O'Donnell and his allies had now good reason to fear the day had passed when they could appear with impunity in arms against O'Neill; for Conn the Lame, without a rival, and backed by his Geraldine kinsmen, could command a force sufficient to crush them all with ease. Conn however, as it proved, had no luck as a leader, and only succeeded in rendering his rebels more desperate than ever, when the old feuds again broke out.
Doubtless it was these struggles, and the helplessness of O'Neill, always the greatest and most formidable foe of the English in Ireland, that first turned the English monarch, Henry VIII , to the conquest of the island, as it turned the attention of the Highland Scots to the conquest of Ulster.
From the beginning of his reign ( 1515 ) Henry VIII undertook to destroy the basis of Irish resistance. With this object in view he issued " most secret" instructions to his officials to capture our trade and commerce, by every subtle device.
All the laws against Irish civilisation, against marriage, fosterage and gossipred, against the use of native literature and its language, against every phase and aspect of National life, were re-enacted. By a parliament ( May 1536 ) composed of English colonists only, and convened by fraud, corruption, and terror, Henry was acknowledged as Head of Church and state; and the Catholic religion, with ritual and teachings, declared null and void, " corrupt for ever." Five years later the same body proclaimed Henry " King of Ireland ".
Irishmen, wrote one of the would-be exterminators in the light of sad later experience, " will never be conquered by war.
They can suffer so much hardness to lie in the field, to live on roots and water continually, and be so light, ever at their advantage to flee or fight; so that a great army were but a charge in vain and would make victuals dear... The Irishmen have pregnant subtle wits, eloquent and marvelous natural in comynaunce.
They must be instructed that the King intendeth not to exile, banish, or destroy them, but would be content that everyone of them should enjoy his possessions taking the same of the King...and becoming his true subjects.
The Lord Deputy, St Leger, preached and acted on this Gospel.
The unfortunate result was the submission of O'Neill, O'Donnell, O'Brien, the MacCarthy, the Burkes, and all the rulers of the Irish old and new.
They went through the form of acknowledging Henry as King of Ireland, as head of the church and state in Ireland, and promised to substitute English for Brehon law, and English manners and customs for Irish.
They had turned and sad was the deed, their back to the inheritance of their fathers."
But to give them the benefit of doubt they probably didn't see it that way, for Irish Kings had been submitting to each other for hundreds of years, it was not seen as that big of a disgrace, usually it was a way of getting out of a sticky situation until you were strong enough to reclaim what was yours, and sometimes it could benefit both party's.
In Conn's case he had so many rebels among the Ulster clans,( encouraged by the English of better status under them), that he probably craved some stability in his own land and making the mistake of thinking he would be stronger under an alliance under Henry.
Yet in spite of "doing knee-homage, they would not get from the King of England for Ireland a respite from misery. O misguided, withered host, say henceforth nothing but Fooboon!"
The people, faithful to Ireland in woe as in weal, resented, lamented, and even cursed their "diplomatic" chiefs.
The fate and fortunes of any one of the compromisers is typical of all. Take O'Neill for example. When Con O'Neill, Lord of Tír Eoghain, submitted to Henry VIII at Greenwich ( 24th Sept 1542 ) He renounced the title "O'Neill", and was created Earl of Tyrone instead.
A sturdy adventurer " called an O'Neill," Mathew Kelly, the son of a Dundalk blacksmith, selected by the English Government to disintegrate Tír Eoghain, received the title of Baron of Dungannon, and so Con's successor by feudal law.
O'Neill then acknowledged Henry as head of Church and State, and undertook to substitute English for Irish civilisation. All the legal incidents of feudalism were to replace those of the Brehon law.
Slowly it dawned on the victimised Con that the real aim of the King and his deputies was the seizure of his lands and the extermination of his people. Nicholas Bagenal, who had fled from justice for man-killing in England, was appointed Marshal of the North.
He began an indiscriminate slaughter of O'Neill's subjects, burning even the very grass, killing every thing on four legs, destroying habitations and churches. The recreant Con's letters of protest against such barbarity to England's King and the Privy Council, were returned unopened or disregarded.
Mathew Kelly/O'Neill The "Baron of Dungannon" was maintained against him " borne up by the chin " by the English Government.
After a battle to which O'Neill's troops contributed the Lord Deputy provided a banquet for his companion in arms, after which he arrested Con and sent him to Dublin. The Lord Deputy then sent garrisons to Armagh and Dungannon.
Vainly did Con try to obtain a reason for this treatment. Con's letters describing the horrors his people endured by the acts of English soldiery, whilst he was " a true and faithful subject to the King's Majesty.
After seventeen years as an English Earl, Con lay on his deathbed, a broken, dispirited man. He called his people to him and pronounced malediction on all his descendants who should trust in English faith or give credence to English promises. He cursed those who would speak the English tongue, " to be beaten out by the hawk; " who grew corn in the field open, unfortified country, to nourish the ravishers and destroyers."
Yet he suffered no more than any other of the confiding Chieftains who had put their trust in English faith, in its policy of "Conciliation."