In the year 1608 a desperate slaughter took place on Torry Island. It is thus related by the late Dr. Russell, in the calendar of State papers 1608-1610 in Library of Royal Irish Academy:
“The well-known flight from Ireland of the great Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell in the preceding September, taken in conjunction with the Submission of the MacMahons in Monahan and the O’Beilly’s in Cavan, had, to all seeming, placed the whole northern province at the feet of the new king, and a great scheme of policy for Ulster was already in preparation, the main features of which were the enforcement throughout the province of the king’s title as sovereign lord of the land of Ulster, the breaking up of the absolute predominence of the great native lords in their several clans, and the creation in each of these clans of a class of minor freeholders, who should hold directly under the Crown, should be exempt from the impositions of the native chiefs, and released from absolute dependence on the
heads of the clans to • which they had heretofore been subject.
Scarce, however, had the first steps towards these measures been taken, when a new insurrection broke out in the North. On the 19th of April, 1608, Sir Cahir O’Doherty surprised and seized upon Derry, and summoned the neighbouring clans to arms for the recovery of their lands, and the expulsion of the new settlers. But his success was partial and short lived. The chiefs failed to respond to his call. A large body of the king’s troops was brought together from the various military posts of the North. The Lord Deputy himself arrived from Dublin with strong reinforcements. A cordon was gradually drawn around the insurgents under O’Doherty, and on his defeat and death at Kilmacrennan they broke up in utter confusion. Some scattered bodies took refuge in the mountains and morasses upon the coast, but the main remnant fled, under the command of Shane McManus Oge O’Donnell, to the island of Torry, where that chief who, since the flight of the Earl of Tyrconnell, had practically became the head of the sept, had a strong castle, well victualled and furnished with military stores. And now ensues a tragical history which it is
not possible, even after an interval of 250 years, to read without horror.
Sir Arthur Chichester, having broken the main strength of the insurgents, returned to the seat of government at Dublin, leaving to Sir Henry Folliott and two other officers — Sir Ralph Bingley and
Captain Gore – the task of completing their destruction. It is painfully illustrative of the savage and sanguinary character of the struggle that, in accepting the submission of the scattered parties of
the insurgents, it was usual to ‘require as a condition that they should bring in the heads of a certain number of their associates, and Chichester complacently observes in one of his dispatches that
he found this practice more successful than any force.’ The first step of Folliott and his brother commanders, therefore, after the fugitives had been driven into Torry, was to break up the boats of the islanders, and to station parties of soldiers at all suitable points upon the mainland to prevent the escape of the fugitives in the rude corrags, which have already been described. They then searched and harried the several woods and fastnesses up the shore in which parties were supposed to have taken refuge, which being done, the castle upon Torry Island was formally invested. The remains of this castle are still visible upon a peninsular promontory of the eastern angle called Tormore, a steep rock, nearly three hundred feet in height, and extremely difficult of access, it was in the charge of a constable and a number of warders. On the day of the investment the constable called from the wall to a native chief, Sir Mulmony McSwyne, who was accompanying the force of Sir Heniy Folliott, entreating leave to speak with him, and offering to perform good service if permitted an interview.
On his being admitted to the presence of Sir Henry, the constable was asked what he would do to save his own life and those of his party. He offered to surrender the castle with all its stores; but this offer was scornfully rejected, it being inevitable that the castle should speedily fall into Sir Henry’s hands. But Sir
Henry agreed to secure pardon for the constable if he would undertake to bring in to him the head of the great O’Donnell chief, Shane McManus Oge, and give good security for the fulfilment of the engagement. The constable protested that this was impossible, although he professed himself willing to do all he could for the king’s service. Folliott, therefore, sternly ordered him to return; but at the unhappy wretch’s earnest entreaty for mercy, he consented to spare his life on condition of his surrendering the castle and the warders.
The unfortunate man pleaded the difficulty of effecting this, considering the number of the warders, but in the end he promised to bring in seven of their heads, and to surrender the castle and all its stores within two hours. At the very time at which this miserable compact was being made by Sir Henry Folliott, his brother in command, Captain Gore, had entered into a similar agreement with another of the garrison, one of the McSwyne’s, who had accompanied the constable to the camp, and had admitted him to a promise of pardon upon similar terms. The two miserable wretches speedily became aware each of the compact entered into by his fellow, and they set out from the camp apparently in company to fulfil their several
It is difficult to imagine anything more horrible than the competition of treachery and bloodshed which ensued, each endeavoring to anticipate the other in the fulfilment of the revolting compact. They left the camp, writes Folliott in his despatch to Sir Arthur Chichester, each resolved to cut the other’s throat. The constable, having found the first opportunity, succeeded in killing two of the other party; the rest fled into the island, and hid themselves among the rocks and cliffs; but at daybreak he sent out a party with orders to hunt them out and to bring in their heads within two hours, otherwise their own were like to make up the promised number.
After a short search they discovered that three of them had taken refuge in a rock, the passage to which was so dangerous that the ruthless traitor thought that the attempt to seize them would prove fatal alike to the pursuers and the pursued. He himself helped on the work by shooting with his own piece the principal one of the fugitives; the other two fled to Sir Henry Folliott’s men for shelter. One of them pleaded to Sir Henry for mercy, and offered some service as the price of his life; but Folliott, not deeming the service
of sufficient value, repulsed the wretch, and delivered him back to the constable to be hanged. But whilst the miserable man was being led to execution, he drew a skeane which he had contrived to conceal about his person, and stabbed the constable to the heart. It is hardly necessary to add that he himself paid forfeit with his own life, being literally hacked to pieces, as were the rest of the fugitives; so that out of the whole only Ave escaped alive, three of whom were “churls” and the other two young boys. This was the last scene
in the bloody drama of O’Doherty’s rising. In the presence of horrors like these it is hard to wonder at the bloody retaliation which the succeeding generation was to witness; and we can only be
grateful to Divine Providence that our lot has fallen in a happier and
more peaceful age.”
Scenery & Antiquities of North-West Donegal (1893)
Photos from The Lawrence Collection