In the 1530s, King Henry VIII of England colonised the Pale of Ireland and confiscated the land for the British Crown. Any land beyond the Pale, including Ulster, was still largely under the control of the Irish Lords. However, this was short lived and by the 1540s almost every Irish Lord had accepted the King’s supremacy. Henry’s reformation destroyed Gaelic life including many monasteries. Following his reformation, he declared himself the King of Ireland. Although he died in 1547 his colonising reign continued through his daughter Queen Elizabeth I.
From 1593 to 1603, a nine-year war was fought the length and breadth of Ireland. This war, often referred to as Tyrone’s Rebellion, was an alliance of Irish Lords led by the O’Donnells from Tír Connell and the O’Neills from Tír Eoghan. It was a very brutal war costing many lives on both sides and concluded with an Irish defeat at the battle of Kinsale, Co Cork.
As a consequence of the Kinsale defeat, many Irish Lords left Ireland for the Continent, possibly to rally further support from allies. On the 4th September 1607, the Earls of Ireland led by O’Neill and O’Donnell departed from Rathmullan on the shores of Lough Swilly, Co. Donegal. They never returned. This event is known as ‘The Flight of the Earls’.
Sir Cahir O’Doherty, one of the remaining Donegal chieftains, had allied himself to the English, and for five years was under the patronage of the English military commander Sir Henry Dowcra. He was knighted in 1607, and was foreman of the jury that pronounced the absent earls as traitors.
Dowcra was succeeded as Governor of Derry by Sir George Paulet, who mistrusted Sir Cahir, and showed his contempt by punching him in the face. O’Doherty, in retaliation, seized the fort of Culmore on the shores of Lough Foyle, and the following night, 19th April, 1608, he sacked and burned Derry city. Paulet was killed in the fray, and Strabane was burned soon afterwards.
The revolt threatened to spread across the province as factions of the O’Cahans and O’Hanlons came out in rebellion, and O’Doherty invaded mid-Ulster. However, during a counter-attack by the King’s Marshal, Sir Richard Wingfield, the burnt city of Derry was recovered, and on July 5th, 1608, Sir Cahir was killed at the Rock of Doon, near Kilmacrenan, Co Donegal. Sir Arthur Chichester crushed the remaining rebels.
Afterwards, he received a grant of O’Doherty’s entire lordship of Inishowen for himself. Following O’Doherty’s rebellion, the Summer Assizes of 1608 had judged that almost all of the counties of Tyrconnell (Donegal), Coleraine (Co Derry), Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh and Cavan were in the king’s hands.
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