News from Ireland

Massacre at Mullaghmast


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

Irish outrage ‘A horrible and abominable act of treachery’, typical of the English. They take what they want and don’t care how they do it. They have no respect for our customs or traditions or even international conventions. The Mores and O’Connors went to the dinner in good faith to try to come to agreement with the English officials. It is just not right. ‘Greatest murderers’ According to one Irish writer, the English ‘are the greatest murderers and the proudest people in all Europe and I am surprised that God tolerates them so long in power’. Is Irish outrage justified?

Tudors reject Irish claims The Irish have only themselves to blame for such stern measures. If they accepted our offer to bring civilisation to Ireland, then there would be no violence. Many Irish people have accepted our generous ‘surrender and regrant policy, why can’t these rebels? All they have to do is to pledge allegiance to the Queen and accept English law. ‘Zero tolerance’ Sir Henry Sydney, Elizabeth I’s representative in Ireland, had previously made clear his determination to stamp out all opposition with a policy of ‘zero tolerance’: ‘I ... hope, on all sides, so to hedge theim .... And although I have to deal with a flyenge foe ... I dayle cut of, and pare his winges by little and little as I can: for I will neither spare travell nor chardgies to make some good ende of this service ... I meane, by the totall extirpacion of those rebells. I waste hym [Rory Óg O’More] and Kyll of his men daylie [and] will follow [him] to the last.’ What is going on in Ireland?
by our political correspondent

by our diplomatic correspondent

The Irish outrage is understandable. Inviting your enemies to a meal and slaughtering them goes against standards of warfare and morality. By breaking the rules of protection - by not ‘keeping faith’ and going back on their word - the English are showing they cannot be trusted.

The massacre is just one event in a long struggle to answer the question: Who should control Ireland - Tudor monarchs or Irish lords? What makes the conflict even more intense is that it is also a clash of cultures different languages, laws, religions and customs. It is a costly war for both sides and the outcome remains uncertain. Much depends on whether the Tudors can keep their nerve and are willing to foot a mounting bill for the army in Ireland. However, victory will have consequences 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’.