SHANE O'NEILL (1547-1567)

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

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368. On the accession of Edward VI. in 1547, Sentleger was continued as deputy. As there were some serious disturbances in Leinster, Edward Bellingham, an able and active officer, was sent over in May this year as military commander, bringing a small force of 600 horse and 400 foot. He reduced O'Moore of Leix and O'Conor of Offaly, and sent them to London, in 1548, where they were treated kindly and got pensions. Meanwhile the two territories were annexed to the Pale, and Bellingham built a number of castles to keep down the people for the future. How land and people were dealt with is told in Chapter V.

369. We have seen that when Conn Bacach O'Neill was created Earl of Tyrone, his (reputed) son Matthew was made baron of Dungannon with the right to succeed to the earldom (353). Conn had adopted this Matthew, believing him to be his son, though there was then, as there has been to this day, a doubt about it.

370. The earl's eldest legitimate son Shane, afterwards well known by the name of Shane-an-diomais or John the Proud, was a mere boy when Matthew was made baron. But now that he was come of age and understood his position, he claimed the right to be his father's heir and to succeed to the earldom, alleging that Matthew was not an O'Neill at all. The father, who took Shane's part, was brought prisoner to Dublin: whereupon Shane rose in open war against Matthew and the government. The deputy Croft attempted to reduce him; marching three times to Ulster in 1551 and 1552, but without success.

371. From the earliest time the two leading families of Ulster were the O'Neills of Tyrone and the O'Donnells of Tirconnell, who were rivals and very often at war. In 1557 Shane, meaning to make himself king of all Ulster, invaded Tirconnell with a large army. But Calvagh O'Donnell chief of Tirconnell surprised his camp at night and utterly defeated him.

372. Shane soon recovered this disaster; and in the next year, 1558, the year of queen Elizabeth's accession, some of his people killed his rival, Matthew the baron of Dungannon, in a night attack, so unfairly that it almost deserved the name of assassination. But Shane himself was not present. In the following year the earl his father died, and Shane was elected "The O'Neill" in open defiance of English law.

373. These movements of the great chief gave the government much uneasiness; and in 1560 they raised up rivals all round him: but he quickly defeated them all. In 1561 the lord deputy—the earl of Sussex—marched north against him; but Shane defeated him, and soon after made himself master of all Ulster.

374. At last the queen invited him to London. He went there in December 1561, much against the wishes of Sussex, who suggested that he should be treated coldly. But the queen received him very graciously. The redoubtable chief and his retainers, all in their strange native attire, were viewed with curiosity and wonder. He strode through the court to the royal presence, between two lines of wondering courtiers; and behind him marched his galloglasses, their heads bare, their long hair curling down on their shoulders and clipped short in front just above the eyes. They wore a loose wide-sleeved saffron-dyed tunic, and over this a short shaggy mantle flung across the shoulders. On the 6th of January 1562 he made formal submission to the queen in presence of the court and the foreign ambassadors.

The London authorities took an unfair advantage of his presence to make him sign certain severe conditions; but though he signed them, it was against his will, and it would seem he had no intention to carry them out. He returned to Ulster in May 1562 with the queen's pardon, all his expenses having been paid by the government.

375. But he was very indignant at being forced to sign conditions: and he now quite disregarded them and renewed the war. At last the queen heartily sick of the quarrel, instructed Sussex to end it by reasonable concessions; and peace was signed in November 1563 in O'Neill's house at Benburb, on terms much to his advantage. After this there was quietness for some time.

376. There were at this time in Antrim great numbers of Scottish settlers from the western coasts and islands of Scotland, of whom the most distinguished were the Mac Donnells—the "Lords of the Isles." They were greatly feared and disliked by the government who made many ineffectual attempts to expel them.

377. One of the conditions that Shane had to sign in London bound him to make war on these Scots and reduce them to obedience. Whether it was that he wished to carry out this condition, or what is more likely, that he himself dreaded the Scots as neighbours, he attacked and defeated them in 1565 at Glenshesk in Antrim, where 700 of them were killed.

378. The news of this victory at first gave great joy to the English; but seeing how much it increased his power, their joy soon turned to jealousy and fear. And they sent two commissioners to have an interview with him; to whom he said among many other things:—"For the queen, I confess she is my sovereign: but I never made peace with her but at her own seeking. My ancestors were kings of Ulster, and Ulster is mine, and shall be mine. O'Donnell shall never come into his country, nor Bagenall into Newry, nor Kildare into Dundrum or Lecale. They are now mine. With the sword I won them: with this sword I will keep them."

379. The defeat that finally crushed the great chief was inflicted, not by the government, but by the O'Donnells. Hugh O'Donnell chief of Tirconnel made a plundering excursion into Tyrone, Shane's territory, in 1567. Shane retaliated by crossing the Swilly into Tirconnell; but he was met by O'Donnell at the other side and utterly routed; and Shane himself, crossing a ford two miles higher up, barely escaped with his life.

380. This action, in which 1,300 of his men perished, utterly ruined him. He lost all heart, and now formed the insane resolution of placing himself at the mercy of the Scots, whose undying enmity he had earned by the defeat at Glenshesk two years before. He came to their camp at Cushendun (in 1567) with only fifty followers, trusting in their generosity. They received him with a show of welcome and cordiality; but in the midst of the festivities they raised a dispute, which obviously had been prearranged, and suddenly seizing their arms, they massacred the chief and all his followers.

381. O'Neill's rebellion cost the government £147,407, about a million and three-quarters of our present money, besides the cesses laid on the country and the damages sustained by the subjects. At the time of his death he was only about forty years of age.

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