However, although the plantation never proved to be the radical transformation the Crown might have originally intended, those Irish noblemen who were dispossessed had sufficient cause to harbour a deep-seated resentment. In 1641, with civil unrest in England between Parliamentarians and Royalists, an opportunity was offered to the noblemen to redress the balance, and open rebellion was declared.The plans for this rebellion were worked out by a member of one of the last Cruthinic families in Southern Ireland, the final remnants of the Loigse, the family of Columbanus, who had generally held the territory named from them, Laois. The Loigse had been ruled by the Moores from the earliest documentary period until they lost their lands to English planters in the 16th century. It was primarily against the more recent English settlers and the Dublin government, that Rory O’More directed the first assault in October 1641. Prominent among his fellow conspirators were northern malcontents led by Sir Phelim O’Neill and with him was Sir Con Magennis of Iveagh, himself of ancient Cruthin stock. Within a few weeks the Anglo-Normans and other Hiberno-English of the Pale joined the insurrection on the side of the rebels.
It was the declared policy of the rebels at the beginning of the uprising that the Scottish Presbyterians should be left alone because of their ‘Gaelic’ origins. Thus Colonel Audeley Mervyn, in a report presented to the House of Commons in June, 1642, states that: “In the infancy of the Rebellion the rebels made open proclamations, upon pain of death, that no Scotchman should be stirred in body, goods or lands, and that they should to this purpose write over the lyntels of their doors that they were Scotchmen, and so destruction might pass over their families.” Furthermore he related that he had read a letter, “sent by two of the rebels, titulary colonels, Colonel Nugent and Colonel O’Gallagher… which was directed to, ‘Our honourable friends, the gentlemen of the never conquered Scotch nation’.” However, the conflict quickly became a sectarian one, and the distinction between the Scottish and English settlers was not maintained. The English settlers suffered most, nevertheless, and several thousand lost their lives both in the fighting and in the privation which followed.
Not for the first time in Irish history a feeling of ‘difference’ was to be displayed between North and South, only this time, ironically, it was to be exhibited by Ulster’s proud Gaelic chieftains. When Owen Roe O’Neill returned from exile to play a leading part in the Rebellion he encountered constant suspicion and intrigue from other Irish leaders, and formed his own ‘Army of Ulster’. As Jerrold Casway writes in her biography of the Irish leader, “Rather than accept assistance from Owen O’Neill and the Ulster Irish, many Anglo-Irishmen preferred the Leinster forces… Owen and his northern army, they asserted, should remain in the north where they belonged.” Rinuccini, the Papal Nuncio sent from Rome to assist the rebels, ascribed this animosity to “no other ends than the bad feeling which is cherished towards the men of Ulster.” Indeed, when Rinuccini argued with a Munsterman who was ‘a very good Catholic’ that, rather than have heretics in Munster it was preferable to have Roman Catholic soldiers from Ulster, he was told that this was not necessarily the case.
Furthermore, Owen O’Neill “knew that the northern army was the only reliable and viable force of the native Irish, and without it he and his followers would be no better than seeds in the wind.” It was the Army of Ulster which fought the greatest battle of the war at Benburb. Before the battle Owen exhorted his men with a “Caesar-like oration”, in which he told them: “You are the flower of Ulster, descended from as ancient and honourable a stock of people as any in Europe.” Even Owen Roe himself could not have known just how true that statement was.
The rebels, despite forming themselves into a Catholic Confederacy, were disunited in their tactics and objectives, and loyalties on all sides were further complicated by the outbreak of Civil War in England between King and Parliament. And if this wasn’t enough, by beheading the King in 1649, the Puritan government in England outraged and alienated their former Presbyterian allies in Scotland. These Presbyterians had entered into a ‘Solemn League and Covenant’ to protect their religion not so much against Roman Catholicism but against the impositions demanded of them by the English High Church, and whatever political and religious grievances the ‘Covenanters’ may have harboured against Charles as King of England, he was also King of Scots, and more importantly a Stuart. The Stuart (Stewart) family had in the main line occupied the ancient throne of the Scots for upwards of three hundred years. This famous but ill-fated house sprang from a Brêton (Old British) nobleman named Alan son of Flaald who was contemporary with William the Conqueror.
In August 1649, with Irish resistance already on the wane, Oliver Cromwell, “God’s Englishman” landed in Dublin to take charge of the Parliamentary forces there, now reinforced by 2,000 of his Ironside veterans. Cromwell’s intention was to restore this “Bleeding Nation of Ireland to its former happiness and tranquillity.” However, little of this ‘happiness and tranquillity’ was to be engendered by his methods: his campaign was exactly what he intended it to be — quick and ruthless, but effective.
To be continued