CHAPTER I. JAMES I. - FLIGHT OF THE EARLS - CONFISCATION OF ULSTER - PENAL LAWS - PARLIAMENTARY OPPOSITION.
Sir John Davis, who has left us two very interesting tracts on Irish affairs, speaking of the new legal regulations of which he was one of the principal superintendents, observes that the old-fashioned allowances to be found so often in the Pipe-Rolls, pro guidagio et spiagio, into the interior, may well be spared thereafter, since "the under sheriffs and bailiffs errant are better guides and spies in time of peace than they were found in tune of war." He adds, what we may very well believe, that the Earl of Tyrone complained he had so many eyes upon him, that he could not drink a cup of sack without the government being advertised of it within a few hours afterwards. This system of social espionage, so repugnant to all the habits of the Celtic family, was not the only mode of annoyance resorted to against the veteran chief. Every former dependent who could be induced to dispute his claims as a landlord, under the new relations established by the late decision, was sure of a judgment in his favour. Disputes about boundaries with O'Cane, about the commutation of chieftain-rents into tenantry, about church lands claimed by Montgomery, Protestant Bishop of Derry, were almost invariably decided against him. Harassed by these proceedings, and all uncertain of the future, O'Neil listened willingly to the treacherous suggestion of St. Lawrence and Lord Howth, that the leading Catholics of the Pale, and those of Ulster, should endeavour to form another confederation. The execution of Father Garnet, Provincial of the Jesuits in England, the heavy fines inflicted on Lords Stourton, Mordaunt, and Montague, and the new oath of allegiance, framed by Archbishop Abbott, and sanctioned by the English Parliament - all events of the year 1606 - were calculated to inspire the Irish Catholics with desperate councils. A dutiful remonstrance against the Act of Uniformity the previous year had been signed by the principal Anglo-Irish Catholics for transmission to the King, but their delegates were seized and imprisoned in the Castle, while their principal agent, Sir Patrick Barnwell, was sent to London and confined in the Tower. A meeting, at Lord Howth's suggestion, was held about Christmas, 1606, at the Castle of Maynooth, then in possession of the dowager Countess of Kildare, one of whose daughters was married to Christopher Nugent, Baron of Delvin, and her granddaughter to Rory, Earl of Tyrconnell. There were present O'Neil, O'Donnell, and O'Cane, on the one part, and Lords Delvin and Howth on the other. The precise result of this conference, disguised under the pretext of a Christmas party, was never made known, but the fact that it had been held, and that the parties present had entertained the project of another confederacy for the defence of the Catholic religion, was mysteriously communicated in an anonymous letter, directed to Sir William Usher, Clerk of the Council, which was dropped in the Council Chamber of Dublin Castle, in March, 1607. This letter, it is now generally believed, was written by Lord Howth, who was thought to have been employed by Secretary Cecil, to entrap the northern Earls, in order to betray them. In May, O'Neil and O'Donnell were cited to attend the Lord Deputy in Dublin, but the charges were for the time kept in abeyance, and they were ordered to appear in London before the feast of Michaelmas. Early in September O'Neil was with Chichester at Slane, in Meath, when he received a letter from Maguire, who had been out of the country, conveying information on which he immediately acted. Taking leave of the Lord Deputy as if to prepare for his journey to London, he made some stay with his old friend, Sir Garrett Moore, at Mellifont, on parting from whose family he tenderly bade farewell to the children and even the servants, and was observed to shed tears. At Dungannon he remained two days, and on the shore of Lough Swilly he joined O'Donnell and others of his connexions. The French ship, in which Maguire had returned, awaited them off Rathmullen, and there they took shipping for France. With O'Neil, in that sorrowful company, were his last countess, Catherine, daughter of Magenniss, his three sons, Hugh, John, and Brian; his nephew, Art, son of Cormac, Rory O'Donnell, Caffar, his brother, Nuala, his sister, who had forsaken her husband Nial Garve, when he forsook his country; the lady Rose O'Doherty, wife of Caffar, and afterwards of Owen Roe O'Neil; Maguire, Owen MacWard, chief bard of Tyrconnell, and several others. "Woe to the heart that meditated, woe to the mind that conceived, woe to the council that decided on the project of that voyage!" exclaimed the Annalists of Donegal, in the next age. Evidently it was the judgment of their immediate successors that the flight of the Earls was a rash and irremediable step for them; but the information on which they acted, if not long since destroyed, has, as yet, never been made public. We can pronounce no judgment as to the wisdom of their conduct, from the incomplete statements at present in our possession.