The Fort of the Strangers

Frank Mathew & Francis S. Walker
The Fort of the Strangers

TIR-CONNELL was sundered from hostile Tir-Owen by placid Lough Foyle. The O'Donnells were lords on one side of that long sheltered bay, in the last time of the clans, and the O'Neills on the other. Minor chiefs were obeyed; Inishowen, the dark country between Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly, was ruled by the O'Doghertys and the opposite hills by the O'Cahans; but the two greater houses overshadowed these and acknowledged no rivals except those dangerous Scots, the MacDonnells of Antrim. In the same way Lough Foyle now divides the Celtic and Catholic part of the North from the Protestant and colonised one. The latter might well be named the Fort of the Strangers.

Even the country is different when once you have crossed Lough Foyle. This is a castellated coast. Tory Island was named Torach, the Island of Towers, from its high broken cliffs; and this coast suggests the same title. Instead of the solid granite fortifications of Donegal, there are shattered black buttresses and pillars and towers of basalt. If you pass on the sea, you are often apt to mistake them for strongholds in ruins. Indeed, it is told that the galleons of the Armada bombarded one of these military cliffs. Old legends assert that these were fantastically shaped by the Devil, with intent to deceive; but some authorities hold that their castellation was the pastime of Giants. There were, it seems, many Giants hereabouts once. There was, for instance, Balor of the Mighty Blows, who, unless the Four Masters were mistaken, inhabited Tory Island and was doubly redoubtable because he had an eye in the back of his head. There was that chivalrous one who took the trouble to build the Giant's Causeway, arranging its unnatural tiers so that another who lived in Scotland could come over to fight him without inconvenience. Among these riven towers there are others erected by ordinary men, the stark ruins of castles perched high, as if they had been meant to be out of harm's way, but none the less shattered long ago and abandoned to the fury of storms.


A Home in Donegal

IN many of the peasants' houses in the north of Ireland the weaving of cloth and carpets is carried on by the men. The women do the spinning and dyeing, so that the whole family partakes in the work, which is often very beautiful, both in colouring and quality.

All these were subdued to the likeness of the neighbouring cliffs. When you see the proudest of all, Dunluce Castle, looming out of the mist from its high separated rock, you might easily think it a part of the ruined sea-wall beside it. You might imagine that only a Giant could have planted it there.

This long castellation defends a country quite unlike Donegal, for here you are no longer in mountains, and as you go eastwards you see the hills dwindle and the land become fertile. When you come to the coast facing Scotland you no longer behold that savage and fantastic defence. The eastern shore of Ireland is all comparatively low and unguarded, and so is most of the southern one, while along the north and the west there are mountains. It so happened that the open side faced Scotland and England, and that was why it was colonised while the mountains were left to the Celts. Even in Protestant Antrim there is a Celtic and Catholic fringe along the cliffs on the north: there you will find the descendants of the intrusive MacDonnells.

The level parts of Antrim and Down were always attractive to foreigners. The Danes found their way there, and so did the Normans, and then came the Highland Scots, who, though a kindred race and indeed, if the old Annals are right, originally Irish, were regarded as aliens. Whether the steps of the Causeway ever extended to the opposite Highlands or not, there was at all times an intercourse over the Moyle. Then the Scottish MacDonnells of the Isles became possessed of a territory in Antrim and afterwards of Rachray, Rathlin Island, that pile of black and white basalt, and later of the coast by Dunluce. There they remained, for Randal MacDonnell, the first Lord Antrim, was permitted to keep that barren place when forty thousand more desirable acres were sold to London Companies after the Flight of the Earls.

In that year the history of the Protestant North began. The O'Neills had been Lords of Tir-Owen, the country between Lough Erne and the mouth of the Lagan River, from time immemorial. Like the O'Donnells, they had been greatest at the end of their time. Shane the Proud, the first Earl of Tyrone, had struck for the Crown of All Ireland, and might have secured it if his own countrymen had sided with him. The second and greater Earl of Tyrone had joined hands with his rival, Red Hugh, and had shaken the grip of England again; but after his many wars he had knelt to a dead woman. When in Dublin Castle he had done homage to Queen Elizabeth in ignorance of her death (for that news had been kept from him lest he should refuse to surrender to a feeble antagonist) he had doomed himself to that miserable exile in Rome. And great was his fall. In that year Tir-Owen passed from the Catholic and rebellious O'Neills. At the mouth of the Lagan River now flourishes Ireland's most loyal and Protestant city, Belfast.

Beal-na-Farsad, the Mouth of the Ford, was merely a name till a castle was built there by De Courcy, one of the first Norman adventurers. This, though burnt soon, was restored, and in 1612 it was granted to Chichester who built a small town and imported many staunch Presbyterians from the lowlands of Scotland. These men made Belfast. Though its greatness is modern, for it was a modest town seventy years ago, it has been a strong Fort of the Strangers. These strangers, like all others who settled in Ireland, soon became Irish; but though none surpassed them in love of that country, they remained hostile to its older inhabitants. Belfast now expands year by year, building tall ships and manufacturing with American energy. It has the keen and hard life of an American town. Loyal though it is now, it was for a long time imbued with a Republican spirit; it has always been noted for a stern independence. Though it is the capital of the Black North and the chief stronghold of the Orange Society, it is proud to be Irish.

