MacMahon, Heber (DNB00)
MACMAHON, HEBER, EVER, or EMER, usually latinised as Emerus Mattheus (1600–1650), bishop of Clogher and general in Ulster, was born in 1600 in the barony of Farney in co. Monaghan. His father was Tirlogh, brother of Sir Patrick Mac Art Moyle MacMahon, and his mother was Eva O'Neill. Hugh Oge MacMahon [q.v.], who conspired with Lord Maguire [see Maguire, Connor or Cornelius] in 1641, was his first cousin once removed. Tirlogh, who had often fought against Queen Elizabeth, was not included in the attainder of 1618; but the changes which followed the 'flight of the Earls' reduced him to poverty, and he lived obscurely near Killybegs in co. Donegal. He is said to have intended his son for the Spanish service; but the mother's views prevailed, and Heber's education was entrusted to a Franciscan of Donegal. About the end of 1617 he entered the Irish College at Douay, and afterwards went to Louvain, where he studied under Hugh MacCaghwell [q. v.] He was ordained priest at Louvain in 1625, John Colgan [q.v.] being among those present (Meehan, chap, ix.) After this he returned to Ireland and worked for many years in his native diocese of Clogher. Writing to Rome on 8 July 1641, Archbishop O'Reilly strongly recommends him for the vacant see of Down and Connor, describing him as 'over 40, a secular priest, now for many years Vicar-General in the diocese of Clogher, born in the province of Armagh, popular with the people of Down and Connor, and extremely well fitted (optime aptus) to govern that see' (Spicilegium Ossoriense, i. 254). He was accordingly appointed on 10 Feb. 1642, but was not consecrated until after his translation to Clogher on 2 June 1643. Clarendon, who gives no dates, and is confirmed by no other writer, but who may have learned the facts from Ormonde, says that MacMahon, several years before he, became a bishop, came to Sir George Radcliffe in Dublin, confessed treasonable practices on his knees, and desired the long's pardon. He adds that he gave valuable information about foreign plots during the rest of Strafford's government, and that he refused a public pardon because that might destroy his usefulness. It is more certain that he was an active conspirator both before and after the breaking out of the rebellion in October 1641, and that he was from the first specially trusted by Owen Roe O'Neill (Contemp. Hist. i. 398, 504). As bishop of Down and Connor he attended the provincial synod of Kells in March 1642, the general congregation of the clergy at Kilkenny in May, and the supreme council there afterwards (Spicilegium Ossoriense, i. 262, 272, 276, ii. 8). He was not officially known as bishop or Clogher before 1644.
The supreme council of the confederate, catholics reported to Rome that MacMahon was from the first one of their most useful members, and they urged his translation. Down, they said, was in the power of the protestants; it was devastated, and it was far from the centre, whereas MacMahon's power and popularity were great in his native diocese (ib. 1. 281). The French agent, Dumolin, describes MacMahon as 'a northern man, that is one of those who desire war, and the devotion of Ireland to Spain : the chiefs of this party are men of desperate fortune ' (Confederation and War, vii. 294). The papal emissary, Scarampi, landed in July 1648 with help for the confederates, and the clergy, among whom MacMahon took the lead, adhered to him in opposing the truce concluded with Ormonde in September. Scarampi was overshadowed by the nuncio Rinuccini, who reached Ireland in October 1645, and whose secret instructions ordered him to pay MacMahon particular attention (Rinuccini, p. liii). The nuncio distrusted Owen Roe, but was fain to accept him as champion in the field; and Glamorgan sided with them against the majority of the supreme council. In March 1646 Ormonde, in spite of the clerical party, concluded his treaty with the council, by which all matters of religion were left to the king's decision. Speaking generally, the confederacy was controlled by lawyers, who were for getting the best terms possible from the English court, having regard to all existing laws, while the clergy insisted on the public exercise of their religion. The minority at Kilkenny were soon afterwards emboldened by O'Neill's great but fruitless victory at Benburb, and MacMahon was one of those who in August solemnly declared that all who accepted the peace were guilty of perjury (Unkind Deserter, chap, vi.) In October Rinuccini, Owen Roe, and MacMahon were together at Athy (Contemp. Hist. i. 710). In December Dumolin, writing to Mazarin from Kilkenny, says that MacMahon, whom he elsewhere calls proud and factious, was all-powerful there, and that he was entirely devoted to Spain (Confed. and War, vii. 302). On 15 Feb. 1647 MacMahon wrote to the pope himself (Spicilegium Ossoriense, i. 803) to beg a red hat for Rinuccini. The whole world, he said, wished to see the nuncio a cardinal, except a few dogs who could bark but who could not bite. The letter reached Rome, but had no effect there.
