FROM the “Instructions” of the Papal Court to the Nuncio, and from Nuncio’s own letters and reports, we may infer that Rinuccini’s policy in Ireland was not directed in favour of King Charles, nor of the new English sovereignty created by the Act of 1542. Imbued with the strictest legal conceptions, the Roman Curia continued to look upon the English occupation of Ireland as founded upon the Bull of Adrian IV; and it may well be that Pope Innocent X and his advisers saw in the Act of 1542 a substantial repudiation of the Papal suzerainty which worked a forfeiture of Pope Adrian’s grant. At the very least, therefore, Rinuccini aimed at the annulment of the Act of Henry VIII by which England and Ireland were declared subject to the one crown and it is possible that his aim went farther, even to the total separation of Ireland from England. Different as were the paths by which results were reached, it is clear that between Rinuccini and O’Neill there was much in common. Between the Nuncio and the lords of the Pale the case was very different. The lords only desired the removal of disabilities and the repeal of penal statutes, leaving unquestioned all the prerogatives of the Crown on which their own titles to church lands rested. Although claiming more immunity for the Church, and desiring the restoration of Church property, the bishops, especially those of Anglo-Irish descent, stopped short of all intention to disturb the rights of the Crown. By the natural drift of events, therefore, Rinuccini was brought more and more into close alliance with Owen O’Neill and the bishops like Heber McMahon and Art Magennis who were adherents of Owen. United in purpose and in sympathy, the Nuncio and the Irish leader alike loathed the halting and wavering policy of the Kilkenny administration, and both alike steadily set their faces against secret negotiations and understandings. Elated, however, by the successes of 1646, the Nuncio began to lord it a little too imperiously, and assumed the functions rather of a Papal Viceroy than of a mere ambassador. When the victory at Benburb was made known at Limerick, Rinuccini, accompanied by Edmond O’Dwyer, the bishop of Limerick, Nicholas Donnelly, bishop designate of Clonfert, and a host of priests and friars, proceeded in solemn state to the cathedral to celebrate a Te Deum in thanksgiving; and in communicating the great news to Pope Innocent, the Nuncio spoke of the brilliant triumph won by the army of his Holiness.” It seemed, too, as if O’Neill himself acquiesced in this claim of Papal overlordship, for he emblazoned the arms of the Holy See upon his banners and, so at least Rinuccini says, sought for the title “Protector of the Faith.”
But neither Nuncio nor General anticipated the black betrayal by which the interests of the Church and the native Irish were bartered away in the treaty made with Ormond in 1646. At the time when all Celtic Ireland was thrilled with the great news of Owen’s achievements. Belling and Fennell and Muskerry and Mountgarrett, with the support of some pliant bishops, were purchasing their own safety at the cost alike of Ulster and of ecclesiastical institutions, both of which they delivered into the enemy’s hands. All the Confederate forces were to be placed under the command of Ormond’s nominees, Clanricarde and Castelhaven. The Confederation was to act under Ormond’s orders, and to become a mere branch of the Dublin Castle administration. Mr. John Dillon, Mr, Richard Martin, Mr. Browne, and Mr. Lynch were to be Judges; Sir Thomas Esmonde, Belling, and Lord Muskerry, Privy Councillors; Cusack, Chancellor of the Exchequer; and Sir Piers Crosby, Marshal of Ireland. A Catholic University was promised; the Act of Uniformity (2nd Elizabeth) was to be repealed as soon as possible; Inns of Court were to be established in Dublin; all existing titles to land were to be confirmed, and all rebellious offences committed after October, 1641, were to be pardoned; but the landless outcasts of Ulster were to remain on the mountain sides, and the promoters of the insurrection were to answer the charge of high treason. Even Belling admits that Ulster had “some” reason to complain; still, as practical men what were they to do but make sure of the best terms they could get?
When this treaty, “the dishonorablenest and most disadvantageous that could be heard of,” was made known to the Nuncio, indignant at the shameful betrayal of himself and his august master he pointed out that the Confederation had been formed on the basis of religion, while this treaty entirely ignored religion and sought only for the temporal advantages of the Anglo-Irish. Imploring O’Neill to march to his assistance, Rinuccini and all the priests “who were at that time in Limerick” set out for Kilkenny; but when he came near the town he learned that Ormond had already arrived, that the place was one scene of illumination and joy-making, and that the armies of Munster and Connaught under Muskerry and Preston were close on Kilkenny, having welcomed the treaty “with drum, trumpet, and salvoes of artillery.” Rapidly changing his course Rinuccini set out for Waterford, the freest and most fearless of the Irish cities, and the most Spanish (Espagnolizé) in character and habit. There, calling together all the clergy of Ireland, the Nuncio proclaimed the iniquity of the treaty from the standpoint of the Church, and asked for authority to issue a general decree of condemnation. Consent was freely given: few bishops were present, but those who were assented. Rinuccini issued the decree, and called upon all civil and military officers to withdraw allegiance from the late Supreme Council.” Limerick, Waterford, and Clonmel rose enthusiastically on behalf of the Nuncio, and when heralds came from Kilkenny to proclaim the “Peace of Forty-six” they were chased out of the three towns by the indignant populace.
