THE INSURRECTION OF 1641.
The plan agreed upon by the Confederates included four main features. I. A rising after the harvest was gathered in, and a campaign during the winter months, when supplies from England were most difficult to be obtained by their enemies. II. A simultaneous attack on one and the same day or night on all the fortresses within reach of their friends. III. To surprise the Castle of Dublin, which was said to contain arms for 12,000 men. IV. Aid in officers, munitions, and money from abroad. All the details of this project were carried successfully into effect, except the seizure of Dublin Castle--the most difficult as it would have been the most decisive blow to strike.
Towards the end of August, a meeting of those who could most conveniently attend was held in Dublin. There were present O'Moore and Maguire, of the civilians, and Colonels Plunkett, Byrne, and McMahon of the army. At this meeting the last week of October, or first of November, was fixed upon as the time to rise; subsequently Saturday, the 23rd of the first named month, a market day in the capital was selected. The northern movements were to be arranged with Sir Phelim O'Neil, while McMahon, Plunkett, and Byrne, with 200 picked men, were to surprise the Castle guard--consisting of only a few pensioners and 40 halbediers--turn the guns upon the city to intimidate the Puritan party, and thus make sure of Dublin; O'Moore, Lord Maguire, and other civilians, were to be in town, in order to direct the next steps to be taken. As the day approached, the arrangements went on with perfect secrecy but with perfect success. On the 22nd of October half the chosen band were in waiting, and the remainder were expected in during the night. Some hundreds of persons, in and about Dublin, and many thousands throughout the country, must have been in possession of that momentous secret, yet it was by the mere accident of trusting a drunken dependent out of sight, that the first knowledge of the plot was conveyed to the Lords Justices on the very eve of its execution.
Owen O'Connolly, the informant on this occasion, was one of those ruffling squires or henchmen, who accompanied gentlemen of fortune in that age, to take part in their quarrels, and carry their confidential messages. That he was not an ordinary domestic servant, we may learn from the fact of his carrying a sword, after the custom of the class to which we have assigned him. At this period he was in the service of Sir John Clotworthy, one of the most violent of the Puritan Undertakers, and had conformed to the established religion. Through what recklessness, or ignorance of his true character, he came to be invited by Colonel Hugh McMahon to his lodgings, and there, on the evening of the 22nd, entrusted with a knowledge of next day's plans, we have now no means of deciding. O'Connolly's information, as tendered to the Justices, states that on hearing of the proposed attack on the Castle, he pretended an occasion to withdraw, leaving his sword in McMahon's room to avoid suspicion, and that after jumping over fences and palings, he made his way from the north side of the city to Sir William Parsons at the Castle. Parsons at first discredited the tale, which O'Connolly (who was in liquor) told in a confused and rambling manner, but he finally decided to consult his colleague, Borlase, by whom some of the Council were summoned, the witness's deposition taken down, orders issued to double the guard, and officers despatched, who arrested McMahon at his lodgings. When McMahon came to be examined before the Council, it was already the morning of the 23rd; he boldly avowed his own part in the plot, and declared that what was that day to be done was now beyond the power of man to prevent. He was committed close prisoner to the Castle where he had hoped to command, and search was made for the other leaders in town. Maguire was captured the next morning, and shared McMahon's captivity; but O'Moore, Plunkett, and Byrne succeeded in escaping out of the city. O'Connolly was amply rewarded in lands and money; and we hear of him once afterwards, with the title of Colonel, in the Parliamentary army.
