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The History of Ulster
The Fortunes of War


Parliament's Provisions for Ireland - Continued Lethargy of the Lords Justices - Their Weak-kneed Government drives many into Rebellion - Sir Phelim O'Neill prepares to invest Drogheda - Six Hundred Raw Recruits sent with Roper to the Relief of Drogheda - Five Hundred slain in a Fog at Julianstown - The Lords Justices summon Sir Charles Coote to Dublin - Cruel Conduct of Coote - Lisburn attacked and burned to the Ground by Sir Phelim O'Neill - Lord Gormanston calls a County Meeting at Crofty Hill - The Northern Chiefs appear and the Rival Parties amalgamate.

Ireland had been specially entrusted to Parliament by the King, and during the whole of November, 1641, the English House of Commons devoted a portion of each day to careful consideration of the subject, and how best to deal with the situation, with regard to which doleful reports were frequently forwarded by the Lords Justices. Having resolved that 50,000 should immediately be borrowed from the city of London, for which full security should be given, orders were passed that 20,000 should be sent over to Ireland without delay, that ships should be sent to guard the coasts, that a force of 6000 foot and 2000 horse should be raised and sent to Dublin, that provisions should be at once collected and sent to the relief of the city and its garrison, and that the arms and ammunition then lying in the magazine at Carlisle should be transported to Carrickfergus. It was further resolved that negotiations should be opened with the Scots for a force of 2000 foot to be landed in Ulster.

Further communications being received from the Lords Justices and Council in Dublin, giving details of fresh successes of the rebels in Ulster, the capture of Dundalk, and the danger of Drogheda, the perils with which Dublin was threatened, and stating that unless at least 10,000 foot and 1000 horse were immediately sent over, Ireland was in danger of being utterly lost, and the peace of England herself threatened, the Commons resolved to comply in full with the wishes of the Irish Government, which included a petition for; 100,000 to enable them to carry on the war. The estimate for Ireland was raised to 200,000, and Leicester, as Lord-Lieutenant, was authorized to raise 3500 foot and 600 horse, while arms were provided for a further levy.

While the Parliament in England thus acted with commendable celerity and decision, the movements of the Irish Government were marked by its ancient lack of energy. The Earl of Ormonde having been appointed Lieutenant-General, he urged upon the Lords Justices the necessity for prompt measures, and proposed to march at once with all the troops that could be spared from Dublin against the main body of the rebels, then in the County Louth, and composed largely of an undisciplined rabble. This the Lords Justices would not permit Ormonde to do, alleging that they lacked arms with which to supply the troops. At the same time it must be remembered that the Pale was disaffected, and that in Dublin there were but 3000 foot and 200 horse, and that the capital was surrounded by armed bands, who had already made food scarce, and who threatened to cut off the water supply. A large area had to be defended, and many of the citizens were not to be trusted.

Sir William Parsons and Sir John Borlase were now themselves eyed with suspicion. "To be weak is to be miserable", and weak and miserable the Lords Justices undoubtedly were. Letting we dare not, wait upon we will, they acted with a timidity highly reprehensible in those who are called upon to lead; and the distrust and disdain with which they treated the lords and gentlemen of the Pale who were not yet involved in any disloyalty led many to conclude that their conduct was purposely calculated to drive the Catholic landed gentry into rebellion. Castlehaven declares that "they were often heard to say that the more were in rebellion, the more lands should be forfeited to them", a statement which has led to the association of the names of the Lords Justices with that of a company of adventurers formed in London at this time, who calculated on the confiscation of ten millions of acres in Ireland as soon as the work of reduction should be completed.

The actions of the Lords Justices affected the whole country. As soon as it was announced that men and money were being sent from England to their succour, they concealed their natural cowardice under a mask of arrogance, and demanded from the Catholic lords of the Pale the return of the arms with which they had entrusted them, thus leaving them without means of defence. By this demand they created enemies for themselves and the Government, and only succeeded in getting back 950 out of the 1700 arms they had given.

