RayGillespie(Natives&Newcomers)

RayGillespie(Natives&Newcomers) - NATIVES AND NEWCOMERS...

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Unformatted text preview: NATIVES AND NEWCOMERS in England at that time, and some historians today. English residents in Ireland were pained by this ignorant assumption and would carefully explain the similarities and common civilisation between the two countries. Weaning out those particularly rosy assertions designed to entice further settlers, these comments confirm the image of Munster as akin to a slightly raffish county on the English borders. The New English in Munster found they had to come to terms with this society which had moved gradually from medieval to modern. The settlers aided the transition undoubtedly, yet they were not dealing with an unvarnished and remote land. Towns, large buildings, orchards, gardens, all existed before their arrival. That is why Munster differs from other colonial examples. In America, the local inhabitants did not live reasonably the same sort of lives as the English settlers, nor could they match them in many fields. Unlike Ulster, much less than half the province had been confiscated for plantation, and from their prominent position as landowners some of the natives in Munster could, and did, exercise a strong local authority. The newcomers were forced to compromise and adapt to an extent unknown elsewhere. To slot Munster-into the English colonial system is to give a misleading impression of the internal nature of the province and its relationship to England. 190 8 The End of an Era: Ulster and the outbreak of the 1641 rising RAYMOND GILLESPIE It is almost impossible to overestimate the impact of the Irish war between 1641 and the early 1650s on the minds of contemporaries both in Ireland and in England. Politically it was to prove a decisive factor in shaping both Irish and English attitudes in the first half of the 1640s. Economically it was no less significant since it was to be the ruin of many of the key early-seventeenth century landed families in Ireland who were not sufficiently solvent to withstand almost ten rentless years. Moreover, as contemporaries were not adverse to pointing out, the rebellion had hit the crown where it hurt most — in the exchequer. George Storey, a Williamite army captain in Ireland, estimated that the war of the 1640s had cost about three times as much as the Williamite war and about tWenty to thirty times as much as the Nine Years War. The rebellion also had an important symbolic significance demonstrating to contemporaries the fundamental disloyalty of the native Irish. Certainly as late as the 1680s the lord lieutenant, Lord Clarendon, wrote of the danger of admitting the native Irish to the army for ‘how can we forget the barbarous murders committed on us by their fathers’ and settlers ‘have still in their memories the cruelties they suffered in the late rebellion’. Such sentiments persisted well into the eighteenth century.‘ These attitudes were as much the product of propaganda as of reality. There was no uniform national rising in 1641. There were wide regional and political variations in the pattern of the rebellion and in the settler response to it. In Ulster, for example, the distinctive aims of the rebels and the intervention of a Scottish force under Munroe in 1642 made for a situation which was radically different from that produced by the political manouverings of the earl of Clanricard in Connacht or Lord Inchiquin in Munster. These regional differences were revealed most clearly in the debates on policy in the supposed uniting force of the rebellion, the Confederation of Kilkenny.2 191 NATIVES AND NEWCOMERS Not only were the military events of the 1640s geographically diverse, the character of the war also changed over time. From the outbreak of the Ulster rebellion on the evening of 22 October 1641 until the invasion of the Pale at' the end of November in the same year the rising was largely a provincial one. The involvement of the Old English gave it a national dimension and after the outbreak of the English civil war in August 1642 the war acquired an international tone, Irish events becoming part of the war of the three kingdoms. Within this broad chronology there were also subtle shifts of attitude by the various participants such as the move by the native Irish of Ulster from the modest demands of October 1641 to the more radical ‘Demands of the Irish’ issued on 3 February 1642.3 Explaining the origins of such a complex event is in itself a formidable task. The nineteenth-century scholars who approached the Irish rising did so in an attempt to prove either how savage the rising had been or how well the rebels had behaved — depending on the political viewpoint of the author. As a result, debate revolved around the fruitless exercise of counting the numbers mentioned as murdered in the depositions taken by the administration in the aftermath of the rising. Political considerations also influenced explanations of causality, one camp