Elizabeth continues the Conquest
The conquest of Ireland had been going on four centuries. The rock
against which every attempt to complete it had broken was the immemorial laws of Ireland,
the Brehon Laws. These bound Irishmen within the four seas to one social and legal rule.
All attempts to plant the feudal system in Ireland by England went down before them.
The strongest Norman house in Irish history was the Geraldines. They must be suppressed. The Ormonds were castle men, guardians of English authority. The Black Earl of Ormond seized Gerald, Earl of Desmond, and sent him to London, and Elizabeth sent him to the tower. A little later his brother was seized and sent there too. Their cousin, James Fitzmaurice, drew his sword to protest against the seizures. They won victories; they routed a queens army. Then Elizabeth made peace with Fitzmaurice. And she then directed a plot for the treacherous murder of himself, his brothers and cousins - which by discovering in time, he escaped. After a time the new Earl had to fly to Spain for safety and succour. He visited Rome, too, got Italian mercenaries, fourscore Spaniards, a promise of more and returned to Ireland, where he vanished out of life in a skirmish. Spain remembered her promise. Eight hundred Spaniards landed on the coast of Kerry. Gray sent in his soldiers and massacred seven hundred men. The massacre was directed by Sir Walter Raleigh and an officer named Wingfield.
The Earl and his kinsmen, fighting now for their religion and their homes, joined hands with the MacCarthys, the OSullivans and other Munster chiefs. Carew, a Devonshire knight, claimed Desmond territory, and brought an army to seize it and pacify the province. The Desmond war lasted three more years, altogether five. The Earl, finally defeated, was at last captured and beheaded.
English Law had made a breach in Connacht. The head of the Burkes, Clanrickard, a queens man, was seized and sent to Dublin. Then all the Burkes loosened their swords in their scabbards and sprang into rebellion. The rebellion grew and strengthened, before the strong measures of the Lord President. Soon, the disarmed Catholics were taken and hanged. Surrendered garrisons were put to the sword; a search for rebels in West Connacht saw women, and boys and old men, and all who came in Binghams way, slain.
Into Leinster, too, English Law had driven a wedge. Mary of Englands Deputies had seized Offaly and Leix, the territories of the OConors and the OMores. They had planted English settlers there; abolished the ancient territorial names and in Irish blood rechristened them Kings and Queens counties. The dispossessed chiefs and their clansmen bided their time. A noble boy grew up among them, and in manhood became an avenging sword. This was Ruari Og OMore. After six years of successful guerilla warfare he fell when reconnoitring a force brought against him. His soldiers avenged his death and put the army to flight. His name remained an inspiration to oppressed Irish, down to the present day. God, and Our Lady, and Rory OMore!.
In the North the smouldering fire had flamed forth again. The
predestined boy had come whose advent a Tir-Conaill seer had long ago foretold. Young Hugh
ODonnell, Aod Ruad, the golden-haired, minatory, deadly foe to England. The fame and
renown of him had reached the ears of Lord Deputy Perrot, illegitimate son of Henry VIII.
The dreaded lad was being fostered by MacSwiney, Lord of Fanat on the Northern seas
verge. When the boy was fourteen a merchant ship sailed into Loch Swilly, and anchored
under the stone castle of MacSwiney. The captain invited MacSwiney and his family aboard
the ship where they were tricked and captured. All but Red Hugh were released. Red Hugh
was carried away to Dublin and placed in the Birmingham tower of the castle. In Fanat,
throughout all Tir-Conaill and indeed through Eirinn there was weeping, wrath, shame and
anger. After three years the boy made a wonderful and daring escape on a December night -
but alas ! was retaken. After another year, this time spent in irons, in company with
Henry and Art, the sons of Shane ONeill, both in irons also, he made another daring
attempt - and this time succeeded in freeing all three. Red Hughs escape sent a
thrill through Ireland. Messengers rode north and south and east and west with the joyous
word. On a May day the lad was made The ODonnell. Sir Hugh his father, gladly gave
place to a son so fit to rule. Thus Red Hughs star rose and shone high in the north
over Ireland; and still shines in the dark sky of her history.
The Nine Years War had begun. A spear darted through Tir-Conaill. The invader was driven out; chiefs who had given their allegiance to the foreigner were taught that the ODonnell was their chief and prince. He swept through Ulster and drove out the English sheriffs. He entered Connacht and hurled Binghams forces before him. Hugh ONeill watched events; waited, held his hand, still uncertain.
So the issue of an independent Ireland or a conquered country was now to be put to the sword. Almost for the first time since the invasion Ireland had a statesman who saw the root of her weakness, and who placed the politics of the nation before the politics of the clan.
The Nine Years War
The war was not only one of independence but a religious war as well. Men
looked to Spain, the great Catholic country; would she help ? Messengers crossed and
re-crossed the seas. The instinct of local freedom had gathered round the Norman houses in
Ireland during the centuries. Thus Irish soldiers always true to their leaders marched
with the Earl of Ormond, or the Earl of Kildare, or other Norman lord who paid allegiance
to England. ONeill cast off the title of Earl, and was proclaimed The ONeill.
Seven miles from his castle a fortress was held by the English. ONeills men stormed
the fortress, drove out the English garrison, levelled the fort and burnt the bridge. He
marched to Monaghan, gave battle to Norris, the English general who was advancing to its
relief and defeated him. England proclaimed ONeill an enemy and a traitor. Armies
were sent against him. He evaded and defeated the armies. He showed generalship of a high
order. She recalled her best soldiers from the Spanish war in Belgium and flung them into
Ireland. Generals and soldiers failed to break his power.
Red Hugh went like a flame through the west. He scattered his enemies, and drove Bingham before him. He re-captured Sligo castle; defeated Clifford, the English governor of Connacht, in the Curlew pass; brought the Burkes to his standard.