Memoirs of Captain Rock, the celebrated Irish chieftain

Chapter IX.

Remarks on Rebellions.—Well got up in Ireland.— Journal kept by one of my Ancestors in 1641-Ertracts from it.—Hume’s Misrepresentations-Protestant Ghosts, deposed to by a Protestant Bishop.

To an amateur of Rebellions, like myself, the contemplation of even an old Irish one is as gratifying as the study of a real cinque-cento to a connoisseur—the skill with which the Government has always furnished the materials for the work, being only equalled by the con-spirito style in which the people have always executed it*.

There is extant in our family a Journal kept by one of my ancestors, during the early part of the great Rebellion of 1641; and, though the good old gentleman who wrote it was bedridden at the time, and therefore could not share in the pastime that was going on, the intense interest which he took in the progress of the revolt, and the alternation of his hopes and fears, according as the Government threw in more or less fuel to the flame, are expressed with a degree of earnestness and naiveté, which may render the perusal of a few extracts not altogether unpleasant. These details are also curious, as giving us an insight into the process by which great Rebellions have always been got up in Ireland. The same drama, a little modernized, was acted over again in 1798; and the prompter’s book and stage directions are still at hand in the archives of Dublin Castle, whenever an able Orange manager shall be found to preside over a renewal of the spectacle.

*This manufacture of rebellions began very early in our history. In the reign of Henry III. (Leland tells us) “in many places where the English had obtained settlements, the natives were first driven into insurrections by their cruelty, and then punished with double cruelty for their resistance.”


“September 29, 1641.—Matters took well. Sir William Parsons(One of the two Lords Justices) hath but lately declared, at a public entertainment”, that, within a twelvemonth, no Catholic shall be seen in Ireland—have despatched this speech to Ulster, where Sir Phelim O’Neal will turn it unto good account. Also, Sir John Clotworthy hath said in the House of Commons, that the conversion of the Papists of Ireland is only to be effected by a Bible in one hand and a sword in the other. This, with a little engrafting of other matter thereon, cannot fail, in time, to bring forth good fruit.—That gallant gentleman, Roger Moore, is busy in the North: those robberies committed on his noble ancestors, whereby himself is made a beggar, do sorely haunt him.

“October 3.-Informers, it is said, have been to the Castle, to represent the unusual and suspicious resort of persons to the house of Sir Phelim O’Neal; as also the secret jourmeys of the Lord Maguire, &c. &c. But there is no fear that the Lords Justices will attend to these forewarnings. Rebellion is a goose that layeth golden eggs, and they, at least will not be the fools to kill it*.

“October 25.—There wanted a puff to the flame in the North, and it hath come as seasonably as we could have desired. Certain petitions have been, at public assizes and other public places, made known and read to many persons of quality, purporting that the extirpation of the Catholics is at hand**, and that all who will not forthwith turn Protestants, shall be hanged up at their own doors. This news hath been like a match unto the mine. Sir Phelim O’Neal hath already seized upon the castles of Charlemont and Mountjoy–Tanderagee hath been surprised by O’Hanlon—Sir Con Magennis is in possession of Newry, and a bold dash hath been made into Fermanagh by Roger Maguire. Blood-letting, however, is, as yet, but rare; nor hath any province except Ulster yet risen.

*“They who looked more nearly into the characters and principles of the Lords Justices, conceived, and not without reason, that they by no means wished to crush the rebellion in its beginnings, but were secretly desirous that the madness of the Irish might take its free course, so as to gratify their hopes of gain by new and extensive forfeitures.” LELAND.

**That this was no visionary alarm may be proved from a variety of testimonies. “It is evident,” says Dr. Warner, “from the Lords Justices’ letter to the Earl of Leicester, then Lord Lieutenant, that they hoped for an extirpation, not of the mere Irish only, but of all the old English families also that were Roman Catholics.” Among many statements in Carte to the same purport, I shall select the following: “There is too much reason to think, that as the Lords Justices really wished the rebellion to spread, and more gentlemen of estates to be involved in it, that the forfeitures might be the greater, and a general plantation be carried on by a new set of English Protestants all over the kingdom, to the ruin and expulsion of all the old English and natives that were Roman Catholics; so, to promote what they wished, they gave out speeches upon occasions, insinuating such a design, and that in a short time there would not be a Roman Catholic left in the kingdom.”

