Sir William Parsons and Sir John Borlase, the Lords Justices, to be prepared for a possible rising. Sir William Parsons, that "driest" of all mortals, as Wentworth observed, not having noticed any premonitory symptoms of insurrection himself, did not allow this warning to disturb his aridity, and no doubt his aplomb affected his colleague, the Master of the Ordnance, for the worthy Justices contented themselves with framing "some little new law" to be observed by the citizens of Dublin, and remained oblivious of the King's injunction.

There would have been some excuse for this indifference if the message had been conveyed in ambiguous language, but Sir Henry Vane's communication was couched in unmistakable terms; he tells the Lords Justices, "that there had passed from Spain and other parts an unspeakable number of Irish churchmen for England and Ireland, and some good old soldiers, under the pretext of raising levies for the King of Spain; and that it was whispered by the friars in that kingdom, that rebellion was shortly expected in Ireland. . . ."

As the time fixed by the confederates drew near, the Lords Justices received fresh intimations of approaching danger, for, on the nth of October, Sir William Cole, an Englishman residing at Enniskillen, sent an urgent message to inform Parsons and Borlase that there was an unusual and suspicious assembling of various Irish gentry to the house of Sir Phelim O'Neill; that Lord Maguire had lately made many private journeys, and that he had been much occupied in writing and dispatching letters all over the country; and that both Maguire and O'Neill and many of their friends had exhibited abnormal activity in levying men for the service of the King of Spain.

Even this plain indication of the trend of affairs, and the possibility that ere long, should they be found unprepared, "the wild mob's million feet" might "kick them from their place", did not awake the slumbering Lords Justices from their sleep of security to a sense of their duty to the State. Like many others, before and since, dressed with authority and deputed to guard the safety and welfare of the body-politic, they preferred to let things drift.

On the very eve of the rebellion Cole, having received more precise information about a plot to seize Dublin and other strongholds, sent at once to the Lords Justices a full account of the conspiracy, but his letter was either intercepted or suppressed. At the very moment when the chief conspirators were assembled in Dublin, making their arrangements for an attack upon the Castle, the Irish Government remained still unaware and unsuspicious of any stealthy proceedings being in progress to undermine its power and authority.

The English forces in Ireland amounted at this time to only about 3000 foot and 900 horse, and even these were billeted in small companies all over the country, far from the capital, in which there were at the moment no soldiers. The entire garrison of Dublin Castle, in which were stored 1500 barrels of gunpowder, with matches and shot, arms for 10,000 men, and 35 pieces of ordnance, consisted of 8 aged and infirm warders, and 40 halberdiers, who formed the usual guard of the Lords Justices.

"There are flashes struck from midnights." It is at moments like this that obscure individuals, who in "piping times of peace" might have plodded their weary way through a life of dull routine, "alike unknowing and unknown", spring into lurid and unenviable notoriety. Such an individual was one Owen O'Connolly, a Protestant servant in the service of that bulwark of Puritanism, Sir John Clotworthy. O'Connolly, notwithstanding his lowly social status, must at some period have been in a better position most probably his progenitors lost by the Plantation for he enjoyed the friendship of Hugh Oge MacMahon, a grandson of the great Tyrone, to whom he was distantly related. Relatives are not necessarily friends.

MacMahon however, was of a different mental calibre to his friend O'Connolly, for when he complained to Owen of the " proud and haughty carriage of one Mr. Aldridge, that was his neighbour in the county of Monaghan, who was a justice of the peace and but a vinter or tapster few years before, that he gave him not the right hand of fellowship at the assizes nor sessions, he being also in commission with him", O'Connolly, into whose soul the iron of English rule evidently had entered deeply (resulting in a broken spirit, if not a contrite heart), replied that a conquered people must submit. At such an exhibition of the spirit of the serf, the blood of the Tyrones asserted itself, and MacMahon bid his friend to "awake, arise or be for ever fallen!" and expressed his own belief that ere long they would be delivered from the slavery that was eating into their souls; whereat no doubt O'Connolly sighed and shook his head, and gravely warned his sanguine kinsman to plot no plots, and if he knew of aught that would endanger their lives to report it, as a magistrate was in honour bound to do, to the Lords Justices, " which would redound to his great honour".