Meantime in Kilkenny itself a round of festivities went on, “with all manner of stage plays,” poetical addresses, and “gratulatory odes,” when suddenly came news that Owen Roe O’Neill had entered the Pale and was advancing by forced marches on the city. Then “Ormond and his train of peers stayed neither for horse nor foot, but breathless and fearful arrived in Dublin as to their sanctuary.” Side by side the Irish general and the Papal ambassador entered Kilkenny: and all government being now dissolved by the great betrayal, Rinuccini, supported by O’Neill, established a Provisional Administration, consisting of two laymen and one bishop for each province, with the Nuncio as President and the generals as ex-officio members. Preston at once submitted, swore allegiance to the new Council, and became one of the Executive. This revolution accomplished, the Nuncio and O’Neill took steps for a vigorous renewal of the war. In justice to Rinuccini it must be said that he never claimed or exercised any special authority as President, and all decrees and orders are signed by him jointly with his colleagues. A command was issued to both generals that Dublin should be instantly besieged, and two armies were ordered out for the service, one under O’Neill marching by way of Maryborough, the other under Preston by way of Carlow. Taking every town and castle that lay in his way, O’Neill reached Harristown, and threw out skirmishers up to the environs of Dublin. Preston, on the other hand, moving very slowly, and yet leaving Carlow in the enemy’s hands, delayed for weeks, allowing Ormond ample time to repair the fortifications of the capital and to bring in supplies of food. Indeed the Leinster general was the Bazaine of this expedition, and although not intentionally a traitor his acts were as baneful as those of the basest traitor could be. Under repeated appeals he at last reached Lucan, and, in accordance with what he made an essential condition of his service, Ormond was summoned to treat on a defined basis submitted to him jointly by Preston and O’Neill. In his taunting reply Ormond begged to know what authority they held to make conditions, and reminded them that their governing body had made peace with him and that Preston had assented to that peace, in spite of which they were now in arms seizing the king’s towns and making war upon the king’s subjects. The generals answered separately, and Ormond acknowledged that, although General O’Neill had never consented to the peace, his reply was moderate and well-reasoned, while Preston’s was violent and offensive. Negotiations ceased, and Owen prepared for war in real earnest.
But Preston would not move. Every day messengers passed between Dublin and Lucan, and Lord Clanricarde had many conferences with Preston in his tent. Doubts grew in O’Neill’s mind, although he did not suspect unsoldierly conduct from so accomplished an officer. One dark, rainy night, however, he heard terrible news. Colonel Hugh McPhelim Byrne, wet to the skin and covered with mud, came to Owen’s tent with intelligence of Preston’s treason. Influenced by Clanricarde, and wounded by the taunts levelled against him, the Leinster general had made peace with Ormond, with whose forces he undertook to join his own. Summoning his officers to his tent he had called upon them to sign an agreement binding themselves to adhere to this treaty. But all the officers refused, saying, “We do not see the signature of your co-general, Owen O’Neill.” You see mine, and that is enough for you,” said Preston; “to which we answered that we wanted something more than that, and so departing from the general’s tent left him there alone.” It was close on midnight when O’Neill received this news — a frightful night, rain falling in torrents, and a bitter October wind blowing sleet as keen as blades of ice in its course. But in one half-hour swift couriers were already on the road for Kilkenny; Henry Roe and the light horse had set out for Leixlip to seize the stores; the whole camp was roused and the men ready by daybreak to march for the entrenched lines at Harristown, while a detachment under O’Cahan was ordered forward from Maryborough to block the road to Kilkenny and protect the seat of government.
Preston was thunderstruck. Dreading to be called a traitor, he explained his conduct in a wordy letter to the Mayor of Kilkenny, and solemnly promised to abide loyally in the future by the Nuncio’s orders. He was received back into favour, but the new jibes and taunts with which Ormond now assailed him were keenly felt by this impulsive and changeable man, who assured Ormond that he had no choice but to yield as his army “was not excommunication-proof.” Dublin however had once more escaped, through the weakness of one of its assailants. Ormond took advantage of the occasion to secure its continued safety by delivering the city up to the King’s Parliamentary enemies, abandoning his place as Viceroy, and leaving the Confederates face to face with the joint forces of Royalists and Puritans, united now in common hostility to the Catholic “rebels.” But although a refugee at the French Court, Ormond still remained the knave of the cheating pack,” and for two years all the efforts of the Kilkenny politicians were directed to procuring his return and the re-establishment of the ignominious treaty of peace. Meantime, however, these politicians had little opportunity for doing evil. Detained by order of Rinuccini’s Council in easy captivity, the framers of the Ormond peace were powerless and despised. But they trusted, and not in vain, to their own wiliness, and to the chances of sudden opportunities in a popular assembly; and husbanding their strength, confined themselves mainly to calumnies of O’Neill, whom they charged with measureless ambition and with hatred of the Leinstermen whom he cruelly oppressed by letting his Ulster barbarians loose on the civilised counties of the Pale.