As McMahon had declared to the Justices, the rising was now beyond the power of man to prevent. In Ulster, by stratagem, surprise, or force, the forts of Charlemont and Mountjoy, and the town of Dungannon, were seized on the night of the 22nd by Sir Phelim O'Neil or his lieutenants; on the next day Sir Conor Magennis took the town of Newry, the McMahons possessed themselves of Carrickmacross and Castleblaney, the O'Hanlons Tandragee, while Philip O'Reilly and Roger Maguire razed Cavan and Fermanagh. A proclamation of the northern leaders appeared the same day, dated from Dungannon, setting forth their "true intent and meaning" to be, not hostility to his Majesty the King, "nor to any of his subjects, neither English nor Scotch; but only for the defence and liberty of ourselves and the Irish natives of this kingdom." A more elaborate manifesto appeared shortly afterwards from the pen of Rory O'Moore, in which the oppressions of the Catholics for conscience' sake were detailed, the King's intended "graces" acknowledged, and their frustration by the malice of the Puritan party exhibited: it also endeavoured to show that a common danger threatened the Protestants of the Episcopal Church with Roman Catholics, and asserted in the strongest terms the devotion of the Catholics to the Crown. In the same politic and tolerant spirit, Sir Conor Magennis wrote from Newry on the 25th to the officers commanding at Down. "We are," he wrote, "for our lives and liberties. We desire no blood to be shed, but if you mean to shed our blood, be sure we shall be as ready as you for that purpose." This threat of retaliation, so customary in all wars, was made on the third day of the rising, and refers wholly to future contingencies; the monstrous fictions which were afterwards circulated of a wholesale massacre committed on the 23rd were not as yet invented, nor does any public document or private letter, written in Ireland in the last week of October, or during the first days of November, so much as allude to those tales of blood and horror, afterwards so industriously circulated, and so greedily swallowed.
Fully aroused from their lethargy by McMahon's declaration, the Lords Justices acted with considerable vigour. Dublin was declared to be in a state of siege; courts martial were established; arms were distributed to the Protestant citizens, and some Catholics; and all strangers were ordered to quit the city under pain of death. Sir Francis Willoughby, Governor of Galway, who arrived on the night of the 22nd, was entrusted with the command of the Castle, Sir Charles Coote was appointed Military Governor of the city, and the Earl, afterwards Duke of Ormond, was summoned from Carrick-on-Suir to take command of the army. As Coote played a very conspicuous part in the opening scenes of this war, and Ormond till its close, it may be well to describe them both, more particularly, to the reader.
Sir Charles Coote, one of the first Baronets of Ireland, like Parsons, Boyle, Chichester, and other Englishmen, had come over to Ireland during the war against Tyrone, in quest of fortune. His first employments were in Connaught, where he filled the offices of Provost-Marshal and Vice-Governor in the reign of James I. His success as an Undertaker entitles him to rank with the fortunate adventurers we have mentioned; in Roscommon, Sligo, Leitrim, Queen's, and other counties, his possessions and privileges raised him to the rank of the richest subjects of his time. In 1640 he was a colonel of foot, with the estates of a Prince and the habits of a Provost-Marshal. His reputation for ferocious cruelty has survived the remembrance even of his successful plunder of other people's property; before the campaigns of Cromwell there was no better synonym for wanton cruelty than the name of Sir Charles Coote.
James Butler, Earl, Marquis, and Duke of Ormond deservedly ranks amongst the principal statesmen of his time. During a public career of more than half a century his conduct in many eminent offices of trust was distinguished by supreme ability, life-long firmness and consistency. As a courtier of the House of Stuart, it was impossible that he should have served and satisfied both Charleses without participating in many indefensible acts of government, and originating some of them. Yet judged, not from the Irish but the Imperial point of view, not by an abstract standard but by the public morality of his age, he will be found fairly deserving of the title of "the great Duke" bestowed on him during his lifetime. When summoned by the Lords Justices to their assistance in 1641, he was in the thirty-first year of his age, and had so far only distinguished himself in political life as the friend of the late Lord Strafford. He had, however, the good fortune to restore in his own person the estates of his family, notwithstanding that they were granted in great part to others by King James; his attachment to the cause of King Charles was very naturally augmented by the fact that the partiality of that Prince and his ill-fated favourite had enabled him to retrieve both the hereditary wealth and the high political influence which formerly belonged to the Ormond Butlers. Such an ally was indispensable to the Lords Justices in the first panic of the insurrection; but it was evident to near observers that Ormond, a loyalist and a churchman, could not long act in concert with such devoted Puritans as Parsons, Borlase, and Coote.