“26.—Yesterday, their Catholic lordships of the pale, Lords Gormanstown, Netterville, Fitzwilliam, Howth, Kildare, Fingal, Dunsany, and Slane, were to the Council to express their abhorrence of the conspiracy that hath broken forth, and to demand arms for their own defence, and the annoyance of the enemy. But the Lords Justices did dismiss them with much coldness and evasion*, and with but scant supply of arms, whereat they are, as might be expected, sorely mortified. Most marvellously do these Lords Justices play into our hands; and if they but prosper in putting these great nobles of the pale into desperation, we shall, in truth, have rare work of it!

“November 10.—All again looks downward, and there seemeth but small chance of a general rising this winter. His Majesty hath writ over to the Lords Justices that he will no longer deceive his loving subjects of Ireland, but that, in the Parliament forthwith to be assembled, the long desired Graces shall be propounded and confirmed. Blank tidings these for our gallants in the North. Roger Moore may now go whistle after his fair Leinster domains, and Sir Phelim must turn the old Tyrone helmet into a drinking-cup. Our only hope is in the Lords Justices.

“November 17.—The Lords Justices have prorogued the Parliament without suffering the promised Graces to be therein propounded, or even mentioned, whereby all chance of a redress of grievances is happily at an end, and we may now expect a right merry winter. The Byrnes of Wicklow were up on the 12th, the twenty-four O’Farrels of Longford have joined, and the Tooles and Cavanaghs of Caterlogh are stirring.

“November 18.—Tidings just come to hand, that on the night of the 13th ult. the English and Scotch of Carrickfergus did issue forth, and attack and murder, in the island Magee**, 3000 men, women, and children, all innocent persons, there being as yet no appearance of revolt in that quarter. If this doth not cause all Ireland to rise on the sudden, then is the blood of her Macs run dry, and her ancient O’s become cyphers indeed.

“19.—Already hath the scabbard been put away, since the foul adventure of island Magee; and, at Lurgan and other places, repayment hath been taken, with heavy interest, for the treachery of that night. Sir Phelim is now blooded, and we shall not soon see the end on’t.

“December 3.—The Lords Justices have taken back with much insult the few arms entrusted to the Lords of the Pale, and banished them from Dublin, whereby the disaffection of these great nobles is decided, and they are already, it is said, communing with Roger Moore.

*In the same manner the offers of the Catholic gentry in 1798, to raise regiments, &c. were coldly rejected; and Mr. Plunket stated, from his own knowledge, in the House of Commons, last sessions, that though, during the whole of the rebellion, the Roman Catholics were most anxious to enter into the yeomanry corps of Dublin, the Protestants almost invariably refused them admittance. So rigidly, at that period, was Sir William Parsons’s receipt for the mixing up of a good rebellion attended to.

**There has been some controversy about the date of this massacre, but the testimonies for fixing it early in November preponderate.

“December 4.—Colonel Coote hath, in reward of his murderous carnage at Wicklow, been appointed governor of Dublin.

“December 8.—There is an order of both Houses of the English Parliament, dated November 30, directing the Lords Justices to “grant his Majesty’s pardon to all those who within a convenient time shall return to their obedience.” This might, as the saying goes, spoil sport; but that the Lords Justices are too keen on their scent of forfeitures, to suffer themselves to be turned therefrom by any such clemency; accordingly, no proclamation of this nature hath appeared, and matters go on right riotously still*.

“December 9.—Munster will soon be up, for the Lord President hath gone thither to tranquillize it. He hath already put to death four persons at Ballyowen, hanged six innocent labourers at Ballymurrin, and eight at Ballygalburt**; and when those loyal gentlemen, the Butlers of Kilveylaghlen and Ballynakill, with the Lord Dunboyne at their head, alarmed by the ill blood which this cruelty had produced, did come to offer their services in preserving the peace of the province, the Lord President told them, in his hasty, furious way, that ‘they were all rebels alike, that he would not trust one soul of them, but thought it more. prudent to hang the best of them. Whether these noble gentlemen will continue to be loyal after such speeches, remains to be seen.

“December.—At last the Lords and Gentlemen of the Pale have declared themselves, and now the whole nation hath risen in arms***.

The seal which their Supreme Council hath framed to itself, wherewith to seal all credentials of office, beareth first the mark of a long cross, then, on the right side, a crown; on the left a harp, with a dove above, and a flaming heart below the cross, with, round about, this inscription: ‘pro Deo, et Rege, et patria Hibernia unanimes!’

*Charles seems to have been too late aware of the mistake which he had committed in breaking faith with the Irish. In his answer to a declaration of the English House of Commons, he tells them, that “if he had been obeyed in the Irish affairs before he went to Scotland, and had been suffered to perform his engagements to his Irish subjects, there had been no rebellion.”—Relig. Sacr. Carolina, quoted by Curry.

