Ireland’s Wars: Mountjoy’s Peace

From the signing of the Treaty of Mellifont in 1603 to the outbreak of a new rebellion in 1641, Ireland was largely peaceful.

There were exceptions to that throughout the 38 year period, not least the brief rebellion of Cahir O’Doherty, but by and large conventional warfare ceased in Ireland during that period. The cessation of hostilities that Charles Blount had negotiated – Mountjoy’s Peace – would be, perhaps, the single longest period of recorded Irish history, to that point, to lack any significant military activity. Even taking in Cahir’s rebellion, it was still 33 years where internecine fighting between Irish chieftains was at a minimum, where no rebellions occurred and where the English were generally free to act throughout Ireland. In essence, this was Mountjoy’s most lasting contribution to the history of Ireland, having ended its most destructive war, though little would attribute the creation of peace to him.

Why was this? Well, there was an element of war exhaustion throughout Ireland following the end of the Nine Years War, which was itself only the final conflict in a long series of rebellions, especially in the Munster region. The land could no longer support significant Irish armies, both in terms of population to actually support or create troops, or in supplies in order to keep such an army going. Places like the Earldom of Desmond and Ulster needed time to recuperate following the incredibly violent and destructive final campaigns of George Carew and Mountjoy.

The Flight of the Earls also removed the key figure heads for anti-English resistance, who failed to garner any of the expected support for a future rebellion abroad. Their actions gave the English authorities the excuse they needed to move wholesale on the Earldoms of Tyrconnell and Tyrone, incorporating them into the plantation that made up so much of the early 17th century. Many of O’Neill’s conspirators and their descendents would go on to serve in the armies of Spain, France, Austria and other places, gaining experience that they one day hoped to bring to good use in Ireland, which many never forsook as their intended target for liberation. But they were absent from the country for much of the early 1600s.

That plantation also neutered the traditional anti-English element of Ireland. Ulster was the focal point, but other plantations also took place in Wexford, Wicklow, Laois and Offaly, not to mention the repairing of the previous plantation that had taken place in Munster. Irish peasants were moved off the land (by force if necessary) or became subservient to new, English “planters”. The land of rebellious Earls was divvied up to a new generation of English colonists, one that was more committed than previous attempts, one that was of a more hardcore Protestant and reformist bent, and one that would be far more successful in implanting a whole new kind of English dominance. The MacDonnell lands in Antrim were also recognised and became a core area of Scottish influx into Ireland. The days of the Pale being the sole area of key English control were done. Dublin would just be the focal point of the English in Ireland, the capital of a burgeoning colonial enterprise.

There was violence. Murders of a sectarian nature were committed, reprisals took place. The world of Catholic and Protestant Ireland would never stop being in conflict, but it would not be until 1641 that this undercurrent of violence would boil over into open warfare of a very religious persuasion. Catholic Irish resisted the plantations as best they could, but they were uncoordinated and overwhelmed by the might of the enemy they had to face. They now essentially included the “Old English”, who were far more connected to the native Irish in culture, religion and society than they were with the new English settlers. The English would never be able to eradicate the Irish way of life completely, or be able to crush the Catholic spirit of the same, but the “conquest” of Ireland has been all but completed by the 1640’s. The quest for greater rights and recognition for Catholics took up much of Irish political life in this period, and contributed to the increasingly speedy slide towards civil war in England, a slide that neither James I nor his son and successor Charles I would be able to halt effectively. The larger religious and political issues that dominated historical affairs in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland during this time period are beyond the stated purview of this post series, but I will offer a slightly more detailed look at the road to war in the next few entries. There was a certain sense of the English position being a “paper tiger” as time went on, with an inherently hostile section of Ireland itching to undermine and destroy their administration.

Up until the immediate antebellum period of the “Wars of the Three Kingdoms” which will take up the bulk of many future entries, there were really only two incidents worth noting.

The first was a brief one, little more than a scare, that has been dubbed the “Natives Rebellion”. Arthur Chichester dramatically made public the nature of this conspiracy in 1615, shortly before he left the post of Lord Deputy of Ireland.

This planned rebellion took the form of several leading native Irish lords of the O’Cahane, MacDonnell and O’Neill clans – the most notable probably being Hugh MacShane O’Neill, a cousin of Hugh O’Neill and prominent combatant of the Nine Years War – meeting in a inn on one summers evening of 1614, and formulating a plot to simultaneously seize several of the major towns and forts of Ulster. Where they would have gone from there is unrecorded.

The “plot” received a mixed reputation in history. Many people in the Pale administration of the time considered it a false alarm, an exaggerated threat invented by Chichester in order to get more funds from London and forward the cause of the plantations. Others thought that the significant number of planter murders in the area were worthy of further security and that any potential threat to the effort had to be stamped out. There was still the fear of Hugh O’Neill and his fellow “flighters”, and any effort they could have organised to invade Ireland with the support of Spain. Philip III remained at peace with England, but most would surely have seen that as merely a temporary state of affairs (which it was).

Most of the named conspirators were hunted down and tried, though over half of them were released due to lack of evidence. Seven were hung, drawn and quartered for their apparent crime. Hugh MacShane avoided capture, but never really ventured out of his forests fastnesses ever again, yet another potential threat to the English neutralised.

The other incident is one of enough uniqueness as to deserve its own entry. It is a singular event in the history of Ireland, and indeed the British Isles at large, when a force of pirates raided a small coastal village in Cork, the largest Islamic invasion that the region would ever see.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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3 Responses to Ireland’s Wars: Mountjoy’s Peace

  1. Emmett McIntyre says:


    My name is Emmett McIntyre and I am with I’d to speak to you about collaboration. I like your work very much. Let us know, Cheers

  2. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: Index | Never Felt Better

  3. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: Ribbonmen | Never Felt Better

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