With these tactics they hoped to shape public opinion. But when on the 10th of January 1647 the General Assembly met, it was found that in spite of factious efforts such as these free and fearless representatives had been sent up by the constituencies. The Ormond peace was rejected by 288 votes against 12: in the true spirit of parliamentary purity the Assembly went on to declare that the continued practices of returning base and servile persons by nomination and official patronage should cease. For the first time it seemed as though Ireland had chosen a National Council to which she might look with reverence and hope. But again the fatal obstacles which had made it impossible for Kilkenny to become the centre of national counsels declared themselves. Geographical barriers still isolated it from North and West. The 73 Ulster members were obliged to return home after a few months, and most of the Connaught, Clare, and Kerry members were also absent, when, seizing their chance, the Ormondian clique pressed forward the election of a new Supreme Council by an Assembly at that moment made up mostly of their own personal followers. Angry discussions growing at times to tumults broke out, the clergy and the few Old Irish members dividing over every name until at last, as it seemed, a compromise was reached. The Supreme Council, as we have seen, originally numbered twenty-four. Later on, under pretence of giving advice, others were added until the number swelled to close on forty. When the secret correspondence with Ormond began, the Supreme Council of its own act cut down the number of its members to nine, and at that number it stood when Rinuccini declared it to be ipso facto dissolved by its betrayal of trust. Now by common consent it was agreed that twelve members, fairly representative of all sections, were to constitute the governing body. But a few days later the plotters sprang a new proposal on the Assembly, to the effect that whenever by absence or death the full number of twelve could not be brought together, the lacking councillors might be replaced by men co-opted out of a permanent “Grand Council” which consisted of forty-eight members of the General Assembly, and which was at that moment, none but Leinster members being then in Kilkenny, altogether composed of either declared Ormondians or the intimate friends and dependents of the official gang.
By this move the revolution carried out by Rinuccini in Kilkenny was entirely undone, and through the ingenious expedient of the “Grand Council” the administration was once more made in practice purely Ormondian; but O’Neill, however much he might be opposed to the persons of the Councillors, had far too high a respect for constituted authority to take any steps for displacing a Council regularly established in accordance with constitutional usage. The winter of 1647 was spent in making due arrangements for embassies and missions to foreign Powers, and above all to the court of Henrietta Maria in Paris where Ormond was sojourning at this time. But military events hurried on the intriguers of Kilkenny with their compromising schemes. After the abandonment of the siege of Dublin Owen Roe quartered his army in Leix, and capturing all the towns in the Midlands fixed his headquarters in front of Athlone, which was held in his name by Captain Gawley, into whose hands it had been delivered by a friar who feared the duplicity of the Dillons, then governors of the fortress, and at all hazards delivered it up to the Irish. O’Neill’s area of occupation thus formed a great triangle, with Athlone, Maryborough, and Trim as corner points, where in comfortable billets the Ulster army might be sustained on the abundant stores of the Midlands. To ease Leinster of this burden, the Supreme Council ordered O’Neill to complete Preston’s work in Connaught by clearing out all the Scotch garrisons which had cut off communication between Connaught and Ulster. The Irish leader made ready for the enterprise, determined not only to clear the road from Athlone to Sligo, but to carry his arms northward by Enniskillen into Derry. Obstacles as usual were put in his way, the Council sending Commissioners to accompany him in the campaign by whose orders only payments were to be made for military purposes. Having constructed a great road over the Curlews, O’Neill was ready to throw himself on Sligo, but he was foiled by the miserable policy of the Commissioners, who while every hour’s delay was worth untold gold to the garrisons of the threatened towns, doled out scanty driblets from the money voted by the Assembly. Chafing under this squalid yoke the Irish general was held for weeks chained up in the Sligo mountains, when suddenly a pressing summons called him, setting all other duties aside, to march forthwith for the protection of Leinster which again lay at the mercy of the enemy.
Although the new Council had set on foot a magnificent army under Preston, although by inducements of pay and promises they had persuaded many of Owen’s soldiers to join Preston’s force, the only result was shameful and crushing disaster; on the 6th of August, 1647, Michael Jones, the Puritan governor of Dublin, had defeated Preston so terribly at Dungan’s Hill near Trim that for all serious purposes the Leinster army ceased to exists and Kilkenny lay exposed at once to Inchiquin from the South, and to Jones from Dublin and Drogheda. In the hour of peril O’Neill was always appealed to; with amazing celerity he carried his troops from Boyle to Kilbeggan. It was only when they reached Kilbeggan that the Irish officers discovered the work to which they had been summoned. Remembering how many times, with what dark ingratitude, they and their general had already been betrayed by the Leinster trimmers,” they swore they would not move one step further on their behalf. At a great meeting in Kilbeggan church the officers peremptorily declared that they were not willing to risk their lives in defence of Leinster; all appeals to their sense of general and wider patriotism failed before their wrath. On occasions like this Owen’s character rose to its full majesty. He called upon his officers to disperse; when they expostulated he ordered up the artillery, and was about to open fire when Bishop Heber McMahon implored him to wait a little until he, the bishop, had once more reasoned with the men. As he urged the cruel embarrassment that their conduct brought upon their general, they loudly protested their readiness to follow their beloved commander wherever he asked them to go, declaring that their anger was solely caused by the insults which General O’Neill had cast on the Council at Kilkenny. Owen addressed them in grave and dignified words; reminding them that they and he were the sworn soldiers of Ireland, and that all Irishmen were entitled to their protection against the common enemy. Forthwith the army set out on its march. When they reached the awful field of Dungan’s Hill, O’Neill in a solemn charge bade his men remember that every whitening corpse which lay there silently called upon them to avenge the disaster of that unfortunate field. “Hold fast together,” he said, “and we shall overcome Jones as we overcame Monroe.”