The Black North is a name used by Catholics elsewhere in Ireland, and is applied only to this Protestant portion. Black, in this case, I fancy, means bigoted and is suggestive of scowls. When the Danes invaded Ireland the natives distinguished between them, calling some the White Pagans and others the Black. Since it is probable that all were of fair complexions, historians have been puzzled by this; but may it not have been caused by the fact that one set of them exceeded the other in ferocity? It seems safe to conclude that the White Pagans were detested the least. Again there is an Irish phrase, the White-headed Boy, meaning the favourite, from which we may infer that white is an adjective implying esteem. Certain it is that black when applied to the North expresses dislike, and that this is reciprocated. Lough Foyle still separates enemies.

If that separation had been complete, the Protestant North might have been peaceful. The strife for which it is famous has been caused by the fact that the Catholics refused to be ousted. Though in some of the towns, as in Coleraine, they are few, in others, as in Londonderry and in Belfast, they are many, and that is the reason why these enjoy excellent riots. Coleraine and Londonderry were both assigned to the Irish Society of London in 1612 after the Flight of the Earls had left the coast clear for the Plantation of Ulster; but while the former was little more than a site and was successfully made Protestant, Derry-Columbkille was a place hallowed in Catholic eyes, and was an outpost in Tir-Connell, built as it was on the left bank of Lough Foyle. Such causes as these moulded the fate of the towns; but in the fields the struggle was general. The Catholic peasants, having nowhere to go, were reluctant to move, and also they were fond of their homes: even if they were driven out, they returned when it was possible. Thus the Scottish and English colonisation of these counties after 1612 led to long years of war. In the course of time, many of the colonists formed a Secret Society (note the effect of Irish air on them) calling themselves the Peep-o'-Day Boys. The members of this society were accustomed to visit their Catholic neighbours at dawn and give them the option "to Hell or to Connaught." On this, the Catholic peasants, not to be outdone, formed another called the Defenders. There was little to choose between them: they were equally murderous. Then in 1795 an affray between some Defenders and some Protestants caused the formation of the Orange Society. Since which time Ireland has heard a good deal of the Orangemen.

The Orange Society was benevolent and defensive. It did not forget the military rule that a defence should be offensive at times, and its good will was kept for its members. It was formed for mutual help and to maintain the laws and the peace of the country and to ensure the Protestant Ascendency. There is, unfortunately, reason to doubt whether it was successful in maintaining the peace. It had a great veneration for Oliver Cromwell and for William of Orange; and neither of these was remembered with love by the Catholics. When it honoured them publicly, blows were exchanged. On the other hand, it was opposed to the Pope, and it not seldom discouraged the Catholic religion with violence. For these reasons its name has been more than once associated with riots.


Mount Errigal

ERRIGAL, the highest mountain of Donegal, is very bare, with hardly any sign of vegetation. I remarked to a native that I thought from its shape it was of volcanic origin. He replied, "Ah, not at all, it's that way since the memory of man."

When you consider these, you should not forget the common pugnacity. Only an Irishman could appreciate the fierce joy of shouting "to Hell wid the Pope!" Many a man who had no claim to belong to the Orange Society has known the delight of breaking Catholic heads or of going down in a lost battle, outnumbered but damaging his foes to the last. Many who are slow to attend Mass are quick to seize their cudgels and charge, regardless of numbers, when they hear the Orange bands play the tune of Boyne Water. These frays represent the old Faction-fights. They have a charm of their own, since the combatants feel their efforts are pious, because they are made in the name of Religion. Like the Crusaders of old, whose spirit survives in them, the Protestant and Catholic champions feel that by their battles they make amends for the errors and shortcomings of peace.

When all is said, these fights are now only occasional. Even over these counties there broods the infrangible peace of Ireland: you may forget it in Belfast, that loud hive of industry, but as soon as you go into the fields it lulls you again. Naturally, the Protestant North is most akin to its neighbour Donegal: you will observe the same industry, the same stubborn pride, and the same self-respect; but you will not find the same poverty. Why are these Protestant counties the only ones really colonised? Why are they the only ones that have really prospered? The idea that they have succeeded commercially because they are Protestant and Scottish is mistaken. The industry and vigour are due to the different air of the North; and that is why they are no less visible in wild Donegal, though there, owing to the remoteness and the lack of organisation (for in spite of help it is still insufficient) they are poorly repaid. They are just as prominent among Irish Catholics in Antrim or Down. You must not suppose that even the Orange Society is Scottish; it has known many leaders of pure Irish descent, and among the names it honours now there is Kane, which is a form of O'Cahan. So too, some of the chief manufacturers are of Irish descent, and the best qualities of the North have been seen in such Catholics as Lord Russell of Killowen. But the success of the colonisation was due to the fact that most of the settlers were Scots and Protestants. Because they were Scots, they held together and found this new country congenial, since it was not greatly unlike their own and was near it; from its shores they could see the land they had left. Because they were Protestants, they were united against their Catholic neighbours. They landed in times when the two religions were everywhere openly hostile. Irish air made their children incapable of forgetting the past, and for that reason the old Puritan rage survives in them still. But they were more fortunate than the rest of the Irish in that their history only began in the year 1612; they had no bitter subjection to recall, no imaginary bliss to lament. Unity and a common belief in danger endowed them with strength, and in all their affairs they exhibited the ready and masterful spirit of soldiers. This example of theirs was not lost on the Catholics who remained in their midst. The colonised North has prospered because it was the Fort of the Strangers.