Memoirs of Captain Rock, the celebrated Irish chieftain

Chapter VI.
1558.–1603.

Reign of Elizabeth.—Hibernia pacified.—Bon-mot of Queen Elizabeth.—Famine a Means of quieting Ireland.—Liberal Policy of England.—Kings of Egypt.—Fish-adorers and Dog-worshippers.-One of my Ancestors distinguished in the Rebellious Line.—Precious Relic in the Possession of my Family.

The plan of pacifying Ireland by exterminating the Irish—the only feasible one that has yet been attempted—was tried, on a grand scale, during the reign of Elizabeth; and had so nearly succeeded, that under the government of Lord Gray, the Queen was assured that “little was left in Ireland for her majesty to reign over but carcasses and ashes*.” So satisfied, too, with the result of his mission was another of her agents in this work of desolation, that the record which he has left behind him of his sanguinary exploits is entitled “Pacata Hibernia,” or “Hibernia pacified.”

Hibernia pacified ! alas, alas, could the shade of Sir G. Carew but once more hover over his own region of Munster, he would find that a new edition of his work of Pacification is much wanted—he would find that, though the same peace-makers, slaughter and persecution, have been tried under almost every government since his time, the grand object is still unaccomplished—the Temple of the Anglo-Irish Janus (that “forma biceps”) lies as open as ever.

*When the garrison of Smerwick, in Kerry, surrendered, upon mercy, to Lord Deputy Gray, he ordered upwards of seven hundred of them to be put to the sword or hanged. “Wingfield was commissioned to disarm them; and when this service was performed, an English company was sent into the fort, and the garrison was butchered in cold blood: nor is it without pain (adds Leland), that we find a service so horrid and detestable committed to Sir Walter Raleigh.”

For this and other such services, Sir Walter Raleigh had forty thousand acres of land bestowed upon him in the county of Cork, which he afterwards sold to Richard, first Earl of Cork.

As I am not writing a History of the English power in Ireland, but merely tracking its course by hasty glimpses, and pointing out a few foot-marks of the Hercules of Despotism, from which the rest of his colossal proportions may be estimated, I shall content myself with selecting from the long reign of Elizabeth a trait or two most characteristic of her general policy—or, rather, of the policy of those employed by her; as that Queen herself would have been far too wise, had her attention been fairly directed to the subject”, to turn thus into a wilderness what nature meant for a garden, or make Famine and Devastation the hand-maids of her power. There is a memorable saying of hers, preserved by Camden, which not only shows how feelingly she was aware of the perverse wickedness of the system pursued under her name, but contains as bitter a comment on the whole course of policy towards this country as the most virulent United Irishman ever dared to utter.—“Alas (said she, on receiving some representation of grievances from Ireland), how I fear lest it be objected to us, as it was to Tiberius by Bato:—You, you it is that are in fault, who have committed your flocks not to shepherds but to wolves!”

*On more than one occasion she endeavoured to introduce measures of conciliation and justice; but in the intoxication of unlimited power, her Deputies were incapable of either. Even when they affected to put “her Majesty’s merciful orders” into execution, the terms of pardon which they offered were but new devices of cruelty. Lord Mountjoy (as we are told by his secretary, Moryson) never received any to mercy, but such as had drawn blood on their fellow-rebels. “Thus,” says he, “M’Mahon and M’Artmoyle offered to submit, but neither could be received without the other’s head.”

Yet could this Lord Mountjoy write as plausibly, as any of our modern Secretaries speak, on the expediency of a more humane and tolerant policy.

Thus, in a letter to the Lords of the Council, he says-“All the Irish that are now obstinate, are so only out of their diffidence to be safe in any forgiveness; and though they are weary of the war, they are unwilling to have it ended, for fear lest, upon a peace, there would come a severe reformation of religion.

They have the ancient swelling and desire of liberty in their countrymen to work upon—their fear to be rooted out, and generally all over the kingdom their fear of a persecution for religion; the least of which alone has been many times sufficient to drive the best and most quiet states into sudden confusion.”

And now for our specimens of the policy of this reign. Let the poet Spenser, in the first place, describe the frightful state of desolation brought upon the people of Munster—by a war into which their leader, the Earl of Desmond, was driven by the cupidity of the chief Governors, who had long looked on his immense possessions with a wishful eye”, and thinking him too tempting, as an enemy, to be long suffered to remain a friend (as he himself expresses it), “wrung him into undutifulness.”—“Notwithstanding,” says Spenser, “that the same was a most rich and plentiful country, yet, ere one year and a half, they were brought to such wretchedness, as that any stony heart would rue the same.

