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This closed the transactions of Elizabeth's reign with respect to Ireland; an interval of apparent tranquillity followed, but the popish priesthood, ever restless and designing, sought to undermine by secret machinations that government and that faith which they dare no longer openly attack. The pacific reign of James afforded them the opportunity of increasing their strength and maturing their schemes, and under his successor, Charles I, their numbers were greatly increased by titular Romish archbishops, bishops, deans, vicars-general, abbots, priests, and friars; for which reason, in 1629, the public exercise of the popish rites and ceremonies was forbidden.
But nevertheless this, soon afterwards, the Romish clergy erected a new popish university in the city of Dublin. They also proceeded to build monasteries and nunneries in various parts of the kingdom; in which places these very Romish clergy, and the chiefs of the Irish, held frequent meetings; and from thence, used to pass to and fro, to France, Spain, Flanders, Lorraine, and Rome; where the detestable plot of 1641 was hatching by the family of the O'Neals and their followers.
A short time before the horrid conspiracy broke out, which we are now going to relate, the papists in Ireland had presented a remonstrance to the lords-justice of that kingdom, demanding the free exercise of their religion, and a repeal of all laws to the contrary; to which both houses of parliament in England solemnly answered that they would never grant any toleration to the popish religion in that kingdom.
This further irritated the papists to put in execution the diabolical plot concerted for the destruction of the Protestants; and it failed not of the success wished for by its malicious and rancorous projectors.
The design of this horrid conspiracy was that a general insurrection should take place at the same time throughout the kingdom, and that all the Protestants, without exception, should be murdered. The day fixed for this horrid massacre, was the twenty-third of October, 1641, the feast of Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits; and the chief conspirators in the principal parts of the kingdom made the necessary preparations for the intended conflict.
In order that this detested scheme might the more infallibly succeed, the most distinguished artifices were practiced by the papists; and their behavior in their visits to the Protestants, at this time, was with more seeming kindness than they had hitherto shown, which was done the more completely to effect the inhuman and treacherous designs then meditating against them.
The execution of this savage conspiracy was delayed until the approach of winter, that sending troops from England might be attended with greater difficulty. Cardinal Richelieu, the French minister, had promised the conspirators a considerable supply of men and money; and many Irish officers had given the strongest assurances that they would heartily concur with their Catholic brethren, as soon as the insurrection took place.
The day preceding that appointed for carrying this horrid design into execution was now arrived, when, happily, for the metropolis of the kingdom, the conspiracy was discovered by one Owen O'Connelly, an Irishman, for which most signal service the English Parliament voted him 500 pounds and a pension of 200 pounds during his life.
So very seasonably was this plot discovered, even but a few hours before the city and castle of Dublin were to have been surprised, that the lords-justice had but just time to put themselves, and the city, in a proper posture of defence. Lord M'Guire, who was the principal leader here, with his accomplices, was seized the same evening in the city; and in their lodgings were found swords, hatchets, pole-axes, hammers, and such other instruments of death as had been prepared for the destruction and extirpation of the Protestants in that part of the kingdom.
Thus was the metropolic happily preserved; but the bloody part of the intended tragedy was past prevention. The conspirators were in arms all over the kingdom early in the morning of the day appointed, and every Protestant who fell in their way was immediately murdered. No age, no sex, no condition, was spared. The wife weeping for her butchered husband, and embracing her helpless children, was pierced with them, and perished by the same stroke. The old, the young, the vigorous, and the infirm, underwent the same fate, and were blended in one common ruin. In vain did flight save from the first assault, destruction was everywhere let loose, and met the hunted victims at every turn. In vain was recourse had to relations, to companions, to friends; all connections were dissolved; and death was dealt by that hand from which protection was implored and expected. Without provocation, without opposition, the astonished English, living in profound peace, and, as they thought, full security, were massacred by their nearest neighbors, with whom they had long maintained a continued intercourse of kindness and good offices. Nay, even death was the slightest punishment inflicted by these monsters in human form; all the tortures which wanton cruelty could invent, all the lingering pains of body, the anguish of mind, the agonies of despair, could not satiate revenge excited without injury, and cruelly derived from no just cause whatever. Depraved nature, even perverted religion, though encouraged by the utmost license, cannot reach to a greater pitch of ferocity than appeared in these merciless barbarians. Even the weaker sex themselves, naturally tender to their own sufferings, and compassionate to those of others, have emulated their robust companions in the practice of every cruelty. The very children, taught by example and encouraged by the exhortation of their parents, dealt their feeble blows on the dead carcasses of the defenceless children of the English.
Nor was the avarice of the Irish sufficient to produce the least restraint on their cruelty. Such was their frenzy, that the cattle they had seized, and by repine had made their own, were, because they bore the name of English, wontonly slaughtered, or, when covered with wounds, turned loose into the woods, there to perish by slow and lingering torments.
The commodious habitations of the planters were laid in ashes, or levelled with the ground. And where the wretched owners had shut themselves up in the houses, and were preparing for defence, they perished in the flames together with their wives and children.
The bigoted and merciless papists had no sooner begun to imbrue their hands in blood than they repeated the horrid tragedy day after day, and the Protestants in all parts of the kingdom fell victims to their fury by deaths of the most unheard-of cruelty.
The ignorant Irish were more strongly instigated to execute the infernal business by the Jesuits, priests, and friars, who, when the day for the execution of the plot was agreed on, recommended in their prayers, diligence in the great design, which they said would greatly tend to the prosperity of the kingdom, and to the advancement of the Catholic cause. They everywhere declared to the common people, that the Protestants were heretics, and ought not to be suffered to live any longer among them; adding that it was no more sin to kill an Englishman than to kill a dog; and that the relieving or protecting them was a crime of the most unpardonable nature.
