Ulster had always been the strongest of the four provinces
in the struggle against English attacks and domination and
for that very reason the English now devised a scheme to
make it the weakest. Elaborate plans were drawn up for the
entire estates of the ONeills and ODonnells
to be declared confiscate, resulting in six counties ...
Tyrone, Donegal, Armagh, Fermanagh, Derry and Cavan ...
to be planted with settlers from across the
In defiance of this, Cahir ODoherty of Inishowen led
an uprising from north Donegal in 1608. He captured both
Derry and Strabane, and then advanced into mid-Ulster. However,
he was killed near Kilmacrennan on July 5th and the uprising
eventually petered out. Other Ulster chieftains like OHanlon
in Armagh and McMahon in Monaghan had joined in the rebellion
but, following Cahirs death and the failure of the
effort, their lands too were declared confiscate.
Of Cahirs death and the Plantation of Ulster, the
Four Masters wrote as follows: - He was
cut into quarters between Derry and Cuil-mor, and his head
was sent to Dublin to be exhibited; and many of the gentlemen
and chieftains of the province, too numerous to be particularised,
were also put to death. It was indeed from it, and from
the departure of the Earls we have mentioned, it came to
pass that their principalities, their territories, their
estates, their lands, their forts, their fortresses, their
fruitful harbours, and their fishful bays, were taken from
the Irish of the province of Ulster and given in their presence
to foreign tribes; and they (the Irish) were expelled and
banished into other countries, where most of them died.
With all resistance now crushed, the Plantations
could proceed without further hindrance. The largest tracks
of confiscated lands were given to Undertakers.
These were English and Scottish planters who
undertook to tenant their lands only with English and Scottish
Protestants and Presbyterians.
They also had to take the Oath of Supremacy and were not
permitted to take in Irish tenants. The next largest estates
were given to Servitors, mainly Scottish, who
had served the Kings Cause in Ireland, and these were
allowed to take on some Irish tenants. The smallest estates
were given to native Irish, who received the poorest and
less productive lands at the highest rents. Some London
merchants and businessmen were given the city and much of
the county of Derry ... hence the name Londonderry.
The native Irish, who had partaken in the uprisings, were
banished to the bogs and hillsides, where they were continually
pursued and hunted down like animals. As a result, many
of them became outlaws and rapparees praying
constantly on the settlers who had deprived them of their
lands. Cuchonnacht Maguire and Rory ODonnell, two
of the earls involved in the Flight of the Earls
also died in Italy in 1608.
With the accession of Charles to the English throne, certain
concessions were promised to Catholics by the Lord Deputy,
Thomas Wentworth, in return for large sums of money. These
concessions were called The Graces but they
were never granted even though the Catholics contributed
The dispossessed Irish, particularly in Ulster, still seethed
under the terrible injustices inflicted upon them and another
uprising was inevitable. Their leader now was Phelim ONeill
who, with Rory OMore, planned a rebellion for 1641.
Their plans included the taking of Dublin Castle, but this
never materialised as information of the attack was betrayed
to the English. However, the Rising did take place all over
Ulster on the night of 23rd October 1641 and resulted in
an exceptionally bloody and vicious affair. Charlemont fort
and Dungannon were the first to be captured and the Rebellion
spread like wildfire. Much of the confiscted territories
were re-taken, but the insurgents had little organisation
and lacked proper leadership. Dundalk was captured by them
but they were repulsed at Drogheda and shortly afterwards
had to give up Dundalk and return to their homes in disarray.
The arrival of Owen Roe ONeill with a small army from
Spain, at Doe Castle in Co. Donegal in July 1642, was greeted
with great joy by the Irish and it gave them renewed hope,
resulting in the struggle being resumed. Richard Preston,
Earl of Desmond, also arrived from abroad about the same
time and he had the support of the Sean Ghall. Owen Roe,
a nephew of Hugh ONeill, the Great Earl
was a professional soldier and was given leadership of the
Ulster army. Taking over control from Phelim, he immediately
tried to put some order into the northern insurgents.
A Catholic Confederacy had been formed in Kilkenny in May
1642, but it became bogged down by constant bickering and
dissent between the two main parties in the Confederation
... the Sean Ghael (old native Irish) and the Sean Ghall
(Old Foreigners or Anglo-Irish). The Sean Ghael sought both
religious freedom and complete political separation from
England, but the Sean Ghall, who also sought religious freedom,
nevertheless wished to maintain the connection with England.
A smaller party in the Confederation included Royalists,
who were supporters of Charles in the English Civil War
then raging. There was also jealousy of Owen Roe ONeill,
who was confined to leadership of the Ulster armies while
Preston was given control of the larger Confederate forces.
The Pope sent a special envoy named Rinuccini, Archbishop
of Fermoy, with arms and supplies to Ireland, and very soon
after his arrival he was quick to recognise that Owen Roe,
now the strongest leader in the Sean Ghael camp, was the
only leader with potential to save both the Irish and Catholic
causes, and so he actively supported Owen Roe within the
Confederation. The English then planned a march southwards
on Kilkenny but they were intercepted and surprised by the
Ulster army under Owen Roe.
Assembling his forces, ONeill inflicted a humiliating
defeat on Munroes army at Benburb on the Ulster Blackwater,
not far distant from the scene of Hugh ONeills
victory at Yellow Ford in 1598. It was 5th June 1646 when
Owen Roe completely routed the joint English and Scottish
force under General Munroe. The latter, with 6,000 foot
and 800 horse, had marched out from Armagh, and ONeill,
the professional, only engaged them in skirmishes throughout
the earlier part of the day, but with the coming of evening
and the sun now shining directly into the eyes of Munroes
men, ONeill attacked. The result was complete victory,
with more than 3,000 of the British forces slain and their
artillery and stores captured. ONeill lost a mere
As a result of this wonderful victory, Owen Roe should surely
have been given complete command of the Confederate forces,
but the Sean Ghall were still distrustful of him, as was
Preston. Consequently the victory was not followed up and
an excellent opportunity was lost. Soon afterwards, with
the execution of King Charles on January 30th 1649, Oliver
Cromwell and his Roundheads came to power in England, leaving
the Irish Confederates in complete isolation, and, as a
result, there was little option but to terminate the Confederation
of Kilkenny which had lasted a mere seven years, 1642
to 1649. Further disaster was just around the corner as
Cromwell himself arrived in Ireland on August 13th 1649.
Irelands only hope now rested with Owen Roe ONeill,
but again disaster struck when the great Ulster leader died
of blood-poisoning in Co. Cavan, while on his way to meet
the new invader. A poisonous substance had been cunningly
injected into his foot by being painted on a nail inserted
in his shoe by an English agent. The Irish were now leaderless
and left at the complete mercy of the Cromwellians.
The words of the poet Thomas Davis said it all: -
Though it break my heart to hear, say again the bitter
From Derry against Cromwell he marched to measure swords,
But the weapon of the Sasannach met him on his way,
And he died at Cloch Uachtar upon St. Leonards Day.