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The History of Ulster
Sussex v. Shane

The Lord-Lieutenancy of Sussex a Failure - The Proposal of Sir Thomas Cusack - Shane's Rule in Ulster - He annihilates the Scots of Antrim - Cusack and O'Neill sign Indentures at Benburb - An Attempt to poison Shane - Sir Nicholas Arnold - Sir Henry Sidney, Lord Deputy - Death of James MacDonald - Shane invades Connaught - He declines to meet Sidney.

The Council in England, as well as that in Ireland, and even the Queen herself, now lost all faith in the capacity of Sussex to rule Ireland. His incompetency was manifest. A report that three hundred horses had been stolen made Cecil enquire the cause. The sanctimonious Viceroy replied that "the loss was true indeed". Being Easter-time, and he having travelled the week before and Easter Sunday till night, considered that he ought to devote Easter Monday to his devotions during which some churls had stolen the horses.

The dangers which began to surround her at home and abroad now forced the Queen "to come to an end of the war of Ulster by agreement rather than by force". She was approached at an opportune moment by Sir Thomas Cusack, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, with a scheme which immediately won her approval. The four provinces should constitute each a separate chieftainship. Leinster alone should remain in the hands of the Viceroy, whilst Ulster, Munster, and Connaught should be governed in the Queen's name by some Irish nobleman, who, if not elected by the people, should be chosen in compliance with their wishes. The north should be under the rule of O'Neill, the west under that of O'Brien or Clanrickard, and the south should be given to Desmond. Cusack, who knew the country well, having surveyed it, undertook under these conditions that Ireland would be peaceable. Having obtained the Queen's consent to a trial of this mode of governing the country, Sir Thomas was given full authority to meet the wants and wishes of the Irish earls, in order to secure their co-operation.

In his own strong way Shane governed Ulster with such order that if a robbery were committed within his territory, he either caused the property to be restored, or reimbursed the loser out of his own treasury. While the east and west of Ireland were distracted with feuds, Ulster was comparatively peaceable and prosperous. Chiefs who did not choose to submit, and thereby made themselves objectionable to O'Neill, felt the weight of his arm, and that no doubt had not a little to do with the prevailing tranquillity. Froude, who looked on Shane as "an adulterous, murdering scoundrel", admits that at this time, " In O'Neill's county alone in Ireland were peasants prosperous, or life and property safe". Shane governed Ulster with a sort of rough justice, encouraging "all kinds of husbandry and the growing of wheat", and enforcing order in his own way. His position was that of an independent native prince. His case, as expressed by himself, was that "His ancestors were Kings of Ulster, and Ulster was his; with the sword he had won it, and with the sword he would keep it". His sword proved useful to England in his expeditions against the Hebridean Scots, who kept swarming into Ulster, and had, notwithstanding many defeats and losses, possessed themselves of several towns claimed by the English. He encountered, defeated, and slew their leader, gaining thereby a victory which greatly increased his power.

Negotiations were again opened, with the result that after an interview with Sir Thomas Cusack at Benburb, on 18th November, 1563, O'Neill wrote a formal apology to Elizabeth, and promised for the future to be Her Majesty's true and faithful servant. Indentures were drawn on the ryth of December, in which the Ulster sovereignty was transferred to him in everything but name. By these articles, in consideration of his becoming a faithful subject, he was constituted Governor of Tyrone, "in the same manner as other chiefs of the said nation, called O'Neles, had rightfully executed that office in the time of King Henry VIII ". He was " to enjoy and have the name and title of O'Nele, with the like authority", as any other of his ancestors, "with the service and homage of all the lords and captains called Urraughts, and other nobles of the said people of O'Nele", upon condition "that he and his said nobles should truly and faithfully, from time to time, serve her Majesty, and where necessary wage war against all her enemies, in such manner as the Lord-Lieutenant for the time being should direct". The Queen's letters patent, in confirmation of these articles, expressed her entire approval of O'Neill's "present services", and the most favourable construction was taken of his former irregularities. This settlement for a while afforded Sussex an opportunity of attending to the regulation of disorders in other parts of Ireland. But as O'Neill still continued to drill and train his followers for the field, and to augment his forces, the Lord-Lieutenant felt bound to warn the Queen that O'Neill continued to nurse some designs against the Government. "Be not dismayed," replied Elizabeth; "tell my friends, if he arise, it will turn to their advantage; there will be estates for them who want; from me he must expect no further favour."

