THE GERALDINE REBELLION (1565-1583)

From A Concise History of Ireland by P. W. Joyce

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382. The Fitzgeralds and the Butlers were at perpetual war. The earl of Desmond, the head of the southern Geraldines, was a Catholic, and took the Irish side; the earl of Ormond, the leader of the Butlers, had conformed to the Protestant faith, and had taken the side of the English all along. By the tyranny and oppression of these two earls, as well as by their never-ending disputes, large districts in the south were devastated, and almost depopulated.

383. On one occasion Desmond, who claimed jurisdiction over Decies in Waterford, crossed the Blackwater with his army to levy tribute, in the old form of coyne and livery. The chief of the district, Sir Maurice Fitzgerald, a relative of the Butlers, called in the aid of the earl of Ormond. Desmond, taken unawares, was defeated in a battle fought in 1565 at Affane in the county Waterford, beside the Blackwater, and he himself was wounded and taken prisoner. It is related that while he was borne from the field on a litter, one of his captors tauntingly asked him:—"Where is now the great earl of Desmond?" To which he instantly replied, "Where he ought to be: on the necks of the Butlers."

384. At the same time Connaught was in a state almost as bad, by the broils of the earl of Clanrickard and his sons with each other, and with the chiefs all round.

385. The deputy, Sir Henry Sydney, a very able man, endeavoured to make peace. He undertook a journey south and west in 1567; and having witnessed the miseries of the country, he treated the delinquents with merciless severity as he went along, hanging and imprisoning great numbers. He brought Desmond a prisoner to Dublin, leaving his brother John Fitzgerald, or John of Desmond as he is called, to govern South Munster in the earl's absence.

386. He convened a parliament in Dublin in which during 1569, 1570, and 1571 were passed acts to spread the Reformation and to attaint Shane O'Neill and confiscate his lands.

387. In 1567, at Ormond's instigation, John of Desmond was treacherously seized without any cause, and he and his brother the earl were sent to London and consigned to the Tower, where they were detained for six years. All this was done without the knowledge of Sydney, who afterwards quite disapproved of it. It made a rebel of John Fitzgerald, who had been up to that time well affected towards the government.

388. There had been reports that large districts in Ireland were to be taken from the owners and planted with colonies; and this, coupled with the proceedings in Dublin to force the Reformation produced great alarm and discontent. Matters were brought to a crisis by the arrest of Desmond and John Fitzgerald. James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald, the earl's first cousin, now went among the southern chiefs and induced them all, both native Irish and Anglo-Irish, to unite in defence of their religion and their lands: and thus was formed what was called the Geraldine League. Thus also arose the Geraldine rebellion.

389. When Sydney heard of these alarming proceedings he proclaimed the chiefs traitors, and in 1569 made a journey south with his army, during which he and his officers acted with great severity. This circuit of Sydney's went a good way to break up the confederacy, and many of the leaders were terrified into submission.

390. But Fitzmaurice never thought of yielding. On the approach of winter he took refuge in the great wooded Glen of Aherlow in the Galty mountains; and next spring, in 1570, he suddenly attacked Kilmallock, then held by an English garrison. Scaling the walls before sunrise, he plundered the town; after which he set it on fire and retired to Aherlow, leaving the stately old capital a mere collection of blackened walls.

391. About this time Sydney appointed "Presidents" to govern Munster and Connaught. The object was to produce peace; but it did the very reverse; for the presidents used their great power so mercilessly that they drove both chiefs and people to rebellion everywhere. Sir Edward Fitton and Sir Richard Bingham, two presidents of Connaught, were perhaps the worst, and Sir John Perrott, a brave old soldier, who was made President of Munster in 1571, though very severe, was about the best and most reasonable of all.

392. Perrott took Fitzmaurice's castles one after another, and at last, in 1573, forced him to submit. After this, as the rebellion was considered at an end, the earl of Desmond and his brother were released.

393. Sydney had been lord justice in 1558; and after that he was three times lord deputy, 1565, 1568. 1575. In 1577 during his last deputyship, he raised a great disturbance at home by attempting to impose an illegal tax on the people of Dublin and the Pale, without obtaining the consent of the Irish parliament. His harshness on this occasion caused great excitement and discontent among the loyal people of the Pale, and helped to drive some into rebellion. In the end the matter was compromised.

394. Fitzmaurice fled to France after his submission; and the Geraldine rebellion slumbered for about six years. In 1579 the Pope, on the recommendation of Philip II. of Spain, fitted out for him a small squadron of three ships with 700 Italian soldiers, intended for Ireland, which was placed under the command of Thomas Stukely, a clever unprincipled English adventurer. This man had managed to hoodwink his employers into the belief of his sincere attachment to the cause of Ireland. But touching at Lisbon on his way, he joined another expedition led by the king of Portugal; and the Irish never heard any more of him or his squadron.

