The Confederation of Kilkenny (1642-1649)

Patrick Weston Joyce

564. Hitherto the old Irish and the old Anglo-Irish Catholics had acted without concert. But the Catholic clergy exerted themselves to bring about union; and on the 24th of October 1642 a general assembly or parliament—delegates of the most distinguished persons from both sides—met in Kilkenny: this is known as the "Confederation of Kilkenny." They earnestly repudiated the appellation of rebels, maintaining that they were loyal subjects, standing up for the king, who they said would do them justice if he were not restrained by the Puritans.

565. There were eleven bishops, fourteen lords, and 226 commoners. The assembly took upon themselves for the time the government of the country—or of that part of it outside the influence of Ormond—and appointed generals over the army: O'Neill for Ulster and Preston for Leinster. To manage affairs with greater facility they elected from their number a "Supreme council." And they issued a decree for raising money and for levying men, who were to be drilled by the officers that had come with Preston and O'Neill.

566. In 1643 the king endeavoured to come to terms with the Confederates, hoping to use them against his own refractory parliament: but the justices Borlase and Parsons, who though nominally in the king's service, really sympathised with the parliament, threw obstacles in the way of union; and the forces of the confederates and those of the king continued in open hostility.

567. Preston was at first successful in Leinster, but was badly defeated in March 1643 at Ross in Wexford, by the marquis of Ormond. In Ulster O'Neill, held his ground with difficulty, and was once defeated by one of Monro's generals. But in several other actions he was victorious.

568. Meantime in spite of the opposition of the lords justices, negotiations went on between the king and the confederates: in September 1643, a cessation of arms for one year was arranged; and the confederates agreed to send the king a gift of £30,000. But the English parliament directed the Puritan party in Ulster to pay no attention to the truce.

569. The king had removed Borlase from his post, and in 1644 appointed the marquess of Ormond lord lieutenant. But this did not mend matters; for Ormond played a double part. Pretending to act for the king, he really worked in the interest of the parliament, and he prevented any final peace between the king and the confederates.

570. The king, finding he could do nothing through Ormond, sent over the earl of Glamorgan in 1645, who made a secret treaty with the confederates. They were to give the king men and money; he was to grant full toleration for religion. But when, a little afterwards, the parliament accidentally discovered this, king Charles, with his usual duplicity, disavowed it.

571. In this same year, 1645, the Pope sent to the confederates as Nuncio, Baptist Rinuccini archbishop of Fermo, who brought them a supply of money and arms. His object in coming was three-fold:—1. To propagate the Catholic religion: 2. To unite the old Irish and the Anglo-Irish Catholics, between whom there was still much jealousy: 3. To sustain the king against the parliament.

572. Matters were at this time in a bad way. The English parliament, contending successfully against the king, determined to put down the Catholics, and would have no peace and no dealings with the confederates. Ormond, in the service of his majesty, really sympathised with parliament. The feeble and double-faced king was trying to deceive both the Catholics and the parliament.

573. There was disunion in the confederation. The Anglo-Irish representatives would deal with Ormond (as representing the king) for peace on the basis of a free exercise of their religion: the old Irish party, with whom was Rinuccini, would have more than that—National independence and the re-establishment of the Catholic church in all its former grandeur.

574. The Anglo-Irish party prevailed in the assembly, and in March 1646 a treaty was signed between the confederates and Ormond who professed to act for the king; in which the only concession to the Catholics was exemption from the oath of supremacy. This gave great discontent to the Nuncio and to the old Irish all over the country.

575. The disunion among the Catholics extended to the army. There was bitter rivalry between Owen Roe who was a great general, and Preston who was an indifferent one. The Anglo-Irish party was on the side of Preston, and refused support to Owen Roe; and Monro continued to plunder and devastate Ulster without opposition.

576. At length O'Neill with great effort collected an army of 5,000 foot and 500 horse; and marching north inflicted a crushing defeat on Monro and his more numerous army at Benburb on the Blackwater: an exploit quite as brilliant as that of his uncle Hugh at the Yellow Ford. This restored the influence of the old Irish party—the "Nuncionists," as they were called.

577. There was, however, increasing distrust between O'Neill and Preston, but for which they could easily have taken Dublin from Ormond. At length in July 1647 Ormond delivered up Dublin to the parliamentarians and went through England to France, and colonel Michael Jones, a parliamentary officer, became its governor.

578. The confederates now met with serious disasters. In August 1647 colonel Jones defeated Preston at Dungan Hill near Summerhill in Meath, and killed more than 5,000 of his men. And in November of the same year lord Inchiquin (formerly a royalist, now on the side of Parliament), known as "Murrogh the Burner" from his merciless ravages in Munster, inflicted quite as bad a defeat on the confederate army at Knocknanoss near Mallow, through the incompetency of their commander lord Taaffe.

579. In May 1648 Preston, against the wishes of the Nuncio and his party, signed a truce with Inchiquin in which it was agreed that the Catholics should not be molested in the practice of their religion. Quarrels and discussions and plots went on, till at length Ormond returned in 1648; and in January 1649 peace was finally signed between him and the confederation, on the main condition that the penal laws should be repealed: which ended a war that had lasted for seven years. About a fortnight after the conclusion of peace, king Charles was beheaded in England.