We are familiar with the title of Cork as "the Rebel County" and we don't need to doubt that there are plenty of historical episodes that could have gained that title for Cork. Here is my suggestion.
The scene is Cork City. The moment is April, 1603, the accession of James, King of Scots, to the throne of Elizabeth Tudor. The Desmond Rebellions had been crushed by 1583 and three years later the Plantation of Munster with loyal English Protestants had begun. The Nine Years' War (1584-1603) had see the defeat of the Gaelic Princes, including Donal O'Sullivan Beare of the Beara Penninsula. Cork had been the site of some of the most significant engagements, the Battle of Kinsale (1601) and the Seige of Dunboy (1602), not to forget the martyrdom of Blessed Dominic Collins in Youghal (1602), but Cork City, it seems, was not yet ready to give up the struggle for the liberty of the Catholic Faith.
About the year 1586, William Camden in his Britannia had described Cork for Queen Elizabeth I as: "a populous little trading town, and much resorted to; but so beset with rebel enemies on all sides, that they are obliged to keep constant watch, as if the town were continually besieged ; and they dare not marry out their daughters in the country, but contract one with another among themselves, whereby all the citizens are related in one degree or other."
Speaking of the rebelliousness of Cork City towards the English Crown only a generation later, the historian Charles Gibson writes in his The History of the County and City of Cork, London & Cork, 1861, that: "...there were two other serious causes of discontent; and it would be difficult to say to which the people were most opposed; the one was an attempt of the government to force base money into circulation, and the other to press the Protestant religion upon a people who thoroughly detested it, and held it as corrupt as the coinage."
It is topical, in light of the present difficulties of the €uro to recall the words of Lord Deputy Mountjoy: "And first, whereas, the alteration of the coyne and taking away the exchange in such a measure as that first promised, hath bred a general grievance to men of all qualities, and so many incommodities to all sorts, that it is beyond the judgment of any I can see, or hear, to prevent confusion in the estate, by the continuance thereof... They not only pay excessive prices for all things, but can hardly get anything for their money."
Mountjoy was retained as representative of the English Crown in Ireland when Elizabeth died and was succeeded by James I. He sent emissaries to the Mayor of Cork to have James proclaimed King in Cork. The Mayor replied that the Charter allowed him to take time to consider it.
Gibson continues the account:
"Sir George Thornton, one of the two commissioners of Munster, applied to Thomas Sarsfield, then mayor, who replied that the charter allowed his taking "time to consider of it." Sir George replied that the king, who had a just right to the crown, had been proclaimed in Dublin, and that a delay would be taken ill. The mayor replied smartly enough, that Perkin Warbeck had also been proclaimed in Dublin; and that much damage had come of their precipitation.
"The Chief Justice of Munster, Saxey, who was present, said they should be committed, if they refused. Wm. Mead, the recorder, replied, " There was no one there had authority to commit them." The mayor, and corporation, adjourn to the court-house. Sir George Thornton paces up and down the walk outside, and after a time sends in to know if they have come to a decision. "No." He waits another hour, and is informed by the recorder, in a passionate manner, that they can give him no answer till the next day. Sir Richard Boyle, afterwards Earl of Cork, who was at this time Clerk of the Presidential Council of Munster, requested Mead not to "break out in so unreasonable and choleric a fashion." Mead, who was as smart as the mayor at reply, said, "Though I do not break out, there are several thousands ready to do so." Sir George Thornton requires an account of these words. "Very well," says Mead, "but the city must have three or four days to consult about this ceremony."
"The recorder, who appears to have been the ring-leader of the rebellion, employed the time in arming the citizens, and guarding the gates against the admission of his majesty's troops; but "they admitted several Irish, to whom they gave arms." An attempt was also made to seize Haulbowline, which had been but recently fortified. " About this this time," January, 1602 writes Stafford, "the Lord Deputie and the Lord President went by boate to an island in the river of Corke, called Halbolin, sixe or seven miles from the citie, which upon view they thought fit to be fortified, being so seated as that no shipping of any burden can pass the same, but under the command thereof. Whereupon direction was given to Paul Ive, an ingeneere, to raise a fortification there." Pacata Ililernia, pp. 451, 452.
