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Massacre at Mullaghmast

News from Ireland                                                  1578


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

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.

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.


Sir Henry Sydney, Elizabeth I's representative in Ireland, had previously made clear his determination to stamp out all opposition witha 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.

One Irish writer said of the English in 1578:

They 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? 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. 


What is going on in Ireland?by our political correspondent
The massacre is just one event in a long struggle to answer the question: Who should control
Ireland - Tudor monarchs or Irish lords? (Click here for a map of power in Ireland in 1500.)
  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.
Tudor conqest of Ireland in depth: Illustrated history; expert overview (Brief summary)
Learn more about this struggle to control Ireland
Ireland in Schools has prepared a Year 8 study unit It uses the massacre of Mullaghamore 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’.

The key question is Who should control Ireland - Tudor monarchs or Irish lords?

The unit draws upon a wide range of sources and teaching strategies and activities in four lessons:
1. What happened at Mullaghmast in 1577?
2 & 3. Why did the massacre of Mullaghmast take place?
4. Was their Irish policy worthwhile for the Tudors?