Thursday, December 15, 2005

nEoghan Ua Niall

Ulster was an ancient province of northern Ireland, named after one of its chief inhabitants, the Ulaid(Voluntii). Other early peoples included the Pictish tribe of the Robogdii, the Cruithin and the Darini. Later there were the Dal Riata, Dal nAraide and the Dal Fiatach. Ulster had its ancient capital at Emain Macha, near the modern city of Armagh.

Attacks from the midland kingdom of Mide led to Ulster's disintegration in the 4th and 5th centuries. The province subsequently split into the three kingdoms of Airgialla (in central Ulster), Aileach (in western Ulster), and the kingdom of Ulaid (in eastern Ulster). By the 8th century the island's clans had grouped themselves into five provinces, of which Ulster under the Uí Néill dynasty was the leading one until the 11th century.

Norman adventurers from England, South Wales, and the European continent succeeded in establishing themselves in Ireland by the late 12th century, and in 1205 the English king, John Plantagenet, took control and created an earldom of Ulster.

Meanwhile, the O'Neills (of County Tyrone) and the O'Donnells (of County Tyrconnell) had become virtually supreme in much of Ulster, and these two Roman Catholic clans were subsequently involved in rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I from 1594 to 1601, caused in part by attempts to impose the English Reformation on the Irish. The failure of negotiations with James I led to the flight of the northern earls of Tyrone, Tyrconnell, and many others in 1607.


By the turn of the fourteenth century the territorial extent of the Irish lordship was at its height. The O'Brien's regained power in northern Munster(Thomond). The O'Donnell and O'Neill clans were still extant in northern Ireland. The Irish chiefs also included McCarthy (Cork), O'Connor (Sligo), O'Rourke (Leitrim), O'Reilly (Cavan), MacCartan (Down), MacMahon (Monaghan), Maguire (Fermanagh), and O'Hanlon (Armagh). Around the time of the Scottish campaign into Ireland (1315-1318) headed by Edward and Robert Bruce, earldoms, liberties and counties began to be created in Ireland.

Roger Mortimer held the lordship of the liberty of Trim in Meath. The head of the Leinster Geraldines, John fitz Thomas of Offaly, was created earl of Kildare in 1316. John de Bermingham, the victor at the Battle of Faughart over Edward Bruce,was created earl of Louth in 1319. In 1328 James Butler was created earl of Ormond, with jurisdiction over the new liberty of Tipperary. In 1329 the head of the Munster Geraldines, Maurice fitz Thomas, was made earl of Desmond with jurisdiction over the new liberty of Kerry.


The Flight abroad in 1607 of the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell and their followers is generally reckoned to mark the end of Gaelic Ireland as a distinct political system. It was Henry VIII and his Tudor successors, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I, who completed the conquest of Ireland begun by the Anglo-Normans four centuries before. Prior to the time of the Tudors, most parts of Ireland lay outside English control, being dominated either by Gaelic lords such as O'Neill and O'Donnell, or descendants of the Anglo-Norman conquerors such as Fitzgerald and Butler.

Following the destruction of the Leinster Fitzgeralds in 1535 in the wake of the revolt of Silken Thomas, Henry was in a position to try more conciliatory methods, designed particularly to persuade the Gaelic and Gaelicised Anglo-Norman lords to give up their distinctive ways and submit to the Crown. The policy of 'Surrender and Regrant', whereby Irish lords submitted to English control and received English titles in return, was a considerable success, examples being Burke, created Earl of Clanrickard, O'Brien, created Earl of Thomond, and O'Neill, created Earl of Tyrone. Yet Henry's second great campaign, a religious one to extend the Protestant Reformation to Ireland, enjoyed little success in Gaelic areas.

Under Henry's daughter Elizabeth, the policy of subduing Ireland was pursued with determination, but she was also prepared to ally persuasion with force when she deemed it appropriate. In 1570 the establishment of Presidencies in Munster and Connacht brought English government to these areas. The Munster Rebellion of 1579-83 was put down with great severity, and was followed by a plantation, while in 1585 the lords and landowners of Connacht accepted English land tenure under the 'Composition of Connacht'.

