How a tumultuous insurrection grew into a national organization, with a senate, executive, treasury, army, ships, and diplomacy, we are now to describe. It may, however, be assumed throughout the narrative, that the success of the new Confederacy was quite as much to be attributed to the perverse policy of its enemies as to the counsels of its best leaders. The rising in the midland and Munster counties, and the formal adhesion of the Lords of the Pale, were two of the principal steps towards the end. A third was taken by the Bishops of the Province of Armagh, assembled in Provincial Synod at Kells, on the 22nd of March, 1642, where, with the exception of Dease of Meath, they unanimously pronounced "the war just and lawful." After solemnly condemning all acts of private vengeance, and all those who usurped other men's estates, this provincial meeting invited a national synod to meet at Kilkenny on the 10th day of May following. On that day accordingly, all the Prelates then in the country, with the exception of Bishop Dease, met at Kilkenny. There were present O'Reilly, Archbishop of Armagh; Butler, Archbishop of Cashel; O'Kealy, Archbishop of Tuam; David Rothe, the venerable Bishop of Ossory; the Bishops of Clonfert, Elphin, Waterford, Lismore, Kildare, and Down and Conor; the proctors of Dublin, Limerick, and Killaloe, with sixteen other dignitaries and heads of religious orders--in all, twenty-nine prelates and superiors, or their representatives. The most remarkable attendants were, considering the circumstances of their Province, the prelates of Connaught. Strafford's reign of terror was still painfully remembered west of the Shannon, and the immense family influence of Ulick Burke, then Earl, and afterwards Marquis of Clanrickarde, was exerted to prevent the adhesion of the western population to the Confederacy. But the zeal of the Archbishop of Tuam, and the violence of the Governor of Galway, Sir Francis Willoughby, proved more than a counterpoise for the authority of Clanrickarde and the recollection of Strafford: Connaught, though the last to come into the Confederation, was also the last to abandon it.
The Synod of Kilkenny proceeded with the utmost solemnity and anxiety to consider the circumstances of their own and the neighbouring kingdoms. No equal number of men could have been found in Ireland, at that day, with an equal amount of knowledge of foreign and domestic politics. Many of them had spent years upon the Continent, while the French Huguenots held their one hundred "cautionary towns," and "leagues" and "associations" were the ordinary instruments of popular resistance in the Netherlands and Germany. Nor were the events transpiring in the neighbouring island unknown or unweighed by that grave assembly. The true meaning and intent of the Scottish and English insurrections were by this time apparent to every one. The previous months had been especially fertile in events, calculated to rouse their most serious apprehensions. In March, the King fled from London to York; in April, the gates of Hull were shut in his face by Hotham, its governor; and in May, the Long Parliament voted a levy of 16,000 without the royal authority. The Earl of Warwick had been appointed the Parliamentary commander of the fleet, and the Earl of Essex, their Lord General, with Cromwell as one of his captains. From that hour it was evident the sword alone could decide between Charles and his subjects. In Scotland, too, events were occurring in which Irish Catholics were vitally interested. The contest for the leadership of the Scottish royalists between the Marquises of Hamilton and Montrose had occupied the early months of the year, and given their enemies of the Kirk and the Assembly full time to carry on their correspondence with the English Puritans. In April, all parties in Scotland agreed in despatching a force of 2,500 men, under "the memorable Major Monroe," for the protection of the Scottish settlers in Ulster. On the 15th of that month this officer landed at Carrickfergus, which was "given up to him by agreement," with the royalist Colonel Chichester; the fortress, which was by much the strongest in that quarter, continued for six years the head-quarters of the Scottish general, with whom we shall have occasion to meet again.
