In pursuing to its close the war in Munster, we were obliged to omit the mention of an affair of considerable importance, which somewhat consoled the Catholics for the massacre at Smerwick and the defeat of the Desmonds. We have already observed that what Aharlow was to the southern insurgents, the deep, secluded valley of Glenmalure was to the oppressed of Leinster. It afforded, at this period, refuge to a nobleman whose memory has been most improperly allowed to fall into oblivion. This was James Eustace, Viscount Baltinglass, who had suffered imprisonment in the Castle for refusing to pay an illegal tax of a few pounds, who was afterwards made the object of a special, vindictive enactment, known as "the Statute of Baltinglass," and was in the summer of 1580, on his keeping, surrounded by armed friends and retainers. His friend, Sir Walter Fitzgerald, son-in-law to the chief of Glenmalure, and many of the clansmen of Leix, Offally and Idrone, repaired to him at Slieveroe, near the modern village of Blessington, from which they proceeded to form a junction with the followers of the dauntless Feagh McHugh O'Byrne of Ballincor. Lord Grey, of Wilton, on reaching Dublin in August of that year, obtained information of this gathering, and determined to strike a decisive blow in Wicklow, before proceeding to the South. All the chief captains in the Queen's service--the Malbys, Dudleys, Cosbys, Carews, Moors--had repaired to meet him at Dublin, and now marched, under his command, into the neighbouring highlands. The Catholics, they knew, were concentrated in the valley, on one of the slopes of which Lord Grey constructed a strong camp, and then, having selected the fittest troops for the service, gave orders to attack the Irish camp. Sir William Stanley, one of the officers in command, well describes the upshot, in a letter to Secretary Walshingham: "When we entered the glen," he writes, "we were forced to slide, sometimes three or four fathoms, ere we could stay our feet; it was in depth, where we entered, at least a mile, full of stones, rocks, logs and wood; in the bottom thereof a river full of loose stones, which we were driven to Cross divers times * * * before we were half through the glen, which is four miles in length, the enemy charged us very hotly * * * it was the hottest piece of service that ever I saw, for the time, in any place." As might have been expected, the assailants were repulsed with heavy loss; among the slain were Sir Peter Carew, Colonel Francis Cosby of Mullaghmast memory, Colonel Moor, and other distinguished officers. The full extent of the defeat was concealed from Elizabeth, as well as it could be, in the official despatches; but before the end of August private letters, such as we have quoted, conveyed the painful intelligence to the court. The action was fought on the 25th day of August.
Lord Grey's deputyship, though it lasted only two years, included the three decisive campaigns in the South, already described. At the period of his recall--or leave of absence--the summer of 1582, that "most populous and plentiful country," to use the forcible language of his eloquent Secretary, Edmund Spenser, was reduced to "a heap of carcasses and ashes." The war had been truly a war of extermination; nor did Munster recover her due proportion of the population of the island for nearly two centuries afterwards.
The appointment of Sir John Perrott dates from 1583, though he did not enter on the duties of Lord Deputy till the following year. Like most of the public men of that age, he was both soldier and statesman. In temper he resembled his reputed father, Henry VIII.; for he was impatient of contradiction and control; fond of expense and magnificence, with a high opinion of his own abilities for diplomacy and legislation. The Parliament of 1585-6, as it was attended by almost every notable man in the kingdom, was one of his boasts, though no one seems to have benefited by it much, except Hugh O'Neil, whose title of Earl of Tyrone was then formally recognized. Subordinate to Perrott, the office of Governor of Connaught was held by Sir Richard Bingham--founder of the fortunes of the present Earls of Lucan--and that of President of Munster, by Sir Thomas Norris, one of four brothers, all employed in the Queen's service, and all destined to lose their lives in that employment.
The most important events which marked the four years' administration of Perrott were the pacification of Thomond and Connaught, the capture of Hugh Roe O'Donnell, and the wreck of a large part of the Spanish Armada, on the northern and western coasts. The royal commission issued for the first-mentioned purpose exemplifies, in a striking manner, the exigencies of Elizabeth's policy at that moment. The persons entrusted with its execution were Sir Richard Bingham, the Earls of Thomond and Clanrickarde; Sir Turlogh O'Brien, Sir Richard Bourke (the McWilliam), O'Conor Sligo, Sir Brian O'Ruarc, and Sir Murrogh O'Flaherty. The chief duties of this singular commission were, to fix a money rental for all lands, free and unfree, in Clare and Connaught; to assess the taxation fairly due to the crown also in money; and to substitute generally the English law of succession for the ancient customs of Tanistry and gavelkind. In Clare, from fortuitous causes, the settlement they arrived at was never wholly reversed; in Connaught, the inhuman severity of Bingham rendered it odious from the first, and the successes of Hugh Roe O'Donnell, a few years later, were hailed by the people of that province as a heaven-sent deliverance.
