The Geraldines

The history of the Gaelicised Fitzgeralds (the Geraldines) is in a sense the history of the fortunes of Southern Ireland for an extensive period. In Desmond, South Munster and the lands adjoining they ruled as absolute monarchs over a hundred miles of territory. The Geraldines of Kildare held the entire county of Kildare, with parts of Meath, Dublin and Carlow, while their castles stretched beyond Strangford Lough on the coast of Down to Adare. They had their own fleet to patrol the seas. Intermarriages with the great houses in England and with Norman and Gaelic families in Ireland were at first a settled part of Geraldine policy. When they tasted of the pure milk of Gaelicism they never forgot its savour, so they became kindly Irish of the Irish, root and branch. The Geraldines afford the most numerous instances of mere men of blood, apostles of the sword, turning, under the influence of Gaeldom into gentle sages and wise scholars.
The eight Earl of Desmond was the flower of the Southern Geraldine stock. The Irish people have taken this Thomas Fitzgerald to their hearts, and enshrined him there as a ‘Martyr of Christ’. He was the first of a long and fine line of Sean Ghalls to be martyred in the cause of Irish freedom. Thomas of Desmond tried to re-establish a National University and for that purpose had an Act of Parliament passed at Drogheda (1466). By precept and by practice he endeavoured to unify the two races in Ireland. He was a promoter and a patron of trade and commerce between Ireland and the Continent. He was murdered by the Earl of Worcester, afterwards known as ‘The Butcher’.
Gerald the eight Earl of Kildare (1477-1513) was named by Ireland ‘Gerait Mor’ - Gerald the Great. His mild just government drew the hearts of his people to him in passionate devotedness. By lines of blood-relationships he obtained great influence amongst the great Irish houses. Gerait Og ‘Gerald the Younger’, Ninth Earl of Kildare (1487-1534) although educated in England was even more Irish than his father. He continued the policy of intermarriage with the Irish and so consolidated the power of his house. Maynooth under him was one of the richest earls houses of that time. ‘His whole policy was union in his country, and Ireland for the Irish’. He was first appointed Lord Deputy by his cousin Henry VIII, in 1513. After seven years rule he was removed, charged by the English with ‘seditious practices, conspiracies and subtle drifts’. His cousin, the Earl of Desmond. Had entered into a solemn league and covenant with Francis I, King of France (1523) to drive the English out of Ireland, whilst Scotland was to render assistance to the cause by invading England. But the heart of the leader of the Scottish army, the Duke of Albany, failed him at the last moment and the gallant Scots dejectedly turned homewards. Kildare was summoned (1526) to England by Cardinal Wolsey to answer the charge of complicity in the plot. Wolsey denounced Kildare as a traitor. Before his departure from Dublin he appointed as vice Deputy his son, the famous Silken Thomas. Disregarding his fathers advice to be guided by his elders, he fell an easy prey to the veteran English of Dublin Castle, who had been secretly mining the foundations of the House of Kildare for generations. A forged letter was shown round in official circles in Dublin claiming his father was killed. Lord Thomas, having consulted with the young bloods, inopportunely raised the standard of revolt - against the entreaties of all the wisest heads. His enemies rejoiced - his well wishers were in despair. At first Lord Thomas swept all before him. Then England poured troops lavishly into Ireland - accompanied by the new invention, the canon, which proved the young leaders undoing. Eventually he submitted and was sent to the Tower of London - where his father had already died of a broken heart, on learning of Thomas’s insurrection. He was hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn (1537). The extirpation of the Geraldines became policy and the Act of Parliament (1537) decreed all the Geraldines countries to be forfeited to the Crown.

