Flight of the Earls

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXVIII

A plot was now got up to entrap O'Neill and O'Donnell. Their complicity in it has long been questioned, though Dr. O'Donovan appears to think that Moore has almost decided the question against them. Moore's evidence, however, is hardly complete, while there is unquestionable authority which favours the opinion that "artful Cecil" was intriguing to accomplish their destruction. Curry says, in his Historical Review : "The great possessions of these two devoted Irish princes, proved the cause of their ruin. After the successful issue of the plot-contriving Cecil's gunpowder adventure in England, he turned his inventive thoughts towards this country. A plot to implicate the great northern chieftains was soon set on foot, and finally proved successful. The conspiracy is thus related by a learned English divine, Dr. Anderson, in his Royal Genealogies, printed in London, 1736: 'Artful Cecil employed one St. Lawrence to entrap the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnel, the Lord Delvin, and other Irish chiefs, into a sham plot, which had no evidence but his.'"

The next movement was to drop an anonymous letter at the door of the council-chamber, mentioning a design, as then in contemplation, for seizing the Castle of Dublin, and murdering the Lord Deputy. No names were mentioned, but it was publicly stated that Government had information in their possession which fixed the guilt of the conspiracy on the Earl of Tyrone. His flight, which took place immediately after, was naturally considered as an acknowledgment of his guilt. It is more probable that the expatriation was prompted by his despair.

The Four Masters give a touching account of their departure, and exclaim: "Woe to the heart that meditated, woe to the mind that conceived, woe to the council that decided on the project of their setting out on the voyage!" The exiles left Rathmullen on the 14th of September, 1607. O'Neill had been with the Lord Deputy shortly before; and one cannot but suppose that he had then obtained some surmise of premeditated treachery, for he arranged his flight secretly and swiftly, pretending that he was about to visit London. O'Neill was accompanied by his Countess, his three sons, O'Donnell, and other relatives. They first sailed to Normandy, where an attempt was made by the English Government to arrest them, but Henry IV. would not give them up. In Rome they were received as confessors exiled for the faith, and were liberally supported by the Pope and the King of Spain. They all died in a few years after their arrival, and their ashes rest in the Franciscan Church of St. Peter-in-Montorio. Home was indeed dear to them, but Ireland was still dearer; and the exiled Celt, whether expatriated through force or stern necessity, lives only to long for the old home, or dies weeping for it.

The Red Hand of the O'Neills had hitherto been a powerful protection to Ulster. The attempts "to plant" there had turned out failures; but now that the chiefs were removed, the people became an easy prey. O'Dogherty, Chief of Innishowen, was insulted by Sir George Paulett, in a manner which no gentleman could be expected to bear without calling his insulter to account; and the young chieftain took fearful vengeance for the rude blow which he had received from the English sheriff. He got into Culmore Fort at night by stratagem, and then marched to Derry, killed Paulett, massacred the garrison, and burned the town. Some other chieftains joined him, and kept up the war until July; when O'Dogherty was killed, and his companions-in-arms imprisoned. Sir Arthur Chichester received his property in return for his suggestions for the plantation of Ulster, of which we must now make brief mention.