In a letter to the Nuncio the great general compared himself and his army to the dolphin attacking the crocodile; the scales of Dublin and Drogheda were too strong and too hard, but like the dolphin, “we shall dive and wound Jones from below.” So the great “burning expedition” of 1647 was begun. In a season of terrible rains the citizens of Dublin saw from St. Audoen’s steeple two hundred fires blazing from Castleknock to Howth, and they knew that one man only in all Ireland would dare to throw himself between the garrisons of Dublin and Drogheda. Had Preston with 20,000 followers ventured on such a march, Jones would have sallied forth to dispute his progress; but O’Neill, with forces hardly equal to the garrison of either city, held Jones and his armies cooped up in their strongholds while he seized or destroyed all food and fodder on which the garrisons could be maintained. Then falling back to Trim, on the very spot where Preston had been defeated this consummate general remained entrenched during the winter of 1647, protecting Kilkenny from the northern armies of the Parliament, and setting free all the other forces of the Confederation to confront Inchiquin from the south. This was the very zenith of O’Neill’s career in Ireland. Rinuccini, who had for some time looked upon him as an obedient and pliant champion of the Church, presently discovered that he was sorely mistaken in his opinion of Don Eugenio, who, as the excited Nuncio now interpreted matters, threw off the mask after his Ulster victories, and chose no longer to be considered the general of His Holiness but “the leader of the natural Irish.” Owen had raised armies without warrant from the Supreme Council; he had refused to yield up Athlone to Lord Dillon of Costello, after his lordship in the most solemn manner had been received by the Nuncio himself into the Catholic Church; and worse than all, the Irish had now ceased to call him by his name and only spoke of him as “The Liberator.”
While these anxieties corroded the mind of the Papal Nuncio, the Council at Kilkenny were disturbed with still graver fears. They too saw the growing power of the great chief, and they feared lest his enormous influence might be too strong for them to resist. All the winter of 1647-48 was passed in cares and misgivings; one man only standing like a great sea-mark over the tossing surges. The Munster army under Taafe — “a good potator of any liquor you please” — were shamefully defeated at Knockanoss in November, Alexander McDonnell and his islesmen having swept the forces directly opposed to him only to be cut down by Inchiquin’s main body, who had chased the wretched Taafe and his Munstermen from the field. How were the Leinster nobles to act under these circumstances? As Ormond had betrayed Dublin into the hands of Jones rather than allow it to fall into the hands of the Kilkenny “rebels,” so Muskerry and Belling determined to make peace with Inchiquin rather than be at the mercy of O’Neill and the Ancient Irish, of whom he was now the acknowledged leader. Three events confirmed them in this policy. By unanimous vote of the Connaught Provincial Council, Owen O’Neill had been elected Commander-in-Chief of the Irish forces in Connaught; and Lord Antrim’s followers having also ranged themselves under his banner, the Irish general was now in reality the head of a great Celtic League. At this time too a remarkable book appeared: printed at Lisbon, and probably written by an Irish priest, the Disputatio Apologetica de regno Hibernice called upon the Irish to cast off heretical rule and to choose a native King; (eligete fegem vernaculuni). And finally, at this critical moment came the sword of Hugh, the great Earl of Tyrone, sent by Luke Wadding with the blessing of the Holy Father from Rome. Rumours now ran high. “He that sent the sword will also send the crown;” “Hy-Niall once more will reign;” and all through Ulster and Connaught the welcome tidings flew that the people would no longer be called upon to fight by Kilkenny lawyers and doctors, but would have at their head Ireland’s Ard-Ri, King Owen.
And while a great man was thus rising into supreme importance in Ireland, another great man had risen in England, and Royalists and Parliamentarians, Independents and Fifth Monarchy men, Levellers and Presbyterians, were alike prostrated before Cromwell. Were these two great soldiers ever to meet as leaders of the two warring nations? They, at any rate, represented realities, when the reconcilers and negotiators of both countries were shams and shadows. Violent and overbearing Oliver trod his adversaries under his feet; but Owen, chivalrously loyal to constituted national authority, so necessary for a country struggling into existence, had to pass through further bitterness and to wear out the close of his life in battling, not with the foreign foeman, but with the traitor at home. For, shrinking in horror from the idea of an ascendancy of O’Neill and the native Irish, the Kilkenny Cabal under pretence of extreme pressure opened correspondence with Inchiquin, the most merciless enemy of the Irish Catholics. When the Munster forces were overwhelmed at Knockanoss, Inchiquin advanced to the borders of Kilkenny, proclaimed himself on the king’s side, and was warmly welcomed as a convert by Mountgarrett, Muskerry, and Belling. To the horror of Rinuccini, who had been inclining in favour of the Council, a new treaty was made — a treaty which once again threw the Nuncio and O’Neill together in defence of the Church and of the Old Irish against the selfish Leinster leaders, who were ever ready to fling over both alike whenever their own interests might be so advanced. On the 24th of April, 1648, the Cessation with Lord Inchiquin was proclaimed in Kilkenny. The forces of the Confederates and of the Munster Parliamentarians were to be united, nominally on the king’s side now when the king was no longer able to assert himself; two counties were yielded up to Inchiquin, and the tithes of ecclesiastical benefices within these counties were to be paid into his war-chest for the sustaining of his army pending a permanent peace.