The military position of the several parties--there were at least three--when Ormond arrived at Dublin, in the first week of November, may be thus stated: I. In Munster and Connaught there was but a single troop of royal horse, each, left as a guard with the respective Presidents, St. Leger and Willoughby; in Kilkenny, Dublin, and other of the midland counties, the gentry, Protestant and Catholic, were relied on to raise volunteers for their own defence; in Dublin there had been got together 1,500 old troops; six new regiments of foot were embodied; and thirteen volunteer companies of 100 each. In the Castle were arms and ammunition for 12,000 men, with a fine train of field artillery, provided by Stafford for his campaign in the north of England. Ormond, as Lieutenant-General, had thus at his disposal, in one fortnight after the insurrection broke out, from 8,000 to 10,000 well appointed men; his advice was to take the field at once against the northern leaders before the other Provinces became equally inflamed. But his judgment was overruled by the Justices, who would only consent, while awaiting their cue from the Long Parliament, to throw reinforcements into Drogheda, which thus became their outpost towards the north. II. In Ulster there still remained in the possession of "the Undertakers" Enniskillen, Deny, the Castles of Killeagh and Crohan in Cavan, Lisburn, Belfast, and the stronghold of Carrickfergus, garrisoned by the regiments of Colonel Chichester and Lord Conway. King Charles, who was at Edinburgh endeavouring to conciliate the Scottish Parliament when news of the Irish rising reached him, procured the instant despatch of 1,500 men to Ulster, and authorized Lords Chichester, Ardes and Clandeboy, to raise new regiments from among their own tenants. The force thus embodied--which may be called from its prevailing element the Scottish army--cannot have numbered less than 5,000 foot, and the proportionate number of horse. III. The Irish in the field by the first of November are stated in round numbers at 30,000 men in the northern counties alone; but the whole number supplied with arms and ammunition could not have reached one-third of that nominal total. Before the surprise of Charlemont and Mountjoy forts, Sir Phelim O'Neil had but a barrel or two of gunpowder; the stores of those forts, with 70 barrels taken at Newry by Magennis, and all the arms captured in the simultaneous attack, which at the outside could not well exceed 4,000 or 5,000 stand--constituted their entire equipment. One of Ormond's chief reasons for an immediate campaign in the North was to prevent them having time to get "pikes made"--which shows their deficiency even in that weapon. Besides this defect there was one, if possible, still more serious. Sir Phelim was a civilian, bred to the profession of the law; Rory O'Moore, also, had never seen service; and although Colonel Owen O'Neil and others had promised to join them "at fourteen days' notice," a variety of accidents prevented the arrival of any officer of distinction during the brief remainder of that year. Sir Phelim, however, boldly assumed the title of "Lord General of the Catholic Army in Ulster," and the still more popular title with the Gaelic speaking population of "The O'Neil."
The projected winter campaign, after the first week's successes, did not turn out favourably for the northern Insurgents. The beginning of November was marked by the barbarous slaughter committed by the Scottish garrison of Carrickfergus in the Island Magee. Three thousand persons are said to have been driven into the fathomless north sea, over the cliffs of that island, or to have perished by the sword. The ordinary inhabitants could not have exceeded one-tenth as many, but the presence of so large a number may be accounted for by the supposition that they had fled from the mainland across the peninsula, which is left dry at low water, and were pursued to their last refuge by the infuriated Covenanters. From this date forward until the accession of Owen Roe O'Neil to the command, the northern war assumed a ferocity of character foreign to the nature of O'Moore, O'Reilly and Magennis. That Sir Phelim permitted, if he did not sometimes in his gusts of stormy passion instigate, those acts of cruelty, which have stained his otherwise honourable conduct, is too true; but he stood alone among his confederates in that crime, and that crime stands alone in his character. Brave to rashness and disinterested to excess, few rebel chiefs ever made a more heroic end out of a more deplorable beginning.
