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The History of Ulster
Progress of Ulster

Accession of Henry VIII - O'Donnell visits James IV of Scotland - Death of Gerald, eighth Earl of Kildare - Earl of Surrey Lord-Lieutenant - O'Neill submits to the King - Battle of Knockavoe - Gerald, ninth Earl of Kildare, Lord Deputy - Duke of Richmond Lord-Lieutenant - Nial Oge O'Neill - Sir William Skeffington Lord Deputy - John Allen Archbishop of Dublin - Kildare reappointed.

The accession of Henry VIII had no immediate effect on Ireland. The Earl of Kildare was continued as Lord Deputy, as the theory that he alone could carry on the government of the country had by this time become firmly established. No one in Ireland could withstand the Great Gerald; he still carried on his forays against various Irish septs, acting with his usual vigour in repelling insurgents, quieting commotions, and deciding contests in different quarters. He frequently, it must be admitted, confused the duties of Kildare the Viceroy with the desires of Kildare in his private capacity, and, as we have seen, made use of his great office to further his own interests. In 1510, after an expedition against the MacCarthys of Munster, he was joined by Hugh Oge O'Donnell, Lord of Tirconnell, the son of his old ally, Hugh Roe O'Donnell, with a small but efficient body of troops, and proceeded to cross the Shannon in order to attack O'Brien of Thomond, as a preliminary to finally subduing "that Irishman", Burke of Clanrickard. Burke, however, was anxious to avenge Knockdoe, and joined O'Brien; where upon Kildare retreated towards Limerick, near which a battle took place in which the Lord Deputy was defeated with great loss, and his troops, being hotly pursued by the enemy, were saved from extinction solely by the skill with which O'Donnell and his men defended the rear of the army.

In 1512 O'Donnell, who had spent the previous year in a pilgrimage to Rome, and had been engaged since his return in making reprisals on O'Neill for depredations committed by him in Tirconnell during his absence, renewed the friendly relations with Kildare which, no doubt, had been disturbed by these hostilities. The Earl, possibly on the invitation of O'Donnell, now marched north, and, entering Clanaboy, took the castle of Belfast and other strongholds, and devastated the lands of the MacDonalds of Antrim. O'Donnell, the year following, visited Scotland on the invitation of James IV, who, during the three months that he stayed at his Court, treated him with great honour; and it is said that O'Donnell "changed the king's resolution of coming to Ireland as he had intended". From this we may surmise that James meditated an invasion, from which he was deterred by O'Donnell's advice.

Geroit Mor, "the valorous and princely", died in 1513 at Athy, and was succeeded by his son, Gerald, the ninth earl, whom the privy council at Dublin elected immediately on his father's death, he being shortly afterwards appointed by letters patent from the Crown. He inherited all his father's popularity with the Irish, and for several years was, like him, at once a necessity and a source of anxiety to the Government in England. He began his career as Viceroy with a series of energetic proceedings against the Irish chiefs, but he had no easy task to keep them in subjection, and rumours being spread that he was in league with O'Neill greatly increased the difficulties of his administration.

The annals of this period are meagre in their information with regard to Ulster, and it is therefore interesting to learn that a peace was concluded between the Cinel Connel and the Cinel Owen in 1514. Art, a son of Conn O'Neill, and Hugh Oge O'Dpnnell met at Ardsratha in Tirowen, each at the head of a large army, but separated in peace; an event so extraordinary that the annalists attribute the fortunate issue to the interposition of heaven. The chiefs of Tirconnell had wrested very large territories from the O'Neills, and by the treaty made on this occasion the charters by which O'Donnell claimed sovereignty over Innishowen, Fermanagh, and other tracts of country, formerly belonging to the Cinel Owen, were confirmed.

This peace, alas! was of but short duration, for in 1517, at the invitation of his kinsmen the O'Neills, who were, as usual, righting amongst themselves, the young Earl of Kildare led an army into Tirowen, and, having retaken the castle of Dundrum, in Lecale, from which the English had been expelled, and vanquished the MacGennises, he proceeded to devastate Tirowen, and captured and burned the fort of Dungannon.