The state of Anglo-Irish affairs was for some months one of disorganization and confusion. In January and February the King had been frequently induced to denounce by proclamation his "Irish rebels." He had offered the Parliament to lead their reinforcements in person, had urged the sending of arms and men, and had repeatedly declared that he would never consent to tolerate Popery in that country. He had failed to satisfy his enemies, by these profuse professions had dishonoured himself, and disgusted many who were far from being hostile to his person or family. Parsons and Borlase were still continued in the government, and Coote was entrusted by them, on all possible occasions, with a command distinct from that of Ormond. Having proclaimed the Lords of the Pale rebels for refusing to trust their persons within the walls of Dublin, Coote was employed during January to destroy Swords, their place of rendezvous, and to ravage the estates of their adherents in that neighbourhood. In the same month 1,100 veterans arrived at Dublin under Sir Simon Harcourt; early in February arrived Sir Richard Grenville with 400 horse, and soon after Lieutenant-Colonel George Monk, afterwards Duke of Albemarle, with Lord Leicester's regiment, 1,500 strong. Up to this period Ormond had been restrained by the Justices, who were as timid as they were cruel, to operations within an easy march of Dublin. He had driven the O'Moores and their Allies out of Naas; had reinforced some garrisons in Kildare; he had broken up, though not without much loss, an entrenched camp of the O'Byrnes at Kilsalgen wood, on the borders of Dublin; at last the Justices felt secure enough, at the beginning of March, to allow him to march to the relief of Drogheda. Sir Phelim O'Neil had invested the place for more than three months, had been twice repulsed from its walls, made a last desperate attempt, towards the end of February, but with no better success. After many lives were lost the impetuous lawyer-soldier was obliged to retire, and on the 8th of March, hearing of Ormond's approach at the head of 4,000 fresh troops, he hastily retreated northward. On receiving this report, the Justices recalled Ormond to the capital; Sir Henry Tichburne and Lord Moore were despatched with a strong force, on the rear of the Ulster forces, and drove them out of Ardee and Dundalk--the latter after a sharp action. The march of Ormond into Meath had, however, been productive of offers of submission from many of the gentry of the Pale, who attended the meetings at Crofty and Tara. Lord Dunsany and Sir John Netterville actually surrendered on the Earl's guarantee, and were sent to Dublin; Lords Gormanstown, Netterville, and Slane, offered by letter to follow their example; but the two former were, on reaching the city, thrust into the dungeons of the Castle, by order of the Justices; and the proposals of the latter were rejected with contumely. About the same time the Long Parliament passed an act declaring 2,500,000 acres of the property of Irish recusants forfeited to the State, and guaranteeing to all English "adventurers" contributing to the expenses of the war, and all soldiers serving in it, grants of land in proportion to their service and contribution. This act, and a letter from Lord Essex, the Parliamentarian Commander-in-Chief, recommending the transportation of captured recusants to the West Indian Colonies, effectually put a stop to these negotiations. In Ulster, by the end of April, there were 19,000 troops, regulars and volunteers, in the garrison or in the field. Newry was taken by Monroe and Chichester, where 80 men and women and 2 priests were put to death. Magennis was obliged to abandon Down, and McMahon Monaghan; Sir Philem was driven to burn Armagh and Dungannon, and to take his last stand at Charlemont. In a severe action with Sir Robert and Sir William Stewart, he had displayed his usual courage with better than his usual fortune, which, perhaps, we may attribute to the presence with him of Sir Alexander McDonnell, brother to Lord Antrim, the famous Colkitto of the Irish and Scottish wars. But the severest defeat which the Confederates had was in the heart of Leinster, at the hamlet of Kilrush, within four miles of Athy. Lord Ormond, returning from a second reinforcement of Naas and other Kildare forts, at the head, by English account, of 4,000 men, found on the 13th of April the Catholics of the midland counties, under Lords Mountgarrett, Ikerrin, and Dunboyne, Sir Morgan Cavenagh, Rory O'Moore, and Hugh O'Byrne, drawn up, by his report, 8,000 strong, to dispute his passage. With Ormond were the Lord Dillon, Lord Brabazon, Sir Richard Grenville, Sir Charles Coote, and Sir T. Lucas. The combat was short but murderous. The Confederates left 700 men, including Sir Morgan Cavenagh, and some other officers, dead on the field; the remainder retreated in disorder, and Ormond, with an inconsiderable diminution of numbers, returned in triumph to Dublin. For this victory the Long Parliament, in a moment of enthusiasm, voted the Lieutenant-General a jewel worth 500 pounds. If any satisfaction could be derived from such an incident, the violent death of their most ruthless enemy, Sir Charles Coote, might have afforded the Catholics some consolation. That merciless saberer, after the combat at Kilrush, had been employed in reinforcing Birr, and relieving the Castle of Geashill, which the Lady Letitia of Offally held against the neighbouring tribe of O'Dempsey. On his return from this service he made a foray against a Catholic force, which had mustered in the neighbourhood of Trim; here, on the night of the 7th of May, heading a sally of his troop, he fell by a musket shot--not without suspicion of being fired from his own ranks. His son and namesake, who imitated him in all things, was ennobled at the restoration by the title of the Earl of Mountrath. In Munster the President St. Leger, though lately reinforced by 1,000 men from England, did not consider himself strong enough for other than occasional forays into the neighbouring county, and little was effected in that Province.
