the death of Gearoid Mor Fitzgerald his son, Gearoid Og
Fitzgerald, succeeded to the position of Lord Deputy and
to the title. The leanings of the father towards the native
Irish (Sean Ghael) were even surpassed by the love and fiendship
of the son towards them, and it was not long until his enemies
were reporting his activities to the English king and parliament.
Events in England now began to overtake those in Ireland
as the Reformation had taken place in 1516 and, under the
rule of Henry VIII, would soon spread to this country. Gearoid
Mor had been called over to London to account for his activities
and Gearoid Og would also receive similar summonses and
much more frequently.
On one of these occasions he was imprisoned in the tower
of Londo but, prior to his departure and knowing that he
would likely be detained, he had appointed his son Silken
Thomas (Fitzgerald) to act in his stead during his absence.
Thomas, who had been nicknamed Silken because
of his fine clothes, was a headstrong young individual.
His enemies the Butlers took advantage of the situation
and, knowing the hot-headedness of Thomas, put out the rumour
that Gearoid Og had been executed.
Silken Thomas believed the untrue rumour and did exactly
as they had hoped, rising out in open rebellion against
the English throne. However, the Geraldine (Fitzgerald)
castle in Maynooth was bombarded by parliament forces and
the young man was captured. Along with his five uncles he
was executed in 1537, thus bringing to an end the power
and influence of the Kildare Geraldines. Their
enemies, the Butlers, were now supreme.
From now onwards the Irish had a double fight on their hands
as, besides opposing the English invaders and confiscators
of their lands, they had now also to fight for the freedom
of their religious beliefs. The Geraldines had
espoused the old religion but the new rulers
of the land forcefully promoted the new religion.
The Dublin parliament now recognised Henry as King
of Ireland while monasteries and convents were closed
and Church lands and property were confiscated.
Thus it continued throughout the reign of Edward VI, but
on the accession of Mary I in 1553, some effort was made
to restore the Catholic religion. Mary, however, was also
the instigator of a new policy that would seriously influence
the entire country at a later date. She approved the plantation
of two countries, Laois and Offaly, to be known thereafter
as Queens County (Laois) and Kings County (Offaly).
Such a policy would have a devastating effect on Irish history
at a later date.
Whatever efforts had been made to restore the Catholic religion
were shattered when Elizabeth I came to the throne in England
and, from now onwards, the war between the two nations took
on a more sinister and much more bitter aspect. Elizabeths
reign was marked by three outbreaks of rebellion against
her rule, all of which would eventually end in failure.
The first of these was the rebellion of the Ulster chieftain
Shane ONeill in 1559.
Shane was the younger son of Conn ONeill, who had
submitted to the English in 1541, accepting the title of
Earl of Tyrone. On Conns death the title, according
to English law, passed to his eldest son Matthew, but this
was contested by Shane who had the support of the majority
of the Ulster Irish and who was then elected by them as
their leader with the traditional Irish title of The
ONeill. Matthew was killed in a skirmish with Shanes
followers and Shane now also claimed the title of Earl of
Tyrone. The English were powerless against Shane and he
was invited to attend Elizabeths court in London,
where the lady could not help but be impressed by the personality
and bearing of the Ulster chieftain. She made him captain
of Tyrone and he returned to Ulster to exert his authority
over the entire province.
Unfortunately, Shane, who was nicknamed Shane the
Proud adopted the wrong tactics against his fellow
Irishmen. Instead of trying to unite them against a common
enemy, he forced his authority on them in a totally belligerent
manner that only succeeded in creating more enemies for
himself and weakening the strength of Ulster. First to suffer
were the MacDonnells of Antrim, whom he slaughtered at the
Battle of Glenshesk. He then turned his attention to the
ODonnells on his western flank, but here he met more
than he had bargained for and was severely defeated by them
at Lough Swilley. Seeking revenge, he turned to the MacDonnells
of Antrim for assistance and was promised same. However,
during the festivities to mark the new alliance, if such
it could be called, some of the MacDonnells recalled the
slaughter inflicted on them at Glenshesk and, in a fit of
rage, they executed Shane (1567) and sent his head to Dublin
where government officials breathed a huge sigh of relief
and placed the head on a stake on the walls of the city.