Ormonde was forced to surrender Dublin to the parliament, and left Ireland for a time in July 1647. In the miserable struggles which followed MacMahon was one of the minority who adhered to Rinuccini's falling fortunes. The majority, willing to be rid of an opponent, ordered MacMahon on a mission to fiance ; but he scornfully refused to go, saying that he spoke neither French nor English, that he was odious to Queen Henrietta Maria, as a beginner of war and notorious enemy to peace, and that his life would be in danger, since Jermyn and Digby had both threatened him (Rinuccini, 18 Dec. 1647). In the wrangle which followed Preston and his friends wished to imprison MacMahon for contempt. A hollow reconciliation between the factions followed, and Antrim went to France instead of MacMahon (ib. 9 Jan. 1648). A little later MacMahon was actually intriguing with Michael Jones against Ormonde and the confederates (App. to Carte, No. 192). In April 1648 MacMahon was one of fourteen who made it a matter of conscience to condemn the truce with Inchiquin, as 'wholly tending to the ruin of the Catholic religion and the professors thereof in this kingdom' (Spicllegium Ossoriense, ii. 31). The nuncio excommunicated the persons, and interdicted the nlaces favouring the truce, and then withdrew into Connaught. MacMahon turned his attention to Ulster. On 30 Sept. he and Owen Roe O'Neill were proclaimed traitors by the confederates, but they sent a messenger on their own account to Charles II as soon as his father's execution was known. Rinuccini left Ireland not long afterwards, and Ormonde then began to think of gaining Owen Roe.
Sir Phelim O'Neill [q. v.], who took service under Ormonde, was at Kilkenny when the nuncio left Ireland in March 1649, and his regiment, accidentally surprising MacMahon, took him prisoner to Charlemont, whence he escaped about two months later. Colonel Michael Jones's victory at Rathmines and the subsequent landing of Cromwell drew Ormonde and O'Neill together. The marquis at first believed that MacMahon was a 'principal obstructor of any agreement,' but in time discovered, or pretended to discover, that this was not so. He found him, says Carte, 'a man of better sense than most of his brethren,' and as such convinced that unity was absolutely necessary. MacMahon was a party to the articles concluded between Ormonde and O'Neill on 20 Oct. 1649 (Contemp. Hist. ii. 300). Owen Roe died a fortnight afterwards, and Mac-Mahon lost no time in offering his services to Ormonde (ib. p. 317). In December he took part in the proceedings of the clergy at Clonmacnoise (Spicilegium Ossoriense, ii. 88). In the south Cromwell was carrying all before him, and in the meantime the Ulster army was headless. There were several candidates, but MacMahon was chosen general in March 1650, after a series of intrigues, detailed in the narrative called ' Owen Roe's Journal' (Contemp. Hist. Hi. 812). In May he wrote to Rinuccini, saying that he had been constrained to accept the position lest it should fall to some one less earnest for the common cause (Spicilegium Ossoriense, i. 337). Ormonde, as the king's representative, gave him a confirmatory commission. No military skill could be expected from an ecclesiastic, and none was shown ; but there was no want of vigour. 'I do assure you,' he wrote to Colonel Beresford, who with some twenty men held Dungiven against him, 'if you shed one drop of my soldiers' blood, I will not spare to put man, woman, and child to the sword.' Dunrnven was stormed, and the garrison killed, except Beresford himself. One or two other trifling successes so emboldened MacMahon that at the end of June he insisted on fighting Sir Charles Coote at Scariffhollis, near Letterkenny. His officers — true to Owen Roe's Fabian system — were against running the risk, and MacMahon's obstinacy resulted in a crushing defeat (21 June 1650). The horse only were in a condition to escape with him, and after riding for twenty-four hours the jaded fugitives were intercepted by the garrison of Enniskillen. Quarter was given to MacMahon, who was badly wounded in the scuffle that took place, and he remained a prisoner for some months. The governor, Colonel John King, tried to save him, but he was executed by superior orders, which came through Coote. He died with courage and dignity, having first on several occasions bemoaned his ambition and other sins. His head was set upon a spike over the castle of Enniskillen, and the trunk was buried on Devenish.
With Irish hagiologists MacMahon ranks as a martyr, and a Celtic poet, who wrote very soon after his death, laments 'the warlike lion, the man of steady, active head, who excelled all in learning, the most upright-hearted of the Gaels' (Contemp. Hist. iii. 194). The British officer wno wrote the 'Warr of Ireland' (p. 129) bids us ' observe the sequel of making the Bishop a General, that was nothing experienced in that lesson, nor becoming his coat to shed Christian blood; and now that for want of conduct and prudence in martial affairs, he lost himself and that army that never got a foil before he led them.' Whitelocke (Memorials, p. 468) disposes of him as a 'vicious, wicked wretch,' but Carte and Clarendon allow him good qualities, and Ormonde himself says (Walsh, p. 743): 'These twenty years I had to do with those Irish bishops. I never found any of them to speak the truth, or to perform their promise to me, only the Bishop of Clogher excepted.'
[Meehan's Irish Franciscan Monasteries, ed. 1872; Brady's Episcopal Succession, vol. i.; Cardinal Moran's Spicilegium Ossoriense, vols. i. ii.; Hist. of the Warr of Ireland, by a British Officer in Sir John Clotworthy's Regiment, Dublin, 1873; Bishop Trench's Unkind Deserter of Loyal Men and True Friends, 1676; Ludlow's Memoirs, vol.i.; Rinuccini's Embassy in Ireland, Engl. transl., Dublin, 1873; Peter Walsh's Hist. of the Remonstrance, 1674; Carte's Ormonde; Clarendon's Hist. of the Rebellion — 'Ireland.' A mass of information is contained in the Contemporary Hist. of Affairs in Ireland, and the Hist. of the Confederation and War in Ireland, both edited by Mr. J. T. Gilbert.]