Sir Arthur Chichester, hero and villain

SIR Arthur Chichester is one of the key figures of the Elizabethan Wars in Ireland, the period of the Flight of the Earls and the subsequent Plantation of Ulster.

He is also one of the longest serving Lord Deputies of Ireland, from 1605 – 1616. He is also inextricably linked with the history of Dungannon, before, during and after the Plantation.

Indeed, it can be fairly stated that he was the founder of the Plantation town of Dungannon. In an entry from Carew's Report on the progress of the Plantation, dated September, 1611, "Co Tyrone – Sir Arthur Chichester, now Lord Deputy, has 600 acres about Dungannon, as a servitor, where he intends to build a castle or strong house of lime and stone, and to environ the same with a good substantial stone wall and a deep ditch, with a counterscarp of stone to hold up the earth. Has now masons and workmen to take down such remains of the decayed ruins of the castle as are yet standing. Is preparing limestone, freestone etc. against next spring. The town is to be made a corporation, and there are families of English and other civil men who for the present have built houses of copels, but are bound to build of cagework or stone after the English manner, and make enclosures about the town."

Military career

Like a number of English soldiers and administrators in Ireland at the time, he came from Devon, born in 1563 into a minor gentry family. He studied at Oxford but did not complete his degree, possibly due to financial considerations or to the fact that he became more interested in a military career and joined the war then raging against Catholic Spain.

That his family was a strong supporter of Puritanism may explain the extreme religious zeal he displayed during his tenure as Lord Deputy. He took part in the naval operations against the Spanish Armada in 1588 as a captain of marines at the age of twenty five.However, his promising military career was put in jeopardy when he became involved in a faction fight with the followers of the earl of Bath in 1592. He and his companions fled to Ireland to escape the consequences of their actions, and it was 1595 before he was restored to favour, accompanying his fellow Devonian, Sir Francis Drake, to the West Indies, where he commanded 500 troops and displayed praiseworthy military prowess.

In the following year he accompanied the Earl of Essex's expedition to Spain and thereafter was soldiering in the Low Countries against the Spanish, finally arriving in Ireland in 1599. as part of the Earl of Essex's expedition.

Undoubtedly a major factor in understanding Arthur Chichester's later conduct as army commander and Lord Deputy is the death of his brother, John, in the Irish campaign in November, 1597.

John Chichester is first mentioned as being an officer under the command of Marshal Bagenal at Newry in 1595. He rose rapidly through the ranks so that by 1597 he was sergeant-major-general of the army and had been knighted. He had an initially successful campaign, capturing Belfast Castle and defeating the local Irish leaders, even though heavily outnumbered.


Flushed with success he set out to crush Sir James MacDonnell of the Glens, but was heavily defeated, losing his own life as well as the lives of 200 of his men. His head was cut off and sent to the Earl of Tyrone as a trophy of war, where it was said to have been kicked around like a football.

Sir Arthur was determined to revenge himself on both MacDonnell and Tyrone. Before the end of the war he had MacDonnell assassinated. Unable to arrange a similar fate for O Neill, despite several failed attempts, he held a deep and personal hatred for him for the rest of his life.

It was no surprise then when Essex appointed Sir Arthur as governor of Carrickfergus, his late brother's post, in April 1599. However, politics intervened to deprive him of this post late in the same year.

Essex was brokering a deal with Hugh O Neill at the time and it suited O Neill better to have his friend, Sir William Warren installed as governor rather than the combative and revengeful Chichester.

It wasn't until Mountjoy assumed the Lord Deputyship in the following year that Chichester was reinstated as governor of Carrickfergus. From Carrickfergus he would make life difficult for both MacDonnell and O Neill. The new strategy he adopted was to set up forts at strategic points along the Lough, e.g. at Massarene and Toome, which he would use as bases from which to launch attacks on O Neill and MacDonnell.


So fierce were his attacks on MacDonnell that he forced him to fly across the Bann, losing many cattle and a number of his men in the process. However, the main thrust of his strategy was the attacks by boat across the Lough into O Neill's territory.

On the south O Neill was protected by the Blackwater but Chichester realised that he could harass O Neill by attacking him from the east. His forays into O Neill's territory from across the Lough are both ruthless and terrifying.

He describes a commando type raid he undertook in May, 1601, thus, "We have burnt and destroyed along the lough, even within four miles of Dungannon, where we killed man, woman, child, beast and whatsoever we found." Among the victims of this particular raid were Patrick O Quin's family, servants and household who lived near Farlough in the Edendork area.

Another branch of Chichester's strategy was to starve the enemy into submission by killing or driving off the livestock and burning the corn. A starving people would not have the resources to fight back and would eventually submit. Taking all these facets together, Chichester was practising 'total war', the strategy which Mountjoy himself was pursuing, a strategy which, in the long run, would lead to victory by 1603.