The Ormonde Peace (2)

Eleanor Hull
The Ormonde Peace | start of chapter

Meanwhile, in Dublin, Colonel Michael Jones, the Parliamentary governor of the city, in trying to drive off Preston, had received a severe check outside Dublin by the enemy forces, and had to call out the garrisons of Dundalk and Drogheda to his assistance.

On August 8, 1647, the united army fell upon Preston’s forces at Dangan Hill, and completely routed them. Four months later Inchiquin defeated Taaffe’s Irish army after a fierce fight at Knocknanuss, near Mallow. Muskerry laid down his arms and was succeeded by Taaffe, who carried on the guerilla war in Munster; and the Nuncio, leaving behind him a trail of interdicted towns, retired to Galway.

The following months saw rapid changes. The restless Inchiquin in April 1648 suddenly changed sides again and declared for the King. Preston and the Scots showed a disposition to do the same; and the long negotiations to induce the Prince of Wales to come over from Paris having broken down, Inchiquin took the lead in inviting Ormonde to return in order to bring about another Peace.

In October Ormonde landed in Cork, and the final Peace of January 1648–49 was carried through.[9] The Nuncio felt that “Hell was working with all its powers,” some of the bishops and many monks, as also especially the Jesuits, having declared against him and defied his spiritual censures.

The Nuncio’s political career in Ireland was at an end, and he himself recognized that his authority was gone. He felt that he “had dug in the sand,” for all orders of persons considered the free communication with heretics, which he had laboured to prevent, as perfectly allowable. They willingly obeyed a Protestant Viceroy and they longed for the arrival of a Protestant Prince. Their devotion to the King he could not comprehend. “Nothing is treated of, nothing concluded, without introducing this question of fealty to the King,” he complains, and on this point the Ulstermen of Owen Roe did not differ from the rest.[10]

Rinuccini had from the first felt himself to be “the unbidden guest,” whose aims and methods were alike opposed to those of the country to which he had come. When Scarampi had announced his appointment the Council had bluntly replied that “it was not a Nuncio they had asked for, but for money,” and that they cared nothing for the one, but a great deal for the other.

The working tolerance with each other at which Irishmen of all creeds, at least in the south, have managed to arrive when left to themselves was beyond the comprehension of the Latin mind, trained in a fixed line of conduct and rigorous adhesion to its own form of belief. “Nephew,” Owen Roe had said, “I hold him to be no better than a devil who will make these distinctions, but call all Irish alike.”

The Nuncio had not been a success; and he returned to Rome only to face a rebuke from the Pope he had served. Ireland saw the Nuncio depart from Galway just as “the thunderbolt of Ormonde’s arrival” fell upon the coast of Cork.[11]

Hardly had the Ormonde Peace been proclaimed in Dublin on January 17, 1648–49, than the news of the King’s execution on January 30 reached Ireland; on the same day the Viceroy proclaimed the accession of Charles II from his house at Carrick. In the south there was a general agreement between the Viceroy, Inchiquin, and the Supreme Council; but in the north Owen Roe stood out against the Peace, though Nicholas French, Bishop of Ferns, warned Ormonde that if it were not speedily made ten thousand souls would be starved before the end of June.

Plague was raging in the south, and O’Neill when invited to Munster had replied that he had “come to fight against men, not against God.” The Supreme Council proposed to deprive Owen of his title of General, and gradually he found himself standing alone. He was forced to the humiliating expedient of treating with Sir Charles Coote, the Raven’s son, “a bad crow from a bad egg,” as John Lynch calls him,[12] and finally with Monk, for supplies and arms to be used against his own countrymen.

Ormonde, who was besieging Dublin, sent Daniel O’Neill, his nephew, to offer him terms, but these he refused. His army was still formidable, but his influence, except among the old Irish and clerical party, was on the wane, and his chief support failed with the departure of the Nuncio.

“The eternal enmity between Leath Cuinn and Leath Mogha,” i.e., between Ulster and Munster, broke out with fresh violence, the Southerners protesting that “they wanted no Ulster men in Munster.”[13] They proclaimed Owen Roe O’Neill a traitor, and Preston did all that lay in his power to harass him. Amid a feeling of intense anxiety throughout the kingdom, Owen cooped up the forces of Clanricarde and Inchiquin on the Shannon, and all looked to see the extermination of the army he seemed to hold within his grasp. But he let slip the chance. Inchiquin marched out without loss, O’Neill refusing to fight him, and henceforth his policy, if policy it can be called, was a Fabian system of waiting tactics which led to no result.

Clanricarde declared that “it was easy to see that the Deity was not on the side of O’Neill.”[14] It is probable that the real explanation of what looked like supineness was O’Neill’s fast-failing health. Accustomed to the military discipline of the Spanish armies and the comparative well-being of an officer of rank, he, like numbers of English and foreign military men, felt the climate and the hardships of life in Ireland tell heavily on his strength. So long before as 1644, he had had to get out of bed to lead his army at a critical moment, and he had long been spoken of as “the old soldier O’Neill.”

Those desertions and jealousies which had broken Lord Gormanston’s heart must have deeply affected him, and the sense that he was warring against his own countrymen, and not against any foreign foe, must have neutralized his efforts.

