Ireland’s Wars: Parliament On The Rise, Royalists In Retreat

1647 dawned in Ireland. The island had seen five years and two months of warfare, with bitter defeat mixed with glorious triumph. The coming months would see little all out warfare, a sort of calm before the greater storm in the latter part of the year, but momentous events would still take place, with direct consequences for the military positions of both sides. That being said, I hope I can be forgiven for going through the first half of the year in this single post, as the military situation only began heating up again in a large way during the summer.

The most major event of the first six months of 1647 was the coming together of the new Confederate General Assembly, which met in Kilkenny for several weeks at the beginning of the year. The Ormondist faction, having been imprisoned after  the coup of the Papal Nuncio, were now released, and took their seats as they did before. The classic divide in the Confederate government, between those who followed the Nuncio and a dream of an Ireland free of religious and legislative tyranny and those who favoured a more moderate, pro-monarchy approach, was alive once again. Any of the trust that had existed between the two sides had now disappeared, and the debacle before Dublin that Rinuccini oversaw had damaged his standing immensely, but far from totally.

Thus, the assembly took on the appearance of a refutation from many of the Ormondists, defending their role as creators of the Ormond Peace, while the Nuncio faction pushed ahead with calls for religious liberty. Never again would such a large and representative group, with members from all over Ireland, be present in one place during that conflict, though it would be romantic to ascribe ideals of democracy to the proceedings. It was still an assembly dominated by clergy and the nobility, with little room for the “common” men and women of Ireland.

The Ormondists railed against the previous Waterford Synod declaration, which had proclaimed them perjurers and near-heretics. Rinuccini refused to fall back on that score, but stated his willingness to stand down from his Presidency position in the interests of an accord. Eventually, an odd compromise was reached, where the Nuncio faction agreed that the Ormondists had acted faithfully in creating the Ormond Peace, and where the Ormondist now rejected that document, a contradiction that served its purpose of getting the assembly to discuss other issues. Only 12 of the men present voted against this measure. In a stroke, the Ormond Peace, that agreement that the Confederates had spent years preparing, was finished. From there, it was simply about what new peace terms were to be pursued.

It is important to remind ourselves that peace was the object for both sides. While there were probably elements of the Nuncio faction that thought they could take on all comers and win freedom for Ireland – Owen Roe may well have been among them – most, including the Nuncio (save for some brief moments) recognised that the war would not end with any outright end of Charles’ authority over Ireland. Both sides in the assembly wanted an accord with the Royalist faction, an alliance that would lead to the end of the Parliamentarians and the Covenanters.

But the aims of one side did not agree with the other, at least not at first. Rinuccini was able to press his case better. With the rumours and news regarding Ormond’s possible negotiations with the Parliamentarians, many of the Ormondist faction now began to slip, more and more convinced that their chosen man could no longer be trusted to look after their interests. Charles was still a prisoner, and in no position to grant any of the previously agreed concessions. More than that, the Nuncio still had a great deal of control over the military, and that made him someone to be feared. No one wanted to be imprisoned yet again.

Eventually, Rinuccini got his way, and a new oath of confederation was agreed upon and taken by, apparently, all present. This new oath called on the Confederates to strive towards nothing less than complete freedom of conscience and expression for the Catholic faith in Ireland, the aim that all anti-Catholic legislation enacted since the reign of Henry VII be repealed and that any Protestant church land in Confederate hands remain so, all tent poles of Rinuccini’s manifesto.

They were stringent and ultimately futile terms, the kind of thing that neither Charles nor the Parliamentarians were ever likely to tolerate in the then circumstances of the war. But, out of that assembly, came this new, hardline Confederate position. Ormond, when informed of these developments, vacillated, engaged as he was with his own talks with other parties.

The assembly also discussed more all out military matters. A proposal that Thomas Preston be arrested and charged with treason from members of the Nuncio faction almost brought the assembly to blows, but such a suggestion was soon abandoned, probably on the urging of Rinuccini, who still understood the power that Preston had. Other than that, there was the issue of provincial generals. The armies of the Confederation, through those harsh winter months, had suffered, losing men, supplies and cash at a rate that was unsustainable. The years of war left Ireland dealing with poor harvests and a lack of food everywhere, and even Rinuccini was beginning to run out of the money that had originally given him much prominence.

