Sir Arthur Chichester
Lord Deputy of Ireland 1605–16
An Elizabethan adventurer from Devon, Chichester served in Ireland during the Nine Years War (1594–1603) when, as governor of Carrickfergus, his devastating raids were instrumental in bringing the rebellion led by Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, to an end. His sphere of operations included much of East Ulster where he earned a contemporary reputation as a “laborious searcher of Lough Con [Strangford Lough]”. Frustrated by the hit and run tactics of his Irish enemies, he resorted to desperate measures, wreaking devastation in the area. His activities contributed in some measure to the “waste and depopulation” encountered by Hamilton and Montgomery in 1606.
It was Chichester’s role in imprisoning Con O’Neill towards the end of the war that places him at the centre of the Hamilton and Montgomery story. According to the Montgomery Manuscripts he imprisoned Con O’Neill in the dying months of the Nine Years War (1594–1603) in Carrickfergus following the “grand debauch” at Castle Reagh. A running battle had occurred between English soldiers and Con’s followers over a consignment of wine in Belfast, an incident Chichester is alleged to have exploited for personal gain. In other words, he coveted Con’s lands.
In Chichester’s version of events, Con O’Neill had revolted against the Queen with up to 350 followers, just as Spanish reinforcements were about to land to assist the Irish rebels. Having retaken Castle Reagh from the rebels and restored Con to his ancestral home, Chichester considered his “revolt” to be a stab in the back. What made matters worse was the fact that Con O’Neill was alleged to have been allied to Ustone MacDonnell, nephew of Randal MacDonnell, from the Glens of Antrim. Scots, the MacDonnells of Antrim had killed Sir John Chichester, (Arthur’s brother) at the battle of Altfracken in 1597. Sir Arthur Chichester harboured a grudge against the family ever after.
Either way, whether one believes Chichester’s account or that in the Montgomery Manuscripts, there is no doubt that Chichester hoped to benefit from the confiscation of Con’s lands. A virtual bankrupt by the turn of the seventeenth century, Chichester had determined to make his fortune in Ulster, specifically targeting Con’s lands. Between them, however, Hamilton and Montgomery scuppered his plans.
Taking up office as Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1605, Chichester served for the inordinately long period of eleven years, playing a leading role in consolidating the Elizabethan conquest. However, he was well rewarded for his labours, eventually acquiring estates amounting to 100,000 acres.