Ireland’s Wars: Early Departures In 1649

James Butler had re-appeared in Ireland at the end of 1648, with the Confederation split and the Parliamentarian star in the ascendant throughout the rest of Great Britain. For the moment, large scale combat actions, due in no small part to the weather and continuing food shortages, ceased for the most part. This early period of 1649 would be one of departures, as three vital figures in the Confederate War left the stage (albeit, one was temporary).

The negotiations were between Butler, as a representative of Charles, and the remaining Confederate Supreme Council, largely sympathetic to Ormonde and looking for a balanced settlement.

The negotiations were still lengthy and fraught with hardline positions. The initial Confederate approach was to state their aims for full religious liberty for Catholics, the retention of church lands that they had seized earlier in the war and great constitutional reform for Ireland. They were the three key tenants that had flavoured so much of the Confederate stance during the war, that many wavered on, but for the moment they stuck to their guns. They knew Charles was in an ever more desperate position in England, unable to rely on the English Royalists, the Welsh or the Scots for succour. His only hope of any kind of victory over the dominant Parliament would be the intervention of the Irish, even if this was a noticeable frail hope. But with it in the mind, the Confederates – now largely made up of the “Old English” social grouping – were willing to play a little hardball.

Though enfranchised by Charles, Ormonde was hesitant to promise fulfilment of such sweeping conditions, which the King had wavered on before. But he also faced opposition even closer to home, with the troops of the Earl of Inchiquin coming close to open revolt in November. Protestants and, up to only a few months before, Parliamentarians, many of the common soldiers were unhappy about the alliance with their Catholic counterparts, whom they had been shooting at only the previous Spring. Further, they must have been receiving news at how the New Model Army had essentially taken over the Parliamentarian faction, and stood ready to implement sweeping change to how England was run. Ormonde and Inchiquin were able to avoid a full scale mutiny, but they knew they could not have complete trust in their soldier’s loyalty.

It was “Pride’s Purge” – the military coup of the New Model Army grandees – and the subsequent trial of Charles I on counts of treason in January of 1649 that convinced the Confederates to back down. Every side of the negotiations acknowledged that the Parliamentarian were the true threat that had to be faced, and with such a militant order of government taking place within them, the genuine fear was that a Parliament force would soon land in Ireland.

Demands were curtailed and compromises reached. On the 17th of January what is known as the Second Ormonde Peace was signed and proclaimed. The Confederates got a promise for religious liberty – but only when Charles was restored to full power and a new Parliament was brought into being. In return, they promised to muster an army 18’000 men strong to fight for Charles against his enemies.

Further, the Assembly was abolished, replaced by 12 “Commissioners of Trust” to mediate between Ormonde and the Confederates. The four regional commands that had characterised its military since the Confederation’s forming were replaced by one central command structure – an inevitable reality when you looked at actual Confederate strength. Crucially, this army was to be commanded by Ormonde himself, with Inchiquin and the Earl of Castlehaven as his immediate underlings.

With the legislative body now gone and the military in Royalist hands, the Confederation of Kilkenny essentially ceased to exist. To an extent it still operated and was referred to on its own terms, but it was no longer a separate political or military entity, now subsumed into the larger Royalist faction. The vast majority of the remaining Confederation members – bar Owen Roe O’Neill’s Army and the few remaining followers of Rinuccini – accepted the Peace, further eliminating the Confederation as a viable entity.

The entire affair was thrown into turmoil only two weeks after its signing of course. Charles I was found guilty in his trial before Parliament – this being the “Rump” Parliament, entirely in the hands of the New Model Army – , and executed on the 30th of January. His last words were reportedly “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.” After eight years of war largely about his rule, they were the last comfort he could give himself.

His son and namesake was proclaimed King in Scotland a few weeks later, though it would be some time before he would have the opportunity to properly exercise his rule as he would have liked. Charles II was only 19 at the time, exiled in the Netherlands, but was still the heir to Charles, and around him the Royalist faction now rallied. There were probably fears from Ormonde that the execution of Charles would undermine the Peace, but the Confederate faction seems to have accepted Charles II as their new sovereign under the same terms, if not quite as loudly as the Scots did.

For the Nuncio and his Clericalist faction, the Peace and the death of Charles were twin blows from which their cause would not recover. Rinuccini was increasingly isolated, unable to call the national synod as he had before and with most of his support vanishing in favour of the new Royalist/Confederation alliance. With O’Neill essentially forced to march north away from possible battle, the Nuncio saw the writing on the wall. After several years where he dominated Irish political and military life, in a way that no (non-British) foreigner had ever done perhaps, he took his leave of the country, sailing for Rome from Galway on the 23rd of February.

The Pope allegedly criticised his conduct in Ireland upon his return, and it is not hard to imagine him doing so: Rinuccini had been sent as an emissary to aid the Confederate cause and had essentially raised armies, undertaken military-backed coups of the rebel government and excommunicated his political enemies liberally. The excommunications would be rescinded – if they had ever really counted at all – and Rinuccini would remain bitter about his experience to the end of his days in 1653, his memoirs blaming the “old English” of the Confederate government for betraying the cause he had done so much to help succeed, while lavishing praise on the “Gaelic Irish” for their more strict faith than their civility. His impact on the war had been huge – victories like that at Benburb would have been impossible without him – but his overall aims were consistently muddled between a pro-Catholic agreement with Charles and outright independence for Ireland. Now he was gone and the war still continued.