Out of every corner of the woods and glynns, they came creeping forth upon their hands, for their legs could not bear them; they looked like anatomies of death; they spake like ghosts crying out of their graves; they did eat the dead carrions, happy where they could find them, yea, and one another soon after; insomuch, as the very carcasses they spared not to scrape out of their graves, and if they found a plot of watercresses or shamrocks, there they flocked as to a feast for the time, yet not able to continue there withal; that in short space there was none almost left, and a most populous and plentiful country suddenly left void of man and beast”.”

*Elizabeth knew the art of turning Irish rebellions to account full as well as any of her successors. “Be not dismayed,” she said, upon hearing that O’Neal meditated some designs against her government: “tell my friends, if he arise, it will turn to their advantage: there will be estates for them who want.”—LELAND, p. 238

The authors of this calamity reaped from it the expected fruits. Five hundred and seventy-four thousand six hundred and twenty-eight acres were forfeited to the Crown, and distributed among Englishmen.

As famine had succeeded so well in Munster, it was adopted systematically in Leinster and Ulster; and that death which Homer pronounces to be the most miserable that man can die, was now prescribed and administered universally as a panacea for all the evils of Ireland. “The soldiers,” as we learn from Moryson, “encouraged by the example of their officers, every where cut down the standing corn with their swords, and devised every means to deprive the wretched inhabitants of all the necessaries of life. Famine was judged the speediest and most effectual means of reducing them. The like expedient was practised in the northern provinces. The governor of Carrickfergus, Sir Arthur Chichester, issued from his quarters, and for twenty miles round reduced the country to a desert. Sir Samuel Bagnal, with the garrison of Newry, proceeded with the same severity, and laid waste all the adjacent lands.”

Such was the executive part of the measures of Elizabeth’s ministers.—Let us now lift the curtain of her Councils, and see what was passing there.

It appears from the letters of Sir H. Sidney and Sir J. Perrot (who, to do them justice, speak of such conduct with the horror it deserves), that when the death of the Earl of Desmond, and the suppression of his adherents, had left an interval of tranquillity which it was proposed to take advantage of, for the long-desired purpose of introducing a system of justice and liberal policy into Ireland, the Counsellors of Elizabeth opposed themselves to this humane design, and did not blush to assign the following reasons for their opposition:—“Should we exert ourselves,” said they, “in reducing this country to order and civility, it must soon acquire power, consequence, and riches. The inhabitants will be thus alienated from England; they will cast themselves into the arms of some foreign power, or perhaps erect themselves into an independent and separate State. Let us rather connive at their disorders; for a weak and disordered people never can attempt to detach themselves from the crown of England.”

This policy was not new in the history of nations. Diodorus Siculus tells us, that the ancient Kings of Egypt kept alive the spirit of religious dissensions among their subjects, as the best means of preventing a combination against their own tyranny—well knowing, that as long as a Dog-worshipper of Cynopolis was ready to cut the throat of a Fish-adorer of Oxyrynchus, there would be no fear of any rational concord in the cause of liberty among such people. Accordingly, at one time, by giving superior privileges to the Dog establishment—at another, by mortifying the Canine Ascendancy, and even affecting an inclination to bring Fish worship into fashion, they contrived to cherish such a deadly animosity between these two respectable creeds, that when the Romans, who took somewhat more sensible views of such matters, became masters of Egypt, it required (as Plutarch tells us) the strongest and most skillful interposition of their authority, to put down both Dog and Fish together—or, at least, by removing all distinctions between them, to render their worship a matter of as little consequence as they were themselves.

Never had the Rocks a fairer harvest of riot than during this most productive reign. One of my ancestors, who lived and battled through the whole of it, has transmitted to his descendants the high and illustrious distinction, of having been personally engaged in no less than forty rebellions—making within five of the number of years that good Queen Bess (as he well might call her) reigned—to say nothing of a multitude of episodical insurrections, of a lighter nature, with which he amused his summer months.

This great ornament of our family (who appears to have been a most polyonymous, or rather polyomichronymous person, being christened O’Brien, O’Murtagh, O’Laughlin, O’Shane, &c.) was one of the worthies selected by the great Tirone, Prince of Ulster, to accompany him in his celebrated pilgrimage to the Holy Cross of Tipperary. He was also at the battle of the Pass of Plumes, where the gay young soldiers of the Earl of Essex were plucked, like fowls, by the brave rebel O’Moore—and one of those Plumes (supposed to be that which he took on the occasion) is still preserved as a relic in the Rock Family.

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