From about 1333 onwards, the Anglo-Irish colony in Ireland began to
decline, and eventually became restricted to the area around Dublin,
(known as the Pale) and to the regions controlled by the Anglo-Irish barons
of Kildare, Desmond and Ormond.
Richard II came to Ireland in 1394 and 1399, but factors such as the
Hundred Years War with France, the Black Death, the Wars of the Roses,
and the general economic decline in Europe, meant that England was unable
to maintain an effective army in Ireland for over 150 years.
In Ulster, William de Burgo (the Brown Earl) was murdered in 1333 and
the earldom of Ulster shrank until it only consisted of an area around
Carrickfergus castle, and part of the coast of Co. Down.
In 1476, the Lords of the Isles in Scotland were defeated by James IV and
sought refuge in Antrim.
These seem to have been quite unsettled times in Ulster, and many Gaelic
families (like the Maguires) built tower houses that were designed more
for defence than for domestic comfort.
"I do know myself in the North 60 miles together between Down and
Coulragh [Coleraine] which within these 200 years was as English as any
part of the Pale, and now under Irishmen and Scots"|
- Dowdal, Archbishop
of Armagh (mid 16th century)
In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous theses to the church door in
Wittenburg, and it is said that all Germany had read them within two weeks of
them being printed. Henry VIII wrote a book attacking Luther, and was given
the title "Defender of the Faith" by Pope Leo X. However, in 1534, Henry
had declared himself head of the Church of England instead of the Pope, and in
1560, the Scottish parliament ended the authority of the Pope in Scotland.
In 1541, the Irish parliament declared Henry to be King of Ireland, but
several decades were to pass before Ulster finally came under the control of the
Hugh O'Neill was educated for eight years in England, and became Earl of
Tyrone in 1585. For some years it seemed that he would remain loyal to the
Crown, but in 1595, seven years after the Spanish Armada, O'Neill and Hugh
O'Donnell rose in rebellion and appealed for Spanish help. O'Neill won a
spectacular victory at Yellow Ford, convincing Elizabeth I that more
resources would have to be committed to her army in Ireland.
The tide turned in 1601, when O'Neill and O'Donnell marched to Kinsale to
meet a fleet of Spanish vessels. Mountjoy, the English commander, defeated
them at Kinsale, and two years later agreed a treaty with O'Neill, allowing
him to retain most of his traditional territory.
However, in 1607, Hugh O'Neill, Rory O'Donnell and Cuchonnacht Maguire set
sail from Lough Swilly for Spain and took about 90 leading people from Ulster
with them, prompting despairing words in the Annals of the Four Masters.
"Woe to the heart that meditated, woe to the mind that conceived,
woe to the council that decided on, the project of their setting out
on this voyage, without knowing whether they should ever return to their
native principalities or patrimonies to the end of the world"|
- Annals of the Four Masters.
Updated: 31 December 2001