Rinuccini in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXIX

In the meantime Belling, the Secretary of the Supreme Council, was sent to Rome, and presented to Innocent X., by Father Wadding, as the envoy of the Confederate Catholics, in February, 1645.

On hearing his report, the Pope sent John Baptist Rinuccini,[2] Archbishop of Fermo, to Ireland, as Nuncio-Extraordinary. This prelate set out immediately; and, after some detention at St. Germains, for the purpose of conferring with the English Queen, who had taken refuge there, he purchased the frigate San Pietro at Rochelle, stored it with arms and ammunition; and, after some escapes from the Parliamentary cruisers, landed safely in Kenmare Bay, on the 21st of October, 1645.

He was soon surrounded and welcomed by the peasantry; and after celebrating Mass in a poor hut,[3] he at once proceeded to Limerick. Here he celebrated the obsequies of the Archbishop of Tuam, and then passed on to Kilkenny. He entered the old city in state, attended by the clergy. At the entrance to the Cathedral he was met by the Bishop of Ossory, who was unable to walk in the procession. When the Te Deum had been sung, he was received in the Castle by the General Assembly, and addressed them in Latin. After this he returned to the residence prepared for him.

In a Catholic country, and with a Catholic people, the influence of a Papal Nuncio was necessarily preponderant, and he appears to have seen at a glance the difficulties and advantages of the position of Irish affairs and the Confederate movement.

“He had set his mind,” says the author of the Confederation of Kilkenny, “on one grand object—the freedom of the Church, in possession of all her rights and dignities, and the emancipation of the Catholic people from the degradation to which English imperialism had condemned them. The churches which the piety of Catholic lords and chieftains had erected, he determined to secure to the rightful inheritors. His mind and feelings recoiled from the idea of worshipping in crypts and catacombs; he abhorred the notion of a priest or bishop performing a sacred rite as though it were a felony; and despite the wily artifices of Ormonde and his faction, he resolved to teach the people of Ireland that they were not to remain mere dependents on English bounty, when a stern resolve might win for them the privileges of freemen.”[4]

The following extract from Rinuccini's own report, will show how thoroughly he was master of the situation in a diplomatic point of view:

“From time immemorial two adverse parties have always existed among the Catholics of Ireland. The first are called the ‘old Irish.’ They are most numerous in Ulster, where they seem to have their head-quarters; for even the Earl of Tyrone placed himself at their head, and maintained a protracted war against Elizabeth. The second may be called the ‘old English,’—a race introduced into Ireland in the reign of Henry II., the fifth king in succession from William the Conqueror; so called to distinguish them from the ‘new English,’ who have come into the kingdom along with the modern heresy. These parties are opposed to each other principally on the following grounds: the old Irish, entertaining a great aversion for heresy, are also averse to the dominion of England, and have refused, generally speaking, to accept the investiture of Church property offered to them since the apostacy of the Kings of England from the Church. The others, on the contrary, enriched with the spoils of the monasteries, and thus bound to the King by obligation, no less than by interest, neither seek nor desire anything but the exaltation of the crown, esteem no laws but those of the realm, are thoroughly English in their feelings, and, from their constant familiarity with heretics, are less jealous of differences of religion.”

The Nuncio then goes on to state how even the military command was divided between these two parties,—O'Neill belonging to the old Irish interest, and Preston to the new. He also mentions the manner in which this difference of feeling extended to the lower classes, and particularly to those who served in the army.[5]

I have given this lengthened extract from Rinuccini's report, because, with all the advantages of looking back upon the times and events, it would be impossible to explain more clearly the position of the different parties. It remains only to show how these unfortunate differences led to the ruin of the common cause.


[2] Rinuccini.—A work was published in Florence, 1844, entitled Nunziatura in Irlanda, di M. Gio. Battista Rinuccini, &c. This work, which only forms a portion of the Rinuccini MS., throws much valuable light upon the history of the period. It is supposed to have been written by the Dean of Fermo, who attended the Nuncio during his official visit to Ireland. This volume also contains, in the original Italian, the report presented by Rinuccini to the Pope on his return from Ireland. Burke has given some extracts from the MS. in his Hibernia Dominicana, and Carte mentions it also; but otherwise these very important documents appear to have been quite overlooked.

Since the publication of the first edition of this work, I have obtained a copy of a translation of the Nuncio's narrative, which appeared in the Catholic Miscellany for 1829. This translation was made by a Protestant clergyman, from a Latin translation of the original, in the possession of Mr. Coke, of Holham, Norfolk. The Nuncio's account is one of great importance, but it would demand considerable space if treated of in detail. There was a very able article on the subject in the Dublin Review for March, 1845.

[3] Hut.—Some extracts from a curious and interesting letter, describing the voyage from France and the landing in Ireland of Rinuccini and his party, were published in the Dublin Review for March, 1845. It is addressed to Count Thomas Rinuccini, but the writer is supposed to have been the Dean of Fermo. He gives a graphic description of their arrival at Kenmare—"al porto di Kilmar"—and of the warm reception they met from the poor, and their courtesy—"La cortesia di quei poveri popoli dove Monsignor capito, fu incomparabile." He also says: "Gran cosa, nelle montagne e luoghi rozzi, e gente povera per le devastazioni fatte dei nemici eretici, trovai pero\ la nobilta della S. fede Catolica, giaché auro vi fu uomo, o donna, o ragazzo, ancor che piccolo, che non me sapesse recitar il Pater, Ave, Credo, e i commandamenti della Santa Chiesa." "It is most wonderful that in this wild and mountainous place, and a people so impoverished by the heretical enemy, I found, nevertheless, the noble influence of the holy Catholic faith; for there was not a man or woman, or a child however young, who could not repeat the Our Father, Hail Mary, Creed, and the commands of Holy Church." We believe the same might be said at the present day of this part of Ireland. It is still as poor, and the people are still as well instructed in and as devoted to their faith now as in that century.

[4] Freemen, —Confederation of Kilkenny, p. 117.

[5] Army.—Nunziatura in Irlanda, p. 391.