The Rising of 1641, Owen Roe O'Neill

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The Irish were not content to starve and die upon the moors, while they watched the usurper wax fat upon their fathers fertile plains.
As their suffering and starvation were prolonged and increased, their wrath against the foreign robber daily grew greater also; and ere a generation had elapsed, it burst in a fierce red flood that swept the terrorised Undertakers before it, and just narrowly missed sweeping them from Ulster forever.
 
The Rising of 1641 was the natural outcome of the great wrong of the generation before, and the swift vengeance wreaked by the frenzied ones upon the callous robber and oppressor - a vengeance, however, lacking the calculated savagery, and unspeakable brutality, which in return the Scottish and English troops visited upon the native population, of both sexes and all ages, during the fearful decade that followed.
 
The Rising of that memorable night was a wonderfully drama , tic coup. Leaders of the old Ulster families - Phelim O'Neill, Magennis, O'Hanlon, O'Hagan, MacMahon, McGuire, O'Quinn, O'Farrell, O'Reilly - at the head of their cohorts, staunch, wild eyed, long repressed, burst from their fastnesses in the hills and the woods with one loud, long, strong, victory shout that might well have been heard by the straining exiles on the Continent, and in a few hours made Ulster their own again.
Practically in one night they may be said to have reconquered their province, having sent the Planters scurrying into the few Ulster cities that they still could hold, Enniskillen, Derry, Coleraine, Belfast, outside these few places Ulster was Ireland's again, as far south as, and including, the city of Dundalk.
And in a few days Phelim O'Neill was proclaimed head of a numerous Ulster army of 30,000 men - whom, however, two-thirds were, for want of arms, ineffective.
 
For purpose, now, of inciting the English at home to wipe out the Irish - and thus provide more estates for the covetous in Britain, there was invented a story of a fearful massacre of almost all the Protestants of Ireland, on the night of the Rising.
Not only did the eager English readily believe it, but after a while, the parties in Ireland who started the story almost came to believe it themselves.
And many thousands of good sincere Irish Protestants, and many thousands of ardent English, to this day believe the tale of a wild and indiscriminate massacre.
So far went this effort to lay unbridled savagery at the doors of the Irish people, and so far succeeded, that many earnest and sincere historians, to this day still believe it.
After the legend of " the great Popish Massacre" was once started it grew with the rapidity of a rolling snow ball - till, it at the hearings of the Commission ten years later, excited and imaginative witnesses, including Dr. Maxwell the Prostestant rector of Tynan, made oath to the fantastic happenings which make those records a source of entertainment to the curious, ever since.
 
The Confederation of Kilkenny  might have been a great blessing to Ireland, eventually proved to be Ireland's curse - in this, the country's  greatest, fiercest struggle.
Not entirely because the New Irish in it were given their way from the start; but more because a clique of the most unnational and reactionary of them secured inside control - the control of the Supreme Council of the Confederation's General Assembly.
Ormond, the head of the Butler family, was the chief power in Ireland standing for King against Parliament, Lord Mountgarrett was a kinsman to Ormand, these while bitterly hating Irishism and Catholicism, were able to work this Irish Catholic Parilment to their own and England's advantage.
Altogether their snobbery, their bias, and oftentimes their foolish trustingness - verging on stupidity -  in King Charles and his minions, combined to make a mess of Ireland's case, and to render fruitless long and sore years of struggle.
 
They manacled, and thwarted, the great Irish figure of the 1640's, him who, but for them, could have been Ireland's saviour the truly admirable man and signally great military leader Owen Roe O'Neill.
With Owen Roe's coming arose Ireland's bright star of hope, Owen was the nephew of Hugh O'Neill, "Earl of Tyrone," Owen Roe was a young man at the time of the flight of the Earls and was there at the battle of Kinsale. He won distinction's as a military commander in theSpanish Netherlands, especially in his brilliant defence of Arras where he successfully held three armies at bay.
And through the years in which his sword had been in the service of Spain, his heart was ever with Ireland.
The Ulster army did not maintain its first successes.Its leader, Phelim O'Neill, was only a lawyer, not a military commander. After Ulster had been won for him, he wasted his army sitting long before Drogheda, which, without siege guns, he could not take. And eventually he raised the siege, and faced an enemy army that had been forming in the North, his own wasted force was not only defeated, but almost wiped out.
 
Ulster was overwhelmed with despair, and considering making the best of the bad terms which they could now get from the enemy, when suddenly, from the Boyne to the sea, the province quivered with a magic thrill as from mouth to mouth was passed the word "Owen Roe is come!"
 
On the 6th of July, 1642, with a hundred officers in his company, the long-wished for saviour stepped off a ship at the old castle of MacSwiney, at Doe, in the North of Donegal.
At Charlemont he was given command of the Northern army - the little that was left of it. And he proceeded at once to build it up, and train it into fighting from.
So potent was the name and fame of Owen Roe that even while his army was still in embryo, Lord Levin, from Scotland, at the head of twenty thousand men refused to meet such a formidable battler and strategist.
Though the name of O'Neill helped to keep the enemy at bay while he built up his army and trained them on the plateau of  Southern Leitrim - from which he made an occasional sally to whip some body of the enemy, and refresh their respect for him.
 
