THE CONFEDERATE WAR--CAMPAIGN OF 1643--THE CESSATION.
The city of Kilkenny, which had become the capital of the Confederacy, was favourably placed for the direction of the war in Leinster and Munster. Nearly equidistant from Dublin, Cork, and Limerick, a meeting place for most of the southern and south-western roads, important in itself both as a place of trade, and as the residence of the Duke of Ormond and the Bishop of Ossory, a better choice could not, perhaps, have been made, so far as regarded the ancient southern "Half-Kingdom." But it seems rather surprising that the difficulty of directing the war in the North and North-West, from a point so far south, did not occur to the statesmen of the Confederacy. In the defective communications of those days, especially during a war, partaking even partially of the character of civil strife, it was hard, if not impossible to expect, that a supervision could be exercised over a general or an army on the Erne or the Bann, which might be quite possible and proper on the Suir or the Shannon. A similar necessity in England necessitated the creation of the Presidency of the North, with its council and head-quarters in the city of York; nor need we be surprised to find that, from the first, the Confederate movements combined themselves into two groups--the northern and the southern-- those which revolved round the centre of Kilkenny, and those which took their law from the head-quarters of Owen O'Neil, at Belturbet, or wherever else his camp happened to be situated.
The General Assembly met, according to agreement, on the 23rd of October, 1642, at Kilkenny. Eleven-bishops and fourteen lay lords represented the Irish peerage; two hundred and twenty-six commoners, the large majority of the constituencies. Both bodies sat in the same chamber, divided only by a raised dais. The celebrated lawyer, Patrick Darcy, a member of the Commons' House, was chosen as chancellor, and everything was conducted with the gravity and deliberation befitting so venerable an Assembly, and so great an occasion. The business most pressing, and most delicate, was felt to be the consideration of a form of supreme executive government. The committee on this subject, who reported after the interval of a week, was composed of Lords Gormanstown and Castlehaven, Sir Phelim O'Neil, Sir Richard Belling, and Mr. Darcy. A "Supreme Council" of six members for each province was recommended, approved, and elected. The Archbishops of Armagh, Dublin, and Tuam, the Bishops of Down and of Clonfert, the Lords Gormanstown, Mountgarrett, Roche, and Mayo, with fifteen of the most eminent commoners, composed this council. It was provided that the vote of two-thirds should be necessary to any act affecting the basis of the Confederacy, but a quorum of nine was sufficient for the transaction of ordinary business. A guard of honour of 500 foot and 200 horse was allowed for their greater security. The venerable Mountgarrett, the head of the Catholic Butlers, (son-in-law of the illustrious Tyrone, who, in the last years of Elizabeth, had devoted his youthful sword to the same good cause,) was elected president of this, council; and Sir Richard Belling, a lawyer, and a man of letters, the continuator of Sir Philip Sydney's Arcadia, was appointed secretary.
The first act of this Supreme Council was to appoint General O'Neil as Commander-in-Chief in Ulster; General Preston, in Leinster; General Barry, in Munster; and Sir John Burke as Lieutenant-General in Connaught; the supreme command in the West being held over for Clanrickarde, who, it was still hoped, might be led or driven into the Confederacy. We shall endeavour to indicate in turn the operations of these commanders, thus chosen or confirmed; leaving the civil and diplomatic business transacted by the General Assembly, or delegated to the Supreme Council, for future mention.
Contrary to the custom of that age, the Confederate troops were not withdrawn into winter quarters. In November, General Preston, at the head of 6,000 foot and 600 horse, encountered Monk at Tymahoe and Ballinakil, with some loss; but before the close of December he had reduced Birr, Banagher, Burris, and Fort Falkland, and found himself master of King's county, from the Shannon to the Barrow. In February, however, he sustained a serious check at Rathconnell, in endeavouring to intercept the retreat of the English troops from Connaught, under the command of Lord Ranelagh, and the younger Coote; and in March, equal ill success attended his attempt to intercept Ormond, in his retreat from the unsuccessful siege of the town of Ross. Lord Castlehaven, who was Preston's second in command, attributes both these reverses to the impetuosity of the general, whose imprudence seems to have been almost as great as his activity was conspicuous. In April and May, Preston and Castlehaven took several strongholds in Carlow, Kildare, and West-Meath, and the General Assembly, which met for its second session, on the 20th of May, 1643, at Kilkenny, had, on the whole, good grounds to be satisfied with the success of the war in Leinster.
In the Southern Province, considerable military successes might also be claimed by the Confederates. The Munster troops, under Purcell, the second in command, a capable soldier, who had learned the art of war in the armies of the German Empire, relieved Ross, when besieged by Ormond; General Barry had successfully repulsed an attack on his head-quarters, the famous old Desmond town of Killmallock. In June, Barry, Purcell, and Castlehaven drove the enemy before them across the Funcheon, and at Kilworth brought their main body, under Sir Charles Vavasour, to action. Vavasour's force was badly beaten, himself captured, with his cannon and colours, and many of his officers and men. Inchiquin, who had endeavoured to form a junction with Vavasour, escaped to one of the few remaining garrisons open to him--probably Youghal.
In Connaught, the surrender of Galway, on the 20th of June, eclipsed all the previous successes, and they were not a few, of Lieutenant-General Burke. From the day Lord Ranelagh and the younger Coote deserted the Western province, the Confederate cause had rapidly advanced. The surrender of "the second fort in the Kingdom"--a sea-port in that age, not unworthy to be ranked with Cadiz and Bristol, for its commercial wealth and reputation--was a military event of the first importance. An English fleet appeared three days after the surrender of Willoughby, in Galway harbour; but nine long years elapsed before the Confederate colours were lowered from the towers of the Connaught citadel.