Such was the condition of affairs at home and abroad when the National Synod assembled at Kilkenny. As the most popular tribunal invested with the highest moral power in the kingdom, it was their arduous task to establish order and authority among the chaotic elements of the revolution. By the admission of those most opposed to them they conducted their deliberations for nearly three weeks with equal prudence and energy. They first, on the motion of the venerable Bishop Rothe, framed an oath of association to be publicly taken by all their adherents, by the first part of which they were bound to bear "true faith and allegiance" to King Charles and his lawful successors, "to maintain the fundamental laws of Ireland, the free exercise of the Roman Catholic faith and religion." By the second part of this oath all Confederate Catholics --for so they were to be called--as solemnly bound themselves never to accept or submit to any peace "without the consent and approbation of the general assembly of the said Confederate Catholics." They then proceeded to make certain constitutions, declaring the war just and lawful; condemning emulations and distinctions founded on distinctions of race, such as "new" and "old Irish;" ordaining an elective council for each Province; and a Supreme or National Council for the whole kingdom; condemning as excommunicate all who should, having taken the oath, violate it, or who should be guilty of murder, violence to persons, or plunder under pretence of the war. Although the attendance of the lay leaders of the movement at Kilkenny was far from general, the exigencies of the case compelled them, to nominate, with the concurrence of the Bishops, the first Supreme Council of which Lord Mountgarrett was chosen President, and Mr. Richard Belling, an accomplished writer and lawyer, Secretary. By this body a General Assembly of the entire Nation was summoned to meet at the same city, on the 23rd of October following--the anniversary of the Ulster rising, commonly called by the English party "Lord Maguire's day." The choice of such an occasion by men of Mountgarrett's and Selling's moderation and judgment, six months after the date of the alleged "massacre," would form another proof, if any were now needed, that none of the alleged atrocities were yet associated with the memory of that particular day.
The events of the five months, which intervened between the adjournment of the National Synod at the end of May, and the meeting of the General Assembly on the 23rd of October, may best be summed up under the head of the respective provinces. I. The oath of Confederation was taken with enthusiasm in Munster, a Provincial Council elected, and General Barry chosen Commander-in-Chief. Barry made an attempt upon Cork, which was repulsed, but a few days later the not less important city of Limerick opened its gates to the Confederates, and on the 21st of June the citadel was breached and surrendered by Courtenay, the Governor. On the 2nd of July St. Leger died at Cork (it was said of vexation for the loss of Limerick), and the command devolved on his son-in-law, Lord Inchiquin, a pupil of the school of Wards, and a soldier of the school of Sir Charles Coote. With Inchiquin was associated the Earl of Barrymore for the civil administration, but on Barrymore's death in September both powers remained for twelve months in the hands of the survivor. The gain of Limerick was followed by the taking of Loughgar and Askeaton, but was counterbalanced by the defeat of Liscarroll, when the Irish loss was 800 men, with several colours; Inchiquin reported only 20 killed, including the young lord Kinalmeaky, one of the five sons whom the Earl of Cork gave to this war. II. In Connaught, Lord Clanrickarde was still enabled to avert a general outbreak. In vain the western Prelates besought him in a pathetic remonstrance to place himself at the head of its injured inhabitants, and take the command of the Province. He continued to play a middle part between the President, Lord Ranelagh, Sir Charles Coote the younger, and Willoughby, Governor of Galway, until the popular impatience burst all control. The chief of the O'Flahertys seized Clanrickarde's castle, of Aughrenure, and the young men of Galway, with a skill and decision quite equal to that of the Derry apprentices of an after day, seized an English ship containing arms and supplies, lying in the bay, marched to the Church of Saint Nicholas, took the Confederate oath, and shut Willoughby up in the citadel. Clanrickarde hastened to extinguish this spark of resistance, and induced the townsmen to capitulate on his personal guarantee. But Willoughby, on the arrival of reinforcements, under the fanatical Lord Forbes, at once set the truce made by Clanrickarde at defiance, burned the suburbs, sacked the Churches, and during August and September, exercised a reign of terror in the town. About the same time local risings took place in Sligo, Mayo, and Roscommon, at first with such success that the President of the Province, Lord Ranelagh, shut himself up in the castle of Athlone, where he was closely besieged.