Such terms, as Rinuccini pointed out, could have no meaning except one — all factions were to unite against O’Neill. The Nuncio, who had been invited to Kilkenny in the earlier stages of the treaty -making, when he learned the true nature of the negotiations fled secretly from the city and took refuge in O’Neill’s camp at Maryborough; there, summoning a Congregation, he put forth a proclamation condemning all who had taken part in the correspondence with Inchiquin, or who supported the treaty; and a few days later from Kilmensie House (the residence of Sir Luke Fitzgerald, Henry Roe O’Neill’s father-in-law), he issued, with the approval of the bishops, a solemn Decree of Excommunication against all the framers and abettors of the “pestilential Peace.” Again as in 1646 factions arose in Kilkenny. Truculent agitators came forward on every side, Dr. Fennell easily beating all competitors. As long as bishops and archbishops had voted his salary as Supreme Councillor, Fennell denounced all who dared to question the wisdom and patriotism of the prelates of Ireland, or to criticise the policy of the venerated representative of the Holy Father. Now, carried away by zeal, he tore down the Decree, scoffing at the commination —”lacerentes et amoventes excommunicati sint;” and at St. Mary’s Church he tore down the door on which the Decree was posted, and trampled door and Decree under his patriotic feet. Another pious upholder of the clergy in their day of power, Lord Castelhaven, let loose his soldiers on the multitude who opposed the peace with the heroic order, “Kill, kill, kill;” and when a priest. Father Brennan, in accents too familiar to Irishmen, dared anyone to lay a hand upon his “habit,” Castelhaven seized his habit at the shoulder with the mocking cry, “What, lies the enchantment there?” So deep-seated was the orthodoxy of the nominees and favourites of the temporising Anglo-Irish bishops. He who least professed was now foremost in defence of ecclesiastical authority; for although O’Neill deeply resented many of Rinuccini’s high-handed acts, he recognised that the Leinster intriguers had betrayed the fundamental principles on which, by their own showing, the Confederation had been established, and in securing their own safety had allowed the legitimate claims of the Catholic Church to be entirely ignored.
While the Nuncio and the General were deliberating in Maryborough the Supreme Council showed an energy in collecting armies against O’Neill such as it had never displayed against English or Scotch invaders. At Maryborough there were only 600 men under Owen’s orders, all the rest being scattered through the towns of Leinster, or stationed in the entrenched places of Ulster and Connaught. Yet so great was the “terror of his mere name” that Preston with 4,000 men whom rumour multiplied threefold, remained loitering on the road from Carlow until O’Neill collected some of his regiments, and above all, until Rinuccini on the 27th of May issued a solemn warning to Preston’s soldiers not to serve under the banner of an excommunicated general. Although eight bishops and many doctors of divinity and heads of great orders declared the “Excommunication Decree” null and void, Preston’s army melted away, two thousand of them actually deserting and enrolling themselves in the ranks of Owen Roe. Upon this a solemn proclamation was issued by the Council, declaring Owen Roe O’Neill to be a public enemy and a common disturber of the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, ordering the Nuncio to quit the country, and threatening any bishops who might adhere to the Papal ambassador with deprivation of their ecclesiastical benefices. Many of O’Neill’s lukewarm adherents gave way. Poor weak Sir Phelim since his marriage with Preston’s daughter had been as changing and “voluble” as Preston himself, and in this supreme moment he deserted the deliverer of Ulster. To save their estates, if possible. Lord Iveagh and some of the McDonnells did the same; so that Owen with his scanty troops, weakened and disheartened by the desertion of the very men whom he had protected in 1646, had to face single-handed the whole host of the confederated enemies. Five armies were set against him: Clanricarde’s, Inchiquin’s, and Preston’s in the South, and the armies of Jones and Monroe in the North; besides the many smaller bodies under Coote and Stewart, against whom none but himself had ever shown the semblance of resistance. An eye-witness describes him in this fatal summer of 1648: —
“As often as I revolve this business in my memory I stand confused, considering with myself the use wherein this noble warrior did stand; three kingdoms now his sworn enemies, his own army scattered, distracted, and divided; four regiments revolted from him, adhering unto the council; without lieutenant-general or major-general, one in Clonmel the other in Connaught; with only four regiments of foot and the name of two of horse, in a nook of the country circumvented with strange foes, gathered round him like a great herd of wolves. I saw and observed all this to my grief and wonder, and would think, nay swear, he could not be rid of that imminent danger other than by a miracle. But with all this fresh in his memory he gave not the least semblance of discouragement, rather indeed seemed as in the very best fortune he ever yet enjoyed.”
The address to the Irish people which he issued sounds like a trumpet blast: –
DECLARATION OF OWEN O’NEILL AND ULSTER PARTY AGAINST THE CESSATION, 1648.
By Eugenio O’Neill, General of the Confederate Catholics of Ireland, of the Ulster Forces, and by the rest of the Commanders of the same Forces.
