Trouble in Ireland


Since the times of Elizabeth I, the situation in Ireland had been extremely volatile. The "Plantation" of the early 17th Century, had placed English and Scottish settlers (mostly Protestants) on lands which many Catholics saw as theirs and which resulted in conflict between the two communities whose religion, social customs and working methods were very different. The Rebellion of 1641, saw many of the Old Gaelic families of Ulster, rise up in an attempt to take over the country and reclaim land they saw as rightfully theirs. Many Protestants were forced off their lands and in Portadown, over one hundred were driven off a bridge and drowned - those who tried to swim were battered with oars by the insurgents, until every man woman and child had drowned. This rebellion continued and was not finally crushed until Oliver Cromwell landed in Ireland in 1649, with his New Model Army. Many of Cromwell's armies were paid in land confiscated from the Catholic rebels. This was known as the "Cromwellian Land Settlement".

Further plantation took place after 1650 and the Down Survey of 1654, showed that approximately half of Ireland's twenty million acres, was in Protestant ownership, although the actual Protestant population was approximately twenty per cent.

When James II came to the throne in England, he attempted to implement changes which would transfer much of this land to Catholics - part of his "Catholic Design" plan. He appointed Richard Talbot to the peerage as Earl of Tyrone (later to be Earl of Tyrconnell). Talbot was a shrewd Catholic politician, who had a controversial past, which included hatching a plot to assassinate Cromwell, for which he was caught and sentenced, but escaped from his guards on his way to prison. Under James, Talbot and many other leading Catholics were promoted to senior ranks within the army - a sign of things to come under the reign of James.


                                    Dick Talbot, Earl of Tyrconnell, about whom, the song 
                                                                         "Lillibullero" was written

 By January 1687, Talbot, now the Earl of Tyrconnell, had been promoted to the role of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and in this capacity,
he placed Catholics in positions of control in the state and the militia. He also moved to increase the strength of the army in Ireland from just 8,000 to 40,000 and a large number of unemployed Catholics joined the ranks. Although many members of this new army were untrained and ill-disciplined, many had a deep rooted hatred of Protestants, which would serve Tyrconnell's purpose well.

When news of the Glorious Revolution reached Ireland, The Protestants in Ireland, immediately declared for William. Many joined together to form associations, like the North East Association, under the command of the powerful Montgomery family. These associations organised a General Council, held at Hillsborough and dispatched a letter asking William to come to their aid. William's reply, although very encouraging and sympathetic to the Protestant's plight, did not directly state he would come to their assistance. William dispatched one of his Irish Catholic Officers, Richard Hamilton, to Tyrconnell, demanding his surrender, but on reaching Dublin, Hamilton, jumped sides and urged Tyrconnel to reject William's terms. It was said "the papists lit bonfires when Dick Hamilton came over and that he was worth ten thousand men."  Hamilton would play a major role in events during the months to come.


                                                 The Comber Letter

On the 3rd December 1688, a letter was found lying in the street in the County Down village of Comber. It was addressed to Lord Mountalexander of the North East Association.
The letter gave warning that on the 9th of December, Irishmen would rise up and kill landowners, their families and other Protestants. Although the letter was probably a hoax, news spread like wildfire and the country was awash with rumour amid fears of a widespread massacre of Protestants.

Following the discovery of an anti-Tyrconnell coup based at Trinity College, Dublin, Tyrconnell, wrote to James II (by now in exile in France), imploring him to come to Ireland, take the country and mount a challenge to the throne of England. Tyrconnell moved quickly to wipe out any "nest of rebels" as he put it. One such instance was in Bandon, Cork where the strong Protestant enclave had declared for William, but they were soon crushed by Tyrconnell's forces. Before the conflict, the Bandon Williamites had unfurled a banner declaring "No Surrender" - the first time this famous battle cry was used!

Tyrconnell then turned his attention to Ulster, where he sent the newly promoted Lieutenant General Richard Hamilton and his Catholic army. Hamilton progressed through Ulster with frightening speed taking Protestant towns and villages on his path. At Dromore, Sir Arthur Rawdon (the fighting cock 'o the north) organised a local troop of Protestants and prepared for battle with Hamilton's advancing army. It was no contest, as the Protestants were cut to pieces, in the battle known as the "Break of Dromore".

 By the end of March 1689, Counties Down and Antrim were in Jacobite hands. Hamilton and his troops looted and sacked every town and village they came to - Protestants fled in their thousands and Larne was said to be "black" with people hoping to get sea transport out of Ireland. Hamilton pushed on and Coleraine, Omagh and Dungannon were taken by Jacobite hands as the Protestants loyal to William were pushed further north to Derry. 
One observer wrote:

"The flight became wild and tumultous, the fugitives broke down the bridges and burned the ferryboats. Whole towns, the seats of Protestant population, were left in ruins without one inhabitant. The people of Omagh destroyed their own dwellings so utterly that no roof was left to shelter the enemy from the rain and wind. The people of Cavan migrated in one body to Enniskillen. The day was wet and stormy. The road was deep in mire. It was a piteous sight to see, mingled with armed men, the women and children, weeping, famished and toiling through the mud up to their knees."

                                                 James lands in Ireland

James landed at Kinsale, on the south coast of Ireland on 12th March 1689.  His intention was to use Ireland as a stepping stone, to Scotland from where, he would mount a challenge to the throne. He brought, arms, ammunition and 2,000 men commanded by experienced French officers. 


                                                       James lands in Kinsale

Along his processional route towards Dublin, crowds cheered, flowers were strewn before his coach, songs were sung and there was general rejoicing amongst the Catholic inhabitants of towns he passed through. On March 24th, Palm Sunday, James pompously entered Dublin with Tyrconnell walking before him bearing the sword of state. The Catholic gentry and city fathers came out to greet him and there was much rejoicing throughout the city.

The next day he marched against the City of Derry.