Irish Confederates

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900
CHAPTER LIII. (continued)

Meanwhile, as I have already described, the Scots, whose "grievances" were in nowise to be compared with these, had obtained full redress by an armed demonstration. It was not to be expected in the nature of things that events so suggestive would be thrown away on the spoliated Catholic nobles and gentry of Ireland. Accordingly, we find them about this period conferring, confederating, or conspiring, on the basis of an Irish and Catholic "solemn league and covenant"—of much more modest pretensions, however, than the Scottish Calvinistic original. Their movement, too, was still more notably distinguished from that demonstration by the most emphatic and explicit loyalty to the king, whom indeed they still credited with just and tolerant dispositions, if freed from the restraint of the persecuting Puritan faction. They saw, too, that the king and the parliament were at utter issue, and judged that by a bold coup they might secure for themselves royal recognition and support, and turn the scale against their bitter foes and the king's.

Moreover, by this time the "other Irish nation"—"the Irish abroad," had grown to be a power. Already the exiles on the continent possessed ready to hand a considerable military force, and a goodly store of money, arms, and ammunition. For they had "not forgotten Jerusalem," and wherever they served or fought, they never gave up that hope of "a good day yet in Ireland." The English State Paper Office holds several of the letters or reports of the spies retained by the government at this time to watch their movements; and, singularly enough, these documents describe to us a state of things not unlike that existing at this day, toward the close of the nineteenth century!—the Irish in exile, organized in the design of returning and liberating their native land, assessing themselves out of their scanty pay for contributions to the general fund![4] The Irish abroad had moreover, what greatly enhanced their military influence—prestige. Already, they had become honorably known as "bravest of the brave" on the battlefields of Spain, France, and the Netherlands.

Communications were at once opened between the exiles and the confederates at home, the chief agent or promoter of the movement being a private gentleman, Mr. Roger O'More, or O'Moore, a member of the ancient family of that name, chiefs of Leix. With him there soon became associated Lord Maguire, an Irish nobleman, who retained a small fragment of the ancient patrimony of his family in Fermanagh; his brother Roger Maguire, Sir Felim O'Neill of Kinnard, Sir Con Magennis, Colonel Hugh Oge Mac Mahon, Very Rev. Heber Mac Mahon, Vicar-General of Clogher, and a number of others.

About May, Nial O'Neill arrived in Ireland from the titular Earl of Tyrone (John, son of Hugh O'Neill), in Spain, to inform his friends that he had obtained from Cardinal Richelieu a promise of arms, ammunition, and money for Ireland when required, and desiring them to hold themselves in readiness. The confederates sent back the messenger with information as to their proceedings, and to announce that they would be prepared to rise a few days before or after All-Hallowtide, according as opportunity answered. But scarcely was the messenger dispatched when news was received that the Earl of Tyrone was killed, and another messenger was sent with all speed into the Low Countries to (his cousin) Colonel Owen (Roe) O'Neill, who was the next entitled to be their leader. "In the course of September their plans were matured; and, after some changes as to the day, the 23d of October was finally fixed upon for the rising."[5]

The plan agreed upon by the confederates included four main features: I. A rising after the harvest was gathered in, and a campaign during the winter months. II. A simultaneous attack on one and the same day or night on all the fortresses within reach of their friends. III. To surprise the Castle of Dublin, which was said to contain arms for twelve thousand men. "All the details of this project were carried successfully into effect, except the seizure of Dublin Castle—the most difficult, as it would have been the most decisive blow to strike."[6] The government, which at this time had a cloud of spies on the Continent watching the exiles, seems to have been in utter ignorance of this vast conspiracy at home, wrapping nearly the entire of three provinces, and, which perfected all its arrangements throughout several months of preparation, to the knowledge of thousands of the population, without one traitorous Irishman being found, up to the night fixed for the simultaneous movement, to disclose the fact of its existence.

On the night appointed without failure or miscarriage at any point, save one, out of all at which simultaneousness of action was designed, the confederate rising was accomplished. In one night the people had swept out of sight, if not from existence, almost every vestige of English rule throughout three provinces. The forts of Charlemont and Mountjoy, and the town of Dungannon, were seized on the night of the 22d by Phelim O'Neill or his lieutenants. On the next day, Sir Connor Magennis took the town of Newry; the M'Mahons possessed themselves of Carrickmacnoss and Castleblayney; the O'Hanlons, Tandragee; while Philip O'Reilly and Roger Maguire raised Cavan and Fermanagh.