"Boyle gives us the most circumstantial account of this foolish rebellion, which seems to have sprung up without premeditation, and to have proceeded without plan, or any particular object on the part of the leaders. Sir George Thornton desires the citizens to send, or rather allow some cannon to go from Cork to the relief of Haulbowline. They reply, "We have, as you see, called our brethren together about this business, and we have come to the resolution, that the fort of Haulbowline is a very pestilent impoverishment to our corporation, and therefore think it not meet to suffer any relief to go thither, nor will we." Are we to conclude from this language, that the corporation were at the expense of finding and maintaining this fort? They say again, "This fort was a needless work, and built in their franchises, without their consent, by the Lord President, [Carew] but not for any good to the city." They add, that they will "take the fort, and keep possession of it."
"Richard Boyle mentions one "Edward Roche, the brother of Dominick Roche, the priest," and Owen Mac Redmond, a schoolmaster, as taking an active part in this rebellion. " This fellow," continues Sir Richard, speaking of the schoolmaster, " said it was not known who was King of England. That, to his own knowledge, about seven or eight years ago, there was no other mockery in all the stage plays, but the King of Scots ; that no Englishman would abide the government of a Scot; that he was the poorest prince in Europe; that the President of Munster kept a better table than he."
"Stephen Brown," continues Boyle, "was a great director about the ordnance, as also one Thomas Fagan, who fired a shot at Mr. James Grant, when he was returning to Sir Charles Wilmot, who sent him to the mayor. He had before this stripped Mr. Grant of his clothes, was the first man who put on his head-piece, and seized on the king's stores in the city. He said, for his part, no king should rule him, but such as would give him liberty of conscience. He carried a white rod about the city, and was styled their principal church-warden, and never suffered an Englishman or Protestant to pass by him unabused. He had the impudence to revile Sir Gerald Herbert, because he would not put off his hat, and do reverence to the cross, which he was then carrying about in procession.
"Sir Robert Mead, or Meagh, and John Fitz-David Roche, were two priests who fomented this rebellion. Mead ordered Mr. Apsley, the king's storekeeper, to be killed, and his arms taken away. He also ordered the guard, which he placed on Skiddy's Castle, where the stores lay, to throw Mrs. Hughes, wife to the clerk of stores, over the walls and break her neck. He was the principal stirrer-up of the townsmen to take arms, and not only assisted in every sally to take and destroy the forts, but also drove such as were dilatory with a cudgel to the work.
"John Nicholas, a brewer, was also a cannonier to the rebels, and it was proved against him that he shot two soldiers from the walls; he was assisted by John Clarke, a tanner, from Mallow, who very dexterously mounted the cannons upon the walls, when none else knew how to do it. He and Nicholas were both Englishmen. It was proved against Edmund Terry, another rebel, that he advised the mayor to take the key of Skiddy's Castle from Mr. Hughes, the store-keeper, and place the ammunition in Dominick Galway's cellars, and that Hughes should not be suffered to come there without a sufficient guard; all which the mayor complied with. Edward Roche, brother to Dominick Roche, said that the city would fight against the king himself if he came to look for it, and that not only the country, but also the kings of France and Spain would assist them, if he did not give their church free liberty," Sir Richard Boyle continues, " The mayor and recorder imprisoned Mr. Allen Apsley, commissary of the king's victuals, and Mr. Michael Hughes, clerk of the munitions. The recorder, in person, with a guard, carried Mr. Apsley from his own house to the common gaol, and then distributed the king's stores as he thought proper. They demolished the fort on the south side of the city, in which action they killed and wounded several soldiers. The day before they demolished this fort, the recorder, striking himself on the breast, solemnly swore, at the door of Skiddy's Castle, that if the mayor would not take charge of the king's stores he would presently quit the town for ever, upon which he turned about to the crowd, who huzzaed and applauded him for his speech; then Thomas Fagan and Murrough clapped on their head-pieces, and with their swords and targets forcibly possessed themselves of Skiddy's Castle.