We might be held prodigal of our own honour and give occasion of suspicion if, in the midst of the multitude of calumnies and impostures which have been belched forth against us, we should neglect to apologise for our integrity.
We have, by free and full consent, without any reluctancy in the face of the world, taken the oath of association appointed by universal votes. This oath we have as often as any of the rest of the Confederates frequently and freely iterated.
Such as boast most of loyalty, but are most conscious of disloyalty, have by this Cessation given unto the King’s enemies two entire counties of Munster, which were within the possession of the Confederate Catholics, without receiving any guarantee or assurance of restitution at the expiration of the Cessation. Kilkenny and other quarters belonging to the Confederate Catholics they have actually delivered over unto the great personage whom in their souls, they know to be wholly disposed to betray the kingdom unto the Parliament.
Unto this great personage they still adhere, notwithstanding those horrid treasons committed in delivering over unto the Parliament the Castles of Dublin, Drogheda, Trim, Dundalk, and all other garrisons remaining in his quarters.
Yet these men would needs be held loyal subjects, and all others who oppose their sinister practices must be held disloyal.
We provoke the whole world to charge us with the least act of disloyalty committed since these commotions, unless it be indeed disloyalty to defend with Christian resolution the freedom of our religion and the liberty of our free-born nation, whereunto by oath we are obliged.
Others may take more hold upon state policy, and continue in allegiance only whilst they are necessitated: Vae duplici corde.
Unto such we may in no way adhere without sound assurance of their fidelity, for which the late Cessation hath not well provided, where an endeavour is made to blemish our integrity, and, not being capable of moving the Heavens to their design, they made recourse to Acheron.
Unto those who thus seek to avoid our forces we may not adhere, but, bound by our oaths, we deny to yield obedience unto this unwarrantable and prejudicial Cessation.
Our arms have been taken up to defend ourselves and distressed exiled Catholics that depend upon us, and we beseech the Lord of Hosts never to bless our designs longer than we unfeignedly observe (without respect to private ends), and continue real and faithful unto that resolution.
We, therefore, conjure all the Confederate Catholics to join with us against all Parliamentary rebels, and all factionists who comply unto them to the violation of their oath and the injury of our distressed nation.
Signed by the General and Commander at Athlone.
17th June, 1648.
Within three weeks ten thousand men were round him exulting in the opportunity of serving under the greatest Irishman of the century. In leading these raw levies from Connaught all the great qualities of O’Neill were called forth, and the defensive campaign against the combined forces of the allies in the autumn of 1648 may be compared without extravagance to Napoleon’s wonderful feats in 1814. Knowing the moral effect of mere numbers he advanced with nearly all his forces, though but few were armed, up to the very gates of Kilkenny, and when Inchiquin by forced marches hastened to the protection of the city O’Neill sent off the main portion of his army by night to make a demonstration against Clanricarde, while he himself with a picked body retreated in Inchiquin’s view as if in full flight to the mountains. Headlong Inchiquin, a brave but merciless soldier, eagerly pursued O’Neill until to his amazement he found himself face to face with the great strategist posted in “Owen Roe’s Pass,” as it is still called, which was absolutely unassailable, while rivers, bogs, and woods surrounded him on all sides. With such tactics O’Neill paralyzed the combined armies; while he raised the spirits of his own men by the lofty boast that “We and our royal allies, the hills” were a match for any number of opposing forces. He held his triangle of fortresses unbroken, and even relieved Connaught by sending expeditions to Leitrim and Roscommon. No toil was too exhausting for his hardy soldiers. Over bogs, rivers, marshes, and swamps they marched, up the steepest mountain paths they climbed unmurmuringly unsheltered they met rain and storm and want, at the word of their great leader. When at last, having worn out the necessary time for preparation in Ulster, the commander gave the orders for setting out on the northward march, the motley army moved steadily under his guidance as it wound its tortuous way to evade the encompassing forces, and without the loss of a man came safely to Belturbet.
The Confederates and their allies were foiled by arms; they now tried calumny. Owen was charged with three distinct offences. By a forged letter it was sought to convict him of treasonable correspondence with the enemy. This letter, addressed to the Protestant Bishop of Clogher, Dr. Jones, the brother of the Parliamentary Governor of Dublin, had, they alleged, been intercepted on the 20th of August; the body of the letter was said to be in the handwriting of O’Neill’s secretary. Father Edmund O’Reilly, and the signature in the handwriting of O’Neill himself. In tone and in signature it is clearly a clumsy forgery: —
“FOR THE MOST REVD. BISHOP OF CLOGHER. These. Hasten to Ballisonan, and thence to Catharlagh. I will endeavour to guard you from oppression. Costello is joined with Preston, and so is part of Inchiquin’s; all whose I will always keep so employed as they shall not be able to oppress you.
At the very time that the Confederates were throwing out copies of this precious document they were themselves in correspondence with Jones, endeavouring to procure his help against O’Neill, and in a solemn proclamation signed by the leading lords all Englishmen were called upon to combine against the enemy of the British Nation: —
“Letters have been intercepted which beget in us a just suspicion of Owen O’Neill and his party, which brought the British Nation to their now sad condition, and who purpose to themselves at the end of this total subversion and ruin which, being made manifest, we have taken arms to reduce him and his adherents.