The papists having besieged the town and castle of Longford, and the inhabitants of the latter, who were Protestants, surrendering on condition of being allowed quarter, the besiegers, the instant the townspeople appeared, attacked them in a most unmerciful manner, their priest, as a signal for the rest to fall on, first ripping open the belly of the English Protestant minister; after which his followers murdered all the rest, some of whom they hanged, others were stabbed or shot, and great numbers knocked on the head with axes provided for the purpose.
The garrison at Sligo was treated in like manner by O'Connor Slygah; who, upon the Protestants quitting their holds, promised them quarter, and to convey them safe over the Curlew mountains, to Roscommon. But he first imprisoned them in a most loathsome jail, allowing them only grains for their food. Afterward, when some papists were merry over their cups, who were come to congratulate their wicked brethren for their victory over these unhappy creatures, those Protestants who survived were brought forth by the White-firars, and were either killed, or precipitated over the bridge into a swift river, where they were soon destroyed. It is added, that this wicked company of White- friars went, some time after, in solemn procession, with holy water in their hands, to sprinkle the river; on pretence of cleansing and purifying it from the stains and pollution of the blood and dead bodies of the heretics, as they called the unfortunate Protestants who were inhumanly slaughtered at this very time.
At Kilmore, Dr. Bedell, bishop of that see, had charitably settled and supported a great number of distressed Protestants, who had fled from their habitations to escape the diabolical cruelties committed by the papists. But they did not long enjoy the comfort of living together; the good prelate was forcibly dragged from his episcopal residence, which was immediately occupied by Dr. Swiney, the popish titular bishop of Kilmore, who said Mass in the church the Sunday following, and then seized on all the goods and effects belonging to the persecuted bishop.
Soon after this, the papists forced Dr. Bedell, his two sons, and the rest of his family, with some of the chief of the Protestants whom he had protected, into a ruinous castle, called Lochwater, situated in a lake near the sea. Here he remained with his companions some weeks, all of them daily expecting to be put to death. The greatest part of them were stripped naked, by which means, as the season was cold, (it being in the month of December) and the building in which they were confined open at the top, they suffered the most severe hardships. They continued in this situation until the seventh of January, when they were all released. The bishop was courteously received into the house of Dennis O'Sheridan, one of his clergy, whom he had made a convert to the Church of England; but he did not long survive this kindness. During his residence here, he spent the whole of his time in religious exercises, the better to fit and prepare himself and his sorrowful companions for their great change, as nothing but certain death was perpetually before their eyes. He was at this time in the seventy-first year of his age, and being afflicted with a violent ague caught in his late cold and desolate habitation on the lake, it soon threw him into a fever of the most dangerous nature. Finding his dissolution at hand, he received it with joy, like one of the primitive martyrs just hastening to his crown of glory. After having addressed his little flock, and exhorted them to patience, in the most pathetic manner, as they saw their own last day approaching, after having solemnly blessed his people, his family, and his children, he finished the course of his ministry and life together, on the seventh day of February 1642.
His friends and relations applied to the intruding bishop for leave to bury him, which was with difficulty obtained; he, at first telling them that the churchyard was holy ground, and should be no longer defiled with heretics: however, leave was at last granted, and though the church funeral service was not used at the solemnity, (for fear of the Irish papists) yet some of the better sort, who had the highest veneration for him while living, attended his remains to the grave. At this interment they discharged a volley of shot, crying out, Requiescat in pace ultimus Anglorum, that is, "May the last of the English rest in peace." Adding, that as he was one of the best so he should be the last English bishop found among them. His learning was very extensive; and he would have given the world a greater proof of it, had he printed all he wrote. Scarce any of his writings were saved; the papists having destroyed most of his papers and his library. He had gathered a vast heap of critical expositions of Scripture, all which with a great trunk full of his manuscripts, fell into the hands of the Irish. Happily his great Hebrew manuscript was preserved, and is now in the library of Emanuel College, Oxford.
In the barony of Terawley, the papists, at the instigation of the friars, compelled above forty English Protestants, some of whom were women and children, to the hard fate of either falling by the sword, or of drowning in the sea. These choosing the latter, were accordingly forced, by the naked weapons of their inexorable persecutors, into the deep, where, with their children in their arms, they first waded up to their chins, and afterwards sunk down and perished together.
In the castle of Lisgool upwards of one hundred and fifty men, women, and children, were all burnt together; and at the castle of Moneah not less than one hundred were all pput to the sword. Great numbers were also murdered at the castle of Tullah, which was delivered up to M'Guire on condition of having fair quarter; but no sooner had that base villain got possession of the place than he ordered his followers to murder the people, which was immeidately done with the greatest cruelty.
Many others were put to deaths of the most horrid nature, and such as could have been invented only by demons instead of men. Some of them were laid with the center of their backs on the axle- tree of a carriage, with their legs resting on the ground on one side, and their arms and head on the other. In this position, one of the savages scourged the wretched object on the thighs, legs, etc., while another set on furious dogs, who tore to pieces the arms and upper parts of the body; and in this dreadful manner were they deprived of their existence. Great numbers were fastened to horses' tails, and the beasts being set on full gallop by their riders, the wretched victims were dragged along until they expired. Others were hung on lofty gibbets, and a fire being kindled under them, they finished their lives, partly by hanging, and partly by suffocation.