Queen Elizabeth, when writing to Lord Sussex of a rumoured rising by O'Neil, desired him to assure her lieges at Dublin, that if O'Neil did rise, "it would be for their advantage; for there will be estates for them who want." The Sidney policy of treating Ireland as a discovered country, whose inhabitants had no right to the soil, except such as the discoverers graciously conceded to them--begat a new order of men, unknown to the history of other civilized states, which order we must now be at some pains to introduce to the reader.
These "Undertakers," as they were called, differed widely from the Norman invaders of a former age. The Norman generally espoused the cause of some native chief, and took his pay in land; what he got by the sword he held by the sword. But the Undertaker was usually a man of peace--a courtier like Sir Christopher Hatton--a politician like Sir Walter Raleigh--a poet like Edmund Spencer, or a spy and forger like Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork. He came, in the wake of war, with his elastic "letters patent," or, if he served in the field, it was mainly with a view to the subsequent confiscations. He was adroit at finding flaws in ancient titles, skilled in all the feudal quibbles of fine and recovery, and ready to employ the secret dagger where hard swearing and fabricated documents might fail to make good his title. Sometimes men of higher mark and more generous dispositions, allured by the temptations of the social revolution, would enter on the same pursuits, but they generally miscarried from want of what was then cleverly called "subtlety," but which plain people could not easily distinguish from lying and perjury. What greatly assisted them in then: designs was the fact that feudal tenures had never been general in Ireland, so that by an easy process of reasoning they could prove nineteen-twentieths of all existing titles "defective," according to their notions of the laws of property.
Sir Peter Carew, already mentioned, was one of the earliest of the Undertakers. He had been bred up as page to the Prince of Orange, and had visited the Courts of France, Germany, and Constantinople. He claimed, by virtue of his descent from Robert Fitzstephen, the barony of Idrone, in Carlow, and one half the kingdom of Desmond. Sir Henry Sidney had admitted these pretensions, partly as a menace against the Kavanaghs and Geraldines, and Sir Peter established himself at Leighlin, where he kept great house, with one hundred servants, over one hundred kerne, forty horse, a stall in his stable, a seat at his board for all comers. He took an active part in all military operations, and fell fighting gallantly on a memorable day to be hereafter mentioned.
After the attainder of John the Proud in 1569, Sir Thomas Smith, Secretary to the Queen, obtained a grant of the district of the Ards of Down, for his illegitimate son, who accordingly entered on the task of its plantation. But the O'Neils of Clandeboy, the owners of the soil, attacked the young Undertaker, who met a grave where he had come to found a lordship. A higher name was equally unfortunate in the same field of adventure. Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex (father of the Essex still more unfortunate), obtained in 1573 a grant of one moiety of Farney and Clandeboy, and having mortgaged his English estates to the Queen for 10,000 pounds, associated with himself many other adventurers. On the 16th of August, he set sail from Liverpool, accompanied by the Lords Dacre and Rich, Sir Henry Knollys, the three sons of Lord Norris, and a multitude of the common people. But as he had left one powerful enemy at court in Leicester--so he found a second at Dublin, in the acting deputy, Fitzwilliam. Though gratified with the title of President of Ulster and afterwards that of Marshal of Ireland, he found his schemes constantly counteracted by orders from Dublin or from England. He was frequently ordered off from his head-quarters at Newry, on expeditions into Munster, until those who had followed his banner became disheartened and mutinous. The O'Neils and the Antrim Scots harassed his colony and increased his troubles. He attempted by treachery to retrieve his fortunes. Having invited the alliance of Con O'Donnell, he seized that chief and sent him prisoner to Dublin. Subsequently his chief opponent, Brian, lord of Clandeboy, paid him an amicable visit, accompanied by his wife, brother, and household. As they were seated at table on the fourth day of then--stay, the soldiers of Essex burst into the banquet hall, put them all, "women, youths and maidens," to the sword. Brian and his wife were saved from the slaughter only to undergo at Dublin the death and mutilation inflicted upon traitors. Yet the ambitious schemes of Walter of Essex did not prosper the more of all these crimes. He died at Dublin, two years afterwards (1576), in the 36th year of his age, as was generally believed from poison administered by the orders of the arch-poisoner, Leicester, who immediately upon his death married his widow.