All the lands of the Ulster chieftains were now declared
forfeit, but in a conciliatory move, some favour was restored
to Hugh ONeill, the older son of Conn, who was also
allowed to retain the title of Baron of Dungannon. A pardon
was also granted to many of the Sean Ghall (old
English) but this did not extend to the Geraldines of Munster,
where James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald rose out in rebellion
in defence of the Catholic religion, thus beginning
what was known as The Desmond Wars. James Fitzmaurice
went to the continent for assistance and returned in 1579
with papal approval and a small force of mercenaries.
Unfortunately, James Fitzmaurice received little support
on his return and was eventually killed in that same year,
while his little force of Italians and Spaniards was massacred
at Smerwick, Co. Kerry in 1580. The example of James Fitzmaurice,
however, was followed up by Gerald Fitzgerald, the 15th
Earl of Desmond, but he was not militarily inclined and
the rebellion was quickly subdued. More than 300,000 acres
of Fitzgerald lands in Munster were then declared forfeit
in yet another Plantation and the persecution
of Catholics continued unabated. The worst atrocity of all
was when the archbishop of Cashel, Dermot OHurley,
was imprisoned on his return from Rome, then tortured and
hanged in Dublin in 1584.
In 1588 the Spanish Armada came to grief off the west coast
of Ireland and many Spanish sailors were washed up on the
shores of Donegal, Connacht and Kerry and were quickly integrated
into the native Irish society. Unfortunately, many others
were betrayed to their English captors and suffered the
With the defeat of the Shane ONeills and Desmond uprisings,
the main hope now rested with the surviving Ulster earls,
but, in this regard, Elizabeth had also done her homework
well. Knowing from where future opposition to her authority
in Ireland might come, she laid plans for nipping the danger
in the bud. Hugh ONeill, son of Matthew and Baron
of Dungannon, was taken to England as a youth and brought
up at the English Court where he was trained in the English
fashion, both in language, politics and in the art of warfare.
When Elizabeth considered him safe he was sent
back to Ulster to rule the northern province in her interest.
Hugh ONeill, later to be termed The Great Earl
initially did as he was expected to do, but was quick to
realise that this was not in his own interest or in the
interest of his fellow countrymen. He was also intelligent
enough to realise that an all-out war with the English was
inevitable if Ulster, and Ireland, was to survive, so he
soon began to train an army secretly. He also realised that
unity was strength and that peace with his fellow Ulster
earls was essential if he was to achieve his goal of finally
ridding the country of the English invader.
The other great Ulster chieftain of the period was Red
Hugh ODonnell, the future chieftain of the ODonnells
of Tirconnaill (Donegal), but here again Elizabeths
agents laid what seemed to be the perfect plan. As a youth,
Red Hugh was fostered by the MacSweeneys on the shores of
Lough Swilley. One day as they romped on the shores of the
lough, a Spanish ship entered the harbour selling wine.
The captain of the vessel invited Red Hugh and his friends
aboard to partake to their hospitality but shortly after
going aboard, ODonnell realised that the ship was
moving. When they jumped to their feet they discovered that
the doors were locked and that they were prisoners of the
queen ... the ship no longer flying a Spanish flag but an
Red Hugh was taken to Dublin where he was imprisoned in
Dublin Castle. His first effort at escape ended in re-capture
but the second attempt in 1592 was more successful and he
made his escape along with another young Ulster prince,
Art ONeill. However, it was mid-winter and they suffered
terribly from frost and snow among the Wicklow hills before
being rescued by Fiach McHugh OByrne, the great Wicklow
chieftain, who brought them to his hide-out in Glenmalure.
Unfortunately, Art died from the experience, while Red Hugh
had to have part of his foot amputated because of frost-bite
and was permanently lame thereafter. But two young Ulster
earls were now at large and would soon wage the greatest
and most united rebellion in Irish history against English