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FIFTEENTH CENTURY.

The history of "the Pale" being recounted down to the period of its complete isolation, we have now to pass beyond its entrenched and castellated limits, in order to follow the course of events in other parts of the kingdom.

While the highest courage was everywhere exhibited by chiefs and clansmen, no attempt was made to bring about another National Confederacy, after the fall of Edward Bruce. One result of that striking denouement of a stormy career--in addition to those before mentioned--was to give new life to the jealousy which had never wholly subsided, between the two primitive divisions of the Island. Bruce, welcomed, sustained, and lamented by the Northern Irish, was distrusted, avoided, and execrated by those of the South. There may have been exceptions, but this was the rule. The Bards and Newsmen of subsequent times, according to their Provincial bias, charged the failure of Bruce upon the Eugenian race, or justified his fate by aspersing his memory and his adherents of the race of Conn. This feeling of irritation, always most deep-seated when driven in by a consciousness of mismanagement or of self-reproach, goes a great way to account for the fact, that more than one generation was to pass away, before any closer union could be brought about between the Northern and Southern Milesian Irish.

We cannot, therefore, in the period embraced in our present book, treat the Provinces otherwise than as estranged communities, departing farther and farther from the ancient traditions of one central legislative council and one supreme elective chief. Special, short-lived alliances between lords of different Provinces are indeed frequent; but they were brought about mostly by ties of relationship or gossipred, and dissolved with the disappearance of the immediate danger. The very idea of national unity, once so cherished by all the children of Miledh Espaigne, seems to have been as wholly lost as any of those secrets of ancient handiwork, over which modern ingenuity puzzles itself in vain. In the times to which we have descended, it was every principality and every lordship for itself. As was said of old in Rome, "Antony had his party, Octavius had his party, but the Commonwealth had none."

Not alone was the greater unity wholly forgotten, but no sooner were the descendants of the Anglo-Normans driven into their eastern enclosure, or thoroughly amalgamated in language, laws and costume with themselves, than the ties of particular clans began to loose their binding force, and the tendency to subdivide showed itself on every opportunity. We have already, in the book of the "War of Succession," described the subdivisions of Breffni and of Meath as measures of policy, taken by the O'Conor Kings, to weaken their too powerful suffragans. But that step, which might have strengthened the hands of a native dynasty, almost inevitably weakened the tribes themselves in combating the attacks of a highly organized foreign power. Of this the O'Conors themselves became afterwards the most striking example. For half a century following the Red Earl's death, they had gained steadily on the foreigners settled in Connaught. The terrible defeat of Athenry was more than atoned for by both other victories. At length the descendants of the vanquished on that day ruled as proudly as ever did their ancestors in their native Province. The posterity of the victors were merely tolerated on its soil, or anxiously building up new houses in Meath and Louth. But in an evil hour, on the death of their last King (1384), the O'Conors agreed to settle the conflicting claims of rival candidates for the succession by dividing the common inheritance. From this date downwards we have an O'Conor Don and an O'Conor Roe in the Annals of that Province, each rallying a separate band of partizans; and according to the accidents of age, minority, alliance, or personal reputation, infringing, harassing, or domineering over the other. Powerful lords they long continued, but as Provincial Princes we meet them no more.

This fatal example--of which there had been a faint foreshadowing in the division of the McCarthys in the preceding century--in the course of a generation or two, was copied by almost every great connection, north and south. The descendants of yellow Hugh O'Neil in Clandeboy claimed exemption from the supremacy of the elder family in Tyrone; the O'Farells, acknowledged two lords of Annally; the McDonoghs, two lords of Tirerril; there was McDermott of the Wood claiming independence of McDermott of the Rock; O'Brien of Ara asserted equality with O'Brien of Thomond; the nephews of Art McMurrogh contested the superiority of his sons; and thus slowly but surely the most powerful clans were hastening the day of their own dissolution.

A consequence of these subdivisions was the necessity which arose for new and opposite alliances, among those who had formerly looked on themselves as members of one family, with common dangers and common enemies. The pivot of policy now rested on neighbourhood rather than on pedigree; a change in its first stages apparently unnatural and deplorable, but in the long run not without its compensating advantages. As an instance of these new necessities, we may adduce the protection and succour steadily extended by the O'Neils of Clandeboy, to the McQuillans, Bissets, of the Antrim coast, and the McDonnells of the Glens, against the frequent attacks of the O'Neils of Tyrone. The latter laid claim to all Ulster, and long refused to acknowledge these foreigners, though men of kindred race and speech. Had it not been that the interest of Clandeboy pointed the other way, it is very doubtful if either the Welsh or Scottish settlers by the bays of Antrim could have made a successful stand against the overruling power of the house of Dungannon. The same policy, adopted by native chiefs under similar circumstances, protected the minor groups of settlers of foreign origin in the most remote districts--like the Barretts and other Welsh people of Tyrawley--long after the Deputies of the Kings of England had ceased to consider them as fellow-subjects, or to be concerned for their existence.