arguing that the rising was the result of treachery and ‘popish bigotry’ and pointing to the long history of rebelliousness among the Catholic Irish, while the other camp justified the rising as a reaction to official cruelty and repression. There the debate rested until the reassessments of the Old English and Strafford’s'lord deputyship by Aidan Clarke and Hugh Kearney respectively. Although neither directly examined the position of the native Irish, both sides of the nineteenth-century interpretative divide were being gradually clipped away. Recent work on plantations has demonstrated that the repression beloved of nineteenth-century nationalists was as much a myth as was the vision of the golden age which supposedly preceded colonisation. The ‘popish bigotry’ theory has also been undermined by studies of Gaelic society and of the counter reformation which have begun to reveal the reality of Gaelic society in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As a result of these developments Aidan Clarke has recently ascribed the immediate cause of the war to the events in Dublin in the summer of 1641.4 Such an explanation may be too simple. The pattern which is emerging from studies of the origins of the English civil war suggests that the outbreak of war was rather more complex, involving the interplay of local and national forces in a wider chronological context and cannot be explained simply in 192 ULSTER AND THE 1641 RISING terms of the national events immediately preceding it. In the light of this work, the historian of the Irish rebellion, which broke out some ten months earlier than the English one, has two main problems to address: first why did a number of prominent native Irish lords conspire together, albeit ineffectually, as early as February 1641, and secondly, why, almost eight months later, was the conspiracy turned into action. I 'The plans for a rising were laid by Ulster natives. The earliest dateable evidence for the conspiracy of the native Ulster lords which ultimately led to rebellion, comes from the ‘Relation of Lord Maguire’, one of the chief plotters, drawn up after his capture following the discovery of the plot by the lords justice on the 22 October 1641.5According to Maguire, he was appoached in late January or early February 1641 by Rory O’More, who was originally from Longford but was by then a County Armagh landowner, who proposed that the time was ripe for a rising. They gathered a few others around them, but significantly none of those later to be the key figures in the rebellion were plotters at this stage. There was much discussion, but' few firm decisions were made. The conspirators met again in May but apparently made no progress and as late as August, Maguire related, they had no real plan. O’More made vague noises about sounding out great men in the Pale but there is no evidence that he did so. He certainly mentioned no names except on one occasion when he hinted that Miles Bourke, Viscount Mayo, was backing the rebellion. Although later evidence mentions a visit by O’More to Lord Mayo, the viscount’s support for a conspiracy was most unlikely given his reaction to later events.6 Fumbling as these attempts to plan a rising were they nevertheless present the historian with a problem. The plotters were men whose grievances were sufficiently strongly felt to be worth the risk of being party to a conspiracy and it is important to uncover these discontents. The motives which drew these men together were complex. Traditionally the plot has been explained as the result of grievances following on the loss of land and power by the ancestors of the plotters in the Ulster plantation scheme some thirty years previously. This explanation no longer holds good. Recent work on the plantation has demonstrated that the scheme tended to absorb many features of Gaelic society and many of the traditional lords were retained within the plantation scheme 193 NATIVES AND NEWCOMERS as ‘deserving natives’. The very low population of sixteenth-century Ulster meant that it could easily absorb the settlers with relatively little disruption in the short term. In aggregate the native Irish had done well from the plantation scheme. They had received over 94,000 acres — about a third more than the church and about a fifth more than the English or Scots.7 Paradoxically, many of those who conspired or rebelled were not the dispossessed but rather the beneficiaries of the plantation scheme. The flight of the earls in September 1607 had removed the traditional power brokers of 'Gaelic Ulster leaving the way open to new men, mainly those of collateral septs who in the late sixteenth century were already becoming disenchanted with the great lords. The Lord Maguire in 1641 was in such a position. The nearest common relation hecould claim to the senior branch of the family was Tomas Mér who had died in 1430. Sir Phelim O’Neill had a more recent claim going back to Conn O’Neill who died in 1493. Indeed there had been persistent legal trouble between the earl of Tyrone