395. Meantime Fitzmaurice embarked for Ireland in 1579 in three small ships which he had procured in Spain, with about eighty Spaniards, accompanied by Dr. Allen, a Jesuit, and by Dr. Sanders, a celebrated English ecclesiastic, the Pope's legate. He landed at the little harbour of Smerwick in Kerry, and took possession of a fort called Dunanore, perched on top of a rock jutting into the sea. Here he was joined by Desmond's two brothers, John and James Fitzgerald.

396. But Fitzmaurice was soon forced to abandon his fort, and flying northwards towards the Shannon, he was killed, in the same year, in a skirmish with the Burkes of Castleconnell.

397. John Fitzgerald now took command of the Munster insurgents; and soon collected a considerable force. The earl of Desmond came to lord justice Drury, who was then at Kilmallock, to assure him he had nothing to do with the rebellion; and Drury forced him to give up his only son James, then a child, as a hostage for his loyalty.

398. Lord justice Drury and Sir Nicholas Malbie pursued the insurgents; and two battles were fought in 1579; one at Gort-na-tubbrid or Springfield in the county Limerick, where Fitzgerald defeated the government forces; the other near Croom where he was defeated by Malbie.

399. Malbie was joined by Sir William Pelham the newly appointed lord justice, and by the earl of Ormond general of the army: and they goaded Desmond to join the rebellion.

400. The frightful civil war broke out now more virulently than before; and brought the country to such a state as had never yet been witnessed. Several hostile bands belonging to both sides traversed the country for months, destroying everything and wreaking vengeance on the weak and defenceless.

Desmond utterly ruined the rich and prosperous town of Youghal, leaving not one house fit to live in; but in his marches through those parts of the country belonging to the English he did not massacre the inhabitants. Not so with Pelham and Ormond, who carried fire and sword through the country, sparing no living thing that fell in their way.

401. For the rebels it was a losing game all through. Pelham and Ormond took Desmond's strongholds one by one. James Fitzgerald, the earl's youngest brother, was captured while making a raid on the territories of Sir Cormac Mac Carthy, the sheriff of Cork; and he was sent to Cork and executed. A little later on his brother, John of Desmond, was intercepted and killed.

402. Meantime the insurrection blazed up in Leinster under James Eustace viscount Baltinglass, who exasperated by Sidney's proceedings (393), flew to arms.

The newly appointed justice, Lord Grey of Wilton, who succeeded Pelham, at once mustered his men, and in August 1580 marched into the heart of Wicklow in pursuit of the insurgent army, who had retired into Glenmalure. Here he was suddenly attacked by viscount Baltinglass and by the great chief Fiach Mac Hugh O'Byrne; and his army was almost annihilated.

403. The insurgents had long expected aid from the Continent, which at length arrived: 700 Spaniards and Italians landed about the 1st October 1580 from four vessels at Smerwick. They took possession of the ill-omened old fort of Dunanore, and proceeded to fortify it. They expected to see the people join them in crowds: but Ormond and Pelham had done their work so thoroughly that the peasantry held aloof, trembling with fear.

404. After about six weeks Lord Grey laid siege to the fort; at the same time Admiral Winter arrived early in November with the English fleet, so that it was invested both by sea and land. After the cannon had battered the fort for some days the garrison surrendered. The Irish authorities assert they had promise of their lives; the English say they surrended at discretion. Anyhow, Grey had the whole garrison massacred. This deed of horror caused great indignation all over England and on the Continent.

405. During the next year, 1581, Grey and his officers carried on the war with relentless barbarity; till at length it began to be felt that instead of quieting Ireland he was rather fanning rebellion; and in 1582 the queen recalled him.

406. And now the great earl of Desmond, the master of almost an entire province, the inheritor of vast estates, and the owner of numerous castles, was become a homeless outlaw with a price on his head, dogged by spies everywhere, and hunted from one hiding place to another. Through all his weary wanderings he was accompanied by his faithful wife, who never left him, except a few times when she went to intercede for him. On one of these occasions she sought an interview with lord justice Pelham himself, and on her knees implored mercy for her husband; but her tears and intreaties were all in vain. After many narrow escapes he was at length taken and killed in 1583 by some soldiers and peasants in Kerry. This ended the great Geraldine rebellion.

407. The war had made Munster a desert. In the words of the Four Masters:—"The lowing of a cow or the voice of a ploughman could scarcely be heard from Dunqueen in the west of Kerry to Cashel."

To what a frightful pass the wretched people had been brought by the constant destruction and spoiling of their crops and cattle, may be gathered from Edmund Spenser's description of what he witnessed with his own eyes:—"Notwithstanding that the same [province of Munster] was a most rich and plentiful countrey, full of corne and cattle, yet ere one yeare and a halfe they [the people] were brought to such wretchedness as that any stony hart would have rued the same. Out of every corner of the woods and glynnes they carne creeping forth upon their hands, for their legges could not beare them, and if they found a plot of watercresses or shamrocks there they flocked as to a feast for the time: that in short space of time there were none [i.e. no people] almost left, and a most populous and plentifull country suddainely left voide of man and beast."

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