Notwithstanding O'Connolly's manifest lack of enthusiasm, MacMahon evidently valued his friendship, for while residing in Moneymore, in County Londonderry, Owen received in the closing days of October, 1641, a letter from his relative begging him to come to Conacht, in County Monaghan, as he wished to consult him on matters of importance.

O'Connolly must have known, or at least guessed, the import of such an invitation ; nevertheless he immediately set out for Conacht, and finding that MacMahon had left for Dublin, he rode sixty miles on horseback, and arrived at the capital at about six o'clock on the evening of the 22nd, and was at once taken by MacMahon to see Lord Maguire, who disclosed the whole daring plot to his phlegmatic visitor.

Briefly the plan originally agreed upon was, a rising when the harvest was gathered in ; a simultaneous attack upon all English fortresses; the surprising of Dublin Castle, supposed to contain arms stored by Wentworth sufficient for some 12,000 men; and the obtaining, to realize this dream, all possible aid from the Continent in officers, arms, men, and money. "And whereas", said Maguire, in a vain endeavour to kindle some spark of enthusiasm in the wary and wearied O'Connolly, "you have of long time been a slave to that Puritan, Sir John Clotworthy, I hope you shall have soon as good a man to wait upon you."

"Not to die a listener," O'Connolly, though tired by his long journey, now accepted an invitation to go with MacMahon, my Lord, and others to the sign of the Lion in Wine Tavern Street, where, when the waiter had been turned out of the room and the door secured, all fell on their knees and drank success to "the morrow, and the morrow's deeds", O'Connolly, in order to make others drink, assisting energetically in circulating the flowing bowl, partaking himself in no small measure of its contents. He had, however, his eye to the main chance, and, as he himself said, "finding an opportunity, this examinate leaped over a wall and two pales and so came to the Lord Justice Parsons", whose residence was on Merchants' Quay, arriving at about nine o'clock in the evening.

Parsons, on hearing such an extraordinary story told by a Very excited and evidently semi-intoxicated stranger, was not by any means convinced of the truth of the statement, and he told O'Connolly that he should require some evidence of the facts of the case before he could act; he therefore advised him to return to MacMahon's lodgings, which were near the King's Inns in Henrietta Street, and bring him some further information. O'Connolly forthwith departed; and Sir William, on reflection, and seeing that it was now getting late, determined to consult his colleague Sir John, who being a very old man was likely to retire early. He therefore repaired at once to Chichester House, in College Green, where the Irish Houses of Parliament stood later, and the Bank of Ireland stands to-day, and called on Borlase.

Borlase, on hearing the news, at once sent messengers to summon such of the Privy Council as were within reach. The Constable of the Castle had already been warned, and the Mayor had directions to apprehend all strangers. O'Connolly, having with great difficulty escaped the second time, fell into the hands of the watch, but was rescued by Parson's men. It was now very late, and only two Privy Councillors could be found, but O'Connolly's information was sworn in proper form.

This same night Sir Francis Willoughby, governor of the fort of Galway, arrived at Dublin, finding the city gates closed and much popular agitation in the suburbs. On enquiring the cause, he was informed of the special meeting of the Privy Council at Chichester House, to which he at once repaired, and informed the Council, greatly to their relief, that during his journey across the country he had observed no signs of disturbance. The assembly, which now consisted of eight Privy Councillors, with Sir Francis Willoughby, Sir John Temple, Master of the Rolls, and the Vice-Treasurer, Sir Adam Loftus of Rathfarnham, sat all night and all next day in the Castle, having removed from Chichester House on the advice of Sir Francis, who considered Sir John Borlase's residence too insecure a place either for secrecy regarding their deliberations or for the safety of their persons. Willoughby was now made governor of the Castle, and set about increasing its means of defence. Owing to some 200 of the disbanded soldiers of his former regiment being in Dublin, he was able to muster a fairly strong body of experienced men, whom he armed from the stores in the Castle; and being thus secure, the Lords Justices issued a Proclamation announcing the discovery of a "most disloyal and detestable conspiracy, intended by some evil-affected Irish Papists, against the lives of the Lords Justices and Council, and many other of His Majestie's faithful subjects, universally throughout the kingdom, and for seizing not only His Majestie's Castle of Dublin, His Majestie's principal fort here, but also of the other fortifications in the kingdom". The lords and gentle- men of the Pale, who being almost to a man Roman Catholics, complaining that the words "Irish Papists" in the Proclamation appeared to reflect upon their loyalty and involve them in the charge of rebellion, another Proclamation was issued on the 29th, explaining that the phrase complained of was only intended to designate "such of the old mere Irish in the Province of Ulster as had plotted, contrived, and been actors in that treason, and others that adhered to them, and none of the old English of the Pale".

