His success stirred larger dreams of ambition; he invaded Connaught, and pressed Clanrickard hard: while he replied to the remonstrances of the Council at Dublin with a bold defiance. "By the sword I have won these lands," he answered, "and by the sword will I keep them." But defiance broke idly against the skill and vigour of Sir Henry Sidney, who succeeded Sussex as Lord Deputy. The rival septs of the north were drawn into a rising against O'Neill, while the English army advanced from the Pale; and Shane, defeated by the O'Donnells, took refuge in Antrim, and was hewn to pieces in a drunken squabble by his Scottish entertainers. The victory of Sidney won ten years of peace for the wretched country; but Ireland had already been fixed on by the Papacy as ground on which it could with advantage fight out its quarrel with Elizabeth. Practically indeed the religious question hardly existed there. The ecclesiastical policy of the Protestants had indeed been revived in name on the Queen's accession; Rome was again renounced, the new Act of Uniformity forced the English Prayer-book on the island, and compelled attendance at the services in which it was used.
There was as before a general air of compliance with the law; even in the districts without the Pale the bishops generally conformed, and the only exceptions of which we have any information were to be found in the extreme south and in the north, where resistance was distant enough to be safe. But the real cause of this apparent submission to the Act of Uniformity lay in the fact that it remained, and necessarily remained, a dead letter. It was impossible to find any considerable number of English ministers, or of Irish priests acquainted with English. Meath was one of the most civilized dioceses, and out of a hundred curates in it hardly ten knew any tongue save their own. The promise that the service-book should be translated into Irish was never fulfilled, and the final clause of the Act itself authorized the use of a Latin rendering of it till further order could be taken. But this, like its other provisions, was ignored, and throughout Elizabeth's reign the gentry of the Pale went unquestioned to Mass. There was in fact no religious persecution, and in the many complaints of Shane O'Neill we find no mention of a religious grievance. But this was far from being the view of Rome or of Spain, of the Catholic missionaries, or of the Irish exiles abroad.
They represented, and perhaps believed, the Irish people to be writhing under a religious oppression which they were burning to shake off. They saw in the Irish loyalty to Catholicism a lever for overthrowing the heretic Queen when in 1579 the Papacy planned the greatest and most comprehensive of its attacks upon Elizabeth. While missionaries egged on the English Catholics to revolt, the Pope hastened to bring about a Catholic revolution in Scotland and in Ireland. Stukely, an Irish refugee, had long pressed on the Pope and Spain the policy of a descent on Ireland; and his plans were carried out at last by the landing of a small force on the shores of Kerry. In spite of the arrival in the following year of two thousand Papal soldiers accompanied by a Legate, the attempt ended in a miserable failure. The fort of Smerwick, in which the invaders entrenched themselves, was forced by the new Deputy, Lord Grey, to surrender, and its garrison put ruthlessly to the sword. The Earl of Desmond, who after long indecision rose to support them, was defeated and hunted over his own country, which the panic-born cruelty of his pursuers harried.into a wilderness.
Pitiless as it was, the work done in Munster spread a terror over the land which served England in good stead when the struggle with Catholicism culminated in the fight with the Armada; and not a chieftain stirred during that memorable year save to massacre the miserable men who were shipwr-cked along the coast of Bantry or Sligo.
The power of the Government was from this moment recognized everywhere throughout the land. But it was a power founded solely on terror; and the outrages and exactions of the soldiery, who had been flushed with rapine and bloodshed in the south, sowed during the years which followed the reduction of Munster the seeds of a revolt more formidable than any which Elizabeth had yet encountered. The tribes of Ulster, divided by the policy of Sidney, were again united by the common hatred of their oppressors; and in Hugh O'Neill they found a leader of even greater ability than Shane himself. Hugh had been brought up at the English court, and was in manners and bearing an Englishman; he had been rewarded for his steady loyalty in previous contests by a grant of the Earldom of Tyrone; and in his strife with a rival chieftain of his clan he had secured aid from the Government by an offer to introduce the English laws and shire-system into his new country. But he was no sooner undisputed master of the north than his tone gradually changed. Whether from a long-formed plan, or from suspicion of English designs upon himself, he at last took a position of open defiance.
It was at the moment when the Treaty of Vervins, and the wreck of the second Armada, freed Elizabeth's hands from the struggle with Spain, that the revolt under Hugh O'Neill broke the quiet which had prevailed since the victories of Lord Grey. The Irish question again became the chief trouble of the Queen. The tide of her recent triumphs seemed at first to have turned. A defeat of the English forces in Tyrone caused a general rising of the northern tribes; and a great effort made in 1599 for the suppression of the growing revolt failed through the vanity and disobedience, if not the treacherous complicity, of the Queen's Lieutenant, the young Earl of Essex. His successor, Lord Mountjoy, found himself master on his arrival of only a few miles round Dublin. But in three years the revolt was at an end. A Spanish force which landed to support it at Kinsale was driven to surrender; a line of forts secured the country as the English mastered it; all open opposition was crushed out by the energy and the ruthlessness of the new Lieutenant; and a famine which followed on his ravages completed the devastating work of the sword.