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The History of Ulster
The New Legislation

The Solitariness of Ulster - The O'Neills and O'Donnells ignore Simnel - Gerald, eighth Earl of Kildare - His Alliances with Ulster Chiefs - Poynings' Arrival - His March into Ulster - Parliament at Drogheda passes Poynings' Act - Turlough O'Neill and Hugh Roe O'Donnell - Battle of Knockdoe - Death of Hugh Roe O'Donnell - The Polite Letter Writer!

The strange manner in which Ulster kept aloof while disturbances of all kinds took place in other parts of Ireland has already been commented upon. She was, as has been stated, preoccupied with her own affairs, and upheavals in the other provinces did not disturb her, unless her own borders were invaded or an attempt made to interfere with the tenor of her way. Lord-Lieutenants and Lords Justices might come and go, she was indifferent; even kings might follow each other in rapid succession without the O'Neill or the O'Donnell taking any cognizance of the fact. Thus, in the reign of Edward IV, the Wars of the Roses and the accession of Richard III made little or no impression on the chieftains of Tirowen and Tirconnell, who continued to wage war on each other, unconcerned as to what events were taking place in either Dublin or London. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the defeat and death of Richard III and the triumph of Henry VII were matters of no moment to either the O'Neill or the O'Donnell. Even the advent of that claimant to the earldom of Warwick and to the throne of England, the pretender, Lambert Simnel, who was welcomed with ardour in Dublin, received by Kildare, the deputy, and crowned king by the Bishop of Meath, made no impression on Ulster. The Archbishop of Armagh refused to countenance the impostor, although the Archbishop of Dublin, the Prior of Kilmainham, and, as we have seen, the Bishop of Meath, supported him. Henry O'Neill also, though allied by marriage with the Lord Deputy, remained inactive. One would have imagined that when Kildare headed an insurrection, O'Neill would, as his brother-in-law, have joined him, with Conn O'Neill (afterwards created Earl of Tirowen), the Deputy's son-in-law. But in this rebellion Ulster remained a thing apart. This is all the more unaccountable when we remember that the Lord Deputy, called by his own following Geroit Mor, or Gerald the Great, was perhaps the most important chief governor who ruled Ireland upon thoroughgoing Irish principles. He possessed a fascinating personality, being "a mighty man of stature, full of honour and courage", and his hasty espousal of Simnel's cause is accounted for by his being "soone hotte and soone cold", as well as by his displaying a "headye carelessness", which might, but for his alliances with powerful Irish chieftains, have led, as they nearly did in his recognition of Lambert Simnel, to his own undoing.

The King became suspicious of Kildare's equivocal conduct; and when a fresh claimant to the crown appeared in the person of that creature of the Duchess of Burgundy, Perkin Warbeck, Henry, remembering Kildare's encouragement of Simnel, and the Yorkist proclivities of the family of the Geraldines, summoned him to London, ostensibly to consult with him on Irish affairs, but most probably to hold him in check. Kildare excused himself from attendance on the King, sending at the same time profuse protestations of his loyalty. In 1492 some family squabbles in which the Lord Deputy interfered, gave Henry an excuse to dismiss him from office, and Walter FitzSimon, Archbishop of Dublin, was appointed his successor.

Native Viceroys proving failures, Henry now bestowed on his second son, Henry, Duke of York, the title of Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and appointed as Lord Deputy Sir Edward Poynings, a Knight of the Garter and Privy Councillor. He arrived (1494) accompanied by a force of 1000 men-at-arms, and five or six English lawyers, who were appointed to fill the places of Lord Chancellor, Lord Treasurer, and other offices from which the occupiers, most of whom had been concerned either in the Simnel or Warbeck rising, were summarily ejected. Poynings' avowed intention was to thrust back the native Irish; his real object was to crush the adherents of Warbeck. With this purpose in view he marched, with Kildare in his train, against O'Donnell of Tirconnell, who, it was said, was in league with the King of Scotland. Not long before this, in an inroad by Hugh Oge MacMahon and John O'Reilly, sixty Anglo-Irishmen of good social standing had been killed and many taken prisoners; but on the Deputy's approach the Irish chiefs retreated to their mountain fastnesses, and Poynings, finding no enemy to attack, laid waste their lands. A report was then spread that the Earl of Kildare was conspiring with O'Hanlon and Magennis, Ulster chieftains, to cut off the Lord Deputy, and news arrived that the Earl's brother had seized the castle of Carlow and raised the Yorkist flag. Under these circumstances Sir Edward made peace on any terms with O'Hanlon and Magennis, into whose territory he had entered, and, returning to the south, recovered possession of Carlow Castle after a siege of ten days.

In the month of November, 1495, was held at Drogheda the memorable Parliament at which the famous statute called after the Lord Deputy Poynings' Law was passed. This Act was long a rock of offence, and is even still a prominent feature in Irish political controversy. By this Parliament it was enacted that all the statutes lately made in England affecting the public weal should be good and effectual in Ireland; the hated Statute of Kilkenny was confirmed, with the exception of the provisions relating to the use of the Irish language and the non-use of saddles, both of which practices had become so universal that it was thought to be hopeless to forbid them; laws were framed for the defence of the marches; it was made a felony to permit "enemies or rebels" to pass through these border lands; the general use of bows and arrows was enjoined, and the war-cries which some of the great English families had adopted in imitation of the Irish were strictly forbidden. The old law called the Statute of Henry Fitz-Empress (Henry II), which enabled the Council to elect a Lord Deputy on the office becoming suddenly vacant by death, was repealed, and it was enacted that the government should in such a case be entrusted to the Lord Treasurer until a successor could be appointed by the King. But the particular statute known as Poynings' Act was one which provided that henceforth no Parliament should be held in Ireland until the Chief Governor and Council had first certified to the king, under the Great Seal, "as well the causes and considerations, as the Act they designed to pass, and till the same should be approved by the King and Council". This, as will be seen, practically reduced the Irish Parliament to a mere court for registering laws already passed elsewhere, passed too often without the smallest regard to the special requirements of the country for which they purported to be framed. The Act virtually made the Irish Parliament a nullity; and when, later, it came to affect, not merely the English Pale, for which it was originally framed, but the whole of Ireland when brought under English law, it was felt to be one of the most intolerable grievances under which the country suffered.