A proclamation of the northern leaders appeared the same day, dated from Dungannon, setting forth their "true intent and meaning" to be, "not hostility to his majesty the king, nor to any of his subjects, neither English nor Scotch;—but only for the defense and liberty of ourselves and the Irish natives of this kingdom." "A more elaborate manifesto appeared shortly afterward from the pen of O'Moore, in which the oppressions of the Catholics for conscience' sake were detailed, the king's intended graces acknowledged, and their frustration by the malice of the Puritan party exhibited: it also endeavored to show that a common danger threatened the Protestants of the Episcopal Church with Roman Catholics, and asserted in the strongest terms the devotion of the Catholics to the crown. In the same politic and tolerant spirit, Sir Connor Magennis wrote from Newry on the 25th to the officers commanding at Down. 'We are,' he wrote, 'for our lives and liberties. We desire no blood to be shed; but if you mean to shed our blood, be sure we shall be as ready as you for that purpose.' This threat of retaliation, so customary in all wars, was made on the third day of the rising, and refers wholly to future contingencies; the monstrous fictions which were afterward circulated of a wholesale massacre committed on the 23d, were not as yet invented, nor does any public document or private letter written in Ireland in the last week of October, or during the first days of November, so much as allude to those tales of blood and horror afterward so industriously circulated and so greedily swallowed."[7]

The one point at which miscarriage occurred was, unfortunately for the conspirators, the chief one in their scheme—Dublin; and here the escape of the government was narrow and close indeed. On the night fixed for the rising, October, 23d one of the Irish leaders Colonel Hugh Mac Mahon, confided the design to one Owen Connolly, whom he though to be worthy of trust, but who, however, happened to be a follower of Sir John Clotworthy, one of the most rabid of the Puritanical party. Connolly, who, by the way, was drunk at the time, instantly hurried to the private residence of one of the lords justices and excitedly proclaimed to him that that night, the castle was to be seized, as part of a vast simultaneous movement all over the country. Sir W. Parsons, the lord justice, judging the story to be merely the raving of a half-drunken man, was on the point of turning Connolly out of' doors, when, fortunately for him, he thought it better to test the matter. He hurriedly consulted his colleague, Sir John Borlase; they decided to double the guards, shut the city gates, and search the houses wherein, according to Connolly's story the leaders of the conspiracy were at that moment awaiting the hour of. action.

Colonel Mac Mahon was seized at his lodgings, near the King's Inns; Lord Maguire was captured next morning in a house in Cooke Street; but O'Moore, Plunkett, and Byrne, succeeded in making good their escape out of the city. Mac Mahon, on being put to question before the lords justices in the castle, boldly avowed his part in the national movement; nay, proudly gloried in it, telling his questioners that let them do what they might, their best or their worst, with him, "the rising was now beyond all human power to arrest." While the lords justices looked astounded, haggard, and aghast, Mac Mahon, his face radiant with exultation, his form appearing to dilate with proud defiance of the bloody fate he knew to be inevitable for himself, told them to bear him as soon as they pleased to the block, but that already Ireland had burst her chains! Next day, they found to their dismay that this was no empty vaunt. Before forty-eight hours the whole structure of British "colonization" in the North was a wreck. The "plantation" system vanished "like the baseless fabric of a vision;" and while the ship was bearing away to England the gallant Mac Mahon and his hapless colleague, Lord Maguire—that an impotent vengeance might glut itself with their blood upon the scaffold—from all the towers and steeples in the north, joy bells were ringing merry peals, and bonfires blazed, proclaiming that the spoliators had been swept away, and that the rightful owners enjoyed their own again! The people, with the characteristic exuberance of their nature, gave themselves up to the most demonstrative joy and exultation. No words can better enable us to realize the popular feeling at this moment than Mr. Gavan Duffy's celebrated poem, "The Muster of the North:"

"Joy! joy! the day is come at last, the day of hope and pride,
And, see! our crackling bonfires light old Bann's rejoicing tide!
And gladsome bell and bugle-horn, from Newry's captured tow'rs,
Hark! how they tell the Saxon swine, this land is ours—is ours!

"Glory to God! my eyes have seen the ransomed fields of Down,
My ears have drunk the joyful news, 'Stout Phelim hath his own.'
Oh! may they see and hear no more, oh! may they rot to clay,
When they forget to triumph in the conquest of to-day.