and Sir Phelim’s grandfather in the sixteenth century, a situation which had caused him to support the English during the Nine Years War for which service he was knighted in 1604. Similarly, Lord Maguire, grandfather of the conspirator, had been in dispute with the chief of the family in the late sixteenth century and during the Nine Years War had also sided with the English. In return, he was rewarded with lands and a pension which were subsequently transferred to his son and grandson.8 Many of the conspirators were prominent men under the new order: Maguire a peer, Sir Phelim a member of parliament and justice of the peace, and Rory O’More an army officer? A more plausible explanation of what drew these men into ' conspiracy is provided by Rory O’More himself who spoke to Maguire of the afflictions and sufferings of Lord Strafford’s government ‘which sufferings did beget a general discontent over the whole kingdom". Three aspects of Strafford’s rule had made a particularly deep impression on the consciousness of all sections of Irish society, his land policy, his religious programme, and his attempts to built up a political group to carry these out by ignoring those who regarded themselves as the traditional governors of Ireland.[0 Wentworth’s land policy was relatively straightforward. Since land was the key to political power at national level and local landed rights were the basis for local political and economic power, Wentworth determined that as much of this power as was feasible should be in the hands of the king. He was further encouraged to move against the great landowners by the fact that crown rents 194 ULSTER AND THE 1641 RISING and other duties, which had been set at very low levels in the early years of the century and not revised, were a potentially lucrative source of crown revenue. The methods he used were not new. He intensified the activities of the court of wards in collecting alienation fines, liveries and wardship dues, he attempted to change the tenurial structure through the commission of defective titles and he attempted to introduce a plantation scheme for Connacht. While many of the elements in the policy were well tried and tested they had not been used in conjunction with each other before. More0ver, Wentworth’s timing in introducing his attack on landed interests was disastrous since it coincided with a major economic crisis in the late 1630s. A series of harvest failures in 1629-33, combined with a general downturn in economic activity in the mid-16305, left many Irish landlords in a poor financial condition.” Poverty was to prove an important impetus to revolt since one had little to lose — it produced the ‘men of broken fortune’ of Richard Belling’s description of the Ulster plotters.12 According to Maguire’s own evidence an incentive to join the O’More plot was that he was ‘overwhelmed in debt and the smallness of my now estate’. The same comment could have been made by Sir Phelim O’Neill who, according to an inquisition of 1661, was in financial difficulties by 1641, having mortgaged lands for at least £13,066 to individuals in Dublin, London and locally. He Was also heavily in debt locally.13The best documented cases of the decline in native landownership as a result of indebtedness are the MacMahons of Monaghan and the Magennises of county Down but the experience was widespread. In Armagh, for example, the amount of land held by native Irish had fallen from about 25 per cent in 1610 to about 19 per cent in 1641 and in Cavan the fall in the same period was from 20 per cent to 16 per cent.”The natives were not the only group to suffer as a result of strained economic circumstances since many settlers, both in Ulster and elsewhere, were experiencing problems with their estates and were . borrowing money and selling land to remain solvent. In this context threats of confiscation of land, as in Connacht, and tenurial insecurity created by the commission of defective titles were disastrous. No landlord could be sure of his title to land and so his ability to acquire new land, sell part of his holding, or even mortgage part of his estate was severely impaired. His ability to take on new tenants and hence increase his income was also jeopardised by threats of confiscation. In county Down, for example, a number of leases from the late 1630s contain clauses stipulating that if the land in question should be confiscated the lessee would be compensated with land elsewhere. Undoubtedly 195 i i l 1 l 1 NATIVES AND NEWCOMERS land prices were also affected although little research has been done on this aspect of seventeenth century Irish economic history. Certainly, in Munster during the 16305 purchasers of land were aware of the possibility of confiscation when calculating the price they should pay for land. A comment of the 16505 records that Munster land in 1640 was worth only six years purchase, about six times its annual rental value — a dramatic drop from up to twenty years purchase early in the 16303.15 It is not surprising that one of the concerns of the New English after the fall of Wentworth was that of securing land titles. I Intimately linked to the question of landownership was that of the changes in legal procedures under Wentworth. Legal processes were the mainmeans by which land tenure was protected and justified, and many of the problems of mortgaged land and debt resolved. Indeed the law and legal procedures were an integral part of both settler and native society in early seventeenth century Ireland. It is significant, for example, that when in the summer of 1641 the Irish House of Commons attempted to introduce major constitutional change they did so through the sending of Queries to the judges.