Earl of Essex's Plantation

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXVI

It is probable that the attempt of Smith was intended by Government principally as an experiment to ascertain whether the plantation could be carried out on a larger scale. The next attempt was made by Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, who received part of the signories of Clannaboy and Ferney, provided he could expel the "rebels" who dwelt there. Essex mortgaged his estates to the Queen to obtain funds for the enterprise. He was accompanied by Sir Henry Kenlis, Lord Dacres, and Lord Norris' three sons.

Sir William FitzGerald, the then Lord Deputy, complained loudly of the extraordinary powers granted to Essex; and some show of deference to his authority was made by requiring the Earl to receive his commission from him. Essex landed in Ireland in 1573, and the usual career of tyranny and treachery was enacted. The native chieftains resisted the invasion of their territories, and endeavoured to drive out the men whom they could only consider as robbers. The invaders, when they could not conquer, stooped to acts of treachery. Essex soon found that the conquest of Ulster was not quite so easy a task as he had anticipated. Many of the adventurers who had assumed his livery, and joined his followers, deserted him; and Brian O'Neill, Hugh O'Neill, and Turlough O'Neill rose up against him. Essex then invited Conn O'Donnell to his camp; but, as soon as he secured him, he seized his Castle of Lifford, and sent the unfortunate chieftain a prisoner to Dublin.

In 1574 the Earl and Brian O'Neill made peace. A feast was prepared by the latter, to which Essex and his principal followers were invited; but after this entertainment had lasted for three days and nights, "as they were agreeably drinking and making merry, Brian, his brother, and his wife were seized upon by the Earl, and all his people put unsparingly to the sword—men, women, youths, and maidens—in Brian's own presence. Brian was afterwards sent to Dublin, together with his wife and brother, where they were cut in quarters. Such was the end of their feast. This wicked and treacherous murder of the lord of the race of Hugh Boy O'Neill, the head and the senior of the race of Eoghan, son of Nial of the Nine Hostages, and of all the Gaels, a few only excepted, was a sufficient cause of hatred and dispute to the English by the Irish,"[5]


[5] Irish.—Four Masters, vol. v. pp. 1678-9. Camden mentions the capture of O'Neill, and says Essex slew 200 of his men; but he does not mention the treachery with which this massacre was accomplished.