**The skill with which the county of Wexford was roused from its tranquillity in 1798, by the seasonable application of burnings, half-hangings, &c. was a palpable but improved copy of this expedition of the Lord President of Munster.

***“The Lords Justices being at length forced by the King to make some show of treating with these confederate Catholics, sent a messenger to their Supreme Council sitting at Ross, offering a safe conduct to any whom they might depute to represent their grievances to the king’s commissioners. In order, however, to defeat the pretended object, the safe conduct contained, among other insulting expressions, the words ‘odious rebellion,’ applied to the proceedings of the confederates; in consequence of which, these Catholic noblemen and gentlemen sent back the messenger with a high-spirited answer, saying, ‘that they were not, they thanked God, in that condition, as to sacrifice their loyalty to the malice of any; and that it would be a meanness beyond expression in them, who fought in the condition of loyal subjects, to come in the repute of rebels to set down their grievances. ‘We take God to witness, added they, “that there are no limits set to the scorn and infamy that are cast upon us, and that we will be in the esteem of loyal subjects, or die to a man.’”


I need not, I trust, apologize for the length of these extracts—they contain the concentrated essence of Irish history.

The venerable journalist has recorded several other items of this valuable receipt for rebellion, which was used with such effect by the Lords Justices of that time, and by them transmitted to all succeeding practitioners. “Thus (he says) on the 22d of March, Mr. Hugh M’Mahon was put to the rack in the Castle of Dublin, and on the day following, Sir John Read suffered the same*. Mr. Patrick Barnwell of Kilbrue, who was racked the other day, is now found out to be wholly innocent**, and many apologies have been thereupon made to the old gentleman.”

By such means as these—and I have given but a faint notion of their atrocity—was the country lashed up into that paroxysm of “wild justice,” which, to this day, is denominated an “odious and unnatural rebellion,” and in which, the readers of Hume’s history are taught to believe, the whole guilt and barbarity lay on the side of the Irish***.

That there was, in a conflict so long and so violent, the usual quantum of horrors, which bigotry on both sides is always sure to generate, cannot be denied; but how far those Depositions are worthy of belief, on which the heaviest charges of cruelty against the Catholics rest, may be judged from the following specimen of their rationality.

It was deposed, that the ghosts of the Protestants drowned by the rebels at Portadown Bridge were seen for a long time moving in various shapes upon the river, and Doctor Maxwell, Bishop of Kilmore (one of the most credible, perhaps, of all the deponents) enters into grave particulars about these ghosts in his depositions, and describes them as “sometimes having been seen, day and night, walking upon the river; sometimes brandishing their naked swords; sometimes singing psalms, and at other times shrieking in a most hideous and fearful manner.” We see by this, too, that Protestant bishops can occasionally rival even Catholic ones in their deglutition of the miraculous.

*Another imitation—“Many of the common people, and some even in circumstances of life superior to that class, particularly in the city of Dublin, were scourged, picketed, or otherwise put to pain, to force a confession of concealed arms or plots.”—Gordon’s History of the Rebellion of 1798.

**Some of the mistakes of 1798 might rival this; for instance—“Mr. Wright of Clonmel was seized by Mr. T. Judkin Fitzgerald, and flagellated almost to death by receiving five hundred lashes, merely for having in his pocket a letter written in the French language, upon an indifferent subject.”—PLOWDEN.

The trial and execution of Sir Edward Crosbie, now universally acknowledged to have been innocent, was one of those atrocities which it would be difficult in any times to parallel. “Protestant loyalists,” (says Mr. Gordon, himself a Protestant clergyman), “who came to give testimony in favour of the accused were forcibly prevented by the military from entering the court. Roman Catholic prisoners were tortured by repeated floggings, to force them to give evidence against him, and appear to have been promised their lives upon no other condition than that of his conviction.”—History of the Rebellion of 1798.

***Sir John Temple, upon whose authority Hume chiefly rests, was about as trust-worthy a narrator of the events of 1642 as Sir Richard Musgrave has been of those of 1798; and so well understood was the appetite of this latter gentleman for the marvellous, that it was the favourite pastime of some humorists in Dublin, at the time when he was collecting materials for his History, to impose gravely upon him as true, the most monstrous fictions—which he as gravely transferred to his dull pages, and of which, no doubt, some future Hume will avail himself, for the old, but never obsolete task, of blackening the character of the Irish.

There has lately appeared a short Treatise on the Rebellion of 1641, by Mr. Matthew Carey of Philadelphia, in which the evidences, adduced by Temple and others, of a general conspiracy of the Irish Catholics at that period, are sifted with a considerable degree of acuteness, and most satisfactorily proved to be futile and incredible.

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