‘°Moreover, there is evidence that there‘was more business than ever coming before the Irish courts in the 1630s. Both the number of fines levied in common pleas and the number of Orders made by the court of chancery doubled between 1610-14 and 1635-39. Similarly, the business of the equity side of the Exchequer more than trebled between 1625-29 and 1635-39.17 The reasons for this are unclear but part of the explanation is provided by landed disputes arising from population increase and complex tenurial arguments which resulted from grants of mortgaged lands under the commission of defective titles. Thus attempts by Wentworth to interfere with the legal process, notably through increased use of the court of Castle Chamber, pleased no one since they rendered land titles and other rights, such as the right to present to benefices'and to hold church land, increasingly uncertain. As the native Irish author of the poem ‘Do frith monuar an uain si ar Eirinn’ suggested, it was not the courts themselves that the natives objected to but rather the way in which they had been manipulated — indeed by 1641 the native Irish were frequent users of the Dublin courts.18 Wentworth’s religious programme was also straightforward. He wanted to make a reality the assumption of the acts of uniformity . and supremacy that the Church of Ireland embraced all the people of Ireland. To achieve this aim he moved on two fronts. First, in order to eliminate lay patronage in the church he launched an attack on the right to patronage of clerical livings being held by 196 ULSTER AND THE 1641 RISING laymen, and on church land which should have been used to support the clergy being held by laymen. Secondly, with the help of some judicious appointments to the Irish episcopal bench, such as Bishops Atherton and Bramhall, he attempted to move the Anglican church in Ireland from its Calvinist theological position to a more Arminian one as adopted by the Church of England under the guidance of Wentworth’s friend Archbishop Laud. It is difficult to gauge the impact of this new departure because little is known of the relationship between various religious groupings at local levels before 1641. It appears that in the case of relations between Catholics and Protestants some form of accommodation between the two groups had been reached by the mid-16305. Certainly, Catholic priests were well known locally yet were rarely proceeded against and according to one deposition made by William Skelton of Kinnard, County Armagh after the rebellion broke out, settlers and natives before the rising ‘differed not in anything . . . save only that the Irish went to mass and the English to the Protestant church’.19 His experience is borne out by the surprise of many contemporary commentators at the outbreak of the rebellion. While part of their portrait of the idyllic society before the rising was drawn for the sake of contrast, part was certainly genuine, and is also reflected in the depositions. It seems that many knotty theological problems were also being sorted out locally including, for example, the arrangements for bringing up the children of mixed marriages reported on in a Catholic account of the state of the diocese of Down in 1639.20 Under Wentworth’s administration many of these local accommodations were placed under increasing strain. Presbyterian clergy in Ulster, for example, were no longer allowed to occupy ‘ Anglican cures as they had done earlier in the century, and the increased use of the ecclesiastical courts at national and local level began to press hard on non-conformists —— Protestant as well as Catholic. Wentworth was nothing if not thorough, the court of Castle Chamber was used for the punishment Of recusancy and the normal processes of law were also used to reduce the control of the Catholic bishops.“ It is no surprise that one of the main demands of the parliamentarians of 1640-1 was the abolition of High Commission, which had been instituted by Wentworth. As had been the case with land, Wentworth’s timing caused problems in the religious sphere also.The 1630s saw a rapid growth in the numbers of Catholic clergy in the localities. The Franciscans, the largest religious order in early seventeenth-century Ireland, probably trebled the number of friars working in the country to about 6...
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