By this same Parliament Kildare was attainted on the ground of conspiracy. The charges appear to have been founded on mere suspicion, but the Earl was sent to England and detained there a prisoner for twelve months. He was then brought to trial, and allowed to plead his cause in the King's presence. His blunt boldness seems to have disarmed Henry's suspicions, and he was sent back to Ireland as Lord Deputy. This turning of a poacher into a keeper was a bold stroke on the King's part, and proved a most successful policy.

Kildare, it will be remembered, was connected by marriage with Conn O'Neill of Ulster, in which province war had been raging since 1491. In 1493 Tirowen was laid waste by a contest for the succession among the O'Neills themselves, and in a sanguinary battle at Glasdrummond Conn O'Neill triumphed over his opponent Donnell O'Neill. Then Hugh Roe O'Donnell of Tirconnell, with a large army, marched into Tirowen, and after a furious encounter with Henry Oge O'Neill, at Beanna Boirche in the beautiful Mountains of Mourne, returned home victorious. In 1495 O'Donnell visited the King of Scotland, and was received with great honours. In the Scottish accounts he is called the Great O'Donnell, but nothing certain is known of the object of his visit. On his return, in the same year, he attacked O'Conor Roe at Sligo, but raised the siege of that town on the approach of MacWilliam (de Burgh) of Clanrickard. In 1497, disgusted with the dissensions between his sons, Hugh Roe O'Donnell resigned the lordship of Tirconnell, which was then assumed by his son Conn; but his second son, Hugh Oge, would not consent to this arrangement, and got some of the Burkes to assist him with a fleet. Conn was defeated in a battle, but two days after he succeeded in capturing his brother Hugh, and sent him to be imprisoned in the Castle of Conmaicne Cuile. Conn now invaded Moylurg, but was defeated with terrible slaughter by MacDermot in the Pass of Ballaghboy in the Curlieu Mountains; the famous Cathach (or reliquary) which the O'Donnells always carried before them into battle being among the spoils which he lost on the occasion. Conn's misfortunes did not terminate here. Henry Oge O'Neill judged the opportunity a favourable one to avenge the defeat he had recently received from Hugh Roe, and led an army into Tirconnell. He first laid waste the land of Fanad, and in a battle with Conn O'Donnell he routed the forces of that turbulent and ambitious young chief and slew him. Hugh Roe now resumed the lordship, and his son Hugh Oge, being liberated, at first declined the chieftaincy offered to him by his father, but later agreed to rule jointly with him. In 1498 the Lord Deputy, at the instance of his nephew, Turlough O'Neill, and of Hugh Roe O'Donnell, an ally of Turlough's, marched north and took the castle of Dungannon with the aid of ordnance, the use of which had been introduced into Ireland ten years earlier. A great friendship seems to have sprung up between Kildare and Hugh Roe, for in 1499 the earl was visited by the northern chief, and in the following year Hugh Roe O'Donnell and the Lord Deputy co-operated against John Boy O'Neill, from whom they took the castle of Kinard, or Caledon, which was then handed over to Turlough O'Neill.

The Lord Deputy, who, since his London experience, had remained loyal to Henry, now used his great office to further his own ends. One of his daughters being married to De Burgh, first Earl of Clanrickard, and being treated by her husband in a manner that did not please him, he "swore to be revenged upon the Irishman and all his partakers". Accordingly he got together a mighty host, collected chiefly from the north, and declared war on his son-in-law. He was joined by Hugh Roe O'Donnell and his son, and the other chiefs of Cinel Connel; the warlike chiefs Magennis, MacMahon, and O'Hanlon; O'Reilly; and in fact by the forces of nearly all Leath-Chuinn, or the northern half of Ireland. O'Neill alone held aloof, no doubt piqued at the friendship shown by Kildare towards O'Donnell, and possibly reluctant to fight side by side with his old antagonist of Tirconnell. A sanguinary battle took place at Knockdoe, near Galway (1504), in which Kildare was the victor, his opponent losing, it is said, nearly 2000 men.

From this battle we may date the first revival of the English power in Ireland, which from the time of the Scottish invasion under Edward Bruce had gradually declined into a miserable and precarious state of weakness. The battle also displayed the assumption of new vigour on the part of the executive, and sent forth a warning note that the days of English impotence were drawing to a close.

The only event of interest in connection with Ulster at this time was the death of Hugh Roe O'Donnell, which took place in 1505, in the seventy-eighth year of his age and the forty-fourth of his reign over Tirconnell. He was a son of the celebrated Niall Garv O'Donnell, and was one of a long line of heroes. "In his time", say the annalists, "there was no need of defence for the houses in Tirconnell, except to close the doors against the wind." It was during his reign that O'Neill demanded tribute of O'Donnell in the following laconic fashion: "Send me tribute, or else The answer was expressed with the same princely brevity. "I owe you none, and if I did---" Evidently notes of exclamation were not required to embellish such epistolary communications.

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