The Irish Parliament, which was to have met on the 16th of November, was indefinitely prorogued by the Lords Justices, who preferred to act only with their chosen quorum of Privy Counsellors. The Catholic Lords of the Pale, who at first had arms granted for their retainers out of the public stores, were now summoned to surrender them by a given day; an insult not to be forgiven. Lords Dillon and Taafe, then deputies to the King, were seized at Ware by the English Puritans, their papers taken from them, and themselves imprisoned. O'Moore, whose clansmen had recovered Dunamase and other strongholds in his ancient patrimony, was still indefatigable in his propaganda among the Anglo-Irish. By his advice Sir Phelim marched to besiege Drogheda, at the head of his tumultuous bands. On the way southward he made an unsuccessful attack upon Lisburn, where he lost heavily; on the 24th of November he took possession of Mellifont Abbey, from whose gate the aged Tyrone had departed in tears, twenty-five years before. From Mellifont he proceeded to invest Drogheda; Colonel Plunkett, with the title of General, being the sole experienced officer as yet engaged in his ranks. A strongly walled town as Drogheda was, well manned, and easily accessible from the sea, cannot be carried without guns and engineers by any amount of physical courage. Whenever the Catholics were fairly matched in the open field, they were generally successful, as at Julianstown, during this siege, where one of their detachments cut off five out of six companies marching from Dublin to reinforce the town; but though the investment was complete, the vigilant governor, Sir Henry Tichburne, successfully repulsed the assailants. O'Moore, who lay between Ardee and Dundalk with a reserve of 2,000 men, found time during the siege to continue his natural career, that of a diplomatist. The Puritan party, from the Lord Justice downwards, were, indeed, every day hastening that union of Catholics of all origins which the founder of the Confederacy so ardently desired to bring about. Their avowed maxim was that the more men rebelled, the more estates there would be to confiscate. In Munster, their chief instruments were the aged Earl of Cork, still insatiable as ever for other men's possessions, and the President St. Leger; in Leinster, Sir Charles Coote. Lord Cork prepared 1,100 indictments against men of property in his Province, which he sent to the Speaker of the Long Parliament, with an urgent request that they might be returned to him, with authority to proceed against the parties named, as outlaws. In Leinster, 4,000 similar indictments were found in the course of two days by the free use of the rack with witnesses. Sir John Read, an officer of the King's Bedchamber, and Mr. Barnwall, of Kilbrue, a gentleman of threescore and six, were among those who underwent the torture. When these were the proceedings of the tribunals in peaceable cities, we may imagine what must have been the excesses of the soldiery in the open county. In the South, Sir William St. Leger directed a series of murderous raids upon the peasantry of Cork, which at length produced their natural effect. Lord Muskerry and other leading recusants, who had offered their services to maintain the peace of the Province, were driven by an insulting refusal to combine for their own protection. The 1,100 indictments of Lord Cork soon swelled their ranks, and the capture of the ancient city of Cashel by Philip O'Dwyer announced the insurrection of the South. Waterford soon after opened its gates to Colonel Edmund Butler; Wexford declared for the Catholic cause, and Kilkenny surrendered to Lord Mountgarret. In Wicklow, Coote's troopers committed murders such as had not been equalled since the days of the Pagan Northmen. Little children were carried aloft writhing on the pikes of these barbarians, whose worthy commander confessed that "he liked such frolics." Neither age nor sex was spared, and an ecclesiastic was especially certain of instant death. Fathers Higgins and White of Naas, in Kildare, were given up by Coote to these "lambs," though each had been granted a safe conduct by his superior officer, Lord Ormond. And these murders were taking place at the very tune when the Franciscans and Jesuits of Cashel were protecting Dr. Pullen, the Protestant Chancellor of that Cathedral and other Protestant prisoners; while also the Castle of Cloughouter, in Cavan, the residence of Bishop Bedell, was crowded with Protestant fugitives, all of whom were carefully guarded by the chivalrous Philip O'Reilly.
At length the Catholic Lords of the Pale began to feel the general glow of an outraged people, too long submissive under every species of provocation. The Lords Justices having summoned them to attend in Dublin on the 8th of December, they met at Swords, at the safe distance of seven miles, and sent by letter their reasons for not trusting themselves in the capital. To the allegations in this letter the Justices replied by proclamation, denying most of them, and repeating their summons to Lords Fingal, Gormanstown, Slane, Dunsany, Netterville, Louth, and Trimleston, to attend in Dublin on the 17th. But before the 17th came, as if to ensure the defeat of then own summons, Coote was let loose upon the flourishing villages of Fingal, and the flames kindled by his men might easily be discovered from the round tower of Swords. On the 17th, the summoned Lords, with several of the neighbouring gentry, met by appointment on the hill of Crofty, in the neighbouring county of Meath; while they were engaged in discussing the best course to be taken, a party of armed men on horseback, accompanied by a guard of musketeers, was seen approaching. They proved to be O'Moore, O'Reilly, Costelloe McMahon, brother of the prisoner, Colonel Byrne, and Captain Fox. Lord Gormanstown, advancing in front of his friends, demanded of the new-comers "why they came armed into the Pale?" To which O'Moore made answer "that the ground of their coming thither 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." Lord Gormanstown, after consulting a few moments with his friends, replied: "Seeing these be your true ends, we will likewise join with you." The leaders then embraced, amid the acclamations of their followers, and the general conditions of then: union having been unanimously agreed upon, a warrant was drawn out authorizing the Sheriff of Meath to summon the gentry of the county to a final meeting at the Hill of Tara on the 24th of December.