The King was now obliged to disband his Irish forces, and their commanders were sent orders for that purpose. They had instructions, however, to keep the men at home and together, so that they might easily be collected again if they could be made available, as, strange to say, the so-called “Irish rebels” were the only real hope which Charles had to rely on in his conflict with his disloyal English subjects. An understanding was soon entered into between these officers and the Irish party. They agreed to act in concert; and one of the former, Colonel Plunket, suggested the seizure of Dublin Castle. The 23rd of October was fixed on for the enterprise; but, though attempted, the attempt was frustrated by a betrayal of the plot, in consequence of an indiscretion of one of the leaders.
The rage of the Protestant party knew no limits. The Castle was put in a state of defence, troops were ordered in all directions, and proclamations were issued. In the meantime the conspirators at a distance had succeeded better, but unfortunately they were not aware of the failure in Dublin until it was too late. Sir Phelim O’Neill was at the head of 30,000 men. He issued a proclamation, stating that he intended “no hurt to the King, or hurt of any of his subjects, English or Scotch;” but that his only object was the defence of Irish liberty. He added that whatever hurt was done any one, should be personally repaired. This proclamation was from “Dungannon, the 23rd of October, 1641,” and signed “PHELIM O’NEILL.”
A few days after he produced a commission, which he pretended he had received from the King, authorizing his proceedings; but he amply atoned for this ruse de guerre afterwards, by declaring openly and honorably that the document was forged. The Irish were treated with barbarous severity, especially by Sir Charles Coote; while they were most careful to avoid any bloodshed, except what was justifiable and unavoidable in war. Dr. Bedell, the good and gentle Protestant Bishop of Kilmore, and all his people, were protected; and he drew up a remonstrance, from the tenor of which he appears to have given some sanction to the proceedings of the northern chieftains. The massacre of Island Magee took place about this period; and though the exact date is disputed, and the exact number of victims has been questioned, it cannot be disproved that the English and Scotch settlers at Carrickfergus sallied forth at night, and murdered a number of defenceless men, women, and children. That there was no regular or indiscriminate massacre of Protestants by the Catholics at this period, appears to be proved beyond question by the fact, that no mention of such an outrage was made in any of the letters of the Lords Justices to the Privy Council. It is probable, however, that the Catholics did rise up in different places, to attack those by whom they had been so severely and cruelly oppressed; and although there was no concerted plan of massacre, many victims, who may have been personally innocent, paid the penalty of the guilty. In such evidence as is still on record, ghost stories predominate; and even the Puritans seem to have believed the wildest tales of the apparition of Protestants, who demanded the immolation of the Catholics who had murdered them.