Preston was re-appointed his command in Leinster, with no other suitable candidate available. Owen Roe was naturally re-appointed to the command of Ulster, and with no likelihood of the Earl of Clanrickarde joining the Confederate cause anymore, it was decided that O’Neill would also enjoy the command of Connacht, though it was hardly a great prize at that time. It contained a small Parliamentarian threat in the form of Charles Coote, and many Confederates were thinking of a use for O’Neill in that regard.

The main problem was Munster. The situation there, from one of such hope during the Earl of Castlehaven’s campaigns, was now turning against the Confederates once more, and a lack of clear leadership was a leading reason as to why. The Viscount Muskerry, one of the leading Ormondists, had been in command, but Rinuccini’s coup had seen him imprisoned and supplanted by the Earl of Glarmorgan. Now the assembly, probably as part of concessions to appease the Nuncio, maintained that situation, much to Muskerry’s fury.

Glamorgan was a weak leader, entrusted with the command of a weak army, which had seen no major action for a long time, and thus suffered from the associated wastage of men, who went unpaid and thus went home to tend to their herds and their crops. Inchiquin, still the leading Parliamentarian figure in Ireland, remained in place in Cork, building up his strength again as best he could, though he endured much the same problems as the Confederates when it came to food and other supplies.

He enjoyed one big advantage though, which was the un-assailed nature of his position. The Parliamentarians had actually appointed someone else to the command of Munster in their name – actually their own Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, but Cork was the extent of his territory -, a Lord Lisle, but his presence in Cork had been easily undermined by Inchiquin, who enjoyed the favouritism of nearly all of the officers of the army as well as the troops. After appearing before the Parliament in London personally, and in line with other far reach changes in the Parliamentarian faction at the same time, Inchiquin was able to see Lisle lose his given title and withdrawn from Ireland, as Inchiquin ruled supreme in his territory again, as he had done already anyway.

Now, with his enemies lacking leadership or prepared forces, he moved out of his coastal strip in force, for the first time in years. Dromana, Cappoquin, and Dungarven, some of which had been captured by Castlehaven in his stunningly successful campaign, fell remarkably quickly, being only meagrely garrisoned by the Confederates. Thus successful, the Parliamentarian position in Cork was improved and stabilised, with a more secure frontier and evidence that the Confederates in Munster were little more than a rotting structure, liable to collapse at any moment.

Glarmorgan, with no clear orders from the Confederate government, and no money to pay his troops, did nothing from his base of operations in Limerick, He probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything anyway, as many of his regiments chaffed under his command, unwilling to serve anyone but their previous general. Eventually, this discontent turned to open mutiny, with threats on Glamorgan’s life, something that delighted Muskerry, whose supporters might have been starving Glamorgan of money for just such an occasion. Within just a few days of this Glamorgan was obliged to “voluntarily” resign and hand his position back to Muskerry, something the Confederation approved, worried about Muskerry’s wild claims of Owen Roe’s plan for military domination of Ireland that had to be checked.

Once again, as it had for the Nuncio coup, the Confederate government had been undermined by the military power it was supposed to be in charge of. Muskerry promptly gave his position over to a subordinate, a Lord Taafe, while he stayed with the Confederations leadership, playing the role of political power rather than military. Taafe was an Ormondist through and through, just recently become a Confederate, having served as a Royalist cavalryman in England and Connacht. He was a total incompetent in a command position, picked more for his political advantages, and would lead the Munster Army to a decisive clash later in the year. Inchiquin was licking his lips.

The situation in Munster was growing worse, but Leinster was where things hung in the balance during this period. In November, now enjoying the company of Castlehaven, who had all but defected from the Confederate cause, Ormond was engaged in open negotiations with members of the Parliamentarian faction, as the Lord Lieutenant saw the writing on the wall in terms of the Royalist position. But these initial talks broke down, and soon the Parliamentarians were sailing north to Carrickfergus, there to furnish Robert Monro with supplies that had been earmarked for Dublin. It was a welcome boon for the Covenanters, who came out of their self-imposed bunker mentality and began to raid across Ulster once more, now with the Confederates having situated themselves largely outside of the province. Cavan, Monaghan and Louth were all hit, with the village of Carrickmacross virtually destroyed in a sudden attack.