Henry VIII’s Policies

From the beginning of his reign (1515) Henry VIII undertook to destroy the basis of Irish resistance. With this object in view he issued ‘most secret’ instructions to his officials to capture our trade and commerce, by every subtle device. All the laws against Irish civilisation, against marriage, fosterage and gossipred, against the use of native literature and its language, against every phase and aspect of National life was re-enacted. By a Parliament (May 1536) composed of English colonists only, and convened by fraud, corruption and terror, Henry was acknowledged as Head of Church and State; and the Catholic religion, with its ritual and teachings, declared null and void, ‘corrupt for ever’. Five years later the same body proclaimed Henry ‘King of Ireland’. The Lord Deputy, St Leger, preached and acted on this Gospel. The unfortunate result was the submission of O’Neill, O’Donnell, O’Brien, the MacCarthy, the Burkes, and all the rules of the Irish, Old and New. They went through the form of acknowledging Henry as King of Ireland, as Head of Church and State in Ireland, and promised to substitute English for Brehon Law, and English manners, and customs for Irish. ‘They have turned, and sad is the deed, their back to the inheritance of their fathers’. Yet in spite of ‘doing knee-homage, they would not get from the King of England for Ireland a respite from misery’. The people, faithful to Ireland in woe as in weal, resented, lamented, and even cursed their ‘diplomatic’ chiefs.
Another of Henry’s devices for the conquest of Ireland was the kidnapping of noblemen’s sons and having them reared and educated in England, hostile to every tradition and instinct of their nationality. Chiefs could be ensnared one by one in misleading contracts, practically void. A false claimant could be put on a territory and supported by English soldiers in a civil war, till the actual chief was exiled or yielded the land to the King’s ownership. No chief, true or false, had power to give away the people’s land, and the king was face to face with an indignant people, who refused to admit an illegal bargain. Then came a march of soldiers over the district, hanging, burning, shooting, ‘the rebels’, casting the peasants out on the hillsides. There was also the way of ‘conquest’. The whole of the inhabitants were to be exiled, and the countries made vacant and waste for English peopling: the sovereign’s rule would be immediate and peremptory over those whom he had thus planted by his sole will, and Ireland would be kept in a way unknown in England. Henceforth it became a fixed policy to ‘exterminate and exile the country people of the Irishry’. Henry hoped to have a royal army of Ireland as ‘a sword and a flay’ to his subjects in England and to his enemies abroad. His dream seem to be realised when Earl Con O’Neill and other Irish lords, in the full flush of faith and confidence in English justice, sent an army to aid Henry’s troops against Francis I, King of France - Ireland’s best Continental friend - at the siege of Boulogne (1544). The false, disillusioned Irish did not repeat this experiment.
Also, Henry believed he could raise a big revenue out of Ireland’s pockets for his sensualities and his political objects. But this likewise failed, because his ‘cormorants and caterpillars’ were too busy amassing wealth for themselves. The introduction of the Protestant Reformation principles added sources of fresh outrages, new oppressions. In Ireland Protestantism was not given a chance to appeal to the people by any ethical, religious or political ideals. The licentious unpaid English soldiery who had to maintain themselves by plunder and rapine, were accompanied by incendiaries who left not a homestead standing. The soul of Ireland, resurrected through the crucifixion of her body, became the most devoted daughter of the Catholic Church. Poets and historians were put to the sword, and their books and genealogies burned, so that no man ‘might know his own grandfather’. Henry’s well-defined policies were religiously pursued by his successors, Edward and Mary. The ministers of his, Edward VI, intensified the vigour of his religious crusade. Religion was to be made sweet to the heretical Irish - ‘with the Bible in one hand, in the other the Sword’. Mary’s Irish rule was no less merciless than that of her two predecessors.
The O’Connors of Offaly and the O’Mores of Leix having dared to defend their lands against the English invaders were outlawed and their countries forfeited to the Crown. A long and bloody warfare, conducted with terrible ferocity, was the result. Even in Ireland there is nothing so heroic, so persistent, so indefatigable as the efforts made by these two gallant clans to recover their homes and altars. The struggle was maintained for generations. Even to this day O’More and O’Conor are the principal families in the district, where their forefathers ruled as just, munificent princes.

Shane the Proud

Shane was a bad man in private life, but a born soldier, a sagacious ruler, and a believer in his rights. When Conn, the Lame, his father, accepted an English title, and became Baron of Dungannon, Shane went into rebellion. On his father’s death, he slew his half brother, the next baron, and was inaugurated the O’Neill. Shane the Proud, Ulster called him. He stood across England’s advance into the province. Elizabeth and her Lord Deputies tried to cajole him, to deceive him, to defeat him, to capture him, to murder him. Then when his soldiers had pierced to the Pale, they recognised him as the O’Neill. Sinner, soldier, chieftain, he was a strong figure in the century. Shane’s territory was now supposed to be safe from English interference or invasion. He and England’s queen were friends. Sussex, the Lord Deputy, wrote offering him his sister in marriage with a safe conduct to Dublin. His intention was to capture Shane. Later he sent him a present of wine. Elizabeth knew of the gift; knew what was in it.
Shane and his household drank the wine - and just escaped death. But Shane knew now forever with whom he had to deal. It was the second attempt that English statesmen had secretly made to assassinate him.
Shane flung off his allegiance. After that draught of wine he thought his sword was his best security. He won a victory notable of its name. They were three hundred English soldiers, not in buff but in scarlet coats. So that battle was called the battle of the red coats. But hard were the strokes of his enemies - ‘Queens’ O’Donnels, ‘Queens’ O’Neills, Elizabeths forces - and the Proud was left the choice of submission or an appeal to the Scots mercenaries. He choose the latter, freed Sorley Boy McDonnel, and went to a banquet they gave. To that banquet also went a man whom the Lord Deputy had maintained privately in Tyrone when he and Shane were in friendship and peace. The spy waited till the wine had made men drunk and think of their wrongs. Then O’Neill was slain. The spy hastened to Dublin Castle and received from Sir Henry Sidney a thousand marks from the public treasury.
So Shanes head went upon the north-west gate of Dublin.

Irish History