Kildare now repaired to London to defend himself on account of the many charges which had been brought against him, and returned (1515) triumphant, being confirmed in his office of Lord Deputy. Like his father, he had, during his sojourn in England, married an Englishwoman, Elizabeth, daughter of the Marquis of Dorset. Kildare's enemies seem to have been chiefly composed of members of his own family. His stepmother had accused him of being partial to the great O'Neill, and of having voted him a tribute out of her lands; and now the Earl of Ormonde, who was married to Kildare's sister, took an early opportunity to charge him with being in secret league with the Irish. Ormonde had the ear of the great Wolsey, who hated the Geraldines, and who therefore listened with much satisfaction to tales accusing the Lord Deputy of "seditious practices, conspiracies, and subtle drifts". As a result, Kildare was dismissed from office, and had again to repair to England to defend himself, while Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, the victor of Flodden Field, was appointed Lord-Lieutenant (1520).

Surrey, of all living Englishmen, combined in the highest degree the necessary qualities of soldier and statesman. He landed, accompanied by a force of 1000 men and 100 of the King's guard, and he was not long in Ireland until he exhibited that energy and skill which he had displayed on the field of Flodden. The whole country broke into simultaneous rebellion, the result of preconcerted plans to which some intercepted letters bear ample evidence. The Viceroy lost no time. He first marched north and attacked MacMahon's district of Oriel, laying it waste, and compelling its chief to submit. Conn O'Neill, deeming it unwise to meet Surrey in the open, took to the mountains, whither he could not be followed, and the Viceroy, after a fruitless quest for the elusive foe, returned to Dublin. A little later O'Neill himself repaired to Dublin and formally submitted. The King, on being informed of this act of submission and of O'Neill's professions of loyalty, empowered and directed Surrey to confer knighthood on well-affected northern chieftains, and sent O'Neill a collar of gold.

O'Donnell is said to have waited on Surrey in Dublin at this time, and to have told him that he had been invited by O'Neill to take up arms against the English Government at the suggestion of the Earl of Kildare. This circumstance was referred to by the Viceroy in a letter to the king, in which he states that he finds O'Donnell "a right wise man, and as well determyned to doo to your Grace all things that may be to your contentacion and pleasure as I can wysh him to bee". O'Donnell must not be considered on account of this action to have anticipated the age of Irish informers on their fellow countrymen. He acted in the true spirit of an Irish chief, whose sole object in life appeared to be to injure a rival. In this desire, it should be remembered, the Irish chieftains were encouraged by successive representatives of the Crown.

Surrey himself preferred to allow O'Donnell to employ Scottish auxiliaries rather than have peace between him and O'Neill, and he expresses his sentiments in a letter to Henry in which he writes regarding possible amity between the hostile chiefs: "It would be dangerful to have them both agreed and joined together, for the longer they continue in war, the better it should be for your Grace's poor subjects here". Surrey at length became sick of the never-ending warfare and the hopeless outlook in Ireland, and resigned in 1521, the Earl of Ormonde being appointed Lord Deputy. The dissensions between O'Neill and O'Donnell now broke out into a sanguinary war. The Earl of Clanrickard, with the English and Irish of Connaught, the O'Briens, O'Kennedys, and O'Carrolls, joined the standard of O'Neill, under which rallied besides the MacGennises, the men of Oriel and Fermanagh, the O'Reillys, and other northern septs, together with a Scottish legion under Alexander MacDonald of the Isles. Several of the English of Meath and Leinster were also induced by their attachment to the Earl of Kildare, the kinsman of O'Neill, to take part with the latter. Under O'Donnell's banners were ranged the O'Boyles, O'Doghertys, MacSweeneys, and O'Gallaghers by no means so formidable an array as O'Neill's. O'Donnell marched to Port-na-dtri-namhaid (the port of the three enemies), on the eastern bank of the River Foyle, opposite Lifford, to await the enemy, this being the usual pass to enter Tirconnell from Tirowen ; but O'Neill entered by another route, and laid waste the country as far as Ballyshannon. O'Donnell, hearing this, sent his son Manus into Tirowen, while he himself followed O'Neill into Tirhugh; but O'Neill retired into his own territory, and encamped at Cnoc-Buidhbh, or Knockavoe, near Strabane, where he was attacked by night by O'Donnell's army, which had approached so silently that they were able to rush into the Tirowen camp as the sentinels gave the alarm, and a total rout of O'Neill's forces followed, with a loss of nearly 900 men. This was said to be one of the most sanguinary engagements ever fought by the Cinel Owen and Cinel Connel.

