On 1575, Sorley Boy MacDonnell (Somhairle Bui) watched helplessly from Torr Head in County Antrim the massacre of the entire population of Rathlin Island. About 600 people died, including his wife and children, whom he had sent there for safety. The massacre was carried out on the orders of the 1st Earl of Essex, who was typical of the military colonists of the time. Not only did they regard the Irish as uncivilised, they also deplored the Catholicism as heresy.
Eager to be successful, they happily got rid of anyone who stood in their way. It was the young Walter Raleigh, for instance, who was in charge at Smerwick in Co Kerry in 1580, when some 700 Spaniards and Italians, who had been sent by Philip of Spain and Pope Gregory XIII to help the Irish, were massacred. In return, he was given 4,000 acres of Irish land.
Sorley Boy MacDonnell (c. 1505-1590) was chief of the MacDonnells of Antrim. He was at various times in conflict with the English and with neighbouring Gaelic chieftains. He defeated the English at Carrickfergus in 1552, was captured by Shane O’Neill in 1565, only to arrange O’Neill’s defeat and death two years later.
After he had lost his family to the English, MacDonnell regained control of the north coast the following year and took his seat at Dunluce Castle. He agreed a truce with the English in 1587. He was succeeded by his son Randal, who was made Earl of Antrim by the English.
Image | Photography by Reservoir-Tog