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Ulster - History

The Christianity which had been a vital force in the eighth century had died into asceticism and superstition in the twelfth. Its head, the Coarb, or Archbishop of Armagh, sank into the hereditary chieftain of a clan. Hardly a trace of any central authority remained to knit the tribes into a single nation, though the King of Ulster claimed supremacy over his fellow-kings of Munster, Leinster, and Connaught; and even within these minor kingships the regal authority was little more than a name. The one living thing in the social and political chaos was the sept, or tribe, or clan, whose institutions remained those of the earliest stage of human civilization.

At the time of Henry the Second's accession in 1154, Ireland was full of Englishmen, who had been kidnaped and sold into slavery, in spite of royal prohibitions and the spiritual menaces of the English Church. The slave-trade afforded a legitimate pretext for war, had a pretext been needed by the ambition of Henry the Second; and within a few months of that king's coronation John of Salisbury was dispatched to obtain the Papal sanction for his invasion of the island. The enterprise, as it was laid before Pope Hadrian IV., took the color of a crusade. The isolation of Ireland from the general body of Christendom, the absence of learning and civilization, the scandalous vices of its people, were alleged as the grounds of Henry's action. It was the general belief at the time that all islands fell under the jurisdiction of the Papal See, and it was as a possession of the Roman Church that Henry sought Hadrian's permission to enter Ireland.

Hadrian by his bull approved the enterprise as one prompted by "the ardor of faith and love of religion," and declared his will that the people of Ireland should receive Henry with all honor, and revere him as their lord. The Papal bull was produced in a great council of the English baronage, but the opposition was strong enough to force on Henry a temporary abandonment of his schemes, and his energies were diverted for the moment to plans of continental aggrandizement.

Nothing but the feuds and weakness of the Irish tribes enabled the adventurers to hold the districts of Drogheda, Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, and Cork, which formed what was known as the "English Pale." Had the Irish driven their invaders into the sea, or the English succeeded in the complete conquest of Ireland, the misery of its after-history might have been avoided. All lawlessness, the ferocity, the narrowness of feudalism, broke out unchecked in the horde of adventurers who held the land by their sword. With the renewal of the French wars, and the outburst of the Wars of the Roses, Ireland was again left to itself. The policy of Henry the Seventh threw power without stint into the hands of the nobles of the Pale.

Henry VIII had resolved to take Ireland seriously in hand, and he had Cromwell to execute his will. Skeffington, the new Lord Deputy, brought with him a train of artillery, which worked a startling change in the political aspect of the island. The castles which had hitherto sheltered rebellion were battered into ruins. Not only were the Englishmen of the Pale at Henry's feet, but the kerns of Wicklow and Wexford sent in their submission; and for the first time in men's memory an English army appeared in Munster and reduced the South to obedience.

The one mode of civilizing Ireland and redresssing its chaotic misrule which presented itself to their minds, was that of destroying the whole Celtic tradition of the Irish people—that of "making Ireland English" in manners, in law, and in tongue. The Deputy, Parliament, judges, sheriffs, which already existed within the Pale, furnished a faint copy of English institutions; and these, it was hoped, might he gradually extended over the whole island. The English language and mode of life would follow, it was believed, the English law. The one effectual way of bringing about such a change as this lay in a complete conquest of the island, and in its colonization by English settlers; but from this course, pressed on him as it had been by his own lieutenants and by the settlers of the Pale, even the iron will of Henry shrank.

In many parts of Ireland, which were at one time and another colonised with English, the colonists became absorbed in the native population; but in Ulster, where the Scottish blood was strong, this union had not taken place. It was perhaps the stern Calvinism of these Scots, which long survived, that prevented the colony from mixing with the surrounding people, and being absorbed by them as the Jews of the northern kingdom became merged in the surrounding "heathen." The history of the Presbyterian Church is therefore an important part of the story of the Scot in Ulster; in fact, for many years the history of Ulster, as far as it has a separate history, is chiefly ecclesiastical. It must be so; for this is a story of Scotsmen and of the first half of the seventeenth century, and at that time the history of Scotland is the history of the Scottish Church. Church polity, Church observance, Church discipline, fill all the chronicles, and must have formed the public life of the people.

In 1613, after an interval of twenty-seven years, a Parliament met at Dublin, to which were summoned members from many northern towns, such as Dungannon and Coleraine, which were certainly then boroughs rather in embryo than in reality. This Parliament repealed a law of Queen Mary, which was intended to prevent the Scots from settling in Ireland; the Scots thus aimed at being the Western Islesmen, who infested and plundered Northern Ulster. Two years later there met a convocation of clergy, which proceeded to draw up a Confession of Faith for the Episcopal Church of Ireland, as an establishment separate from that of England. The Irish clergy were at this time strongly tinged with Puritanism, and the result was that a Confession was adopted much more Calvinistic, and therefore nearer that of the Scottish Church than was the Thirty-nine Articles. The formation and growth of the Presbyterian Church was also much aided by Archbishop Ussher, the Primate of Ireland. Ussher is remembered as the most learned Englishman of a learned age; but better worth recording even than his learning is his broad-minded toleration.

Thus was Ulster filled with Scotsmen, and the simple forms of the Scottish Church established in the North of Ireland. But the "golden peaceable age" of Archbishop Ussher could not last long. In 1633, Thomas Wentworth, afterwards Earl of Strafford, began his celebrated term of office as LordDeputy of Ireland, and with him came Laud's polity in matters ecclesiastic. The Calvinistic Confession of Faith was altered; the bishops tinged with Puritanism were deposed, and High Churchmen placed in their stead; a High Commission Court was established in Dublin; and conformity to the Established Church was enforced by pains and penalties. Then Wentworth's hand fell heavily on the Presbyterians, laity and clergy. Many of the latter had to flee and take refuge in Scotland, where they again found churches, after that country revolted against Episcopacy in 1637. Many of the laity, too, returned to the West of Scotland, helping in this way to bind the two countries together.

The forty years between the defeat of the Irish at Kinsale, on the 2nd January, 1601-2, and the great War or Rebellion which broke out on the 23rd October, 1641, have been represented as the period of the greatest peace, improvement, and prosperity known in Ireland since the days of the first invasion. And so it was in one sense; but in another the period of the greatest misery. There was prosperity, but it was among the supplanting strangers —misery among the displanted and transplanted Irish. There was peace, but it was the peace of despair, because there remained no hope except in arms, and their arms were taken from them.

On 23 October 1641 the Irish of Ulster rose in arms. Accord1ng to the scheme of the Parliament for suppressing the Irish Rebellion, 2,500,000 acres of Irish lands to be forfeited, were offered as security to those who should advance moneys towards raising and paying a private army for subduing the rebels in Ireland. The Parliament, by the Act of 26th September, 1653, for satisfying the Adventurers, the army, and the public creditors, reserved all the forfeited property in cities and boroughs for the State. In the early part of the war, in hopes to induce merchants and traders, English and foreign (provided they were Protestants), to whom houses in seaport towns were more useful than lands, to advance funds, the Parliament of England offered the principal seaport towns in Ireland for sale.

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Page last modified: 17-05-2022 16:54:03 ZULU