Last of the Irish Chieftains

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXVIII

O'Neill and O'Donnell may be justly considered the last of the independent native chieftains. When the latter died in exile, and the former accepted the coronet of an English earl, the glories of the olden days of princes, who held almost regal power, had passed away for ever. The proud title of "the O'Neill" became extinct; his country was made shire ground; he accepted patents, and held his broad acres "in fee;" sheriffs were admitted; judges made circuits; king's commissioners took careful note of place, person, and property; and such a system of espionage was established, that Davies boasts, "it was not only known how people lived and what they do, but it is foreseen what they purpose and intend to do;" which latter species of clairvoyance seems to have been largely practised by those who were waiting until all suspicions were lulled to rest, that they might seize on the property, and imprison the persons of those whose estates they coveted.

In May, 1603, O'Neill had visited London, in company with Lord Mountjoy and Rory O'Donnell. The northern chieftains were graciously received; and it was on this occasion that O'Neill renounced his ancient name for his new titles. O'Donnell was made Earl of Tyrconnel at the same time. The first sheriffs appointed for Ulster were Sir Edward Pelham and Sir John Davies. The latter has left it on record, as his deliberate opinion, after many years' experience, "that there is no nation of people under the sun that doth love equal and indifferent justice better than the Irish, or will rest better satisfied with the execution thereof, although it be against themselves, so that they may have the protection and benefits of the law, when, upon just cause, they do desire it."