That war had looked immensely complicated only a few months previously, but had now simplified drastically. The new Royalists, with the Scots and Confederates in tow, faced the Parliamentarians, with Owen Roe’s Ulster Army seemingly in the middle. Ormonde did make some communications with O’Neill after the Peace was signed, seeking any kind of rapprochement, but there was none to be had, with the Confederate’s now within the Royalist party not wanting any kind of deal to be made with a man they had just declared a traitor. O’Neill would probably never have seriously countenanced it anyway. Though greater machinations would take place very soon, for the moment things were at a standstill.

In this period between the end of 1648 and the beginning of 1649, some of the only major military action was taking place in the far north of the country. It is easy to forget, due to all that happened from 1649 onwards, how pitiful the Parliamentarian position in Ireland appeared at the start of the year. With the loss of the southern holdings due to Inchiquin’s defection, the Parliament held only Dublin, the nearby garrison towns of Dundalk and Drogheda, the scattered garrisons in Ulster like Carrickfergus and also the town of Londonderry in the north, which had fallen into Parliamentarian hands at the end of 1648. Everything was thus vital, and Londonderry was no exception.

The town of Londonderry, on the shores of Lough Foyle was held by Sir Charles Coote, the Parliamentarian who had previously seized Sligo and held it against all comers. Now he had been granted the governorship of Derry, along with a position in the town itself, considered by the Parliament a much more vital area to try and hold than any urban settlement on the west coast.

The problem was the Laggan Army of Sir Robert Stewart. Its allegiances had always been a little iffy – the force was born out of local attempts to simply protect settlers from rampaging Catholics and had found alliances with Monro and his Covenanters as a matter of course. They had fought alongside Coote in taking Sligo. But Stewart and his men had little impact on the war since their early victories, such as the likes of Glenmaquin, finding themselves largely confined to their corner of the country, their last notable involvement being the spectator like role they had enjoyed around the Benburb campaign.

Now, after the “Engagement” and the Second Civil War, Stewart and his Laggan Army had come out fully in support of the King, a position they continued to hold even after the failure of the conflict where it really mattered. The Laggan Army was far from gigantic, but they easily dwarfed whatever troops Coote had to hand in Londonderry. Further, Stewart held the castle at Culmore, just north of Londonderry. The castle was a strong position, and was well supplied with artillery. With it, Stewart had a vantage point over both the town and its shipping connections through Lough Foyle.

There was no open conflict between Coote and Stewart, despite their close proximity, but Stewart, in December of 1648, did start a blockade of the town’s port, seizing several Parliamentarian supply vessels and other merchant ships, demonstrating his power over Londonderry and, by extension, Coote. Coote, ever an enterprising soldier, refused to stand for this. According to a history of Derry from the 19th century, Stewart attended a baptism of a friends child inside Londonderry, seemingly heedless of any danger. His presence was discovered and Coote had him arrested at gunpoint.

Whatever the veracity of this account, Coote certainly got his hands on Stewart and used him as a bargaining chip with which to take Culmore without firing a shot as well as several other smaller castles in the immediate area. Then Stewart was shipped off to the Tower of London, there to join his previous ally Robert Monro – though, unlike Monro, Stewart’s role in the wars was not yet finished.

If Coote thought that he had neutralised the threats facing him in Derry he was soon disappointed. It was not long before the Laggan Forces, now under the command of Sir Alexander Stewart, Robert’s nephew, were besieging the town, settled outside its walls by March. Though heavily outnumbered and already lacking supplies, Coote had no choice but to hold out, as word reached him that George Monck, lacking men and under pressure from the Royalists in Leinster, was withdrawing from the garrisons he had previously taken in Ulster. These now fell into the hands of Royalist Scots under the Viscount Hugh Montgomery. Montgomery’s forces were a mixture of what was left of Monro’s Covenanters and new soldiers from Scotland, now in Ulster to try and aid Ormonde’s cause in the name of Charles II. The wider Royalist faction was already paying dividends.

And meanwhile, across the Irish Sea, the English legislature was preparing its next move. With the land secured, the monarchy crushed and a Commonwealth about to be proclaimed, eyes were turning towards Ireland, seemingly the last step towards securing Parliamentarian victory in these wars. On March 12th the New Model Army heard the words of its commander:  “I had rather be overthrown by a Cavalierish interest than a Scotch interest; I had rather be overthrown by a Scotch interest than an Irish interest and I think of all this is the most dangerous”. Oliver Cromwell was making his plans.

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

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4 Responses to Ireland’s Wars: Early Departures In 1649

  1. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: Index | Never Felt Better

  2. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: The 1649 Siege Of Londonderry | Never Felt Better

  3. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: The Bishops Coup | Never Felt Better

  4. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: A Summary Of The Eleven Year Wars | Never Felt Better

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