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The History of Ulster
The Horrors of Civil War


Lord Maguire and Hugh Oge MacMahon arrested and later hanged at Tyburn - Sir Phelim O'Neill forges a Royal Commission - He assumes the title of "Lord General of the Catholic Army in Ireland" - Many Murders and Massacres - Lord Castlehaven's Opinion, "They were Bloody on both Sides" - The O'Reillys' Remonstrance - Arms supplied by the Government to the Catholic Nobility of the Pale - The Irish Parliament meets - Both Houses join in a Remonstrance - The Scots in Ulster - An "Admirable" Crichton - London sends to the relief of Londonderry.

On the fateful night of Friday, the 22nd of October, 1641, the Lords Justices, having taken O'Connolly's sworn information in due form at Chichester House, immediately issued warrants for the arrest of Hugh Oge MacMahon, Lord Maguire, and their fellow-conspirators. The first- named appears to have had no suspicion of being betrayed, for at an early hour on the following morning he was captured in his lodgings in Henrietta Street; and so confident was he in the ultimate success of the plot, that when he was brought into the presence of the Lords Justices he merely remarked: "I am now in your hands, use me as you will; I am sure I shall be shortly revenged". Maguire, Fox, Plunket, O'Byrne, and O'Moore seem to have got some inkling of trouble in store for them, for they sought safety in flight, but Maguire was captured in a cock-loft in Cook Street, in which he had hidden himself, while the others escaped. Maguire and MacMahon were subsequently sent to London, where they were tried and hanged at Tyburn.

When Sir Phelim O'Neill took possession of Charlemont, he declared that he acted on the authority of a commission given him by the King. He confessed later that having found among Lord Caulfeild's papers a patent with the Great Seal attached, he had torn off the seal and attached it to a fictitious royal commission which he exhibited to his followers as a genuine document. In this instrument the King was represented as declaring to his Catholic subjects of Ireland that for the sake of his safety he had been obliged to take up his residence in Scotland; that the English Parliament had deprived him of his royal power and prerogative, and had assumed the government and administration of the realm; that as these "storms blew aloft", and were likely to be carried into Ireland by the vehemency of the Protestant party, he had given full power to his Catholic subjects to assemble and consult, to seize all places of strength except those belonging to the Scots, and to arrest the goods and persons of all English Protestants within the kingdom of Ireland.

The effect produced by the report of this pseudo-com- mission on the Puritans of Ulster, as well as on the Irish, was so great that the Lords Justices issued a Proclamation conveying a warning against false and seditious rumours, and declaring that they had authority from the King to pursue all rebels to the uttermost extremity. That the forged commission was generally accepted as genuine even by the English is certain, the chicanery of Charles having earned for him a reputation for dishonesty of purpose so diffused that no man believed in him. When Sir Phelim O'Neill produced the pseudo- commission in public and declared at the same time that he would be a traitor if he acted of his own accord, an Englishman who was present exclaimed: "We are a sold peopleI" and such was the general belief.

The rebellion "was as yet an insurrection of lords and gentlemen", says a writer on this period'; "nor is there", he adds, "any reason to believe that anything more was designed by these than a partial transfer of property, and certain stipulations in favour of the Church of Rome ". But Sir Phelim O'Neill was already at the head of some 30,000 men, the majority of them undisciplined and unaccustomed to bear arms. Sir Phelim himself was a civilian when he assumed the somewhat bombastic title of Lord General of the Catholic Army in Ulster. His followers could scarcely be said to be, in any sense, an army, for in addition to an utter lack of discipline they possessed antiquated arms and little ammunition, and were not even provided with pikes, for they had not had time to make them. To command such an irresponsible irregular herd of humanity was obviously impossible, especially when they were united and animated by but a single desire a yearning for the blood of those who had, they held, for years heaped injuries and insults upon them.

Such a motley multitude, with wild passions long sup- pressed let loose, would be, even in the hands of men "entirely great", a weapon dangerous to the public weal. But Sir Phelim was not great; and being himself somewhat volatile and a victim to violent fits of passion, he did not possess the power to control, nor the ability to lead the irregular forces of which he undertook the command; and later he lamented the cruelties which he had either countenanced or instigated.