“We are of opinion no true-hearted Englishman, or any of that extraction, will join with such a party against us, whose intentions never swerved from maintaining and submitting unto the Government, his intentions and proceedings being so well known to be averse unto that end, that the best and most of those of the same extraction as himself do abominate him and his actions, and are as active as any towards his reducement, and so we warn you against so false and perfidious a man as he is.”
Signed by Dillon, Iveagh, Esmond, Thomas Preston, Trimblestown, Talbot, Butler, Slane, and others; and endorsed by Anthony Geoghegan, Prothonotarius Apostolicus, who had signed Rinuccini’s decrees from Kilmensie a few months before!
They next charged O’Neill with the embezzlement of £9,000 out of the moneys voted to him for the Connaught campaign of 1647. Pressed by members of the Assembly the Council was obliged to order an inquiry, when it was discovered that Owen had been left forlorn in the Curlews for want of this very sum, which, though voted, had never been paid to him, and that he had been obliged to pledge his own personal credit for a few hundred cattle to feed his men, and also that he had never drawn his pay as Lord General but had always taken arms and ammunition instead. The third charge brought against him proclaimed him a manifest traitor to the king, for that loyal Inchiquin had discovered this dark crime. Owen “hath employed Roger Moore unto the Lord Baron of Inchiquin; but his lordship did discover by discourse with the said Roger Moore that the designs of Owen O’Neill and his adherents are so traitorous and pernicious as to be altogether inconsistent with loyalty or obedience.” Then they indignantly ask: “Will any man be so stupid as to aid them in framing and setting up a form of government allowing his majesty no other interest than such as shall be arbitrary and at the discretion of their faction?”
Finally to guard all people against O’Neill, Rory O’Moore, and Bishop McMahon, a proclamation was issued in the name of “our Sovereign Lord Charles, by the Grace of God King of England, Ireland, France, and Scotland.” Having enumerated Owen’s many black transgressions, they charged him with the design of “alienating Irish subjects from the Crown of England,” and in consequence of all this wickedness “it is this day ordered, decreed, adjudged, and established that the said Owen O’Neill is hereby declared a traitor and a rebel, and a common disturber of the peace,” and all generals, high sheriffs, and other officers, civil and martial, are directed to proceed against and destroy the said Owen O’Neill. By a later decree the General Assembly in mercy fixed a day (25th October) up to which any one departing from Owen O’Neill and humbly asking forgiveness might be again received into favour by the grace and pardon of the Assembly, and might be from thenceforth “remitted pardon and forgiven all their crimes,” always, of course, excepting “Colonel Owen McArt O’Neill, Emer Lord Bishop of Clogher, Edmund Reilly, Priest, and other incorrigible offenders.” In answer to these shameless decrees and orders, a letter was addressed to the Kilkenny Junto signed by O’Neill and his chief advisers, denying the authority of the Kilkenny clique to issue any decree or order on behalf of the Confederates. To this protest the “Zeudo-General-Assembly” on October 4th 1648 replied by declaring that ”Whereas a letter hath been presented to this House, signed by Owen O’Neill, Roger Moore, Richard Farrell, and others, now in arms against the government,” it is ordered that “such letter, or any other of the said Owen O’Neill shall not be received or taken into consideration in this House without a fit, decent, and submissive application made by him to and by the name of the General Assembly of the Confederate Catholics of Ireland.”
Six days later it was decreed, with eight assenting bishops present, that “Owen McArt O’Neill was a traitor and a rebel,” and all who adhered to him were “put out of our protection.” “We cannot believe,” they add, “that any Confederate Catholic who affects religion, king, or country, will suffer himself to be so deluded as to promote the designs of Owen O’Neill.” Then they turned to Rinuccini. “Transcendent crimes and capital offences,” are charged against him — the pious councillors had heard it reported that the Nuncio had said, “the successful party will be considered orthodox in Rome.” Having thus dealt with the dangerous offenders, O’Neill and O’Moore and the Nuncio, the Archbishop of Tuam at the head of a delegation of nobles and clergy went in state to Carrick to welcome “the five fingers of this treasonable pack” to Ireland; for Ormond was coming with plenary powers from the Queen to treat with all parties in Ireland — Scots, English, Inchiquin, Clanricarde, the Supreme Council, and Owen O’Neill. Great were the rejoicings of the Kilkenny loyalists. Commissioners implored Ormond to take upon himself the supreme direction of affairs, to which with becoming reluctance he graciously consented. On November 15th, 1648, he made a semi-royal entry to Kilkenny, the whole Assembly and all the bishops, nobility, and officials meeting him obsequiously at the city gates; and throned in Kilkenny Castle he received at the hands of the Archbishop a further petition to take up the reins of government.
The first act of the Confederates’ new master was to declare the Confederation dissolved. Gracious promises then flowed in abundance, and the captive king’s sufferings touched the tender hearts of his: devoted lieges. But the king was still the same selfish and heartless liar that he had ever been. To Ormond he wrote as to a worthy lieutenant: —
Ormond, I must command you two things — first to obey all my wife’s commands, then not to obey any public commands of mine until I send you word that I am free from restraint. Be not startled at my great concessions concerning Ireland, for they will come to nothing.
Your real, faithful, and constant friend.