The treacherous capture of this youthful chieftain was one of the skilful devices on which Sir John Perrott most prided himself. Although a mere lad, the mysterious language of ancient prophecy, which seemed to point him out for greatness, give him consequence in the eyes of both friends and foes. Through his heroic mother, a daughter of the Lord of the Isles, he would naturally find allies in that warlike race. His precocious prowess and talents began to be noised abroad, and stimulated Perrott to the employment of an elaborate artifice, which, however, proved quite successful. A ship, commanded by one Bermingham, was sent round to Donegal, under pretence of being direct from Spain. She carried some casks of Spanish wine, and had a crew of 50 armed men. This ship dropped anchor off Rathmullen Castle on Lough Swilly, in which neighbourhood the young O'Donnell--then barely fifteen--was staying with his foster-father, McSweeny, and several companions of his own age. The unsuspecting youths were courteously invited on board the pretended Spanish ship, where, while they were being entertained in the cabin, the hatches were fastened down, the cable slipped, the sails spread to the wind, and the vessel put to sea. The threats and promises of the astonished clansmen as they gathered to the shore were answered by the mockery of the crew, who safely delivered their prize in Dublin, to the great delight of the Lord Deputy and his Council. Five weary years of fetters and privation the young captives were doomed to pass in the dungeons of the Castle before they breathed again the air of their native North.
But now every ship that reached the English or Irish ports brought tidings more and more positive of the immense armada which King Philip was preparing to launch from the Tagus against England. The piratical exploits of Hawkins and Drake against the Spanish settlements in America, the barbarous execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the open alliance of Elizabeth with the Dutch insurgents, all acted as stimulants to the habitual slowness of the Spanish sovereign. Another event, though of minor importance, added intensity to the national quarrel. Sir William Stanley, whose account of the battle of Glenmalure we lately quoted, went over to Philip with 1,300 English troops, whom he commanded as Governor of Daventer, and was taken into the counsels of the Spanish sovereign. The fleet for the invasion of England was on a scale commensurate with the design. One hundred and thirty-five vessels of war, manned by 8,000 sailors, and carrying 19,000 soldiers, sailed from the Tagus, and after encountering a severe storm off Cape Finesterre, re-assembled at Corunna. The flower of Spanish bravery embarked in this fleet, named somewhat presumptuously "the invincible armada." The sons of Sir James Fitzmaurice, educated at Alcala, Thomas, son of Sir John of Desmond, with several other Irish exiles, laymen, and ecclesiastics, were also on board. The fate of the expedition is well known. A series of disasters befell it on the coasts of France and Belgium, and finally, towards the middle of August, a terrific storm swept the Spaniards northward through the British channel, scattering ships and men helpless and lifeless on the coasts of Scotland, and even as far north as Norway. On the Irish shore nineteen great vessels were sunk or stranded. In Lough Foyle, one galleon, manned by 1,100 men, came ashore, and some of the survivors, it is alleged, were given up by O'Donnell to the Lord Deputy, in the vain hope of obtaining in return the liberation of his son. Sir John O'Doherty in Innishowen, Sir Brian O'Ruarc at Dromahaire, and Hugh O'Neil at Dungannon, hospitably entertained and protected several hundreds who had escaped with their lives. On the iron-bound coast of Connaught, over 2,000 men perished. In Galway harbour, 70 prisoners were taken by the Queen's garrison, and executed on St. Augustine's hill. In the Shannon, the crew of a disabled vessel set her on fire, and escaped to another in the offing. On the coasts of Cork and Kerry nearly one thousand men were lost or cast away. In all, according to a state paper of the time, above 6,000 of the Spaniards were either drowned, killed, or captured, on the north, west, and southern coasts. A more calamitous reverse could not have befallen Spain or Ireland in the era of the Reformation.
It is worthy of remark that at the very moment the fear of the armada was most intensely felt in England--the beginning of July--Sir John Perrott was recalled from the government. His high and imperious temper, not less than his reliance on the native chiefs, rather than on the courtiers of Dublin Castle, had made him many enemies. He was succeeded by a Lord Deputy of a different character--Sir William Fitzwilliam--who had filled the same office, for a short period, seventeen years before. The administration of this nobleman was protracted till the year 1594, and is chiefly memorable in connection with the formation of the Ulster Confederacy, under the leadership of O'Neil and O'Donnell.
Fitzwilliam, whose master passion was avarice, had no sooner been sworn into the government than he issued a commission to search for treasure, which the shipwrecked Spaniards were supposed to have saved. "In hopes to finger some of it," he at once marched into the territory of O'Ruarc and O'Doherty; O'Ruarc fled to Scotland, was given up by order of James VI., and subsequently executed at London; O'Doherty and Sir John O'Gallagher, "two of the most loyal subjects in Ulster," were seized and confined in the Castle. An outrage of a still more monstrous kind was perpetrated soon after on the newly elected chieftain of Oriel, Hugh McMahon. Though he had engaged Fitzwilliam by a bribe of 600 cows to recognize his succession, he was seized by order of the Deputy, tried by a jury of common soldiers, on a trumped up charge of "treason," and executed at his own door. Sir Harry Bagnal who, as Marshal of Ireland, had his head-quarters at Newry, next to Fitzwilliam himself, profited most by the consequent partition and settlement of McMahon's vast estates. Emboldened by the impunity which attended such high-handed proceedings, and instigated by the Marshal, Fitzwilliam began to practise, against the ablest as well as the most powerful of all the Northern chiefs, who had hitherto been known only as a courtier and soldier of the Queen. This was Hugh O'Neil, Earl of Tyrone, another of Sir Henry Sidney's "strong men," with the additional advantage of being familiar from his youth with the character of the men he was now to encounter.
