The spring and early summer of 1646 were spent in forming the new army. At last, when all was ready, it set out under O’Neill’s orders for Cavan. In the Franciscan monastery where the General took up his quarters an amusingly impudent letter reached him from the Lord Lieutenant, under whose orders he had been placed by the Cessation. The Scotch were threatening Connaught again, said Ormond; Castlecoote was strongly fortified; Clanricarde’s mansion at Portumna was in serious peril. ‘Certainly something is expected from you, but I am not able to advise what is fit for you to do.’ The wrath and scorn of O’Neill’s great heart seethes through his strongly restrained answer:—
‘My lord, at my arrival in this province, where I came obeying order, I found all things unready. Some of my horse, too, obeying order, are scattered in Munster, which, if I had here now, I would, my lord, spoil the homes of those that went for Connaught that all the booty they could light upon could hardly countervail their losses. Please Your Excellency, I have in the fourth article of my instructions order to receive such directions and commands as Your Excellency may impart, and any such orders for the annoyance of the common enemy I shall with all alacrity be willing to observe and obey. In five days, my lord, I shall be in a posture for service. Before I left Kilkenny I sent a thousand pounds to lay up provision in a magazine for this army; but no part has been taken up or done; still, my lord, within five days at the furthest, I, for all that, shall have men and provisions in readiness. I shall be glad to learn Your Excellency’s pleasure. But, under favour, my opinion is that I should advance to the quarters of these Scotch rebels where, with God’s helping hand, I hope to be strong enough for them. To march into Connaught, Your Excellency’s forces not yet in the field,1 leaving passage clear for the enemy, would only bring destruction upon Meath and Westmeath. I should have long written to Your Excellency had I not been assured that you were daily expected with forces towards the frontiers at Dundalk. If my forces were together I would be 5,000 foot and 4 or 500 horse; which I conceive of good hopeful men to be a considerable strength.’
Cavan, 10th May, 1646.
1 Though long enough promised.