It is apparent that the interest of the Undertakers could not be to establish peace in Ireland so long as war might be profitably waged. The new "English interest" thus created was often hostile to the soundest rules of policy and always opposed to the dictates of right and justice; but the double desire to conquer and to convert--to anglicize and Protestantize--blinded many to the lawless means by which they were worked out. The massacre of 400 persons of the chief families of Leix and Offally, which took place at Mullaghmast in 1577, is an evidence of how the royal troops were used to promote the ends of the Undertakers. To Mullaghmast, one of the ancient raths of Leinster, situated about five miles from Athy in Kildare, the O'Moores, O'Kellys, Lalors, and other Irish tribes were invited by the local commander of the Queen's troops, Francis Cosby. The Bowens, Hartpoles, Pigotts, Hovendons, and other adventurers who had grants or designs upon the neighbouring territory were invited to meet them. One of the Lalors, perceiving that none of those who entered the rath before him emerged again, caused his friends to fall back while he himself advanced alone. At the very entrance he beheld the dead bodies of some of his slaughtered kinsmen; drawing his sword, he fought his way back to his friends, who barely escaped with their lives to Dysart. Four hundred victims, including 180 of the name of O'Moore, are said to have fallen in this deliberate butchery. Rory O'Moore, the chief of his name, avenged this massacre by many a daring deed. In rapid succession he surprised Naas, Athy, and Leighlin. From the rapidity with which his blows were struck in Kildare, Carlow, and Kilkenny, he appeared to be ubiquitous. He was the true type of a guerilla leader, yet merciful as brave. While Naas was burning, he sat coolly at the market cross enjoying the spectacle, but he suffered no lives to be taken. Having captured Cosby, he did not, as might be expected, put him to death. His confidence in his own prowess and resources amounted to rashness, and finally caused his death. Coming forth from a wood to parley with a party of the Queen's troops led by his neighbour, the Lord of Ossory, a common soldier ran him through the body with a sword. This was on the last day of June, 1578--a day mournful through all the midland districts for the loss of their best and bravest captain.
While these events occupied the minds and tongues of men in the North and East, a brief respite from the horrors of war was permitted to the province of Munster. The Earl of Desmond, only too happy to be tolerated in the possession of his 570,000 acres, was eager enough to testify his allegiance by any sort of service. His brothers, though less compliant, followed his example for the moment, and no danger was to be apprehended in that quarter, except from the indomitable James Fitzmaurice, self-exiled on the continent. No higher tribute could be paid to the character of that heroic man than the closeness with which all his movements were watched by English spies, specially set upon his track. They followed him to the French court, to St. Malo's (where he resided for some time with his family), to Madrid, whence he sent his two sons to the famous University of Alcala, and from Madrid to Rome. The honourable reception he received at the hands of the French and Spanish Sovereigns was duly reported; yet both being at peace with England, his plans elicited no open encouragement from either. At Rome, however, he obtained some material and much moral support. Here he found many zealous advocates among the English and Irish refugees--among them the celebrated Saunders, Alien, sometimes called Cardinal Alien, and O'Mulrian, Bishop of Killaloe. A force of about 1,000 men was enlisted at the expense of Pope Gregory XIII., in the Papal States, and placed under an experienced captain, Hercules Pisano. They were shipped at Civita Vecchia by a squadron under the command of Thomas Stukely, an English adventurer, who had served both for and against the Irish Catholics, but had joined Fitzmaurice in Spain and accompanied him to Rome. On the strength of some remote or pretended relationship to the McMurroghs, Stukely obtained from the Pope the titles of Marquis of Leinster and Baron of Idrone and Ross; at Fitzmaurice's urgent request--so it is stated--he was named Vice-Admiral of the fleet. The whole expedition was fitted out at the expense of the Pope, but it was secretly agreed that it should be supported, after landing in Ireland, at the charge of Philip II. Fitzmaurice, travelling overland to Spain, was to unite there with another party of adventurers, and to form a junction with Stukely and Pisano on the coast of Kerry. So with the Papal benediction gladdening his heart, and a most earnest exhortation from the Holy Father to the Catholics of Ireland to follow his banner, this noblest of all the Catholic Geraldines departed from Rome, to try again the hazard of war in his own country.