Ulster remained the exception to this record of success, and the English moved to confront the northern Gaelic lords in the 1590s. In 1595 Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, openly joined Hugh O'Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell, and Hugh Maguire of Fermanagh in resisting English encroachments with force. Thus began the Nine Years War, the final contest which would decide the future of Gaelic Ireland and the Tudor Conquest.

O'Neill's extension of the conflict outside his territories, his acceptance of Spanish assistance, and his promotion of Catholicism, all combined to persuade the English of the critical importance of defeating him and his followers. O'Neill's military tactics were primarily defensive, but extremely skilled, and in 1598 he won a great victory over the English at the Battle of the Yellow Ford.

The English under Lord Deputy Mountjoy responded with a scorched earth policy. When the Spaniards arrived in Kinsale in 1601, the Irish risked an offensive march south, but this led to the disastrous defeat at Kinsale in that year. O'Neill, O'Donnell and their allies retreated, and the English over-ran Ulster. Hugh O'Donnell departed to Spain, and on his death there, his brother Rory became Earl of Tyrconnell. O'Neill himself surrendered in 1603 and signed a Treaty at Mellifont, Elizabeth unknown to him having died shortly before.

It is a measure of O'Neill's continuing strength that he had not been forced to surrender unconditionally, but had in effect secured a negotiated settlement, and both he and Rory O'Donnell were allowed to return to their lands. Elizabeth's successor, James VI of Scotland and I of England, was anxious to maintain O'Neill's renewed loyalty, while O'Neill for his part was prepared to try to work within the new system. However, O'Neill was soon to decide that he could not live with the new order and that flight abroad was preferable.

It is, though, worthwhile looking at the differing circumstances of O'Neill and Rory O'Donnell in the aftermath of the 1603 settlement. O'Neill was master within his Earldom, whereas O'Donnell had to contend with the rival claims of Niall Garbh O'Donnell. Themain concern of both O'Neill and O'Donnell was the attitude of the Lord Deputy, Sir Arthur Chichester, and his Solicitor General, Sir John Davies, who resented the Gaelic lords' continuing privileged position in the north, and sought to use institutions of English law to undermine them.

Fearing that Chichester was to be appointed Lord President of Ulster, O'Neill appealed directly to James VI in 1606 against what he saw as the imposition of an overlord. James remained committed to conciliating O'Neill, and he was assured that 'the King had no thoughts of establishing such a government' as the Presidency of Ulster. In contrast, the positions of O'Donnell and Maguire of Fermanagh were worsening, and the evidence indicates that they were planning to abandon Ireland and enlist in the army of Archduke of the Netherlands, then a Spanish possession.

Another opportunity to weaken O'Neill was presented by a territorial dispute in 1607 between him and his son-in-law, the chieftain Donal O'Cahan. Davies encouraged O'Cahan to file a suit against O'Neill, which the Solicitor-General saw as a useful test case to assert royal control over O'Neill's lands. King James had invited O'Neill to submit his grievances directly to him, and O'Neill acted on this invitation. Although the Privy Council in Dublin favoured O'Cahan, the King ordered O'Cahan and O'Neill to present themselves before the English Privy Council in order to decide the case. Meanwhile, Maguire had left Ireland, and O'Donnell was preparing to do likewise. O'Neill was also to make a decision to go into exile.

O'Neill believed his position in Ireland was becoming untenable, and that the invitation to London was a prelude to arrest and execution. O'Neill therefore decided to retreat to Spain and appeal to King Philip for military assistance. O Neill explained his predicament thus to King Philip:. . . in order to save our lives, there was no other remedy but to take up arms, or to escape from the Kingdom. We chose to escape rather than stir the whole Kingdom to rebellion without first being assured of the help and assistance of the Spanish.

As a result of bad weather, O'Neill and his party had to land first in France, and due largely to English intrigue eventually ended up in Rome without being able to make immediate contact with King Philip. O'Neill, neither defeated nor in permanent exile, but merely having tactically retreated abroad in the hope of returning with Spanish military assistance, died in Rome in 1616.


Post a Comment

<< Home