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O'Neill
O'Neill
205

patent, vesting in him all the lands mentioned in his grandfather's grant. He was entered a student of Lincoln's Inn, but is said to have contracted extravagant habits; and it is certain that his estate was greatly encumbered by him with mortgages of one sort and another long before the outbreak of the rebellion (Repertory of Inquisitions, Tyrone, Charles II, p. 3). In 1641 he was elected member of the Irish House of Commons for Dungannon, but he was expelled with others for his share in the rebellion on 17 Nov. 1641.

Whether it was from a desire to mend his own broken fortunes or from a patriotic interest in the civil and religious liberties of his countrymen, he entered heartily into a proposal, suggested apparently to him by the Earl of Antrim some time in 1641, to create a diversion in Ireland in favour of Charles I. The affair is involved in considerable obscurity; but it would appear that in the summer of that year Charles, being hard pressed by the parliament, suggested or countenanced a conspiracy to wrest the government of Ireland out of the hands of the parliament, and to use his advantage there as a means to recover his authority in England. The design was imparted by Antrim to Lords Gormanston and Slane, and to others in Ulster. ‘But the fools,’ as Antrim called the northern chiefs, ‘well liking the business, would not expect our time and manner for ordering the work; but fell upon it without us, and sooner and otherwise than we should have done, taking to themselves, and in their own way, the management of the work, and so spoiled it’ (Cox, Hib. Angl. App. p. xlix). It is likely that Antrim's account of the origin of the rebellion is correct. It is certain that during the autumn frequent communications passed between O'Neill and his immediate associates and the nobility of the Pale, and that Kinard, Sir Phelim's residence in Tyrone, was a principal meeting-place of the northern conspirators. In accordance with the final arrangements for the rebellion, Sir Phelim on the evening of 22 Oct. surprised Charlemont Castle, a place of considerable strategic importance, commanding the passage of the Blackwater, on the great northern road.

The circumstances attending the outbreak of the rebellion have been, and still are, the subject of fierce recrimination. Sir Phelim himself, besides being held responsible for the outrages that took place in his neighbourhood, was directly charged with the murder of Lord Caulfeild. But of this crime he was acquitted by the high court of justice sitting in Dublin in March 1653; and it depends mainly on the degree of credibility to be attached to the depositions relating to the massacres, preserved in Trinity College, Dublin, whether he was the monster of iniquity he is described to have been by Carte and more recent historians, or a much-maligned man. In any case, his success in capturing Charlemont Castle and other northern fortresses alone prevented the rebellion from proving a miserable failure. On 24 Oct. he published a proclamation declaring that in taking up arms he and his associates had done so ‘only for the defence and liberty of ourselves and the Irish natives of this kingdom;’ and that it was in no way directed to the harm either of the king or any of his subjects, English and Scottish. His success and energy inspired confidence in him, and at a meeting of the Ulster leaders at Monaghan he was chosen commander-in-chief of the northern forces. At Newry on 4 Nov. he and Rory Maguire published a commission, purporting to come from the king, expressly authorising the Irish to rise in defence of their liberties against the parliament. The commission was a manifest forgery, but it created an immense sensation, and repeated efforts were made by the parliament at the time of Sir Phelim's trial to induce him to admit its genuineness. This, however, Sir Phelim declined to do, declaring that he had forged it himself, in the belief that he was justified in using any means ‘to promote that cause he had so far engaged in.’

The hope of meeting with support from the Scottish settlers proving before long delusive, Sir Phelim prepared to reduce them by force. On 15 Nov. he captured Lurgan, but was repulsed from Lisburn, with considerable loss, by Sir Arthur Terringham and Major Rawdon on Sunday, 28 Nov. Turning on his heel, he marched into the north-west, captured and plundered the town of Strabane, and, with the connivance of Lady Strabane, widow of Claude Hamilton, lord Strabane, whom he subsequently married, succeeded in getting possession of the castle. He remained in the neighbourhood for several weeks, but the Lagan forces under Sir William Stewart, though unable to prevent him burning and plundering at his pleasure, frustrated his efforts to capture Castlederg and Augher. Meanwhile the siege of Drogheda had not been progressing as favourably as had been expected, and the gentry of the Pale, ‘being no longer able to conceal their engagement with those of the north,’ and perceiving the besiegers ‘to decrease daily, by reason that the soldiers, as soon as they were become masters of any considerable booty, stole from the camp with it, resolved at length to call upon Sir Phelim O'Neill, whose power they thought unresistible.’ Sir Phelim