Northern Ireland news

On This Day in 1608 - Derry burned to the ground in O'Doherty's Rebellion

The head of Cahir O'Doherty was put on a spike in Dublin following the rebellion 
Cathal McGuigan

THE fledgling city of Derry was burned to the ground 408 years ago today, as Cahir O'Doherty launched his rebellion in Ulster.

O’Doherty had been the right-hand man of Sir Henry Docwra, who was dispatched to Ulster to quell rebellion in the Nine Years’ War (1594 to 1603.)

Docwra occupied Derry with 4,000 men with the aim of driving a wedge between the rebel leaders, Hugh O’Neill, the Earl of Tyrone and Hugh O’Donnell of Donegal.

O’Doherty was knighted for his bravery in battle and Docwra praised Cahir, saying the progress they made against the Gaelic Lords would have been impossible without him. 

O’Doherty had his position as Lord of Inishowen. inherited from his late father, confirmed by Docwra before his mentor sold his position as Governor of Derry and left Ireland.

The new governor, Sir George Paulett, had little respect for Catholics or the Irish and was soon eyeing up o’Doherty’s estates in Inishowen.

Following the ‘Flight of the Earls’ in 1607– when O’Neill, O’Doherty and other powerful Gaelic Lords gave up the ghost and fled to mainland Europe – Paulett attempted to seize one of O’Doherty’s castles. 

O’Doherty began to feel that he was under suspicion from the Crown when the King’s deputy, Sir Arthur Chichester, demanded sureties from Cahir as proof of his loyalty.

O’Doherty was deeply offended and refused to pay, which earned him the humiliation of a trip to the dungeon of Dublin Castle.

The final straw for O’Doherty came in early April 1608. During an argument Paulett had arrogantly insisted that O’Doherty was not his equal and struck him.

O'Doherty planned his revenge and, on April 19, he captured Derry with around 100 men and killed Paulett.

There was some small resistance, but with little hope of reinforcements the remaining men negotiated with O’Doherty and were allowed to leave, relatively unharmed.

O’Doherty’s men then ransacked the settlement and burnt it to the ground, leaving only ‘chimneys and some stone walls standing’.

O’Doherty attempted to carry on his rebellion into Donegal but Chichester sent troops to face him.

They laid siege to his castle at Burt and O’Doherty was killed, aged twenty-one, in july.

His head was put on a spike in Dublin. The rebellion had lasted just eleven weeks.

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