Garrett, Ninth Earl of Kildare (1513-1534)

Patrick Weston Joyce

317. After the death of the Great earl of Kildare his son Garrett Oge (the young) was appointed lord deputy by the king. The new deputy followed in the footsteps of his father. He defeated the O'Moores, of Leix, the O'Reillys, of Brefney, and the O'Tooles, of Wicklow; and he captured after a week's siege O'Carroll's castle of Leap, which had baffled his father.

Turning his arms next against the north, he took the strong castle of Dundrum, and captured and burned the castle of Dungannon.

318. This career of uninterrupted success excited the jealousy of some of the other Anglo-Irish lords, especially the Butlers, the hereditary foes of his house, who employed every means in their power to turn the king against him. But Kildare counteracted all these schemes so skilfully, that for a long time his enemies were unsuccessful; till at last Ormond managed to gain the ear of Cardinal Wolsey, through whose influence Kildare was summoned to England to answer charges of enriching himself from the crown revenues and of holding traitorous correspondence with the Irish enemies.

319. Soon after his arrival in England, Thomas Howard earl of Surrey was, at Wolsey's instance, sent to Ireland as lord lieutenant (in 1520). He marched north against Conn (Bacach) O'Neill, prince of the O'Neills of Tyrone, who had suddenly invaded the English settlements of Meath; but O'Neill retreated to his Ulster fastnesses, whither Surrey could not follow him. This chief made his peace soon after; and the king sent Surrey a chain of gold for him as a token of pardon and friendship.

Surrey next made peace between the earls of Ormond and Desmond, who had been actively keeping up the old feuds of their families. He took O'Conor's castle of Monasteroris; but O'Conor obstinately refused to come to terms, saying he would make no peace till the English were driven from the country.

320. In 1521 James earl of Desmond invaded the territories of two powerful chiefs of the Mac Carthys; but they defeated him at Mourne Abbey or Ballinamona between Mallow and Cork, and slew 2,000 of his men. In the end Surrey made peace between them.

321. From the very day of Surrey's arrival he applied himself to collect evidence against the earl of Kildare; taking down vague reports of every kind, aided all through by Pierce Roe of Ormond. Meantime Kildare married Lady Elizabeth Grey, a near relative of the king, which stopped for the time all further proceedings against him.

Surrey at last became heartily tired of his mission. He grew sick in mind and sick in body; and besought the king for leave to retire. This was at last granted; and he returned to England in 1521, after a stay of nearly two years.

322. In 1522 one of the ever-recurring feuds between the O'Neills and the O'Donnells broke out, and attained such magnitude as almost to deserve the name of civil war. The chief of the O'Neills, Conn Bacach, who had been inaugurated three years before, made a great gathering, determined to march into Tirconnell and bring the O'Donnells under thorough subjection. O'Donnell had an army very much smaller; but what he wanted in numbers he made up in generalship. After a good deal of skirmishing be surprised O'Neill's camp at night at Knockavoe near Strabane, and almost before the sentinels were aware of how matters stood, the two armies were fighting furiously in pitch darkness in the midst of the camp. After a long and fearful struggle, in which men found it hard to distinguish friend from foe, the O'Neills were routed with a loss of 900 men; and O'Donnell took possession of the camp, with an immense quantity of booty.

This battle of Knockavoe, which was one of the bloodiest ever fought between the Kinel Connell and Kinel Owen, did not end the quarrel. Kildare, who was Conn Bacach O'Neill's first cousin (312), tried hard to make peace; but in spite of his efforts the war continued for many years afterwards.

323. Let us now return to earl Garrett. When Surrey went back to England in 1521, Pierce Roe, earl of Ormond, Kildare's old enemy, was appointed lord deputy. The chief use he made of his power was to injure Kildare, several of whose castles he took and destroyed. But while he was still deputy, Kildare was at last permitted to return to Ireland; and as might have been expected, the feud now blazed up with tenfold fury; so that the king had to send over commissioners to investigate the dispute. Their decision was for Kildare; whom they appointed deputy in 1524 in place of Ormond.