A further favour, however, came from Dublin in the shape of a present of wine to Shane, sent, it is said, by Sussex, but there is no proof of this. The wine was received with pleasure, and drunk -by Shane and his guests with avidity. It was poisoned, and nearly proved a fatal draught to both. The mystery remains such to this day. The dispatch of the wine was traced to one Thomas Smith, a wine merchant of Dublin, known to Sussex. The Queen, on receiving O'Neill's indignant appeal for immediate enquiry as to the perpetrator of the outrage, professed the loudest indignation. She directed Sir Thomas Cusack to look into the matter very closely; she begged Shane to produce every proof in his possession that might assist in the detection "both of the party himself and of all others that were any wise thereto consenting; to the intent none might escape that were parties thereunto of what condition soever the same should be". "We have given commandment", she wrote to Sussex, "to show you how much it grieveth us to think that any such horrible attempt should be used as is alleged by Shane O'Neill to have been attempted by Thomas Smith to kill him by poison; we doubt not but you have, as reason is, committed the said Smith to prison, and proceeded to the just trial thereof; for it behoveth us for all good and honourable respects to have the fault severely punished, and so we will and charge you". To Cusack she wrote: "We assure you the indignation which we conceive of this fact, being told with some probability by you, together with certain other causes of suspicion which O'Neill hath gathered, hath wrought no small effect in us to incline us to bear with divers things unorderly passed, and to trust to that which you have on his behalf promised hereafter in time to come".

After prolonged delay Smith was tried, and, after many denials, confessed his guilt, and took the entire responsibility on himself. He was thrown into prison, but was released after a time, Cusack having induced Shane "to forget the matter". Sir Thomas deemed silence on the subject the best policy, writing to Cecil that the less talk there was on the theme the better, "seeing there is no law to punish the offender other than by discretion in imprisonment, which O'Neill would little regard except the party might be executed by death, and that the law doth not suffer. So as the matter being wisely pacified it were well done to leave it; therefore mine opinion is to enlarge him in the best way."

Towards the close of 1564 Sussex obtained his final recall from Ireland, where it must be admitted his unconciliating temper and personal animosities had rendered the duties of government exceedingly irksome. His immediate successor, Sir Nicholas Arnold, who was appointed "Lord Justice", was soon found incapable of governing, and it was decided to appoint Sir Henry Sidney as Lord Deputy. He had already filled the post with honour, was well acquainted with the country and the temper of the people, and upon his administration the most sanguine hopes were built. He had more sympathy with those whom he came to govern than had Arnold, who wrote to Cecil saying: "I am with all the wild Irish at the same point I am at with bears and bandogs; when I see them fight, so they fight earnestly indeed and tug each other well, I care not who has the worst".

As the years passed Shane's influence had been growing. He was undisputed sovereign of Ulster and "the only strong man in Ireland ". His hatred of English ways as exemplified in the actions of Sussex was shown in the name he selected for a fort he built on an island in Lough Neagh, which he called "Foogh-ne-Gall", or "Hatred of Englishmen". Indeed, so intense grew his personal hatred of the Saxon that one of his followers, on the bare suspicion of being a spy for the Government, was hanged, and he condemned another to death for having degenerated so far as to be guilty of eating English biscuit. We must picture him at this time living at Foogh-ne-Gall, monarch of all he surveyed, with his 600 men-at-arms, who fed at his table (and who, no doubt, got their share of the 200 pipes of wine stored in the castle cellars), feeding daily, before he tasted meat, the poor at his gates, "saying it was meet to serve Christ first". His chaplain was Terence Daniel, whom he had installed as Primate at Armagh, in opposition to the Queen, who had nominated Adam Loftus, and to the Pope, who had sent as Primate an old priest named Creagh. Shane's only anxiety in his roughand-ready rule of his province was caused by the Scots of Antrim; but even the "Redshanks" he subdued, for in the spring of 1565 he came down suddenly upon them and broke them utterly to pieces. Six or seven hundred were killed in the field; James MacDonald and his brother, Sorley Boy (a name meaning "yellow-haired Charley"), were taken prisoners, which act, it may be said, for the time being swept the entire colony of Scots out of Ulster.

