Irish Rebels

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXIX

Before taking an open step, even in self-defence, the Irish noblemen and gentlemen sent another address to the King; but their unfortunate messenger, Sir John Read, was captured, and cruelly racked by the party in power—their main object being to obtain something from his confessions which should implicate the King and Queen. Patrick Barnwell, an aged man, was also racked for a similar purpose. The Lords Justices now endeavoured to get several gentlemen into their possession, on pretence of holding a conference. Their design was suspected, and the intended victims escaped; but they wrote a courteous letter, stating the ground of their refusal. A meeting of the principal Irish noblemen and gentlemen was now held on the Hill of Crofty, in Meath. Amongst those present were the Earl of Fingall, Lords Gormanstown, Slane, Louth, Dunsany, Trimbleston, and Netterville, Sir Patrick Barnwell and Sir Christopher Bellew; and of the leading country gentlemen, Barnwell, Darcy, Bath, Aylmer, Cusack, Malone, Segrave, &c. After they had been a few hours on the ground, the leaders of the insurgent party came up, and were accosted by Lord Gormanstown, who inquired why they came armed into the Pale. O'More replied that they had "taken up arms for the freedom and liberty of their consciences, the maintenance of his Majesty's prerogative, in which they understood he was abridged, and the making the subjects of this kingdom as free as those of England." Lord Gormanstown answered: "Seeing these be your true ends, we will likewise join with you therein."

On the 1st of January, 1642, Charles issued a proclamation against the Irish rebels, and wished to take the command against them in person; but his Parliament was his master, and the members were glad enough of the excuse afforded by the troubles in Ireland to increase the army, and to obtain a more direct personal control over its movements. They voted away Irish estates, and uttered loud threats of exterminating Popery; but they had a more important and interesting game in hand at home, which occupied their attention, and made them comparatively indifferent to Irish affairs.

Sir Phelim O'Neill was not succeeding in the north. He had been obliged to raise the siege of Drogheda, and the English had obtained possession of Dundalk. £1,000 was offered for his head, and £600 for the heads of some of his associates. Ormonde and Tichburne were in command of the Government forces, but Ormonde was considered to be too lenient; and two priests, Father Higgins and Father White, were executed by Coote, the one without trial, and the other without even the forms of justice, although they were under the Earl's protection. Carte says that Father Higgins' case excited special interest, for he had saved many Protestants from the fury of the Irish, and afforded them relief and protection afterwards. Indeed, at this period, the Catholic clergy were unwearied in their efforts to protect the Protestants. They must have been actuated by the purest motives of religion, which were none the less sacred to them because they could neither be understood nor appreciated by those whose whole conduct had been so different. Father Saul, a Jesuit, sheltered Dr. Pullen, the Protestant Dean of Clonfert, and his family; Father Everard and Father English, Franciscan friars, concealed many Protestants in their chapels, and even under their altars.

Many similar instances are on record in the depositions concerning the murders and massacres of the times, at present in Trinity College, Dublin; though those depositions were taken with the avowed object of making out a case against the Catholics of having intended a general massacre. In Galway the Jesuits were especially active in charity to their enemies, and went through the town exhorting the people, for Christ's sake, our Lady's, and St. Patrick's, to shed no blood. But although the Catholic hierarchy were most anxious to prevent outrages against humanity, they were by no means insensible to the outrages against justice, from which the Irish nation had so long suffered. They were far from preaching passive submission to tyranny, or passive acceptance of heresy.

The Church had long since not only sanctioned, but even warmly encouraged, a crusade against the infidels, and the deliverance, by force of arms, of the holy places from desecration; it had also granted [9] similar encouragements and similar indulgences to all who should fight for "liberties and rights" in Ireland, and had "exhorted, urged, and solicited" the people to do so with "all possible affection." The Irish clergy could have no doubt that the Holy See would sanction a national effort for national liberty. The Archbishop of Armagh, therefore, convened a provincial synod, which was held at Kells, on the 22nd of March, 1641, which pronounced the war undertaken by the Catholics of Ireland lawful and pious, but denounced murders and usurpations, and took steps for assembling a national synod at Kilkenny during the following year.


[9] Granted.—This most important and interesting document may be seen in O'Sullivan's Hist. Cath. p. 121. It is headed: "Gregory XIII., to the Archbishops, Bishops, and other prelates, as also to the Catholic Princes, Earls, Barons, Clergy, Nobles, and People of Ireland, health and apostolic benediction." It is dated: "Given at Rome, the 13th day of May, 15S0, the eighth of our pontificate."