324. Kildare was now directed by the king to arrest the earl of Desmond, who had been holding correspondence with the king of France about an invasion of Ireland. He led an army southwards on this unpleasant mission; but Desmond eluded pursuit, and the deputy returned without him to Dublin. It was afterwards alleged against him that he had intentionally allowed Desmond to escape arrest, which was probably true.

325. Kildare's enemies especially the two most powerful, Pierce Roe in Ireland, and Wolsey in England, still kept wideawake watching his proceedings and continually sending damaging reports about him. They succeeded at last so far as to have him summoned to England to answer several charges. He was not brought to trial; but at his own urgent request he was examined by the lords of the privy council: and he successfully defended himself against the bitter accusations of Wolsey, who, not being able to have him condemned, sent him back to the Tower.

326. Meantime things began to go on very badly in Ireland; and the Pale was attacked and plundered by O'Conor of Offally and several other chiefs. These disturbances were laid at the door of Kildare, who was openly accused of having, by messages from London, incited O'Conor and the others to attack the Palesmen.

327. But Kildare's extraordinary influence and good fortune again prevailed; he was released and restored to confidence. Sir William Skeffington was appointed lord deputy, and Kildare was sent with him to Ireland to advise and aid him. It was easy to foresee that this arrangement would not last long; for Kildare was too high and proud to act as subordinate to any English knight.

328. In 1531 Skeffington marched north against O'Neill. Kildare accompanied him to save appearances; for it is not to be supposed that he was earnest in taking part in a war on Conn O'Neill, his cousin and friend. There had been before this time jealousies and bickerings between Skeffington and Kildare, and while they were in the north, the old enmity between Kildare and the earl of Ormond, now earl of Ossory, almost broke out into open war. So this expedition, led as it was by divided commanders who hated each other heartily, was not likely to be very formidable; and on the appearance of O'Neill with his army, they did not wait to be attacked, but retreated southwards.

329. The enmity between Kildare and the deputy at last broke out openly; and the earl proceeded to England and laid his case before the king. The result was that Skeffington was removed, and Kildare became deputy once more.

As Wolsey was now dead, there was no single enemy that Kildare feared; and he used his great power unsparingly. He removed archbishop Alien from the chancellorship, and put George Cromer archbishop of Armagh in his place. He drew around him the most powerful of the Irish chiefs, and gave one of his daughters in marriage to O'Conor of Offaly, and another to O'Carroll tanist of Ely. He ravaged the territory of the Butlers in Kilkenny, and at his instigation his brother James Fitzgerald and his cousin Conn O'Neill entered Louth—a part of the Pale—burned the English villages, and drove away the cattle.

330. All these proceedings were eagerly watched and reported with exaggeration by Kildare's enemies; and at last the Dublin council, one of whom was the deposed chancellor archbishop John Allen, sent the master of the rolls, whose name was also John Allen, with reports to the king and to the English chancellor, Thomas Cromwell.

The result was that for the third time Kildare was summoned to England by the king to give an account of his government. There is some reason to suspect that he contemplated open rebellion and resistance; for now he furnished his castles with great guns, pikes, powder, etc., from the government stores in the castle of Dublin. At any rate he delayed obeying the order as long as he could. But at last there came a peremptory mandate; and the earl, with a heavy heart, set about preparing for his journey.

331. The Geraldines had become thoroughly Irish. They were always engaged in war, exactly like the native chiefs, they spoke and wrote the Irish language, read and loved Irish books and Irish lore of every kind, kept bards, shanachies, and antiquaries, as part of their household; and intermarried, fostered and gossiped with the leading Irish families. They were as much attached to all the native customs as the natives themselves; and when the Reformation came, they were champions of the Catholic religion. When we add to all this that they were known to be of an ancient and noble family, which told for much in Ireland, we have a sufficient explanation of the well-known fact that the native Irish were rather more attached to those Geraldines than to their own chiefs of pure Celtic blood.