But it must not be thought that the Irish alone were to blame for the murders and massacres perpetrated at this period. Lord Castlehaven, who cannot be accused of being biased in favour of the Irish, has recorded his convictions in no ambiguous terms. "The truth is," he wrote, "they were very bloody on both sides, and though some will throw all on the Irish, yet 'tis well known who they were that used to give orders to their parties, sent into enemies' quarters, to spare neither man, woman, nor child. And the leading men among the Irish have this to say for themselves, that they were all along so far from favouring any of the murderers, that not only by their agents, soon after the King's restoration, but even in their Remonstrance, presented by the Lord Viscount Gormanston and Sir Robert Talbot, on the 1 7th of March, 1642, the nobility and gentry of the nation desired that the murders on both sides committed should be strictly examined, and the authors of them punished, according to the utmost severity of the law; which proposal, certainly, their adversaries could never have rejected but that they were conscious to themselves of being deeper in the mire than they would have the world believe."

A Remonstrance in which some of the rebels sought to justify themselves, and signally failed to do so, was that drawn by William Bedell, the learned and lovable Protestant Bishop of Kilmore, at the request of two O'Reillys of Cavan, of whom one was a sheriff, the other a Member of Parliament. It purports to be "the remonstrance of the gentry and commonalty of the county of Cavan", and the signatories declare that the rising was caused by the fear of "captivity or utter expulsion from our native seats, without any just ground given" for such proceedings; and that "for the preventing, therefore, of such evils growing upon us in this kingdom, we have, for the preservation of his majesty's honour and our own liberties, thought fit to take into our hands for his highness's use and service, such forts and other places of strength, as, coming into the possession of others, might prove disadvantageous and tend to the utter undoing of the kingdom".

The Dean of Kilmore, the Very Reverend Henry Jones, was requested to convey this Remonstrance, which is dated 6th November, 1641, to Dublin, which he did much against his will, only consenting because the doing so would give him an opportunity to tell the Lords Justices how matters stood in Cavan, "which by letters could not so safely be delivered". In Cavan there was at first less bloodshed than in the neighbouring counties, but the English, men, women, and children, were driven naked from their homes to take refuge in the woods and die of starvation. The bridge of Belturbet rivalled in notoriety that of Portadown on account of the number thrown from it to drown in the waters beneath. The massacre here is said to have been instigated by the wife of one of the O'Reillys, who, notwithstanding their Remonstrance, were now actively preparing to attack Dublin.

The rebellion spread to the other three provinces, and was not by any means confined to Ulster; and the Lords Justices, who were lamentably lacking in discrimination, and were by no means past-masters in the science of psychology, were called upon to face the ordeal of a demand made by the Roman Catholic nobility and gentry of the Pale, for arms wherewith to protect their persons and their property from the depredations of the insurgents. This caused Parsons and Borlase not a little mental perturbation, for to grant the request might be to encourage hitherto loyal subjects to rebel "how oft the sight of instruments to do ill deeds, makes ill deeds done!" On the other hand, to refuse arms to those who professed loyalty to the King and constitution might have the result of swelling the numbers of those under the banner of Sir Phelim O'Neill. The Lords Justices chose the lesser evil, and accordingly commissions carrying plenary powers were issued to several of the applicants, who were also appointed governors of counties, and authorized to have recourse to martial law when necessary.

In this way, arms out of the stores in Dublin Castle were dealt out to many noblemen and gentlemen, notably to Sir Christopher Bellew, Sir Nicholas Barnwell, Viscount Gormanston, George, Earl of Kildare, and Sir Thomas Nugent. Of these Bellew and Gormanston joined the rebels, Kildare and Nugent remained loyal, while Barnwell cleared out of the country, to return later to assume the governorship of County Dublin.

