The Flight of the Earls (1602-1608)

Patrick Weston Joyce

504. From the autumn of 1600 to the end of 1602, the work of destroying crops, cattle, and homesteads was busily carried on by Mountjoy and Carew, and by the governors of the garrisons, who wasted everything and made deserts for miles round the towns where they were stationed. We have already seen how thoroughly this was done in Munster and Leinster (407, 466, 470): it was now the turn of Ulster. In June 1602 Mountjoy himself marched north to prosecute the rebels, and remained in Ulster daring the autumn and winter, traversing the country in all directions, and destroying the poor people's means of subsistence.

505. And now the famine so deliberately planned swept through the whole country, and Ulster was, if possible, in a worse condition than Munster. For the ghastly results of the deputy's cruel policy we have his own testimony, as well as that of his secretary the historian Moryson. Mountjoy writes:—"We have seen no one man in all Tyrone of late but dead carcases merely hunger starved, of which we found divers as we passed. Between Tullaghoge and Toome [seventeen miles] there lay unburied 1,000 dead, and since our first drawing this year to Blackwater there were about 3,000 starved in Tyrone." But this did not satisfy him; for soon after he says:—"To-morrow I am going into the field, as near as I can utterly to waste the county Tyrone."

Next hear Moryson. "Now because I have often made mention formerly of our destroying the rebels' corn, and using all means to famish them, let me by one or two examples show the miserable estate to which the rebels were thereby brought." He then gives some hideous details, which show, if indeed showing were needed, that the women and children were famished as well as the actual rebels. And he goes on to say:—"And no spectacle was more frequent in the ditches of towns than to see multitudes of these poor people dead with their mouths all coloured green by eating nettles, docks, and all things they could rend up above ground."

506. O'Neill was not able to make any headway against Mountjoy and Docwra, both of whom continued to plant garrisons all through the province. With the few followers that remained to him, he retired into impenetrable fastnesses; and far from taking active measures, he had quite enough to do to preserve himself and his party from utter destruction. But he refused to submit, still clinging to the hope of help from abroad.

507. The news of the death of Red Hugh O'Donnell crushed the last hopes of the chiefs; and Rory O'Donnell and O'Conor Sligo submitted in December, and were gladly and favourably received. O'Neill himself, even in his fallen state, was still greatly dreaded; for the government were now, as they had been for years, haunted by the apprehension of another and more powerful armament from Spain. At length Mountjoy, authorised by the queen, sent Sir Garrett Moore, O'Neill's old friend, to offer him life, liberty, and pardon, with title and territory.

508. While the negotiations were going on, Mountjoy received private intelligence that the queen had died on the 24th March 1603. Keeping the news strictly secret, he hurried on the arrangements. On the 30th of March at Mellifont near Drogheda the chief made his submission to the deputy.

509. James I. of England, who had been James VI. of Scotland, was the first English king who was universally acknowledged by the Irish as their lawful sovereign; and they accepted him partly because he was descended in one line from their own ancient Milesian kings, and partly because they believed that though outwardly a Protestant he was at heart a Catholic.

510. Soon after the submission of O'Neill and O'Donnell they both went to England with Mountjoy. The king received them kindly and graciously; confirmed O'Neill in the title of earl of Tyrone; made Rory O'Donnell earl of Tirconnell; and restored both to most of their possessions and privileges.

511. There was now a very general belief in Ireland that the Catholic religion would be restored, as it was on the accession of Mary: and the citizens of some of the southern cities took back their churches and had Mass openly celebrated. But Mountjoy marched south and promptly stopped the movement, restoring the churches to the ministers of the Established Church.

512. In 1603 and 1604. English law was established in Tyrone and Tirconnell; Tanistry and Gavelkind (58) were abolished; and the inheritance of land all through Ireland was made subject to English law.

513. Notwithstanding that the earl of Tyrone had been received so graciously by the king, and was now settled down quietly as an English subject, yet he was looked upon with suspicion and hatred by the officials and adventurers, who could not endure to see him restored to rank and favour. Those who had looked forward to the forfeiture of his estates and to the confiscation of Ulster were bitterly disappointed when they found themselves baulked of their expected prey, and they determined to bring about his ruin. He was now constantly subjected to annoyance and humiliation, and beset with spies who reported the most trivial incidents of his everyday life. At the same time the earl of Tirconnell was persecuted almost as systematically.

514. At last matters reached a crisis. In 1607 a false report of a conspiracy for another rebellion was concocted and spread by Christopher St. Laurence baron of Howth, a man wholly devoid of principle, who had served against the Irish under lord Mountjoy: but probably he was in collusion with others.

The whole story of the conspiracy was an invention without the least foundation; yet rambling and absurd as St. Laurence's statement was it led to very important consequences; for in a short time the whole country was startled by the news that the two earls of Tyrone and Tirconnell had secretly fled from Ireland.

515. Tyrone had been on a visit at Slane with the deputy Chichester when he heard of the matter; and at the same time both he and Tirconnell were assured that it was intended to arrest them. Keeping his mind to himself he took leave of the deputy and went to Sir Garrett Moore of Mellifont, where he remained for a few days. On a Sunday morning he and his attendants took horse for Dundalk. He knew that he was bidding his old friend farewell for the last time; and Sir Garrett, who suspected nothing, was surprised to observe that he was unusually moved, blessing each member of the household individually, and weeping bitterly at parting. They rode on in haste till they reached Rathmullan on the western shore of Lough Swilly, where a ship that had been purchased by O'Rourke awaited them. Here he was joined by the earl of Tirconnell and his family.

516. The total number of exiles taking ship was about one hundred. At midnight on the 14th of September 1607 they embarked, and bidding farewell for ever to their native country, they made for the open sea. After a long, stormy, and perilous voyage, they landed in France, where they were received with great distinction by all, from the king downwards. From France the earls and their families proceeded by leisurely stages to Rome, where they took up their residence, being allowed ample pensions by the Pope and the king of Spain. O'Donnell died in the following year, 1608; and O'Neill, aged, blind, and worn by misfortune and disappointment, died in 1616. His son Henry was mysteriously murdered in Brussels in 1617; at whose death that branch of the family became extinct.

517. The profound quiet that followed the rebellion was suddenly broken by the hasty and reckless rising of Sir Cahir O'Doherty. This chief, then only twenty-one years of age, had hitherto been altogether on the side of the English; and his rebellion was a mere outburst of private revenge, having nothing noble or patriotic about it.

518. On one occasion, in 1608, he had an altercation with Sir George Paulett governor of Derry, who being a man of ill-temper, struck him in the face. O'Doherty, restraining himself for the time, retired and concerted his measures for vengeance; and he was joined by Niall Garve O'Donnell. He invited his friend Captain Harte the governor of Culmore fort and his wife to dinner. After dinner the governor was treacherously seized by O'Doherty's orders, and threatened with instant death if he did not surrender the fort. Harte firmly refused; but his wife, in her terror and despair, went to the fort and prevailed on the guards to open the gates. O'Doherty and his men rushed in and immediately took possession: and having supplied himself with artillery and ammunition from the fort, he marched on Derry that same night. He took it by surprise, slew Paulett, slaughtered the garrison, and sacked and burned the town. He was joined by several other chiefs, and held out from May to July 1608, when he was shot dead near Kilmacrenan in a skirmish with marshal Wingfield. The rising then collapsed as suddenly as it had begun. Some of those implicated were executed, and others were sent to the Tower of London, among whom were Niall Garve O'Donnell and his son, who were kept there in confinement for the rest of their days.