Page images

Earl Gerald, in the earlier part of the reign of Henry VIII. (1509-1547), followed in the footsteps of his father. He waged incessant war against the Irish chiefs who rebelled against English rule; crushed the O'Moores of Leix, the O'Reillys of Cavan, the O'Tooles of Wicklow, and captured the castle of O'Carrol which his father had failed to take. But his power, valour and success excited the jealousy of his great rival, Ormond, and even aroused the suspicions of Wolsey. Earl Gerald was formidable to the Irish; he might become formidable to the English too. So thought Henry's minister. In 1519, extraordinary as it might seem, considering what his career hitherto had been, the earl was charged, mainly at the instance of Pierce Butler, Earl of Ormond (* Pierce the Red,' as he was called), with 'seditious practices, conspiracies and subtle crafts.' He was summoned to England to answer this accusation, and Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, was sent to Ireland in his place. Surrey's government was an utter failure, and he returned to England in 1521, when Kildare's enemy, Ormond, was appointed viceroy. But Ormond did not give satisfaction either. clear that none could rule Ireland but the Geraldines, because the Geraldines had become thoroughly Irish in temperament and feeling. They were certainly often English to the Irish, but they were as often Irish to the English. The Irish forgave them much, because they did not fear on occasion to withstand England. But England always distrusted them, because they showed a spirit of independence, and even when

It was



representing English interests, thought of Ireland first. In truth England could not do with, and could not do without the great house of Kildare. And so it came to pass that Earl Gerald was sent back to Ireland, and was, amid enthusiastic public rejoicings, once more installed governor of the country in 1524. It was characteristic of the Geraldines that at the installation of Kildare, an Irish chief, Conn O'Neil, bore the sword of state before the viceroy. The Geraldines alone had the wisdom to see that Ireland could best be ruled by winning the sympathy and confidence of Irishmen. Gerald was now placed in a position of great difficulty, and even danger. It was discovered that his kinsman, the Earl of Desmond, had entered into a treasonable correspondence with the King of France, to bring about an invasion of Ireland and to free the country from English control.

Desmond was at once summoned to England, but he refused to obey. Kildare was ordered to arrest him, and the viceroy marched into Munster to fulfil this unpleasant mission. Desmond, however, evaded arrest, and Kildare was suspected of conniving at his escape. Charges of treason were again brought against him, and in 1526 he again went to England to answer them.

He was for a time committed to the Tower, and detained for several years in England; but Ireland became so ungovernable in his absence, that, in 1532, he was sent back once more as viceroy. He now chastised his enemies and drew closer the bonds which attached him to the Irish chiefs.

At the commencement of his career he had been ‘English to the Irish,' but towards the end he showed a decided tendency to become 'Irish to the English,' and English distrust of him accordingly increased. In 1534 he was summoned to England again, and again committed to the Tower. He came back to Ireland no more. Broken in health and spirit, and overcome by trouble and sorrow, he died in the Tower on December 12, 1534.

When Earl Gerald left Ireland for the last time in 1534, he appointed his son Thomas, Earl of Offaly, popularly known as “Silken Thomas' (from the silken fringes worn by his warriors on their helmets), lord-deputy. Calling him to the council board at Drogheda, the old earl gave

him the sword of state, and said, Son Thomas, you know that my sovereign lord the king hath sent for me into England, and what shall betide me God knoweth, for I know not. But, however it falleth, I am well stept in years; and so I must in haste decease, because I am old. Wherefore, in so much as my winter is well near ended, and the spring of your age now buddeth, my will is, that you behave so wisely in these your green years, as that with honour you may grow to the catching of that hoary winter in which you see your father fast faring.'

Young and inexperienced — he was only twenty-one years old-Offaly took upon himself the cares of state. In June, a rumour reached Ireland that his father, the Earl Gerald, had been beheaded in the Tower. Offaly




[ocr errors]

was in arms in an instant. Placing himself at the head of a guard of 140 warriors, he marched through the streets of Dublin, entering at Dane's Gate, crossing the river, and proceeding to St Mary's Abbey where the council awaited him. Surrounded by his followers, he advanced to the council board, and, flinging the sword of state on the table, harangued the privy councillors in a stirring speech. "I am none of Henry, his deputy,' he said, 'I am his foe. I have more mind to conquer than to govern; to meet him in the field than to serve him in office.' The lord chancellor besought him to submit in all things to the authority of the king. For an instant Offaly seemed to waver, when the old Irish harper, who accompanied him, recited a poem in Irish, recounting the valiant deeds of his ancestors, and urging him to be mindful of their fame. Fired with enthusiasm, the young Geraldine exclaimed, 'I will take the market as it riseth, and I will choose rather to die with valiantesse and liberty, than to live under King Henry in bondage and villany,' and rushed from the council hall, followed by his guard. Gathering the Irish septs around him, O'Conor Faly, O'Moore, O'Carrol, O'Neil of Tyrone, and O'Brien of Thomond, he prepared for war. He besought James Butler, son of the Earl of Ossory, to unite with him in one mighty effort to drive the English out of Ireland; but the cautious Butler refused. Leaving a force to besiege Dublin Castle, Offaly marched into the territory of the Butlers, and laid waste the county of Kilkenny. Then returning to Dublin,

[ocr errors]

he joined in the siege of that stronghold. The Archbishop Allen, an ancient foe of the Geraldines, sought to escape from the city under cover of the night, and cross to England; but the vessel which bore him was wrecked on the coast. The archbishop took refuge at Howth. There he was discovered and brought before Offaly. He feared the anger of the young Geraldine, and on bended knees begged for mercy and pardon. There is no reason to suppose that Offaly meant to do him any hurt. He looked on the prelate, indeed, with contempt, and desired only that he should be removed from his presence. Beir uaim an bodach,' he said in Gaelic; ‘Take away the clown.' This order was misunderstood, and the archbishop was pitilessly put to death,

,-a deed out of harmony with Offaly's gallant and chivalrous nature. Meanwhile Offaly pushed on vigorously with the attack on Dublin, but the city held bravely out, and in the end Offaly was obliged to raise the siege. In 1535, when Offaly had become Earl of Kildare, the lord-deputy Skeffington carried the war into the Geraldines' country, and laid siege to the castle of Maynooth. The besieged made a gallant defence; but the English brought their artillery-for the first time used in Ireland -to bear upon the walls; and the Irish having no artillery to return the enemy's fire, were forced to surrender. Kildare was hastening from Connaught with a force of about 7000 men to the relief of Maynooth, when the news of its fall reached him. But he was resolved to give battle to Skeffington. A fierce fight took place at

« PreviousContinue »