O'Neil, in the full prime of life, really desired to live in peace with Elizabeth, provided he might be allowed to govern Ulster with all the authority attached to his name. Bred up in England, he well knew the immense resources of that kingdom, and the indomitable character of its queen. A patriot of Ulster rather than of Ireland, he had served against the Desmonds, and had been a looker on at Smerwick. To suppress rivals of his own clan, to check O'Donnell's encroachments, and to preserve an interest at the English Court, were the objects of his earlier ambition. In pursuing these objects he did not hesitate to employ English troops in Ulster, nor to accompany the Queen and her Deputy to the service of the Church of England. If, however, he really believed that he could long continue to play the Celtic Prince north of the Boyne, and the English Earl at Dublin or London, he was soon undeceived when the fear of the Spanish Armada ceased to weigh on the Councils of Elizabeth.
A natural son of John the Proud, called from the circumstances of his birth "Hugh of the fetters," communicated to Fitzwilliam the fact of Tyrone having sheltered the shipwrecked Spaniards, and employed them in opening up a correspondence with King Philip. This so exasperated the Earl, that, having seized the unfortunate Hugh of the fetters, he caused him to be hanged as a common felon--a high-handed proceeding which his enemies were expert in turning to account. To protect himself from the consequent danger, he went to England in May, 1590, without obtaining the license of the Lord Deputy, as by law required. On arriving in London he was imprisoned, but, in the course of a month, obtained his liberty, after signing articles, in which he agreed to drop the Celtic title of O'Neil; to allow the erection of gaols in his country; that he should execute no man without a commission from the Lord Deputy, except in cases of martial law; that he should keep his troop of horsemen in the Queen's pay, ready for the Queen's service, and that Tyrone should be regularly reduced to shire-ground. For the performance of these articles, which he confirmed on reaching Dublin, he was to place sureties in the hands of certain merchants of that city, or gentlemen of the Pale, enjoying the confidence of the Crown. On such hard conditions his earldom was confirmed to him, and he was apparently taken into all his former favour. But we may date the conception of his latter and more national policy from the period of this journey, and the brief imprisonment he had undergone in London.
The "profound dissembling mind" which English historians, his cotemporaries, attribute to O'Neil, was now brought into daily exercise. When he discovered money to be the master passion of the Lord Deputy, he procured his connivance at the escape of Hugh Roe O'Donnell from Dublin Castle. On a dark night in the depth of winter the youthful chief, with several of his companions, succeeded in escaping to the hills in the neighbourhood of Powerscourt; but, exhausted and bewildered, they were again taken, and returned to their dungeons. Two years later, the heir of Tyrconnell was more fortunate. In Christmas week, 1592, he again escaped, through a sewer of the Castle, with Henry and Art O'Neil, sons of John the Proud. In the street they found O'Hagan, the confidential agent of Tyrone, waiting to guide them to the fastness of Glenmalure. Through the deep snows of the Dublin and Wicklow highlands the prisoners and their guide plodded their way. After a weary tramp they at length sunk down overwhelmed with fatigue. In this condition they were found insensible by a party despatched by Feagh O'Byrne; Art O'Neil, on being raised up, fell backward and expired; O'Donnell was so severely frost-bitten that he did not recover for many months the free use of his limbs. With his remaining companion he was nursed in the recesses of Glenmalure, until he became able to sit a horse, when he set out for home. Although the utmost vigilance was exercised by all the warders of the Pale, he crossed the Liffey and the Boyne undiscovered, rode boldly through the streets of Dundalk, and found an enthusiastic welcome, first from Tyrone in Dungannon, and soon after from the aged chief, his father, in the Castle of Ballyshannon. Early in the following year, the elder O'Donnell resigned the chieftaincy in favour of his popular son, who was, on the 3rd of May, duly proclaimed the O'Donnell, from the ancient mound of Kilmacrenan.
The Ulster Confederacy, of which, for ten years, O'Neil and O'Donnell were the joint and inseparable leaders, was now imminent. Tyrone, by carrying off, the year previous to O'Donnell's escape, the beautiful sister of Marshal Bagnal, whom he married, had still further inflamed the hatred borne to him by that officer. Bagnal complained bitterly of the abduction to the Queen, charging, among other things, that O'Neil had a divorced wife still alive. A challenge was in consequence sent him by his new brother-in-law, but the cartel was not accepted. Every day's events were hastening a general alliance between the secondary chieftains of the Province and the two leading spirits. The O'Ruarc and Maguire were attacked by Bingham, and successfully defended themselves until the Lord Deputy and the Marshal also marched against them, summoning O'Neil to their aid. The latter, feeling that the time was not yet ripe, temporized with Fitzwilliam during the campaign of 1593, and though in the field at the head of his horsemen, nominally for the Queen, he seems to have rather employed his opportunities to promote that Northern Union which he had so much at heart.