This step was followed by several other measures equally unpopular and unwise. A proclamation was issued commanding all persons not citizens of Dublin to leave the city within twenty-four hours, on pain of death. The reason given for this measure was, that landholders, by flying to the capital for protection, had left their lands undefended; but the effect produced by it was that numbers on finding themselves thus denied protection in Dublin, sought it by joining the rebels, and thus swelled their ranks. The Irish Government also suppressed, or rendered ineffective by their exceptions and qualifications, the order of the English Parliament to offer a general pardon to all rebels who tendered their submission within a given time, a measure which could hardly have failed at that moment to produce most beneficial effects; and the object of the Lords Justices in this suppression is patent enough when it is seen that in the few counties least affected by the rebellion, where the pardon was offered, it was combined with a general exception of the freeholders. This fact, and Castlehaven's statement, prove that the Lords Justices looked for a rich harvest of forfeited lands.

The feeling thus produced in Dublin by these errors of judgment on the part of the Government greatly encouraged the northern Irish, who now marched towards Drogheda under the command of Sir Phelim O'Neill. On the 24th of November they took Lord Moore's mansion at Mellifont, being incited to do so by his offering the Government to raise, clothe, pay, and command 600 men until money came from England. The foot-soldiers who attempted to defend Mellifont were put to the sword, but the mounted men escaped to Drogheda. The women were stripped, and the place plundered.

The approach of the rebel forces of Ulster towards the south was already producing its effect on the wavering allegiance of the Pale; nevertheless the Lords Justices adopted no efficient measures of defence. Before the end of November the insurgent army had established its quarters on the northern banks of the Boyne, and preparations were being made to invest Drogheda, from which the Lords Justices now received a pressing dispatch for aid from Sir Henry Tichborne.

Qualified men were scarce, but 600 raw recruits were sent under a young commander, Major Roper, to reinforce Tichborne, and Sir Patrick Wemyss, with fifty horse of Ormonde's troop, accompanied them. The short journey could easily have been made in a day, but the new levies were ill disciplined and mutinous, and insisted on proceeding by easy stages. On the second day they had only reached Balrotheray. At seven o'clock on the morning of the 20th of November Roper halted at Lord Gormanston's, and learned that the Irish had crossed the Boyne to intercept him, and he was told to move with the greatest caution. Roper, with the carelessness of youth, did not even trouble to warn his officers, and the march was continued in loose order. A thick November fog shrouded Julianstown bridge, over which the inexperienced and undiscerning 600 marched into a valley of death, in which awaited their coming a greatly superior and better-armed force under the command of Hugh O'Byrne, Rory O'Moore, and Philip MacHugh O'Reilly. The fight in the fog was sharp and decisive; and when it lifted, the sun shone on the complete Irish force, "who did not lose a man", and on nearly 500 corpses of Roper's raw recruits, Roper himself, with two captains and 100 men, reaching Drogheda shortly after the arrival of Wemyss. Ormonde expressed much surprise on hearing of this defeat. "The men", he said, "were unexercised, but had as many arms, I think, within a few, as all the rebels in the kingdom, and were as well trained as they"; but the fog accounts for much, and also the presence in the ranks of the insurgents of many of Strafford's disbanded army. This success gave fresh confidence and courage to the rebels, who levied contributions on the surrounding districts, causing thereby no slight alarm to the Government, while the arming of the Irish with the dead soldiers' weapons added not a little to the terror of the loyalists.

In their extremity the Lords Justices summoned Sir Charles Coote who had been dispatched against insurgents in Wicklow on the very day of the defeat at Julianstown to return to guard the capital. Coote was a marvellous mixture of courage, courteousness, and cruelty. On one occasion he invited a bumpkin to blow down the barrel of his pistol, and, on the yokel's acquiescing, Coote in the act blew out his brains. He lost his own life later by charging at the head of seventeen men at some thousands of the enemy. In Wicklow, Coote's troopers murdered and massacred to their hearts' content with the approval of their commander, who, on seeing infants impaled on their pikes, frankly declared that "he liked such frolics". Neither age nor sex was spared, and priests were usually shot on sight, no close time for ecclesiastics being recognized by Coote. Fathers Higgins and White of Naas were thus given up by Sir Charles to the tender mercies of his troopers, although the priests had been each granted a safe-conduct to Dublin by his superior officer, Lord Ormonde, who complained of this barbarity.