This was in the spring of the year 1579. Sir Henry Sidney, after many years' direction of the government, had been recalled at his own request; Sir William Drury was acting as Lord Justice; and Sir Nicholas Malby as President of Munster. Expectation of the return of Fitzmaurice, at the head of a liberating expedition, began to be rife throughout the south and west, and the coasts were watched with the utmost vigilance. In the month of June, three persons having landed in disguise from a Spanish ship, at Dingle, were seized by government spies, and carried before the Earl of Desmond. On examination, one of them proved to be O'Haly, Bishop of Mayo, and another a friar named O'Rourke; the third is not named. By the timid, temporizing Desmond, they were forwarded to Kilmallock to Drury, who put them to every conceivable torture, in order to extract intelligence of Fitzmaurice's movements. After their thighs had been broken with hammers, they were hanged on a tree, and their bodies used as targets by the brutal soldiery. Fitzmaurice, with his friends, having survived shipwreck on the coast of Galicia, entered the same harbour (Dingle) on the 17th of July. But no tidings had yet reached Munster of Stukely and Pisano; and his cousin, the Earl, sent him neither sign of friendship nor promise of co-operation. He therefore brought his vessels round to the small harbour of Smerwick, and commenced fortifying the almost isolated rock of Oilen-an-oir--or golden island, so called from the shipwreck at that point of one of Martin Forbisher's vessels, laden with golden quartz, some years before. Here he was joined by John and James of Desmond, and by a band of 200 of the O'Flaherties of Galway, the only allies who presented themselves. These latter, on finding the expected Munster rising already dead, and the much-talked-of Spanish auxiliary force so mere a handful, soon withdrew in their own galleys, upon which an English ship and pinnace, sweeping round from Kinsale, carried off the Spanish vessels in sight of the powerless little fort. These desperate circumstances inspired desperate councils, and it was decided by the cousins to endeavour to gain the great wood of Kilmore, near Charleville--in the neighbourhood of Sir James' old retreat among the Galtee Mountains. In this march they were closely pursued by the Earl of Desmond, either in earnest or in sham, and were obliged to separate into three small bands, the brothers of the Earl retiring respectively to the fastnesses of Lymnamore and Glenfesk, while Fitzmaurice, with "a dozen horsemen and a few kerne," made a desperate push to reach the western side of the Shannon, where he hoped, perhaps, for better opportunity and a warmer reception. This proved for him a fatal adventure. Jaded after a long day's ride he was compelled to seize some horses from the plough, in the barony of Clanwilliam, in order to remount his men. These horses were the property of his relative, Sir William Burke, who, with his neighbour, Mac-I-Brien of Ara, pursued the fugitives to within six miles of Limerick, where Fitzmaurice, having turned to remonstrate with his pursuers, was fired at and mortally wounded. He did not instantly fall. Dashing into the midst of his assailants he cleft down the two sons of Burke, whose followers immediately turned and fled. Then alighting from his saddle, the wounded chief received the last solemn rites of religion from the hands of Dr. Allen. His body was decapitated by one of his followers, that the noble head might not be subjected to indignity; but the trunk being but hastily buried was soon afterwards discovered, carried to Kilmallock, and there hung up for a target and a show. This tragical occurrence took place near the present site of "Barrington's bridge," on the little river Mulkern, county of Limerick, on the 18th day of August, 1579. In honour of his part in the transaction William Burke was created Baron of Castleconnell, awarded a pension of 100 marks per annum, and received from Elizabeth an autograph letter of condolence on the loss of his sons: it is added by some writers that he died of joy on the receipt of so many favours. Such was the fate of the glorious hopes of Sir James Fitzmaurice. So ended in a squabble with churls about cattle, on the banks of an insignificant stream, a career which had drawn the attention of Europe, and had inspired with apprehension the lion-hearted Queen.
As to the expedition under Stukely, its end was even more romantic. His squadron having put into the Tagus, he found the King of Portugal, Don Sebastian, on the eve of sailing against the Moors, and from some promise of after aid was induced to accompany that chivalrous Prince. On the fatal field of Alcacar, Stukely, Pisano, and the Italians under their command shared the fate of the Portuguese monarch and army. Neither Italy nor Ireland heard of them more.
Gregory XIII. did not abandon the cause. On the receipt of all these ill-tidings he issued another Bull, highly laudatory of the virtues of James Fitzmaurice "of happy memory," and granting the same indulgence to those who would fight under John or James of Desmond, "as that which was imparted to those who fought against the Turks for the recovery of the Holy Land." This remarkable document is dated from Rome, the 13th of May, 1580.