In like manner the detached towns, built by foreigners, of Welsh, Flemish, Saxon, or Scottish origin, were now taken "under the protection" of the neighbouring chief, or Prince, and paid to him or to his bailiff an annual tax for such protection. In this manner Wexford purchased protection of McMurrogh, Limerick from O'Brien, and Dundalk from O'Neil. But the yoke was not always borne with patience, nor did the bare relation of tax-gatherer and tax-payer generate any very cordial feeling between the parties. Emboldened by the arrival of a powerful Deputy, or a considerable accession to the Colony, or taking advantage of contested elections for the chieftaincy among their protectors, these sturdy communities sometimes sought by force to get rid of their native masters. Yet in no case at this period were such town risings ultimately successful. The appearance of a menacing force, and the threat of the torch, soon brought the refractory burgesses to terms. On such an occasion (1444) Dundalk paid Owen O'Neil the sum of 60 marks and two tuns of wine to avert his indignation. On another, the townsmen of Limerick agreed about the same period to pay annually for ever to O'Brien the sum of 60 marks. Notwithstanding the precarious tenure of their existence, they all continued jealously to guard their exclusive privileges. In the oath of office taken by the Mayor of Dublin (1388) he is sworn to guard the city's franchises, so that no Irish rebel shall intrude upon the limits. Nicholas O'Grady, Abbot of a Monastery in Clare, is mentioned in 1485 as "the twelfth Irishman that ever possessed the freedom of the city of Limerick" up to that time. A special bye-law, at a still later period, was necessary to admit Colonel William O'Shaughnessy, of one of the first families in that county, to the freedom of the Corporation of the town of Galway. Exclusiveness on the one side, and arbitrary taxation on the other, were ill means of ensuring the prosperity of these new trading communities; Freedom and Peace have ever been as essential to commerce as the winds and waves are to navigation.

The dissolution and reorganization of the greater clans necessarily included the removal of old, and the formation of new boundaries, and these changes frequently led to border battles between the contestants. The most striking illustration of the struggles of this description, which occurs in our Annals in the fifteenth century, is that which was waged for three generations between a branch of the O'Conors established at Sligo, calling themselves "lords of Lower Connaught," and the O'Donnells of Donegal. The country about Sligo had anciently been subject to the Donegal chiefs, but the new masters of Sligo, after the era of Edward Bruce, not only refused any longer to pay tribute, but endeavoured by the strong hand to extend their sway to the banks of the Drowse and the Erne. The pride not less than the power of the O'Donnells was interested in resisting this innovation, for, in the midst of the debateable land rose the famous mountain of Ben Gulban (now Benbulben), which bore the name of the first father of their tribe. The contest was, therefore, bequeathed from father to son, but the family of Sligo, under the lead of their vigorous chiefs, and with the advantage of actual possession, prevailed in establishing the exemption of their territory from the ancient tribute. The Drowse, which carries the surplus waters of the beautiful Lough Melvin into the bay of Donegal, finally became the boundary between Lower Connaught and Tyrconnell.

We have already alluded to the loss of the arts of political combination among the Irish in the Middle Ages. This loss was occasionally felt by the superior minds both in church and state. It was felt by Donald More O'Brien and those who went with him into the house of Conor Moinmoy O'Conor, in 1188; it was felt by the nobles who, at Cael-uisge, elected Brian O'Neil in 1258; it was felt by the twelve reguli who, in 1315, invited Edward Bruce, "a man of kindred blood," to rule over them; it was imputed as a crime to Art McMurrogh in 1397, that he designed to claim the general sovereignty; and now in this century, Thaddeus O'Brien, Prince of Thomond, with the aid of the Irish of the southern half-kingdom, began (to use the phrase of the last Antiquary of Lecan) "working his way to Tara." This Prince united all the tribes of Munster in his favour, and needing, according to ancient usage, the suffrages of two other Provinces to ensure his election, he crossed the Shannon in the summer of 1466 at the head of the largest army which had followed any of his ancestors since the days of King Brian. He renewed his protection to the town of Limerick, entered into an alliance with the Earl of Desmond--which alliance seems to have cost Desmond his head--received in his camp the hostages of Ormond and Ossory, and gave gifts to the lords of Leinster. Simultaneously, O'Conor of Offally had achieved a great success over the Palesmen, taking prisoner the Earl of Desmond, the Prior of Trim, the Lords Barnwall, Plunkett, Nugent, and other Methian magnates--a circumstance which also seems to have some connection with the fate of Desmond and Plunkett, who were the next year tried for treason and executed at Drogheda, by order of the Earl of Worcester, then Deputy. The usual Anglo-Irish tales, as to the causes of Desmond's losing the favour of Edward IV., seem very like after-inventions. It is much more natural to attribute that sudden change to some connection with the attempt of O'Brien the previous year--since this only makes intelligible the accusation against him of "_alliance_, fosterage, and alterage with the King's Irish enemies."

From Leinster O'Brien recrossed the Shannon, and overran the country of the Clan-William Burke. But the ancient jealousy of Leath-Conn would not permit its proud chiefs to render hostage or homage to a Munster Prince, of no higher rank than themselves. Disappointed in his hopes of that union which could alone restore the monarchy in the person of a native ruler, the descendant of Brian returned to Kinkora, where he shortly afterwards fell ill of fever and died. "It was commonly reported," says the Antiquary of Lecan, "that the multitudes' envious eyes and hearts shortened his days."

The naturalized Norman noble spoke the language of the Gael, and retained his Brehons and Bards like his Milesian compeer. For generations the daughters of the elder race had been the mothers of his house; and the milk of Irish foster-mothers had nourished the infancy of its heirs. The Geraldines, the McWilliams, even the Butlers, among their tenants and soldiers, were now as Irish as the Irish. Whether allies or enemies, rivals or as relatives, they stood as near to their neighbours of Celtic origin as they did to the descendants of those who first landed at Bannow and at Waterford. The "Statute of Kilkenny" had proclaimed the eternal separation of the races, but up to this period it had failed, and the men of both origins were left free to develop whatever characteristics were most natural to them. What we mean by being left free is, that there was no general or long-sustained combination of one race for the suppression of the other from the period of Richard the Second's last reverses


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