Such a deed as this would naturally commend Shane to Elizabeth, and it is therefore not surprising that no time was lost in communicating the facts to the Queen, including the more recent intelligence that James MacDonald had died of his wounds. Sir Thomas Cusack, in particular, saw prospects of his scheme of government being carried out, and strongly urged upon Elizabeth to meet Shane's wishes regarding the restoration of the earldom. His views were backed up by Arnold, who wrote: "If you use the opportunity to make O'Neill a good subject, he will hardly swerve hereafter. The Pale is poor and unable to defend itself. If he do fall out before the beginning of next summer there is neither outlaw, rebel, murderer, thief, nor any lewd or evil disposed person of whom God knoweth there is plenty swarming in every corner amongst the wild Irish, yea, and in our own border too which would not join to do what mischief they might." Had O'Neill now remained quiet he might have had a powerful friend in Elizabeth, but he preferred to remain independent, and gratified his desire by seizing the castles of Newry and Dundrum, which belonged to the Queen. With an insatiable desire to recall "the days of old", when the O'Neills were Ardri or "Over-Kings" of Ireland, he now invaded Connaught "to require the tribute due of owld time to them that were kings in that realm ".

The western chiefs bowed to his will, he overawed Clanrickard, devastated the O'Rourke country, and, driving before him 4000 head of cattle, he returned in triumph to Tyrone.

The outlook was one of blank dismay for those in authority. Clanrickard, who had felt the force of O'Neill's commands, wrote words of solemn warning on the subject to Sir William FitzWilliam, the Lord Justice. "Excuse me", he said, "for writing plainly what I think. I assure you it is an ill likelihood toward that the realm if it be not speedily looked unto will be at a hazard to come as far out of her Majesty's hands as ever it was out of the hands of any of her predecessors. Look betimes to these things, or they will grow to a worse end."

Sir Henry Sidney arrived in Dublin in January, 1566. He came with great reluctance. "If the Queen would but grant him leave to serve her in England, or in any place in the world else saving Ireland, or to live private, it should be more joyous to him than to enjoy all the rest and to go thither." The problem which was left to him to solve was indeed a perplexing one. "In the matter of Ireland was found such an example as was not to be found again in any place; that a sovereign prince should be owner of such a kingdom, having no cause to fear the invasion of any foreign prince, neither having ever found the same invaded by any foreign power, neither having any power born or resident within that realm that denied or ever had directly or indirectly denied the Sovereignty of the Crown to belong to her Majesty: and yet, contrary to all other realms, the realm of Ireland had been and yet continued so chargeable to the Crown of England, and the revenues thereof so mean, and those which were, so decayed and so diminished, that great yearly treasures were carried out of the realm of England to satisfy the stipends of the officers and soldiers required for the governance of the same."

The old story of successive viceroys was repeated. Sidney, if he went, wanted money to pay the outstanding debts. With money he must have men : 200 horse at least, and, say, 500 foot. He did not intend to burn his boats, but must have leave to return to Wales of which he was President when he so desired. These were claims so exorbitant that he hoped, by insisting on their fulfilment, to get out of the
performance of a distasteful task. But in this he was disappointed.

On his arrival, Sidney found Shane O'Neill again in open hostility to England, and he at once wrote to him, requesting a meeting at Dundalk, to which he received a reply embodying "The causes and matters moving my people not to suffer me to come to the Lord Deputy's presence with such expedition as his Lordship requireth, with that happened within this twenty years, and in memory of the said O'Neill, the harms done by the Governors and others here within this realm of Ireland". O'Neill proceeds to relate the story of his father's having been created Earl of Tyrone, and gives it at great length. He concludes with a reference to the recent attempt on his life, and winds up by stating that his " timorous and mistrustful people" would not allow him to endanger his life by meeting the English Viceroy.

Sidney was naturally amazed. "In Ulster", he wrote, "there tyrannizeth the prince of pride; Lucifer was never more puffed up with pride and ambition than that O'Neill is; he is at present the only strong and rich man in Ireland, and he is the dangerousest man and most like to bring the whole estate of this land to subversion and subjugation, either to him or to some foreign prince, that ever was in Ireland."

The spectacle of the bears and bandogs tearing each other was soon again to be witnessed in Ulster.

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