Confederate Ireland: Political Overview
A period of self-government for Ireland between the Irish Uprising of 1641
and the Cromwellian invasion of 1649
In October 1641, a small group of Irish Catholic conspirators attempted to instigate a coup by seizing Dublin and a number of key Irish strongholds. They intended to negotiate with the English government for redress of their political and religious grievances from a postion of strength. Although the plot against Dublin failed, the insurrection unleashed a national uprising as resentment amongst the native Irish against the colonists from England and Scotland exploded into violence.
British troops were sent to supress the uprising but the Roman Catholic clergy and the predominantly Catholic Anglo-Irish nobility consolidated Irish resistance with the inaguration of the Confederate Assembly in 1642. Stressing its loyalty to King Charles, the Assembly aimed to form a provisional government for Ireland until the King had resolved his quarrel with the English Parliament and a lasting settlement could be reached.
The Marquis of Ormond, the King's lord-lieutenant in Ireland, negotiated a cessation of hostilities with the Confederates in 1643 which allowed government troops stationed in Ireland to return to England to fight for the Royalists in the English Civil War. However, the Scottish Covenanters refused to recognise the Cessation and, in alliance with the English Parliamentarians, continued to fight against the Confederates.
Roman Catholics regarded the Confederacy as a means of restoring the Catholic church to its former power in Ireland and in 1645, Pope Innocent X sent Archbishop Rinuccini as papal nuncio to the Confederates. Rinuccini was instructed to work for the expulsion of all Protestants from Ireland. While Owen Roe O'Neill and the Gaelic Irish supported Rinuccini, most of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy regarded the Pope's demands as unrealistic and continued to support a negotiated settlement with King Charles. Rinuccini's refusal to compromise in negotiations with Ormond opened deep divisions within the Confederacy and resulted ultimately in Ormond's surrender of Dublin to the English Parliamentarians rather than risk allowing the city to fall into Catholic hands.
Divisions amongst the Confederates were exacerbated in 1648 when the Protestant Lord Inchiquin declared for the King and proposed a truce with the Confederates. When Rinuccini denounced supporters of the Inchiquin Truce, an internal civil war broke out in the Confederacy between O'Neill's Ulster army, who supported Rinuccini, and the Anglo-Irish lords who favoured the Truce.
Early in 1649, after the execution of King Charles I, Ormond negotiated an alliance between the Royalists, the Covenanters and the Confederates against the newly-declared English Commonwealth. O'Neill and the Ulster army remained hostile to the coalition until it was too late. Ormond's army was decisively defeated at the battle of Rathmines, which enabled Oliver Cromwell's army of invasion to land unopposed in Ireland in August 1649.