"The day before they demolished the fort, the mayor assembled the citizens, and told them, that before forty hours passed, all Ireland would be in arms against the king ; that the crown of England should never more recover Ireland. He also wrote several seditious letters to most of the lords and chief men of this province, desiring them to join the citizens in their cause, which was for liberty of conscience.
"The recorder being asked why the king's fort was broken down by the people answered, it was his act, and that he would justify it ; and said it was the act of the whole corporation, and done advisedly, and that they would make it good, saying, "That the building of that fort cost the queen nothing, it being raised by the citizens," adding, "that the worst that could be done,
was to make them rebuild it.
"Several of them publicly abused the commissioners and the king's officers in this province, calling them 'traitors,' destroyers of the city and commonwealth,' ' base-born fellows,' 'beggarly companions,' 'yeomen's sons,' all of which was proved on their respective trials. Lieutenant Murrough had the impudence to send Sir Charles Wilmot word, that he was a traitor, and would prove it. His brother had been aide-de-camp to Captain Flower at the siege of Kinsale; but he quitted his colours and deserted to the Spaniards, for which he was afterwards executed.
"It only remained for the commissioners to proclaim James the Sixth of Scotland and First of England, outside the walls, as they were not allowed to do so inside.
"Sir George Thornton, accompanied by Lord Roche and supported by eight hundred soldiers, proclaimed the king in the north suburbs, near Shandon Castle, the recorder protesting all the while against such a violation of their "liberties." The commissioners, who appeared to have acted with great moderation, sent to Haulbowline for artillery, when the citizens, under the leadership of William Terry, attempted to intercept them. A scuffle ensued, and several were killed on both sides.
"The religious element in this rebellion was paramount. Though a large portion of the inhabitants of Cork were of Danish, Norman, and Saxon descent, they were sincere Catholics, who hoped for the reestablishment of their own faith at the death of the queen. They had not forgotten, though five-and-twenty years had elapsed, that the Protestant bishop had burned the image of St. Dominick at the High Cross of Cork. They now retaliate, by retaking possession of the churches which they sprinkle in order to exorcise the demon of Protestantism by burning Protestant bibles and prayer-books; by razing out the ten commandments, and substituting the emblems of their own faith. A number took the sacrament to strengthen them in defence of their religion. A legate from the Pope went through the city in procession with a cross, compelling all he met to bow down to it. They not only fired on Shandon Castle, where Lady Carew lodged, but on the bishop's palace, where the commissioners were assembled; they killed Mr. Rutledge, and wounded a servant of Bishop Lyon, and told him, if they had his traitor-master, he should not escape with his life. Such language and conduct is indicative of the detestation in which the Protestant religion was held even in the towns where it had been nurtured for half a century.
"But this state of things could not be long countenanced in a city like Cork; and the mayor and sheriffs knowing the decided character of the Lord Deputy Mountjoy, wrote him saying, they had received the king's proclamation on the 11th of April, but had put off the ceremony till the 16th, that it might be done with more solemnity. They also requested that the fort of Haulbowline might be put into their hands, and complained that soldiers in that fort had shot at some fishermen and boats which had been sent out for provisions. The commissioners, of course, gave his lordship a very different version of the transaction.
"Mountjoy wrote them "a smart letter" in reply, reproving them for "setting up the mass," by their own authority, their insolence in stopping his majesty's stores and artillery from being sent to Haulbowline, and attempting to get them into their hands. At the same time, his lordship wrote to Sir Charles Wilmot and Sir George Thornton, ordering them to send as much victuals and provisions as they could, out of the city, to that fort, and Shandon Castle; to draw some companies into the town; and informed them, that he had assembled five thousand men to correct their insolences; and that as most of the other towns in the province had committed the like disturbances, he intended to begin with Waterford, who led the example to the rest.
