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Massacre at Mullaghmast

News from Ireland Worksheets 1578

Exterminating opponents of English settlements

in King’s and Queen’s counties, formerly Leix and Offaly
The massacre The background
In March this year, 1578, Sir Francis Cosby called a truce and The settlements under attack are on land which had
invited the leading families of the two counties to a banquet in a previously been occupied by two ancient Gaelic families,
fort in nearby County Kildare. the O’Connors and the O’Mores.
His soldiers then attacked the ‘guests’ and only one or two They had long resisted the Tudor advance.
escaped alive. However, in the 1570s, under Rory Óg O’More, attacks
The dead included Rory Óg O’More’s closest supporters though on the English had become more bold and violent.
not Rory himself. The attacks not merely threatened the settlements but
Cosby’s boss, Sir Henry Sidney, followed this up by burning the also humiliated Tudor officials who wanted revenge.
dead chieftains’ homes and killing women and children.

Irish outrage Tudors reject Irish claims

‘A horrible and abominable act of The Irish have only themselves to blame for such stern measures.
treachery’, typical of the English. If they accepted our offer to bring civilisation to Ireland, then there would be no
They take what they want and don’t care violence.
how they do it. Many Irish people have accepted our generous ‘surrender and regrant policy,
They have no respect for our customs or why can’t these rebels?
traditions or even international conventions. All they have to do is to pledge allegiance to the Queen and accept English law.
The Mores and O’Connors went to the ‘Zero tolerance’
dinner in good faith to try to come to Sir Henry Sydney, Elizabeth I’s representative in Ireland, had previously made
agreement with the English officials. clear his determination to stamp out all opposition with a policy of ‘zero
It is just not right. tolerance’:
‘Greatest murderers’ ‘I ... hope, on all sides, so to hedge theim .... And although I have to
According to one Irish writer, the English deal with a flyenge foe ... I dayle cut of, and pare his winges by little
‘are the greatest murderers and and little as I can: for I will neither spare travell nor chardgies to
the proudest people in all Europe make some good ende of this service ... I meane, by the totall
and I am surprised that God extirpacion of those rebells. I waste hym [Rory Óg O’More] and
tolerates them so long in power’. Kyll of his men daylie [and] will follow [him] to the last.’

Is Irish outrage justified? What is going on in Ireland?

by our diplomatic correspondent by our political correspondent
The Irish outrage is understandable. The massacre is just one event in a long struggle to answer the question: Who
Inviting your enemies to a meal and should control Ireland - Tudor monarchs or Irish lords?
slaughtering them goes against standards of What makes the conflict even more intense is that it is also a clash of cultures -
warfare and morality. different languages, laws, religions and customs.
By breaking the rules of protection - by It is a costly war for both sides and the outcome remains uncertain. Much
not ‘keeping faith’ and going back on their depends on whether the Tudors can keep their nerve and are willing to foot a
word - the English are showing they cannot mounting bill for the army in Ireland. However, victory will have consequences
be trusted. that will be felt by later generations.

Learn more about this struggle to control Ireland at

The IiS Year 8 study unit uses the massacre of Mullaghamast as a probe to examine the Tudors’ eventually successful attempt to extend their control over the
whole of Ireland and overcome Irish resistance by a combination of ‘discreet handling’ and ‘force and shedding of blood’.