Meehan: The Confederation of Kilkenny

Pdf Meehan, C.P. The confederation of Kilkenny. Dublin: James Duffy, 1846.
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The Confederation of Kilkenny by Rev. C.P. Meehan published in 1846 describes how the Catholic Confederacy from 1641 to 1649 briefly ruled two-thirds of Ireland until they were defeated by the forces of Oliver Cromwell.

After the Battle of Kinsale ended with in defeat from the Gaelic Irish, the Earls of Tyrconnell and Tyrone fled into exile paving the path for the colonisation of Ulster beginning in 1609 by Scottish Presbyterian and English Anglican settlers. Run off their ancestral domains the Gaelic Irish eventually regrouped and rebelled in 1641massacring thousands of Protestants.

Meanwhile in England and Scotland bitter religious and political differences led to the outbreak of civil war. The Scottish King James VI better known as James I united the three kingdoms when he inherited the British throne in 1603 upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I. His son Charles I who succeeded him in 1625 tried to impose Anglican services on the Scottish Presbyterians or Covenanters leading to a Scottish revolt (1639-1640) which resulted in English defeat and the city of Newcastle in rebel hands.

To finance war with Scotland, Charles I, who believed in the Divine Right of Kings, was forced to recall the English Parliament. The Parliamentarian and Royalist factions began a bitter dispute which ultimately led to warfare between Royalists, Parliamentarians and Covenanters in the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland until the final victory of Oliver Cromwell in Ireland in 1653. Meanwhile King Charles I was arrested before his trial and execution in 1649.

Following the Catholic revolt in 1641, the Confederate Catholics of Ireland met in Kilkenny in 1642 to organise their forces. The Confederacy was a coalition of Gaelic Irish and Old English, the descendants of the 12th century Norman conquerers, who had refused to renounce Catholicism. They ruled two-thirds of Ireland until 1649 professing their loyalty to Charles I.

The King had first sent a force to defeat the 1641 revolt but the outbreak of the English Civil War influenced the creation of a Confederate-Royalist coalition. The Confederacy fought against both the Covenanters and Parliamentarians, sent a force to assist the Scottish Royalists and also considered sending forces to assist the English Royalists. Internal religious and political divisions, largely instigated by the Papal Nuncio, fatally weakened the shaky alliance of former enemies and it was unable to prevent the conquest of Ireland by Oliver Cromwell.

After Cromwell's forces landed in Ireland, they captured Drogheda and Wexford, massacring the defenders. The Parliamentarians defeated the Scottish Covenanters and the Royalists, taking town after town before the garrison in Cork defected to the Parliamentarians. The Ulster rebels were defeated in Donegal and the cities of Limerick and Galway surrendered in 1651 and 1652 respectively.

By 1653 all organised resistance had ceased and only sporadic guerilla warfare continued. During the fighting Ireland was devastated by massacre, famine and disease. Catholic lands were confiscated and thereafter until the late 19th century an Protestant Ascendancy would rule Ireland.

Cromwell ruled as unchallenged as Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland between 1653 and 1658 succeeded by his son Richard who served just under nine months. Charles II in exile since the Royalist defeat was invited by Parliament to return and the monarch was restored. Charles' brother James II, a Catholic, succeeded him leading to a new round of war that ended in Jacobite defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.


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