"Now, now, we'll teach the shameless Scot to purge his thievish maw;
Now, now, the courts may fall to pray, for Justice is the Law;
Now shall the undertaker square for once his loose accounts,
We'll strike, brave boys, a fair result from all his false amounts.

"Come, trample down their robber rule, and smite its venal spawn,
Their foreign laws, their foreign church, their ermine and their lawn,
With all the specious fry of fraud that robbed us of our own,
And plant our ancient laws again beneath our lineal throne.

"Down from the sacred hills whereon a saint commun'd with God,
Up from the vale where Bagnal's blood manured the reeking sod,
Out from the stately woods of Truagh, M'Kenna's plundered home,
Like Malin's waves, as fierce and fast, our faithful clansmen come.

"Then, brethren, on!—O'Neill's dear shade would frown to see you pause—
Our banished Hugh, our martyred Hugh, is watching o'er your cause—
His generous error lost the land—he deemed the Norman true,
Oh! forward, friends! it must not lose the land again in you."


[4] Mr. Haverty, the historian, quotes one of these "reports" which, as he says, was first brought to light in the Nation newspaper of 5th of February, 1859, having been copied from the original in the State Paper Office. It is a list or return of the names of the "dangerous" Irish abroad, supplied by one of the English spies. "The list begins with Don Richardo Burke, 'a man much experienced in martial affairs,' and 'a good inginiere.' He served many years under the Spaniards in Naples and the West Indies, and was the governor of Leghorn for the Duke of Florence. Next 'Phellomy O'Neill, nephew unto old Tyrone, liveth in great respect (in Milan), and is a captain of a troop of horse.' Then come James Rowthe or Rothe, an alfaros or standard-bearer in the Spanish army, and his brother, Captain John Rothe, ' a pensioner in Naples, who carried Tyrone out of Ireland.' One Captain Solomon Mac Da, a Geraldine, resided at Florence, and Sir Thomas Talbot, a knight of Malta, and 'a resolute and well-beloved man,' lived at Naples, in which latter city ' there were some other Irish captains and officers.' The list then proceeds. 'In Spain, Captain Phellomy Cavanagh, son in-law to Donell Spaniagh, serveth under the king by sea; Captain Somlevayne (O'Sullivan), a man of noted courage. These live commonly at Lisbonne, and are sea-captains. Besides others of the Irish, Captain Driscoll, the younger, sonne to old Captain Driscoll; both men reckoned valourous. In the court of Spaine liveth the sonne of Richard Burke, which was nephew untoe William, who died at Valladolid . . . he is in high favour with the king, and (as it is reported) is to be made a marquis; Captain Toby Bourke, a pensioner in the court of Spain, another nephew of the said William deceased; Captain John Bourke M'Shane, who served long time in Flanders, and now liveth on his pension assigned on the Groyne. Captain Daniell, a pensioner at Antwerp. In the Low Countries, under the Archduke, John O'Neill, sonne of the arch-traitor Tyrone, colonel of the Irish regiment. Young O'Donnell, sonne of the late traitorous Earl of Tirconnell. Owen O'Neill (Owen Roe), serjeant-major (equivalent to the present lieutenant-colonel) of the Irish regiment. Captain Art O'Neill, Captain Cormac O'Neill, Captain Donel O'Donel, Captain Thady O'Sullivane, Captain Preston, Captain Fitz Gerrott; old Captain Fitz Gerrott continues serjeant-major, now a pensioner; Captain Edmond O'Mor, Captain Bryan O'Kelly, Captain Stanihurst, Captain Gorton, Captain Daniell, Captain Walshe. There are diverse other captaines and officers of the Irish under the Archduchess (Isabella), some of whose companies are cast, and they made pensioners. Of these serving under the Archduchess, there are about one hundred able to command companies, and twenty fit to be colonels. Many of them are descended of gentlemen's families and some of noblemen. These Irish soldiers and pensioners doe stay their resolutions until they see whether England makes peace or war with Spaine. If peace, they have practised already with other soveraine princes, from whom they have received hopes of assistance; if war doe ensue, they are confident of greater ayde. They have been long providing of arms for any attempt against Ireland, and had in readiness five or six thousand arms laid up in Antwerp for that purpose, bought out of the deduction of their monthly pay, as will be proved, and it is thought they have doubled that proportion by these means.'"

[5] Haverty.

[6] M'Gee.

[7] M'Gee.