THE RULE OF THE O’NEILLS.
Shane O’Neill was a man of extraordinary ability and tremendous energy, as the English found to their cost. He was guilty of atrocious deeds; but he had too many examples in those lawless times encouraging him to sacrifice the most sacred ties to his ambition. He resolved to seize the chieftainship by deposing his father and banishing him to the Pale, where, after passing some years in captivity, he died. He was, no doubt, urged to do this, lest by some chance the son of the baron of Dungannon should be adopted by England as the rightful heir, and made Earl of Tyrone. This title he spurned, and proclaimed himself the O’Neill, the true representative of the ancient kings of Ulster, to which office he was elected by his people, taking the usual oath with his foot upon the sacred stone. This was an open defiance of English power, and he prepared to abide the consequences. He thought the opportunity a favourable one to recover the supremacy of his ancestors over the O’Donels. He accordingly mustered a numerous army, and marched into Tyrconnel, where he was joined by Hugh O’Donel, brother of Calvagh, the chief, with other disaffected persons of the same clan. O’Donel had recourse to stratagem. Having caused his cattle to be driven out of harm’s way, he sent a spy into the enemy’s camp, who mixed with the soldiers, and returning undiscovered, he undertook to guide O’Donel’s army to O’Neill’s tent, which was distinguished by a great watch-fire, and guarded by six galloglasses on one side and as many Scots on the other. The camp, however, was taken by surprise in the dead of night, and O’Neill’s forces, careless or asleep, were slaughtered and routed without resistance. Shane himself fled for his life, and, swimming across three rivers, succeeded in reaching his own territory. This occurred the year before he cast off his allegiance to England. He was required to appear before Elizabeth in person to explain the grounds on which he had claimed the chieftainship. He consented, on condition that he got a safe-conduct and money for the expenses of his journey. At the same time he sent a long letter to the Queen, complaining of the treatment he had received, and defending his pretensions. The letter is characteristic of the man and of the times. He said: ’The deputy has much ill-used me, your Majesty; and now that I am going over to see you, I hope you will consider that I am but rude and uncivil, and do not know my duty to your Highness, nor yet your Majesty’s laws, but am one brought up in wildness, far from all civility. Yet have I a good will to the commonwealth of my country; and please your Majesty to send over two commissioners that you can trust, that will take no bribes, nor otherwise be imposed on, to observe what I have done to improve the country, and hear what my accusers have to say; and then let them go into the Pale, and hear what the people say of your soldiers, with their horses, and their dogs, and their concubines. Within this year and a half, three hundred farmers are come from the English Pale to live in my country, where they can be safe.