Ormond had other problems to deal with. The population of Dublin had remained largely loyal to him and his cause throughout the war thus far, but the appearance of a Confederate army at their doorstep combined with the news about the Parliamentarian negotiations happening in their midst angered many. Dublin still had a very large Catholic population after all, with many Confederate sympathies, and in the aftermath of the attempted siege, Ormond found himself dealing with new levels of hostility from that population, who were suddenly unwilling to pay for the upkeep or supply of his army.

Desperate, and unable to enforce his desires on the Dubliners, Ormond mustered his army and marched into Westmeath seeking provisions, His force was, by all account, a bedraggled lot. It is suggested that Owen Roe was prepared to meet, and possibly destroy Ormond’s army in battle at this time, but the work of people like Muskerry was able to create a new cessation, a short term one, that prevented conflict between the two groups. Ormond might still have had hopes of turning Preston and his army to the Royalist cause, or even hooking up with the Covenanters, but that was all for nought.

He returned to Dublin, where he received the new demands and aims of the Confederation. He hesitated, offering no firm response, probably because he had already made up his mind. As the Confederate assembly continued to argue about general appointments in the rest of the country, Ormond turned back towards London.

Now, some Parliamentarian forces that had been stationed in the north marched into Drogheda and Dublin, an advance party. Ormond had come to a deal with the legislature, for a fee and a promise for a lack of prosecution for his part in the war thus far. His deal had no royal assent, but Charles was now in the hands of the Parliamentarians anyway, essentially sold to them by the Scots.

Attempts to stop this handover of the capital did take place, with Preston marching with his Leinster Army, first to Carlow, whose castle he took after a short siege, but he went no further for the immediate moment, with the Confederation divided as to how to proceed and with no back-up in the form of O’Neill’s army with him. O’Neill thought that he would only need little more than two weeks to take Dublin with the right support but did not get it, and so remained pre-occupied with vague instructions that his Ulster Army retake Sligo from the small Parliamentarian garrison that still held it, the pursuit of which he was engaged in when Preston was making his advances.

This operation may have come from fears that O’Neill and his troops were better off occupied far from the halls of Confederate power, with more and more complaints about the conduct of his soldiers circling, which can be considered more believable than Rinuccini’s stated aim of recovering the shrine of St Patrick in Lough Derg into Catholic Confederate possession. Some claim that, due to issues of delayed pay and dissatisfaction with the new Supreme Council, the Ulster Army was nearly mutinous. In the end, O’Neill spent weeks trying to get his army – with its new artillery train –  anywhere near Sligo, through the difficult terrain of the Curlew Mountains. The campaign would end in no positive result, and kept O’Neill’s army, the best that the Confederates had left, from having a direct impact on the events taking place in Dublin.

The aim of perhaps organising another siege attempt at Dublin, one that could possibly have succeeded, was put off for a critical time. Ormond delayed, vacillated, coaxed out further cessations, and generally did everything that he could to stop an attempt being made to disrupt his plans. The Confederates, too divided, too distracted by events in Munster, and with no great will, allowed him.

In June of 1647, Ormond made a final agreement with the Parliament, laying aside his office and giving control of his troops into the hands of General Michael Jones, an experienced cavalry commander who had fought in Ireland and England during the war. He arrived in Dublin with 5’000 men of his own. This combined army was an impressive enough force, one that would take the field very soon, but it was just a vanguard for what was to come. The Parliament, with a decisive victory in the Civil War and dealing with a restless and unsettled military at home in the form of the famous “New Model Army”, was well underway with plans to send that army across the sea to deal with the Irish problem once and for all, with a tide of unrelenting force.

Ormond left the city and travelled to England on the 28th, a date that essentially marks the end of the Royalist cause in Ireland, for that portion of the war anyway. The Confederates were now sandwiched between Inchiquin and Jones, too powerful foes who they would have to face in turn, with few of their own internal squabbles sorted out, and their previously strong armies withering away. They could only watch and contemplate the coming battle, against a Parliamentarian foe that was growing stronger and stronger, while they grew weaker. Preston and the Leinster Army would be the first to face the storm.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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7 Responses to Ireland’s Wars: Parliament On The Rise, Royalists In Retreat

  1. steoller says:

    Do you have any sources on the carrickmacross raid? I’d like to read them

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