Sir Phelin O'neil

Justin McCarthy
Chapter V | Start of Chapter

Yet another of the O'Neils gave serious trouble to the English. This was Sir Phelin O'Neil, who in 1641 headed a rising of the natives in Ulster against the Scotch settlers, who had been planted on the soil of which the native Chieftains were dispossessed. Phelin O'Neil's rising has often been described by English historians as "the massacre of 1641." There is no reason to describe this rebellion as a massacre, unless we regard any rebellion against constituted authority, no matter how the authority may have been constituted, as a wanton massacre. The spirit of Ireland was always, at that time and for long after, in revolt against the constituted authority. The rising of 1641 was an attempt which for a brief season carried success along with it, and was maintained with terrible loss of life on both sides. Victory on either side was followed by a reckless and wholesale slaughter of the defeated enemies; but this was the common characteristic of all wars, more especially of civil wars, during those days, and there is no reason to believe that the followers of Sir Phelin O'Neil were any worse than their rivals and contemporaries. Mr. Goldwin Smith gives it as his opinion that during the struggle "the English and Scotch settlers perhaps exceeded the Irish in atrocity, especially when we consider their comparative civilization." He says that "the Irish population of Island Magee, though innocent of the rebellion, were massacred, man, woman, and child, by the Scotch garrison of Carrickfergus."