"The following is Dr. Ryland's account of the Lord Lieutenant's visit to Waterford : "The Lord Deputy Mountjoy, judging that the situation of affairs of the province, required his immediate personal attention, proceeded with a numerous army into Munster, and on the 5th of May, 1603, came to Grace-Dieu, within the liberties of Waterford, and summoned the mayor to open the gates, and receive him and his army into the city. The spirit of rebellion immediately appeared ; the gates were shut against him, and the citizens pleaded that, by a charter of King John, they were exempted from quartering soldiers. While the parties were thus engaged, two ecclesiastics, Dr. White and a young Dominican friar, came into the camp ; they were habited in the dresses of their order, Dr. White wearing a black gown and cornered cap, and the friar wearing a white woollen frock. When they entered the Lord Deputy's tent, Dr. White commenced a violent religious controversy, 'all of which,' we are told, his lordship did most learnedly confute.' He then severely reprehended the conduct of the citizens; threatened to draw King James sword, and cut the charter of King John to pieces ; and declared his intention, if they persisted in their obstinacy, to level their city, and strew it with salt. His menaces were effectual; the citizens immediately submitted, and received the Lord Deputy and his army within their walls. They afterwards took the oath of allegiance, renounced all foreign jurisdiction, and, to prevent any future disturbance, a garrison was stationed in the city.
"Mountjoy wrote to the Mayor of Cork, from his camp at Grace-Dion, near Waterford, requesting him "to desist from his practices," saying, if he persevered, he must adopt more severe measures than he willingly would ; but many of the citizens, undeterred by this mild threat, were opposed to his admission. Mead, the recorder, strongly opposed it, so did Gould, Fagan, Captain Terry, Lieutenant Murrough, and "an infinite number of mob;" but Alderman Coppinger, John Coppinger, Alderman Terry, the Galways, the Vernons, and the Martels, insisted that the viceroy should be received within the walls.
"He entered Cork on the 11th of May, 1603. The citizens laid plough-shares on each side of the street through which he passed, intimating that the destruction of the growing crops, by the soldiers, had caused so many ploughs to lie idle. As in the fable of the belly and the members, the citizens were at length brought to understand, that their interests were identified with the country. To see the city of Cork, which had been always armed cap-a-pie, against the country, admitting the Irish within its walls, and laying their idle plough-shares before the eyes of the viceroy, was something new in the history of these times. Smith says " the Lord Lieutenant took little notice of this silly contrivance." We did not expect to find Doctor Smith making so silly a remark. A people's cry for bread should sound in a ruler's ears as the roar of a famished lion. But the Lord Lieutenant did notice it; his letter to the English council, from which we have quoted, contains the prediction of a dearth, which would "breed new combinations, and would stirre the townes themselves; " and his mild chastisement of the present rebellion, is something like an admission that the people had great cause for dissatisfaction. Murrough, Butler, and the schoolmaster, Owen Mac Redmond, who had no freeholds, were the only parties executed by martial law. Mead, the recorder, who was the ringleader, was tried by an Irish jury, and acquitted. The grand jury found true bills against Mead, Richard Gould, and others. Gould pleaded, in justification, before Sir Charles Wilmot, and Sir George Thornton, commissioners, Sir Nicholas Walsh, William Saxey, and George Comerford, justices, the injury he had sustained by being compelled to take the mixed or base money. He proved that the late Lord President's steward had purchased twenty barrels of wheat for the Lady Carew, which he, Richard Gould, had purchased in France for nineteen shillings a barrel, of good silver money, and that the steward would give him but twenty shillings of the new standard or mixed money. The Cork jury, by whom he was tried and acquitted for the attack on Haulbowline, must have held that such fraudulent conduct was enough to drive any honest trader into rebellion. Mead, the recorder, appears to have had deeper projects in view. He afterwards got a pension from Spain, and went to Naples, where he wrote a treasonable tract, called, "Advice to the Catholics of Munster" a copy of which is preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. He died in Naples."
[First Published on the St. Conleth's Catholic Heritage Blog in May, 2010]