In the North, O'Neil, who, without injustice to any of his contemporaries, may certainly be said to have made, during his seven years' command, the highest European reputation among the Confederate generals, gathered his recruits into a rugged district, which forms a sort of natural camp in the north-west corner of the island. The mountain plateau of Leitrim, which sends its spurs downwards to the Atlantic, towards Lough Erne, and into Longford, accessible only by four or five lines of road, leading over narrow bridges and through deep defiles, was the nursery selected by this cautious leader, in which to collect and organize his forces. In the beginning of May--seven months after the date of his commission, and ten from his solitary landing at Doe Castle--we find him a long march from his mountain fortress in Leitrim, at Charlemont, which he had strengthened and garrisoned, and now saved from a surprise attempted by Monroe, from Carrickfergus. Having effected that immediate object, he again retired towards the Leitrim highlands, fighting by the way a smart cavalry action at Clonish, with a superior force, under Colonels Stewart, Balfour, and Mervyn. In this affair O'Neil was only too happy to have carried off his troop with credit; but a fortnight brought him consolation for Clonish in the brilliant affair of Portlester. He had descended in force from his hills and taken possession of the greater part of the ancient Meath. General Monk and Lord Moore were despatched against him, but reinforced by a considerable body of Meathian Confederates, under Sir James Dillon, he resolved to risk his first regular engagement in the field. Taking advantage of the situation of the ground, about five miles from Trim, he threw up some field works, placed sixty men in Portlester mill, and patiently awaited the advance of the enemy. Their assault was overconfident, their rout complete. Lord Moore, and a large portion of the assailants were slain, and Monk fled back to Dublin. O'Neil, gathering fresh strength from these movements, abandoned his mountain stronghold, and established his head-quarters on the river Erne between Lough Oughter (memorable in his life and death) and the upper waters of Lough Erne. At this point stood the town of Belturbet, which, in "the Plantation" of James I., had been turned over exclusively to British settlers, whose "cagework" houses, and four acres of garden ground each, had elicited the approval of the surveyor Pynnar, twenty years before. The surrounding country was covered with the fortified castles and loop-holed lawns of the chief Undertakers--but few were found of sufficient strength to resist the arms of O'Neil. At Belturbet, he was within a few days' march of the vital points of four other counties, and in case of the worst, within the same distance of his protective fastness. Here, towards the end of September, busied with present duties and future projects, he heard, for the first time, with astonishment and grief, that the requisite majority of "the Supreme Council" had concluded, on the 13th of that month, a twelve-months' truce with Ormond, thus putting in peril all the advantages already acquired by the bravery of the Confederate troops, and the skill of their generals.
The war had lasted nearly two years, and this was the first time the Catholics had consented to negotiate. The moment chosen was a critical one for all the three Kingdoms, and the interests involved were complicated in the extreme. The Anglo-Irish, who formed the majority of the Supreme Council, connected by blood and language with England, had entered into the war, purely as one of religious liberty. Nationally, they had, apart from the civil disabilities imposed on religious grounds, no antipathy, no interest, hostile to the general body of English loyalists, represented in Ireland by the King's lieutenant, Ormond. On his side, that nobleman gave all his thoughts to, and governed all his actions by the exigencies of the royal cause, throughout the three Kingdoms. When Charles seemed strong in England, Ormond rated the Catholics at a low figure; but when reverses increased he estimated their alliance more highly. After the drawn battle of Edgehill, fought on the very day of the first meeting of the General Assembly at Kilkenny, the King had established his head-quarters at Oxford, in the heart of four or five of the most loyal counties in England. Here he at first negotiated with the Parliament, but finally the sword was again invoked, and while the King proclaimed the Parliament rebels, "the solemn league and covenant" was entered into, at first separately, and afterwards jointly, by the Puritans of England and Presbyterians of Scotland. The military events during that year, and in the first half of the next, were upon the whole not unfavourable to the royal cause. The great battle of Marston Moor, (July 2nd, 1644,) which "extinguished the hopes of the Royalists in the Northern counties," was the first Parliamentary victory of national importance. It was won mainly by the energy and obstinacy of Lieutenant-General Cromwell, from that day forth the foremost English figure in the Civil War. From his court at Oxford, where he had seen the utter failure of endeavouring to conciliate his English and Scottish enemies, the King had instructed Ormond--lately created a Marquis--to treat with the Irish Catholics, and to obtain from them men and money. The overtures thus made were brought to maturity in September; the Cessation was to last twelve months; each party was to remain in possession of its own quarters, as they were held at the date of the treaty; the forces of each were to unite to punish any infraction of the terms agreed on; the agents of the Confederates, during the cessation, were to have free access and safe conduct to the King; and for these advantages, the Supreme Council were to present his Majesty immediately with 15,000 pounds in money, and provisions to the value of 15,000 pounds more.
Such was "the truce of Castlemartin," condemned by O'Neil, by the Papal Nuncio, Scarampi, and by the great majority of the old Irish, lay and clerical; still more violently denounced by the Puritan Parliament as favouring Popery, and negotiated by Popish agents; beneficial to Ormond and the Undertakers, as relieving Dublin, freeing the channel from Irish privateers, and securing them in the garrisons throughout the Kingdom which they still held; in one sense advantageous to Charles, from the immediate supplies it afforded, and the favourable impression it created of his liberality, at the courts of his Catholic allies; but on the other hand disadvantageous to him in England and Scotland, from the pretexts it furnished his enemies, of renewing the cry of his connivance with Popery, a cry neither easily answered, nor, of itself, liable quickly to wear out.