In all Ireland three men only stood out against Ormond: Jones, in Dublin; Coote, in Derry; and Owen O’Neill, in Belturbet. Daniel O’Neill was once more despatched to his uncle with effusive promises of personal advancement. In writing under his own hand Owen stated his terms: —
“Whatever gives satisfaction to the General Assembly in what concerns the interests of the nation, the safety of religion, and the poor provinces which have entrusted me with their arms, I shall with much joy accept.”
But Ormond had dissolved the General Assembly, and Owen modified his claim by saying that he would abide by what “the whole gentry of our province shall accept.” The heads of a treaty were submitted to him. The Irish leader had the benefit of Roger O’Moore’s advice, as O’Moore was now “of the General’s Cabinet Council.” Having gone carefully through the proposals of Ormond, both agreed that “promises made subject to ratification by Parliament were null, mere air, and of none consequence.” Correspondence ceased, but the year 1649 drove Ormond again to seek succour. King Charles had been beheaded; Cromwell was coming with a terrible army; and Ormond himself had suffered an overwhelming defeat at Rathmines in the end of July at the hands of the very Michael Jones to whom two years before he had yielded up the capital of Ireland. Now indeed Owen O’Neill was needed, and Ormond eagerly sent envoys to him with tempting promises of favour.
At this time the great leader was himself in sore straits. Against both English parties he could not fight; with one or the other he must ally himself. But such a thought was hateful to him. “I am,” said he in a letter to Rinuccini, who had gone back to Rome, “on the very point of desperation: Ormond and his faction on one side, and the Parliamentary faction on the other, appealing to me to join them. Both, God knows, I equally hate (eodem odio et horrore prosequor) but unless succour come I must close with one or the other.” And to Cardinal Cuena he writes — “Ormond is the head of all our evil and the mover in every perfidy.”
On the other hand Monck, Monroe, and Coote were frank soldiers. “By my own extraction,” said Monroe, in a memorable letter to O’Neill in August 1649, “I have an interest in the Irish nation. I know how your lands have been taken, and your people made hewers of wood and drawers of water. If an Irishman can be a scourge to his own nation, the English will give him fair words but keep him from all trust, that they may destroy him when they have served themselves by him.” And he reminded Owen of the deluded Catholics who on the fatal day of the great Earl of Tyrone’s ruin at Kinsale had fought on the English side, and whose bitter cry had arisen later in days when they suffered cruel persecution for their creed — “You did not ask us our religion on the morning of Kinsale.” Such considerations as these make Owen’s conduct in 1649 more intelligible. Within that year he opened negotiations for the first time with a British party. Between him and Monck much correspondence passed, and Owen’s draft conditions were submitted to Cromwell, who had just been appointed Lord Lieutenant for the Parliament of England. By vote of the House the negotiations were ordered to be discontinued, and in this way an end was put to what might have been a great international settlement by two great soldiers and statesmen.
During these negotiations Monck sent to O’Neill much-needed supplies, which were lost through the drunkenness of a few Irish soldiers. Falling back upon Tyrconnell Owen for a brief time refreshed his army and procured a few scanty stores. At this moment the allies of Ormond, under the command of the Lord Montgomery of Ards whom Owen had captured at Benburb, were laying siege to Derry, which was held by Sir Charles Coote for the Parliament; and Coote appealed to O’Neill to raise the siege, promising abundant arms and military stores as his reward. To relieve his starving army Owen consented, raised the siege, and entered Derry in triumph. But at a splendid banquet of the visitors, the general was struck down with sudden illness, and “Dr. Owen O’Shiel was unhappily not then present in place.” In his mortal sickness he witnessed the awful vindication of his policy, and saw the black clouds of disaster settling over his native land. Ormond, finding no way to meet the coming storm without O’Neill’s aid, asked the Irish leader to state his terms. Owen did so with his usual clearness and brevity. He made four demands: —
- Amnesty and oblivion for all offences since October 20th, 1641.
- Full participation for Ulster in any terms of peace made with the Kilkenny Council.
- Restoration of the Tyr-Owen lands to the clans, and the Earldom of Tyr-Owen to be conferred upon himself so that all his uncle’s forfeited rights should revive.
- Full liberty for public worship, and participation by Catholics in all rights of citizenship.
As guarantees of fulfilment, he demanded three securities: –
- The Kilkenny Council must be made a party to any treaty between him and Ormond.
- The Ulster troops were to remain under his command, and the Wicklow troops under the command of Colonel McPhelim Byrne.
- And in case of death the troops themselves were to elect a successor.
After wearisome delay Cromwell’s guns hurried Ormond, and he signed the treaty in October 1649. Owen Roe made ready to march, but his illness increased and Daniel saw signs of mental debility. “God help him,” said he, “he talks of freeing Ireland first, and afterwards expelling the Turk from Europe” — glorious boyhood dreams on Tyrone hills flashing back after fifty years on the darkening intelligence of the great old warrior. The world and its cares were passing away, and on the 6th of November, 1649, the news was borne to a doomed Ireland, that the greatest of her sons was dead.
 Kilkenny prided itself on its literary skill. “I have been assailed here,” said Strafford in 1631, “with the fervour of prose and the fury of poetry.”
 Aph. Dis.
 i.e., dare or call upon.
 i.e., destroy.
 Not the Supreme Council.