Early in June, 1641, Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester, had been appointed Lord-Lieutenant, but he declined to live in Ireland, and never came over. However, although the Lords Justices continued to act as Chief Governors, the Lord-Lieutenant could not be ignored, and accordingly the Irish Government sent him in the closing days of October a full account of the rebellion by the hand of Owen O'Connolly, who was rewarded for his loyalty with a gift of 500 and a pension of 200, "until an estate of greater value could be provided".

The Irish Parliament met in mid- November, and both Houses agreed in a protestation against all who, "contrary to their duty and loyalty to His Majesty, and against the laws of God, and the fundamental laws of the realm, have traitorously and rebelliously raised arms, have seized on some of His Majesty's forts and castles, and dispossessed many of His Majesty's faithful subjects of their houses, lands, and goods, and have slain many of them, and committed other cruel and inhumane outrages and acts of hostility within the realm", and they pledged themselves to "take up arms and with their lives and fortunes suppress them and their attempts".

The attempts of the northern rebels were, however, insignificant in comparison with their achievements. At first they affected to spare the Scots, hoping by their forbearance to induce them to join in the rebellion; but when the Irish leaders found not only that the Irish Scots remained loyal, but that the Scots were prepared to oppose them, their resentment against the Scots exceeded, if possible, their hatred of the English, and the Ulster Scots were, in consequence, subjected to most diabolical cruelty, modes of torture being practised upon them in comparison with which the inventions of the Inquisition and the methods of the red Indian or of the mandarin sink into insignificance and may be contemplated with composure. As the details of these are far from delectable, the reader may safely be referred for particulars to contemporary documents which give sufficient evidence on the subject to satisfy the most incredulous.

As ill invariably keeps echoing ill, the Scots retaliated by showing little mercy to the Irish whenever they fell into their hands. Of this instance of the carrying out of the law of retaliation, one example may suffice. A small peninsula called Island Magee, near the town of Carrickfergus, was inhabited by some Irish families, some members of whom had in its earlier stages identified themselves with the rebels. A body of Scottish soldiers being garrisoned in Carrickfergus awaited a fitting opportunity, and taking advantage of a dark night in January, 1642, sallied forth and, falling unawares upon these Irish Roman Catholics who had been quiescent for some months, put the greater part, if not the whole of them, to the sword. According to the confession of the perpetrators of this deed, thirty families were surprised in their beds and deliberately put to death.

There is, however, a pleasanter side to the picture. Sir Phelim O'Neill's mother distinguished herself by sheltering four-and-twenty English and Scots under her roof, and preserving them uninjured throughout the troublous times. Her son, Sir Phelim's step-brother, imitated her noble example and conveyed many of the English Protestants in safety from. Armagh to Newry and Drogheda. The Rev. George Crichton, a Scotsman as his name suggests, vicar of Lurgan, was told by Captain Tirlogh MacShane MacPhilip O'Reilly that the Irish would harm no Scot; he added that directions had been received from His Majesty "to do all these things to curb the Parliament of England; for all the Catholics in England should have been compelled to go to Church; or else they should be all hanged before their own doors". Crichton, who lived at Virginia, lodged refugees in his house, and provided many with food and clothing. He told his wife, when she urged upon him the wisdom of flight, that "in this trouble God had called them to do Him that service", and continued to tend the wounded and give milk to the children until the fugitives ceased to call upon him.

Philip MacHugh MacShane O'Reilly, member for the county Cavan, was the chosen leader of the Irish. Crichton no doubt owed his life, and the lives of his wife and children, to the fact that he was a Scot, for he discovered that Philip MacHugh's mother was an Argyle, "of which house it seemeth that she was well pleased that she was descended. This kindred stood me in great stead afterwards, for although it was far off and old, yet it bound the hands of the ruder sort from shedding my blood." Thus this Admirable Crichton escaped scot-free, thanks to his courage, nationality, and diplomacy.

Londonderry remained the bulwark of the north, Sir Phelim's attempts to take it having failed signally. The city of London now sent four ships to its relief with provisions, clothing, accoutrements for several companies of foot, and much ammunition.


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