In the meanwhile events were developing with alarming rapidity in Ulster, where several important places were surprised and captured by the Confederates before the news of the premature discovery in Dublin could penetrate so far. Sir Phelim O'Neill himself took by stratagem the forts of Mountjoy and Charlemont, among his prisoners being Lord Caulfeild, the commander of the latter fort. He also seized Dungannon the same night, and the towns of Carrickmacross, Castleblaney, and Tandragee also fell into the hands of the insurgents; while the O'Reillys and Maguires overran Cavan and Fermanagh, and plundered, stripped, and turned out the English occupiers.

Newry was seized by Sir Conor Magennis, who distributed from its stores arms and ammunition amongst his followers, and wrote from thence on the 25th to the Govern- ment commanders of Down: "We are for our lives and liberties. . . . We desire no blood to be shed, but if you meane to shed our blood, be sure we will be as ready as you for the purpose;" and Sir Phelim O'Neill issued the following Proclamation:

"These are to intimate and make known unto all per- sons whatsoever in and through the whole country, the true intent and meaning of us whose names are hereunto sub- scribed: That the first assembling of us is nowise intended against our Sovereign Lord the King, nor hurt of any of his subjects, either English or Scotch; but only for the defence and libertie of ourselves and the Irish natives of this kingdom. And we further declare that whatsoever hurt hitherto hath been done to any person shall be presently repaired; and we will that every person forthwith, after proclamation, make their speedy repair unto their own houses under paine of death, that no further hurt be done unto any one under the like paine, and that this be proclaimed in all places. "PHELIM O'NEILL.

"At Dungannon, the 23rd October, 1641."

At midnight on the Saturday on which the above Proclamation was signed, Lord Blaney arrived in Dublin with the first certain news from Ulster. His family, he said, were prisoners, while Castleblaney, Carrickmacross, and many places in Monaghan had been sacked or burned. The rebels attacked Protestants only, "leaving the English Papists untouched, as well as the Irish". In Cavan, which was attacked by Philip M'Hugh O'Reilly: "Some were killed, all stripped, some almost, others altogether naked, not respecting women and sucking infants, the Lady Butler faring herein as did others. Of these miserable creatures many perished by famine and cold, travelling naked through frost and snow, the rest recovering Dublin, where now many of them are among others, in the same distress for bread and clothes."

Dublin soon became "the daily repair of multitudes of English that came up in troops, stripped and miserably despoiled, out of the North"; and Sir John Temple, the Master of the Rolls, historian of this critical period in the history of Ireland, describes the pitiable condition of the refugees as he himself saw them:

"Many persons of good rank and quality, covered over with old raggs, and some without any other covering than a little twisted straw to hide their nakedness, some reverend ministers and others that had escaped with their lives sorely wounded. Wives came- bitterly lamenting the murders of their husbands; mothers of their children, barbarously destroyed before their faces; poor infants ready to perish and pour out their souls in their mothers' bosoms; some over-wearied with long travel, and so surbated, as they came creeping on their knees; others frozen up with cold, ready to give up the ghost in the streets; others overwhelmed with grief, distracted with their losses, lost also their senses. Thus was the Town within the compass of a few days after the breaking out of this rebellion filled with these most lamentable spectacles of sorrow, which in great numbers wandered up and down in all parts of the city, desolate, forsaken, having no place to lay their heads on, no clothing to cover their nakedness, no food to fill their hungry bellies. But those of better quality, who could not frame themselves to be common beggars, crept into private places; and some of them, that had not private friends to relieve them, even wasted silently away, and so died without noise. . . . The greatest part of the women and children thus barbarously expelled out of their habitations perished in the city of Dublin, and so great numbers of them were brought to their graves, as all the churchyards within the whole town were of too narrow a compass to contain them."

Such were, in the language of a contemporary, some of "the Barbarous and Inhuman Dealings of the Northern Irish Rebels".


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