To find himself, as the champion of the Catholic and old Irish cause, with only Coote and Monk, an English Puritan and a Scottish Presbyterian, for allies, and to know himself denounced as a traitor by his own countrymen, must have been a deep humiliation, and he probably felt little heart to attack Irish Catholic armies, whether under a Catholic like Clanricarde or a Protestant like Ormonde, both of them monarchists like himself.

It was at this moment of general depression that the news came that Ormonde’s large army of seven thousand foot and four thousand horse had sustained an irreparable defeat before Dublin, where he had drawn up his forces to try and dislodge Colonel Michael Jones, the Parliamentarian governor into whose hands he had delivered up the city on his flight from Ireland, or to starve him out. This latter attempt had been rendered impossible by the arrival of a strong contingent of troops and officers with provisions, who landed in the bay from England just as Ormonde’s army encamped at Rathmines, outside Dublin.

The newcomers wore the red coats of the New Model army, and were commanded by Colonels Venables, Moore, and Huncks.

Ormonde was in good spirits, for Inchiquin, who had now rejoined him, had taken Drogheda and forced Monk to surrender Dundalk, besides capturing the supplies of ammunition and food going north to Owen Roe’s army. He was persuaded by his officers that the old castle of Baggotrath, which overlooked a meadow between Trinity College and Ringsend on which the Parliamentarian horse grazed, could be repaired and utilized, and he detached a party under Major-General Purcell to carry out the necessary works.

Whether by treachery or carelessness, the party was misled and the work was not done. Early in the dawn Ormonde, who had passed the night writing dispatches and had just lain down to rest, received tidings in his camp at Rathmines that his force left at Baggotrath had been beaten off and the castle captured. The distance between the two portions of his army made juncture difficult; his men refused to stand, and a rout ensued, leaving Jones completely master of the field. The rout was complete; over two thousand were taken prisoners and four thousand slain on that fatal August 2, 1649.[15]

Owen Roe, shamed at last into action, ordered part of his army to hasten to the help of the beaten Southerners. But his own day was done. Grievously ill, the old officer had to descend from his horse and be carried in a litter as far as Ballyhags in County Cavan. Growing worse, he was forced to turn aside at Cloghoughter, where he lingered till November 6, long enough to hear of the sack of Drogheda and he storming of Wexford by Cromwell, and to see his native land bowing like a rush beneath the tread of Puritan armies. He was buried at the old abbey at Cavan, the last of the Irish chiefs to distinguish himself in the Irish cause. In his last letter to Ormonde he writes—and the accents of truth are in the words—

“My resolution, ways, and intention in these unhappy wars tended to no particular ambition or private interest of my own … but truly and sincerely to the preservation of my religion, the advancement of his Majesty’s service, and the just liberties of this nation.”[16]

Owen Roe had long been marked for death, and it is not necessary to take too seriously the brag of an English officer that the old general had been put out of the world by a pair of poisoned russet boots sent him by one of the Plunketts of County Louth.[17]

All public men carried their lives in their hands, and threats and stories of assassination were common. Ormonde had several times been threatened. O’Neill could not long have survived, in any case, for the disappointments and anxieties of his later life had worn him down. He was spared the news of the final overthrow of the Irish army at Letterkenny, where Coote took a savage revenge on the remaining leaders of the old Irish party.

Owen Roe was esteemed a good leader of men even by his opponents; but to comrades and foes alike he was something of an enigma.

Even to his nephew, Daniel O’Neill, Owen Roe was “a subtle man, beyond my sounding,” “a man of few words,” “a great adept at concealing his feelings, and phlegmatic in his operations.” He was as unlike the rash, boastful, easily-angered Preston as was possible.

Of all the strange figures who played their part in the confused history of the period this Daniel, nephew of Owen Roe, was one of the most interesting. Though he was of the old Irish by birth and descent, he was a devoted loyalist and Lieutenant-General of the Horse to Prince Rupert. He was the friend of Ormonde and confidant of the Queen, and he went on many embassies for the Royal Family. He was educated under Archbishop Laud in Church of England tenets, and he declined the post of General of the Ulster forces on his uncle’s death, because he refused to change his religion. He moved among all the Courts of the day as the companion of notable personages, marking out for himself an independent and erratic path.

At home and abroad this active, earnest man is found trying to make peace between contending parties, now at Oxford with the King, again at Paris with the Queen, or at home in Ireland posting with terms of settlement between Ormonde and O’Neill. Well liked by all, trusted by every one, a man of the world, “a great discerner and observer of men’s nature and humours,” as Clarendon says of him, Daniel was known among the Royalists as “Infallible Subtle.” His refusal to take his uncle’s post brought the old Irish party to an end; politically the party maybe said to have ceased to exist.

Ormonde escaped from the stricken field of Rathmines by putting spurs to his horse and riding hard to Kilkenny to try to reorganize the army. The disposition of his troops in Dublin, scattered, as they were, over different parts of the town and suburbs, and without means of communication, shows the worst generalship on Ormonde’s part. Taken together with his refusal to send aid to Drogheda when Cromwell attacked that city a month later, although his troops lay idle in the near neighbourhood, it is difficult to acquit him of deliberately playing into the hands of the Puritan party.

To another than the victor the news brought relief. Oliver Cromwell received the tidings at Milford Haven, where he had arrived on his way to Ireland. He writes: “This is an astounding mercy, so great and seasonable that indeed we are like them that dreamed.” The defeat of Ormonde cleared the way for Cromwell.