The Supreme Council at Kilkenny, jealous of the popularity of the great Irishman, sometimes stooped to hamper when they should have helped him, and at lenght went so far as to slight and curb him by appointing over him as commander in chief, one of their own, Lord Castlehaven.
But Owen Roe went steadily forward with the work that lay at hand. And in June ' 46 fought and won his great pitched battle, the famous victory of Benburb. Here he met and smashed the Scottish General Monroe, who then held the British command in Ulster.
 
In the Battle of Benburb, O'Neill had five thousand men and no artillery whatsoever. Monroe had six thousand men and a good field of artillry. Monroe took position in the angle formed by the junction of the River Oonah and the Black water, adjacent to the village of Benburb.
He drew up his army that morning, with five divisions on the front line and four divisions in the second line.
O'Neill's seven divisions were placed, four in the first line and three supporting divisions behind. Monroe awaited the attack. His men were fresh, and had the Sun in his favour.
O'Neill, who had sent his cavalry northward to intercept assistance coming thence to his enemy, took pains to disappoint Monroe, and to keep his nerves and the nerves of his troops on edge for many mortal hours, while he merely engaged in skirmishing.
By these tactics he not only got the accession of his cavalry and tried out Monreos army, but he also got the westering sun in their eyes. Then, everything being favourable, he gave the word " Sancta Maria !" and in the name of the Trinity launched an impetuous whirlwind attack of such mighty momentum that nothing could withstand it.
His cavalry captured the enemy's guns. His infantry overswept and overwhelmed the legions of Monroe, cut most of then down in masses, and hurled the remainder into the river - in one brief hour wiping out a splendid and well-equipped army that had been the hope of the British in Ulster
 
Thirty-two standards were taken. Lord Ardes, with thirty two Scottish officers were captured. Cannon, baggage, two months' provisions, and 1,500 draft were bagged; 3,300 of the enemy lay dead on the field. Many more were drowned in the river and killed in pursuit and a hundred wounded. While Owen Roe's loss was seventy men killed and a hundred wouned.
All remaining Scottish forces were, by this signal victory, sent scurrying into the two strongholds of Derry and Carrickfergus.
The Province was Owen Roe's and Ireland's!
So would the whole country soon have been - but unfortunately, the Supreme Council, flinging away the golden opportunity, not only signed a peace with Ormond, acting for King Charles, but went so far as to put under his command all of the Confederate Catholic Army.
 
It is little wonder that Nuncio Rinuccini and the Bishops rose up against such traitorous peace and went so far as to excommunicate the traitorous peacemakers. Owen Roe hurried south with his force to overawe the traitors, and try to counteract the harm they had done. In the south with an army whose numbers had now mounted to 12,000 ( including 1500 horse ) he was joined by General Preston and his southern Catholic army.
Preston, like Owen Roe himself, had served his military apprenticeship, and won well-deserved fame for himself on the Continent. He had landed at Wexford two months after Owen Roe had landed in Donegal and, he was of the New Irish, he was given by the Confederacy a southern command.
The united forces of these two able commanders might well have counteracted the ill-effect of the unworthy peace proclaimed by the Supreme Council. But the ferment of the Old Irish and New Irish jealousy was at work even in the combined forces. And on top of this, O'Neill discovered that Preston was being tampered with by the Ormond faction. And Ormond was trying to negotiate a peace with him. So he rose up and went North with his army again. And the victory that had seemed almost within Ireland's reach, was snatched away once more.
 
The progress of events for the ensuing couple of years, to the coming of Cromwell, was puzzlingly kaleidoscopic in effect. And probably never before or since was there such an interminable tangle in the political affairs of any nation.
There half a dozen distinct parties and as many distinct armies rending the National fabric - the Old Irish Nationalists, the New Irish Nationalist, the New Irish Royalists ( for Charles ), the Anglo-Irish Parliamentarians, the Scoto-Irish Royalists, and the Scto-Irish Parliamentarians.
These many parties were uniting in all sorts of odd combinations, and dividing along the most unlooked for lines. Although the Parliamentarians in Britain steadily treated all sections of the Irish as if they were, not humans but beasts, each of the two sections of the Irish at times united with the bitterest of the anti-Irish to fight the other.
But, every move made by Owen Roe, and every combination, was wisely directed toward the great end. At one time, in the summer of ' 48 he was bravely standing against the five armies of five others parties that moved in unison against him.
And against all five this magnificent general was able not merely to hold the field, but to march south to Kilkenny with 10,000 men - and from there in safety return to his camp at Belturbet again. From time to time during these years, while he stood like a rock defying the  storm, he saw one after another of the Catholic commands disastrously defeated, and almost annihilated. He saw the Nuncio temporarily turn against him, himself declared a rebel, and out of range of pardon, by the Confederation!.
 
Yet the noble man held steadily to task, and when eventually Cromwell came like an avenging Devil, Owen Roe was the one great commanding figure to which the awed and wasted nation instinctively turned.
But, as by God's will it proved, their turning to him was in vain. For, Owen Roe, the hope of Ireland, was not destined to stay the bloody whirlwind that now entered Ireland.
In face of fearful disaster that threatened in the coming of Cromwell, Owen Roe not only, with characteristic nobility, he, one of the great military leaders of the era, agreed to subordinate himself and his army to Ormond's supreme command.
But on his way south to join Ormond he fell ill in Cavan, and died - to the heartrending sorrow of a woe-stricken nation. As they poisoned Red Hugh O'Donnell in Spain, the English are accused of poisoned this man whose fighting qualities they feared. One of their agents is said to have presented him with a pair of poisoned slippers at a ball which he attended in Derry on the eve of his starting south. 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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