Meanwhile Ormonde, as Lord Deputy, had proved a failure, while Kildare, in spite of his intercepted letters, had been winning his way into favour, and had accompanied King Henry to the famous Field of the Cloth of Gold. He now returned to Ireland, and was reappointed Deputy (1524), Ormonde being superseded. Kildare's triumph naturally elated Conn O'Neill, who now affected entire attachment to the throne, and, attending on the Lord Deputy at Dublin on his inauguration, he bore before him to St. Thomas's Abbey the Sword of State. Kildare now accompanied O'Neill on an expedition against O'Donnell, who had committed fearful depredations in Tirowen, and succeeded in making peace between the rival chieftains. Two years later (1526) O'Neill and O'Donnell were invited by the Lord Deputy to attend a meeting of nobles in Dublin for the purpose of settling, if possible, the subjects of dispute between them. Hugh O'Donnell was represented on the occasion by his son Manus, but all arguments for peace were unavailing, and the northern chiefs returned home to muster fresh forces to combat each other.

During this period the relations between England and France were strained, and Francis I, in order to divert the activities of Henry from the Continent to home affairs, opened negotiations with the Earl of Desmond, holding out to him the prospect of a French descent on Ireland. Desmond responded readily; and information with regard to his treasonable conduct being conveyed to Ormonde, it was by him transmitted to Wolsey, with the result that the Lord Deputy received peremptory orders to proceed to Munster and arrest as a traitor the offending Earl. Kildare set forth on his mission without delay, but Desmond managed to elude him, and he returned without being able to carry out his orders. He was then accused of being in collusion with the traitor, and had to proceed to London (1526) to answer an impeachment charging him with (i) failing to apprehend the Earl of Desmond; (2) forming alliances with several of the King's enemies; (3) causing certain loyal subjects to be hanged because they were dependents of the Butlers; and (4) confederating with O'Neill, O'Conor, and other Irish lords to invade the territories of the Earl of Ormonde. The enmity of Wolsey is said to have been at the bottom of these persecutions; but Kildare's good fortune had not yet deserted him, and, after an imprisonment in the Tower, he was liberated on the fall of Wolsey, and, the Duke of Richmond being given the title of Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland (1529), with Sir William Skeffington as Lord Deputy, Kildare was sent over with the latter as his adviser, and within two years superseded him.

While Skeffington was Lord Deputy, Kildare co-operated with him on fairly amicable terms. At the instance of O'Donnell and Niall Oge O'Neill they invaded Tirowen, which they laid waste with fire and sword, and the whole population of Monaghan fled before them, leaving the country a desert. While Skeffington, with the Anglo-Irish, advanced from one point, their Irish confederates approached from another; and they razed the castle of Caledon, and might have done much more damage in the district but that they were checked at this point by a very strong muster of the men of Tirowen.

When the position of Lord Deputy was restored to Kildare, John Alen, a former chaplain to Wolsey, was appointed Archbishop of Dublin, and Chancellor, with private orders to keep a watch upon the Earl and report his proceedings to the English Council. Alen, alas! had ere long a verf grave report to place before the King.

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