On his return to Dublin Coote's conduct was highly approved of by the Lords Justices, who appointed him Governor of Dublin; but the Catholic lords accused him of having uttered a threat at the council board "tending to a purpose and resolution to execute upon those of our religion a general massacre". "The character of the man", says Curry, "was such, that this report, whether true or not, was easily credited." "All this while," Castlehaven tells us, "parties were sent out by the Lords Justices and Council from Dublin, and most garrisons throughout the kingdom, to kill and destroy the rebels; but the officers and soldiers took little or no care to distinguish between rebels and subjects, but killed in many places, promiscuously, men, women, and children ; which procedure not only exasperated the rebels, and induced them to commit the like cruelties upon the English, but frightened the nobility and gentry about; who, seeing the harmless country people, without respect to age or sex, thus barbarously murdered, and themselves openly threatened as favorers of the rebellion, for paying the contributions they could not possibly refuse, resolved to stand upon their guard."

Carrickfergus, Chichester's old stronghold, was filled with the Protestants of Down and Antrim; but Sir Phelim O'Neill recognized the fact that if he hoped to take Carrickfergus he must begin with Belfast and Lisburn, and accordingly he directed Sir Con Magennis to attack the latter, which he did at the head of several thousand men equipped with their newly-acquired arms and also with two field-pieces taken at Newry in the initial stages of the rebellion. The sole strength of Lisburn consisted of Lord Con way's troop, commanded by Sir Arthur Tyringham, ex-governor of Newry. Fighting was kept up in the streets, which were so slippery with frozen snow that the shoes of the horses had to be frosted, which being done, the cavalry gained a great advantage over the infantry, whose "brogues" slipped from under their wearers and laid them on their backs at the mercy of the foe. Chichester sent gunpowder from Belfast, and followed it up with a troop of horse and a company of foot, with the result that the Irish were completely discomfited, and set fire to the town, of which "every corner was filled with carcases". "The slain were found to be thrice the number of those that fought against them." Lisburn was burned to the ground. Next day the rebels burned the residence at Brookhill of Sir George Rawdon, who had only returned from Scotland the evening before.

Early in December, Lord Gormanston, who appears to have been for some time in secret communication with Rory O' Moore, issued an order to the Sheriff of Meath to assemble the principal inhabitants of the county at Duleek, but the place of meeting was subsequently changed to Crofty Hill, about three miles to the south of Drogheda. Among those who attended this meeting were the Earl of Fingall and Lords Dunsany, Louth, Netterville, Slane, and Gormanston. When the meeting had grown in dimensions to about 1000, the number was largely augmented by the sudden appearance of a party of the insurgent chiefs from Ulster, consisting of Rory O'Moore, Philip MacHugh O'Reilly, Hugh O'Byrne, Colonel MacMahon, Hugh Boy O'Reilly, and Captain Fox, who rode up "in the head of a guard of musketeers, whom the defeat at the bridge of Julianstown had furnished with arms".

As the Irish chiefs approached the hill, the principals, by whom they were evidently expected, pressed forward to meet them, and Gormanston asked "for what reason they came armed into the Pale", and O'Moore, in a speech which had plainly been prepared, replied that "the ground of their coming thither and taking up arms, was for the freedom and liberty of their consciences, the maintenance of His Majesty's prerogative, in which they understood he was abridged, and the making the subjects of this kingdom as free as those of England"; and he added much to the effect that he and those with him had been goaded into action by penal laws which excluded them from the public service and from educational advantages, for, said he, "there can be no greater mark of servitude than that our children cannot come to speak Latin without renouncing their spiritual dependence on the Roman Church, nor ourselves be preferred to any advantageous employment, without forfeiting our souls". Finally he complained that while their primary motive had been to maintain the King's prerogative, the Ulster chiefs had been denounced by the Lords Justices as rebels; he therefore called upon all true sons of Ireland to join the common cause.

Gormanston, as prearranged, now demanded "whether these were not pretences, and not the true grounds indeed of their so doing, and likewise whether they had not some other private ends of their own"; and on receiving a solemn declaration of their sincerity and wholehearted devotion to the ends to which they had pledged themselves, he cried aloud: "Seeing these be your true ends, we will likewise join with you therein" a sentiment which was received with loud applause by all present. "And thus", said a probable eyewitness, "distrust, aversion, force, and fear united the two parties which since the conquest had at all times been roost opposite, and it being first publicly declared that they would repute all such enemies as did not assist them in their ways, they appointed a second meeting of the county at the hill of Tara."


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