The Rebellion of 1641

Patrick Weston Joyce

549. This great rebellion was brought about by the measures taken to extirpate the Catholic religion; by the plantations of Chichester and Strafford; and by the non-confirmation of the graces, which made the people despair of redress. There were complaints from every side about religious hardships. As to the plantations, no one could tell where they might stop; and there was a widespread fear that the people of the whole country might be cleared off to make place for new settlers. Besides all this, those who had been dispossessed longed for the first opportunity to fall on the settlers and regain their homes and farms.

550. Some of the Irish gentry held meetings to force a redress of these hardships by insurrection. The leading spirit was Roger or Rory O'Moore of Leix, a man of unblemished character; and among the others were Sir Phelim O'Neill of the family of Tyrone and his brother Turlogh, lord Maguire of Fermanagh and his brother Rory, Magennis, O'Reilly, and some of the MacMahons.

551. They hoped for help from abroad; for many of their banished kindred had by this time risen to positions of great influence in France, Spain, and the Netherlands. And they sent for Owen Roe O'Neill, a soldier who had greatly distinguished himself in the service of Spain, nephew of the great Hugh O'Neill, earl of Tyrone, inviting him home to lead the insurgent army. He replied urging an immediate rising and holding out hopes of French help from cardinal Richelieu.

552. The 23rd of October 1641 was the day fixed on for a simultaneous rising. Dublin Castle with its large store of arms, and many of the fortresses and garrisons all over the country were to be seized, and the arms taken. Instructions were given to make the gentry prisoners, but to kill no one except in open conflict; and in general to have as little bloodshed as possible. The Ulster settlers from Scotland, being regarded as kinsmen, were not to be molested.

553. On the evening of the 22nd of October, when the preparations had been completed in Dublin, a man named Owen O'Connolly, to whom MacMahon had confided the secret, went straight to Sir William Parsons one of the lords justices, and told him of the plot. Parsons at first gave no heed to the story, for he perceived that O'Connolly was half drunk. But on consultation with his colleague Sir John Borlase, they arrested Maguire and MacMahon on the morning of the 23rd: these were subsequently tried in London and hanged. Rory O'Moore and some others then in Dublin escaped. Instant measures were taken to put the city in a state of defence.

554. But though Dublin was saved, the rising broke out on the 23rd all through the north. Sir Phelim O'Neill, by a treacherous stratagem, obtained possession of Charlemont fort. The rebels gained possession of Newry, Dungannon, Castleblayney, and many smaller stations. Sir Phelim exhibited a forged commission, giving him authority, which he alleged he had received from king Charles, to which was attached the great seal he had found in one of the castles.

555. At the end of a week nearly all Ulster was in the hands of the rebels, and Sir Phelim had an army of 30,000, armed with knives, pitchforks, scythes, and every weapon they could lay hands on. During the first week of the rising the original intention (552) was carried out, and there was hardly any bloodshed. But most of the people who rose up were persons who had been deprived of their lands, and after a time they broke loose from all discipline and wreaked their vengeance without restraint and without mercy on the settlers. The country farm houses all over the settlements were attacked by detached parties. Multitudes were stripped and turned out half naked from house and home—old and young, men, women, and children; and hundreds, vainly trying to make their way to Dublin or others of the Government stations, perished by the wayside, of exposure, hardship, and hunger.

But there was even worse: for numbers were murdered, often with great cruelty. Some of these excesses were carried out by the orders of O'Neill himself; but the greatest number were the acts of irresponsible persons wreaking vengeance for their own private wrongs.

556. The numbers of victims have been wildly exaggerated: but Dr. Warner, an English writer, a Protestant clergyman, who made every effort to come at the truth, believes that in the first two years of the rebellion, 4,000 were murdered, and that 8,000 died of ill usage and exposure. But even this is probably in excess.

557. There were wholesale murders also on the other side. Some of the refugees who had fled to Carrickfergus, burning with their own wrongs, sallied out in November with the Scottish garrison, and slaughtered a number of harmless people in Island Magee, who had taken no part in any disturbance.

The two lords justices sent parties of military from Dublin through the country all round, who slaughtered all the people they met, whether engaged in rebellion or not. Their general, Sir Charles Coote, committed horrible cruelties, especially in Wicklow.

558. Many Protestants were protected by individual Catholics. The priests exerted themselves, often at the risk of their own lives, sometimes hiding the poor fugitives under the very altar cloths. The Protestant bishop, Dr. Bedell, who was very popular, was not molested; and numbers of fugitive settlers had a safe asylum in his house. The people at last confined him in Cloghoughter Castle merely to protect him; and on his death in February 1642, they attended his funeral in crowds with great expressions of regret.

559. The sanguinary episode of this memorable year in Ulster reminds us of what took place on a much larger scale forty years before in the same province. One was an unpremeditated outburst of merciless popular rage: the other the slower and surer destruction of much larger numbers by the carefully planned arrangements of Mountjoy.

560. Towards the end of 1641, the old Anglo-Irish nobility of the Pale, who were all Catholics and all loyal, hearing of some threats uttered by Sir Charles Coote to extirpate the whole Catholic population, and finding themselves slighted and insulted by the lords justices on account of their religion, and their houses burned by Coote, combined for their own protection; and soon all the Pale was in revolt. In a short time the rebellion extended through all Ireland.

At this time king Charles and his parliament were in open hostility in England: and the Puritans and the Scotch Presbyterians were amongst the most successful of his opponents.

561. At the opening of 1642 we find in the distracted country four distinct parties, each with an army:—The old Irish, who aimed at complete separation from England; the old Anglo-Irish Catholics, who wanted religious and civil liberty, but not separation; the Puritans under general Munro, the most determined of the king's enemies, including the Scots of Ulster; and lastly the Protestant loyalist party in the Pale, who held Dublin.

The native Irish party, led by Rory O'Moore, were the special opponents of the Puritans.

562. The war went on during the early part of this year, 1642, with varying fortunes sometimes the rebels victorious, sometimes the Government forces. In Ulster the rebels were losing ground, and losing heart, chiefly through the incompetency of Sir Phelim O'Neill. The Scottish army there soon amounted to 20,000 men under Munro, who acted and fought as it were for themselves, for they were equally opposed to both the king and the Catholics of both sections.

563. Owen Roe O'Neill arrived in Ireland in July 1642, with a single ship and a hundred officers, and taking command in place of Sir Phelim, immediately set about organising the scattered Irish forces. He soon changed the whole aspect of affairs. He strongly denounced the past cruelties, and severely punished some of the worst offenders. Soon afterwards another important leader landed to join the confederates, colonel Preston, brother of lord Gormanstown, with 500 officers and some stores.