Rory O’Moore and Sir Phelim Roe O’Neill initiate a major revolt in Armagh on October 23, 1641. The Irish Rebellion of 1641 results in the deaths of at least 4,000 Protestants with Catholics massacred in reprisals over the ensuing six months.
Irish Catholics are frightened by reports that the Covenanter army in Scotland is considering an invasion of Ireland in order to eradicate the Catholic religion. At the same time, there is also a threat of invasion by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans who are at war against King Charles I. It is hoped that the King would redress the complaints of the Catholics and halt or even reverse the policy of plantation. It is not an act of rebellion against the Royal domain.
The uprising is lead by Rory O’ Moore from Leix, with Sir Phelim Roe O’ Neill and his brother Turlough of Tyrone, the Maguires of Fermanagh, the Magennis, O’ Reilly and the MacMahons. They plan to begin the rebellion on October 23, 1641 with attacks on Dublin and various other British strongholds throughout the country. However, their plans are betrayed to the British by a native Irish convert to Protestantism, Owen O’ Connolly.
As a result of this betrayal, Dublin does not fall. However, the rebellion proceeds in the north with the towns of Dungannon, Newry, and Castleblayney, along with the fort at Charlemont falling to the rebels.
Most of the province of Ulster comes under the control of the rebel leaders. The rebel army, consisting of 30,000 men, has been instructed to take no life except in battle, to arrest the gentry and to spare the Scottish planters as they are considered kindred. For a week after the rebellion, these instructions are adhered to but many of the rebels have lost their lands to the Protestant planters and they want revenge. They attack farms and settlements, killing and turning many people away, robbing and stripping them of all their goods.
Sir Phelim O’ Neill has been himself thought to have ordered the murder of Protestants in Tyrone and Armagh. It is believed that about 12,000 people are slaughtered although contemporary reports put the death toll as much higher. It is thought that up to 30% of the Ulster planters lost their lives while 10% is the figure for the whole of Ireland.
As the rebellion progresses in Ulster there are uprisings in Leinster by November and thereafter throughout the whole of Ireland. In Munster, where many English settlers are planted, the rebels do not shed much blood but they do turn out these settlers, many of whom flee back to England.
In 1642 the Old English form an alliance with the Gaelic Lords at the Assembly of Killkenny. This alliance causes the rebellion to escalate into the Irish Confederate Wars which continue until Cromwell’s invasion and subjugation of Ireland (1649-53).
In 1642 the Scottish Covenanters invade the North and they, in turn, take to killing Catholics in revenge for the deaths of Protestants. The Covenanter Clan Campbell of Argyll takes the opportunity to attack and slaughter the Catholic Rathlin Islanders who belong to ancient enemies, Clan Mac Donald. The Covenanters also slaughter the approximately 3,000 Catholics on Islandmagee. Catholic prisoners and traders in Newry are murdered.
This ruthless slaughtering of civilians, by both sides, is only brought under control when Owen Roe O’ Neill arrives back from exile in France to take control of the Confederate army and, with Major General Robert Monroe in charge of the Covenanter Army, continues the war under the code of conduct that they had both learned on the Continent. However, the effects of the rebellion last to the present day, especially in Ulster where sectarian divide remains strong during The Troubles.
(Pictured: Depiction of the massacre of Ulster Protestants during the 1641 rebellion, The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)